How to Start an eCommerce Business From Scratch (In 10 Steps)

Is 2020 going to be the year you learn how to start an eCommerce business from scratch?

You’re certainly in the right place!

This guide will give you a roadmap to getting from 0 to a fully functional eCommerce business. ๐Ÿ›’๐ŸŽŠ

We go step-by-step ๐Ÿšถโ€โ™‚๏ธ through the entire process to start an eCommerce business and make everything as straightforward as possible.

How to start eCommerce business from scratch

The things we’re going to cover – table of contents:

 

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FAQ

 

๐ŸŒฑ 1. Decide what type of business you want to launch

The possibilities are truly endless when you want to start an eCommerce business from scratch.

People sell all sorts of different things online and do it in all sorts of different niches and markets.

And what’s best about it all is that the numbers are only growing. It’s estimated that in 2020 there will be 2.05(!) billion global digital buyers. Quite frankly, everyone and their dog is doing shopping online these days! [1]

But! This doesn’t mean you can wing it and not give a good thought about what you want to sell and who you want to sell it to.

To make your eCommerce business successful, you must set it up properly from the get-go.

A good place to start is deciding what you want to sell, roughly.

And “roughly” is the keyword here. We’re going to do more research on your possible merchandise later on, but for now, let’s just speak in broad terms:

What your eCommerce business can sell

There are four main kinds of things eCommerce businesses sell:

  • shippable, physical goods
  • digital goods (ebooks and written work, downloads, software, apps, multimedia)
  • services
  • courses, subscriptions, and other memberships

The great thing about eCommerce technologies of today is that you can effectively sell either one of these or even all at the same time.

But that’s not everything; apart from what’s in your offer, you also have to decide on your fulfillment model.ย As an eCommerce business, you can:

Hold your own inventory:

It’s where the products you sell sit comfortably in storage managed by you. It’s also you who’s responsible for shipping products to customers.

(Not as relevant when talking digital products.)

Drop-ship:

It’s where the manufacturer handles the fulfillment process from start to finish (all you tell them is the customer’s info and the product to be shipped). This is a great model for print-on-demand goods such as t-shirts.

In some cases, running a dropshipping store might not be possible, especially if you’re going to be selling products made by you or if there are no dropshipping suppliers in the niche.

Have someone else fulfill the orders:

The difference between this and dropshipping is that, in this model, it’s still you who has to get or make the products, but then you send them over to a fulfillment house, and they handle the final shipping.

This way, even though you’re still in charge of producing the goods that you’re selling, you don’t have to worry about the difficulties of shipping them.

๐Ÿ‘‰ We cover the topic of eCommerce fulfillment in-depth in a separate guide on the blog.

Lastly, you also have to decide whether you want to:

  • go retail or wholesale
  • offer your products locally, nation-wide, or even internationally

The above might soundย like a lot to think about when you’re just figuring out how to start an eCommerce business and wrestling with your initial ideas. But you don’t have to do much at this point. Just note down what your preferences are, and then use these notes as reference when making future decisions.

An example of what such a note might look like:

 

๐Ÿง”

To start an eCommerce business, I’m going to:

  • offer both physical and digital goods
  • hold own inventory
  • sell retail
  • ship physical goods country-wide; offer digital products internationally
 

The next step is to find people who will buy from you – i.e., let’s find a niche:

Picking and understanding your niche

A “niche” is simply your place in a larger market.

Or, another way of saying this, a niche is a defined group of target customers who are willing to buy what you’re selling.

Basically, niche = people willing to buy a certain thing. ๐Ÿค

This brings us neatly onto the most common mistake people make when they start an eCommerce business from scratch: thinking that they’ve found an untapped niche.

Sorry to have to break this to you, but there are no such things as untapped niches.

If you can’t validate a prospective niche through research, then you shouldn’t risk going into it and expecting good returns.

When looking for your niche, think people first. In other words, let’s find people interested in buying from you.

Here’s how to do that:

You probably have a general idea as to what sort of market you want to tackle and what you want to sell – very few people go from complete scratch when starting an eCommerce business.

The key now is narrowing down on your ideal customer base, and then understanding their needs.

Luckily, living in the year 2020, we have multiple modern tools at our disposal, which are going to make research easier.

The first tool I recommend is called KWFinder. It’s a keyword research tool, which means that if you provide it with a seed term or keyword, it will suggest related keywords and show you how often each of these related keywords is searched.

KWFinder is a paid tool, but it does offer a 10-day free trial, which should be more than enough for you to complete your research.

For example, if you want to enter the bed linen business, you can start your search with the seed keyword bed linen. Here’s what KWFinder has to say about that one:

Do a KWFinder search to start eCommerce business

Note; bed linen is just an example; you can replicate this research using any other seed keyword.

What you can see on the left is your seed keyword, along with a list of related keywords. Each keyword also has some popularity metrics next to it. On the right, KWFinder shows what the top 10 in Google looks like for the currently selected keyword.

What you can do now is browse through the list of suggested keywords and go deeper and deeper into your research.ย For example, on the list of my “bed linen” related keywords, there’s a keyword “designer bedding.” It has 4,900 searches a month, which is a good start. I can click on it to make it my new seed keyword and redo the search.

If I want to, I can redo this process a number of times until I stumble upon a term that looks attractive and seems like something I could turn into an eCommerce business. But for the purpose of this guide, I’m going to stay with “designer bedding.”

KWFinder shows me the top 10 sites ranking for this keyword. I can click on any of them to see what those sites look like. Luckily for me, the top 5 are all eCommerce websites selling designer bed linen.

Bloomingdale'sHorchowMacy's
bloomingdales example of how to start eCommerce business
horchow example of how to start eCommerce business
macys example of how to start eCommerce business

The natural reflex would be to get discouraged that there are so many stores offering designer bed linen already, and therefore not get yourself into the niche. However, that would be a bad call. The sole presence of competition is a great sign, and it assures me that there are indeed people interested in buying designer bedding.

If I was the kind of person interested in entering the bed linen market, I could make designer bedding my main niche.

You can follow the same process and find your own niche by narrowing down from a seed keyword and going deeper and deeper into related niches.

Your niche funnel to start eCommerce business

Once you find a niche that has other businesses catering to it and looks like something that could work for you, proceed to the next step of the research.

๐Ÿ›๏ธ 2. What products to sell, specifically

So far, we’ve covered how to find your niche and do some general brainstorming around what to sell. Now let’s narrow down on the exact products you can offer based on their sales potential in the niche.

The key to all this is understanding your customers, their needs and desires. In other words, you want to figure out what makes your customers buy and what type of things they are most likely to buy.

We’re going to do that in a couple of ways:

Knowing your competition

As I mentioned earlier, the mere presence of competition is an excellent sign for new eCommerce businesses – contrary to what many people might believe.

 

Competition validates the market and ensures that there’s money to be made in the niche.

What you should do now is learn about who those competitors are and what you can learn from them.

Here’s the model of what you can do:

  1. Learn who your direct competitors are
  2. Learn who the “rock stars” of the niche are
  3. Learn who the bigger players are who might not be targeting the niche directly, but generate sales in it nonetheless
  4. Note down what you like and dislike about their approaches
  5. Note down what you like and dislike about their websites
  6. Think of how you can emulate their strategies as you start an eCommerce business
  7. Find out who their customer base is exactly – to the best of your ability

This all might sound weird at first, so I should probably clarify one thing. The goal here is not to piggyback off your competition and do exactly what they are doing. Instead, you’re going to take advantage of the work they’ve put in to build their businesses, and try integrating some of their good practices into your business.

The best way to identify your competition, if you don’t know them already, is to go back to keyword research (using KWFinder).

As you were looking up your niche keywords, you likely stumbled upon brands ranking on some of the top spots. Go to those sites again and see what they’re doing.

The example I used – designer bedding – has these sites ranking well: Bloomingdale’s, Horchow, Macy’s, Ethan Allen, Crane and Canopy, Frontgate. Granted, some of them are quite huge, but this is not necessarily bad during the research phase.

You can get a similar list of competitors in your niche as well. What you should do now is go to each of the competitors and note down the things I listed above.

Here are some additional tools you can use, which will give you good insights on your competitors’ websites:

Each of these tools will return a report about your competitor’s website with things like top keywords, top content, social media metrics, best pages, audience demographics, top-selling products, and more.

SEMrush and SiteProfiler even give you a list of the main competitors to the site you’re looking up. This is another way you can identify more websites and businesses in your niche.

Discovering what sells best

The next stage of your research will be to discover what sells best in the niche and consider offering similar products (or services).

Again, please don’t get this wrong. This is not about replicating your competition and trying to one-upping them at their game. This is about gaining an understanding of what’s going on in the niche and the type of products that your customers enjoy. This is how you find product ideas that are already very likely to resonate well with your customer base.

To start, again, visit your competitors’ websites and look through their lists of best-selling products (most eCommerce stores have those).

Apart from that, you can use Ubersuggest, SEMrush, and SiteProfiler to discover your competitors’ most popular pages, which often translate to best-selling products.

Another tool you can use is KWFinder – the one we used for keyword research – but this time, enter a competitor’s domain name to start the search.

You’ll see a list of the top keywords they’re ranking for. Very often, those keywords will lead you to their top-selling products.

KWFinder competitor research to start eCommerce business

Take notes and think about how you can adapt what you’re seeing to your business strategy.

Scouring social media for insights

One more place you can go is social media – all paths lead to social media in 2020, it seems.

The goal here is to find relevant groups and pages that your customer base follows. Join the same groups and spend a couple of days there, paying attention to what’s going on.

See the discussions people are getting themselves into, the products they talk about, the kinds of posts they engage with the most, and so on.

The goal is to understand what your actual customer base’s desires are and how engaged they are with the type of stuff you want to sell them.

Looking through online marketplaces

Amazon, AliExpress, BangGood, and other marketplaces all have sections for best-selling products in each niche.

ali bestsellers - good research site when you start eCommerce business

Research those sections and see if there’s anything there that you can offer as well.

At the end of this whole research phase, you should have a list of products or services that you want to offer.

Developing those products can take you any amount of time. If you’re going to be dropshipping, you basically have the products available at your fingertips right away. Creating your own products can take more time, but at least now you know what is most likely to sell.

๐Ÿ’ผ 3. Incorporate a business

“Do I need to register my eCommerce business officially?” is among the top questions and fears people have when considering to start an eCommerce business.

Unfortunately, the only honest answer I can give you here is, my favorite, it depends.

Mainly, it depends on what your local rules and regulations are, and what you’re allowed to do with and without an incorporated business.

This guide is purely for guidance and does not constitute legal advice or legal analysis. You may need to seek independent legal advice for specific legal issues or queries. โš ๏ธ

 

Let’s keep things simple. Most commonly, you’ll find that you can operate a business in a couple of ways:

  • A form of sole proprietorship. Most countries have a structure like that – the official name will be different depending on where you live. The main idea is that you operate a business under your own name and just let the taxman know every once in a while how much money you made. I’m oversimplifying this, but you get the idea.
  • A form of a limited liability company (S and C corps in the US). Again, most countries allow you to establish those. The main benefit over the previous structure is in the name itself – your liability is limited. In other words, if anything bad happens, you’re not personally liable. The downside is that there’s usually double taxation involved if you want to pay out dividends from the business (read more).

Having an incorporated business will make your dealings with other companies and third-parties easier.ย Applying for accounts with credit card processors, payment providers, working with suppliers, marketing partners, and so on won’t be a possibility until you have an officially incorporated business.

Essentially, this stage is mainly about getting the paperwork in line and making sure that you’re ready to start operating legally.ย This step doesn’t impact anything else we’re doing here – market research, niche discovery, and so on.

Things you might be interested in reading after having incorporated your eCommerce business:

๐Ÿ“› 4. How to name your eCommerce business

Okay, back to the fun stuff!

Naming a new business is, indeed, quite fun. But you shouldn’t take it lightly. Picking the right name can have a huge impact on your business’ positioning in the market, the customers’ perception of it, and your overall perceived product-market fit.

Once again, we can go back to our old friends – market research and keyword research. Here’s what you can do specifically:

 

First, a good business name should give your customers at least a vague impression of what you sell or the market you operate in. Let’s leave totally abstract names like Google to the giants. Us small business people should pick names that are routed in the real world more.

The first place you can go to is some of the popular business name generators. Yes, I really do advise you to use automated AI-powered tools to help you come up with a business name.

๐Ÿ‘‰ We rounded up a handful of awesome tools you can use here: top business name generators compered (and how to use them).

Here’s how to do this:

Go to your business name generator of choice and enter the keywords that are significant in your niche or describe the product you want to sell.

Based on that seed keyword, the tool will return a range of possible business names and categorize them in various ways.

The best generators will also include other words alongside to make branding easier as you start an eCommerce business.

For example, after putting “designer bedding” into one of the generators, I got these suggestions (with my favorite underlined):

domain suggestions when you start eCommerce business

If I were to really sell designer bedding, the “Artist Linens” name would be something I’d seriously consider.

Your goals when picking a name should be the following:

  • Include a word or phrase that suggests what the business is about, even if only vaguely.
  • Include words or phrases that do not commonly occur in everyday language use – in order to make the name brandable.
  • Make sure there’s a .com domain name available for your exact business name.

๐Ÿ›’ 5. Pick an eCommerce platform

Simply speaking, an eCommerce platform is the operating system of your online store.

  • Similarly to how iOS or Android are the operating systems of your phone, an eCommerce platform is the operating system of your store.

This is often surprising to people new to the world of eCommerce, but there are tens of viable eCommerce platforms out there!

They all work (from a technical point of view), and they all allow you to build a functional eCommerce store. However, not all of them are optimized for all kinds of users.

Here are some of the popular scenarios:

Best DIY eCommerce platforms

If you want to go full DIY, you should probably give a shot to Shopify or WooCommerce.

shopify - great platform to start eCommerce business

Shopify is a fully hosted eCommerce solution. This means that all you need to do is register for an account at Shopify.com, and then set up your store by following the guidance in the Shopify online interface.

woocommerce - great platform to start eCommerce business

WooCommerce is an eCommerce plugin for WordPress. While WordPress is the most popular website platform of them all, the setup is a bit more complicated than with Shopify. What you get in exchange is complete control over your website and online store, plus you can grow and extend your store’s functionality more easily (and more cheaply) in the future.

๐Ÿ‘‰ If you want to use Shopify, here’s an in-depth guide on how to set up your store there.
๐Ÿ‘‰ If you want to use WooCommerce, here’s more info on what WooCommerce is, and here’s a guide on how to set up WooCommerce.

Do you need web hosting?

What is web hosting in the first place?

Hosting in a nutshell:

In simple terms, web hosting (or a web server) is the computer where your online store website is kept and from where your customers can access it. That computer is turned on and hooked up to the web 24/7.

Web hosting can be one of the more intimidating things as you start an eCommerce business from scratch. Depending on the eCommerce platform you choose for your store, hosting will be a more or less complicated aspect for you to deal with.

  • If you’ve chosen a solution like Shopify then you have hosting handled for you by the Shopify system itself. In other words, no need to worry about any of it.
  • If you’ve chosen WooCommerce, WordPress, or another self-hosted eCommerce platform, then hosting is something you’ll have to take care of yourself.

Let’s expand on that last thing; what do I mean by handling hosting yourself?

You don’t actually have to set up a server with your bare hands. All that needs doing is you signing up with a web hosting firm that will rent you a hosting space on their servers.

Picking a quality hosting company is key. Here are some places where you can start:

 

No time to read? Two recommendations:

  • Go to SiteGround for a great all-around experience and optimized hosting environment. The SiteGround team will also help you set up WordPress and WooCommerce. Plans from $3.95 / month.
  • Go to Bluehost for a slightly more expensive hosting offering. Plans from $5.95 / month. Here’s a guide on how to install WordPress on Bluehost.

๐ŸŽจ 6. Choose a store design

Unsurprisingly, picking a design for your store is a vital part of the process. But it’s not only about choosing something that you like visually. Once again, we’re going to use research to pinpoint the type of design that’s most likely to work for your niche and product line.

This is another thing that you can spy on your competition for. Go to their sites, pay attention to and note down the following details:

  • Do they use custom-designed homepages or go for classic product listings?

homepage custom

  • Do they communicate a sense of urgency right away or let the main products do the talking?

flashsale

  • Do they use video in prominent places?
  • Is it all about the product or about people using the product?

people product

  • Is it about individual products or product categories?

The most effective approach for each niche will be different, and it’s hard to guess what that approach might be. This is why looking at what your competition is doing can be incredibly valuable.ย The goal is not to necessarily copy them, but to take note of what works and try using similar elements on your site.

Once you have your notes on the type of design elements that are likely to work for you, it’s time to start looking around for WordPress themes or Shopify themes (based on the eCommerce platform you’re using).

Here are some places to go:

One final note; always try to be as minimal as possible in terms of design. Don’t go overboard. At the end of the day, it’s the product you’re selling that should be the focal point, not some decorative elements that come from the theme you’re using.

๐ŸŽ 7. Showcase your products

The technical side of adding products to your eCommerce platform is very easy. No matter if you’re on WordPress+WooCommerce or Shopify, you can add products through handy visual interfaces in mere minutes.

The act of adding stuff to be sold isn’t the difficult part. The difficult part is figuring out how to showcase your products in a way that gets you sales.

To find out, I’m pretty sure you know what we’re going to do next…

See how your competition showcases their products

Here are the details to pay attention to:

  • Does each product get an in-depth description or just a listing of key features? For example, if you’re going to be selling things like TVs, then just a list of parameters will be enough. People can already understand what each of those means (4K, Smart TV, Netflix integrated). In general, the closer something is to a commodity, just listing parameters can be enough.
  • Do the product pages have a generic layout/design or are they custom-built?

macys product page

  • Are testimonials an important element on the product pages?
  • Same thing for customer reviews; are they displayed on the product pages?

macys reviews

  • Does the page lead with the price or mention it last? For commodities, price is one of the main factors that matter. For more complicated offerings, mentioning the price too early can hurt sales.

Having these answers, you can work on the copy for your products more effectively. You’re no longer guessing. Instead, you’re taking advantage of the research and experimenting with what your competition has already done.

Using the right language

Ultimately, words are the primary tool you’re going to use to sell products.

The key when writing your copy is to use the same language that your target customer base is using when talking about your products (or products similar).

It’s very easy to sound too smart or too casual, and thus risking a market mismatch.

Go to social media, see how people talk about the products, the main challenges related to them, other companies, and so on.

On the other end of the spectrum, see what copy your competition uses when advertising their products on social media or in Google AdWords. Ad copy is the most concise and result-oriented type of copy out there. You should be able to find some gems examining it.

Lastly, here are two guides from Shopify that will help you exercise your copywriting muscle and master your product copy:

Using the right photos

Not all product photos are created equal. We kind of all know that, but the issue goes above just the visual quality of the photos.

A good product photo achieves a couple of things. Mainly, it gives the customer an accurate representation of the item they’re buying. It’s reported that more than 20% of product returns are due to the product looking different from the photos on the sales page. If you ever bought a sub-par burger at McDonald’s then you know what I’m talking about. [2]

You should have three types of photos for each product:

  • “a general look” – photos showcasing the product in whole and from different angles
  • “up close” – parts of the product up close; usually the parts that matter most; for example, when selling bed linen, taking a photo of the stitching is a good idea
  • “in the wild” – being used by the customer

And, this goes without saying, but all product photos should be well lit, clear, appropriately exposed, and be relatively large, so that they look good no matter the device or screen size that the customer is using.

 

Where to get good product photos?

If you’re going to be dropshipping then this part is simple. Your manufacturer should provide you with a set of high-quality photos you can use.

For your own stuff, you obviously have to take those photos yourself. But here’s the kicker, don’t actually do this yourself. Hire a professional photographer locally!

You’re not going to spend much, but you’re going to get much better results compared to the photos you could take on your phone.ย Professionals tend to have additional equipment like “fast” lenses, expensive cameras, professional lighting, not to mention a know-how that’s a result of investing thousands of hours into learning their craft.

And please don’t brush this off. This really is essential. Data indicates that 75% of online shoppers rely on product photos when deciding on a potential purchase. No good photo = no purchase. [3]

๐Ÿค” 8. Things you should know that are not obvious

Apart from everything we covered above, there are also other things that you should take into consideration that might not be as obvious. Specifically:

Selling internationally

Are you planning to sell your products internationally? If so, calculating international shipping rates can prove to be much more challenging than delivering goods locally.

First, you’ll need to add shipping zones and rates to your WooCommerce or Shopify store. Apart from that, you might want to invest in additional shipping extensions that will do most of the calculations for you.

On the other hand, if you’re going to sell services or digital products, you’ll naturally want to offer them across the globe with no limitations regarding the customer’s location. While shipping is not a problem in this case, there is something else you need to consider:

Handling taxes internationally can be a hassle, too. In most scenarios, it’s on you – the seller – to take care of all the tax-related issues and make sure that the sale was handled according to the letter of the law.

Again, there are extensions that will help you with that. However, you’ll need to invest in those separately.

 

One final thing; if you want to be offering anything to any country in the EU, you also have to learn about GDPR. Let me emphasize; this is something you really must do! The fines on not being in tune with the GDPR are ridiculous (even up to 20 million EUR). Here are two guides of ours you should check out:

Apps and extensions

Albeit WooCommerce and Shopify are perfectly capable of letting you sell your stuff online a mere couple of minutes after getting through with the initial setup, there still are things you can do to improve your online store. This is where apps enter the picture.

Apps and extensions are installable packages of software that introduce new features to your store.

Sometimes you’ll have to invest in a new app, but there’s a significant number of them that are free.

Okay, what do you need apps for?

Just to name a few common things that apps can do:

 
  • improve your online store’s SEO
  • let you use multiple currencies in the store
  • set up popups to promote your offers
  • enable wishlists
  • send coupons and giveaways
  • enable additional payment gateways
  • enable additional shipping options
  • give you modules for analyzing your website traffic and sales
  • let you print invoices
  • set up product add-ons
  • give you multilingual support
  • email marketing integration
  • abandoned cart recovery
  • rewards and loyalty programs
  • Facebook Messenger integration
  • creating Facebook and Instagram ads from within your store

Here are some of the apps you should consider for WooCommerce and Shopify:

๐Ÿ“ข 9. Promote your eCommerce business

Promoting your eCommerce business can be a very intimidating thing. At least for most new entrepreneurs it is.

Let’s try to simplify things:

Even though there are hundreds (thousands?) of possible promotional tactics you can use, they all fall under two categories:

  • you either pay for the traffic upfront
  • or you earn traffic by investing your time

Some like to call this “paid” and “free” promotion, but that’s a misnomer since investing the only non-renewable resource in your life can hardly be considered free.

Neither of these methods is better, nor worse. They both play a role in your overall promotion strategy.

  • All tactics where you pay upfront for traffic are fantastic for testing out the market, experimenting with new products, or doing any other promotion where you want results fast.
  • The methods that require investing your time can generally bring more results over time and make things more sustainable in the long run.

Here are the things you should look into and implement:

SEO

Search engine optimization never dies. For as long as there is Google, there will be SEO.

The natural place to start with SEO are the keywords you identified in the early stages of launching your business. These are the keywords you should optimize for going forward.

SEO is a vast topic in itself, and even if I wanted to, covering only the basics would take too much space. Instead, give these guides a read:

 

Pro tip.ย Once again, one of the best approaches is to spy on what your competition is doing in terms of SEO. You can use some of the tools that we discussed above to do the spying for you:

  • Use Ubersuggest to look up your competitors’ websites and see their top content and product pages.
  • Use KWFinder to find the top keywords that your competitors rank for
  • Use SEMrush to look up their top keywords, see their ad copy, get their top products, and a lot more.

Advertising online

Advertising your eCommerce business online can be done in a handful of ways:

  • Advertise on AdWords – keyword-based system where you pick the phrases you want your ads to show up for
  • Advertise on Instagram and Facebook – Facebook gives you some really granular tools for advertising; you can target your ads based on demographics and other factors
  • Advertise on podcasts – identify the top podcasts in your niche (or in the larger market) and ask for their rates; promote your top products that way

Content marketing / blog

The idea of a blog in its traditional form is not very useful – as in, a place to share random thoughts.

The blogs of today are much more purpose-built.

Publish a blog that tackles common challenges that people have in your niche. Write articles that give people real solutions, guidance, tutorials, etc. Use the blog as a tool to get people to notice your offerings as a byproduct.

This strategy is commonly called content marketing. Basically, you’re using content as a marketing tool.

In other words, people come for the content; they stay to buy your products.

The way you find topics to write about is, again, through good ol’ keyword research and competition research:

  • Use KWFinder to discover keywords related to your niche. Write content around them. Focus on keywords that describe a problem or a challenge that people are having in the niche. Switch to the “Questions” tab in KWFinder to find some ready-made phrases you can use in your headlines.

KWFinder blog topic research when you start eCommerce business

  • Use Ubersuggest to identify your competitors’ top content and blog posts. If they’ve decided to write about a given topic and it has proven to work, maybe you should write about it to.

Being active on social media

This one should go without saying, but I just must mention it here. This is a must-do when you start an eCommerce business these days.

As it turns out, people spend much more time on social media than on any other type of website. It’s estimated that the total number of hours spent by people on social media every day is around 2.4. [4]

Use this to your advantage; talk to people where they already are – on social media.

Although we’re trying to get people to visit your website regularly, we shouldn’t depend on them doing so very often. It’s much more effective to use Facebook or Instagram as the places where you get to communicate with your audience regularly.

Here are some strategies to get you started:

Promoting your business locally

Even though you’re going to be operating mainly on the web, promoting your business locally is still a great idea to get things off the ground.

A couple of reasons why you should try making a name for yourself locally:

 
  • You need your first batch of customers as soon as possible. Those customers will give you early feedback and share what they like and dislike about your store. Finding your first customers locally is always easier than doing so across the globe.
  • Meeting people in person will give you further input about their challenges in relation to your niche and also validate your assumptions regarding who your target customer base actually is.
  • People generally like to support local businesses. Even if they’re not in the market for what you’re selling, some will still be eager to give you a share on social media.

Okay, so how to meet people in person – wasn’t this supposed to be an online business?

For starters, you can attend events in the area. If nothing is going on that relates to your niche exactly, you can attend events that are further away, or broaden the scope of event. For example, if you’re selling designer bedding, a DIY meeting can be close enough.

You can attend events as a visitor, or you can sponsor the event or have your own booth. This might sound intimidating at first, but it really is one of the few occasions you have to meet your prospective customers in person.

Find relevant events via Meetup.com, Facebook, or your local newspapers and boards.

Offering a giveaway and start an email list

Email still is one of the most effective channels of promotion available to online business owners today.

Data indicates thatย 91% of shoppers want to hear from companies they do business with via email. [5]

But the devil is in the details. Not all email works the same.

To use email effectively:

  • the recipient must recognize you as the sender
  • you must have the recipient’s permission to send them email
  • the email must provide value in itself (it has to offer something to the person, instead of just asking them to do something for you)

There are other factors such as using a good subject line and good email copy, but that’s a story for another time.ย Right now, let’s just focus on how to get people onto your email list in the first place.

One idea is to offer a giveaway.

The giveaway can be anything, but it has to have real value. The best approach is to give away one of your products for free.

You can promote the giveaway on social media.

The way this works is that in order to participate, the person has to join your email list. Then, you’ll pick the winner from all the people who subscribed through the giveaway links.

 

๐Ÿ‘‰ Here’s how to run a giveaway on Instagram.

As a byproduct, apart from getting people onto your email list, the giveaway will also increase your brand presence and make you recognizable in the niche.

Use your email list later on to communicate with your people directly and also invite them to sales or other offers in your store. Moreover, send them coupons occasionally (on major holidays, birthdays, etc.). This will help with churn rate, and get people to stay on your list for longer.

Starting a YouTube channel

It’s reported that product videos can increase purchases by 144%. Also, 87% of industry professionals say they use video as a marketing tool. [5]

Read: if you really want to make an impact, invest in video!

Starting a YouTube channel is still the easiest way of getting yourself into video.

I’m recommending YouTube because of the platform’s huge user base and it being the unquestionable leader in the video world. While other platforms might give you better quality or features in terms of embedding video on your site, YouTube gives you eyeballs, and those are much more important.

Picking video topics is similar to picking topics for blog posts – again, do keyword research and also check what your competition is doing. YouTube gives you visible stats on each video’s views, so it’s easy to discover winners in your niche and then learn from them.

โœ… 10. How to start an eCommerce business: SUMMARY

We’ve covered a lot of ground in this guide, so here’s your bird’s eye view / roadmap to start an eCommerce business. Treat it as your checklist:

 
  • Decide what type of business you want to launch
  • Pick and understand your niche
  • Decide what products to sell
  • Name and incorporate your eCommerce business
  • Pick an eCommerce platform and set it up
  • Pick a store design
  • Add your products and showcase them effectively
  • Install apps and extensions
  • Promote your eCommerce business
    • Do SEO
    • Advertise online
    • Start a blog / do content marketing
    • Be active on social media
    • Promote your business locally
    • Offer a giveaway and start an email list
    • Consider starting a YouTube channel

If you need help with any of the technical steps, we have quite a number of guides on various related topics:

๐Ÿ“‹ Common eCommerce questions answered

How much does it cost to build an eCommerce store?

Okay, this is a tricky question. Or, rather, a complicated one.

First off, you cannot really launch an eCommerce store for free. I mean, okay, you kind of can get to a 90% finished store for free, but then getting it operational will cost you money. Here’s what I mean:

Some tools allow you to “create” an eCommerce store for free. However, after you do the work, if you ever want to sell anything and collect payments from customers – kind of the whole point when you start an eCommerce business – that will cost you money.

Now the question of how much exactly:

  • If you go the total DIY route – meaning an eCommerce store running on WordPress and WooCommerce – the cheapest this can be is around $60 a year. This includes the cost of a domain name for your eCommerce store, a hosting plan, and anything else you need to make things work.
  • If you go with a more beginner-friendly solution, you’ll need to pay in the neighborhood of $29 / month plus $14 / year for a domain name. This sort of setup runs on a platform called Shopify. This costs a lot more, but, at the same time, it’s Shopify that handles all the heavy lifting involved in getting your store online and running reliably.

If you ask me, being able to launch a fully functional eCommerce store for as little as $60 / year is incredible news! Such a thing wasn’t possible even five years ago.

Can I build an online store myself?

Yes. And, more importantly, you don’t need any programming knowledge or skills walking into this.

The best tools available today are straightforward to use and have been created for business owners specifically, and not for website developers.

What can I sell?

Anything you want, really.

And I’m not exaggerating. Most online store platforms allow you to sell anything, from physical shippable goods to digital products (ebooks, downloads, apps, files, software, images, etc.), services, memberships, etc.

Basically, anything you can put a price tag on, you can sell online through your eCommerce store.

How do I handle customer orders?

One of the main misconceptions about online stores is that they are only for showcasing your products, and that everything else that happens after people add stuff to cart is yours to worry about (fulfillment, payments, etc.).

This isn’t true.

Modern online store solutions handle everything that’s involved in the actual day-to-day of a store owner, not just presenting the products on the website.

What this means is that as soon as someone buys anything from you, you’ll see that order in your eCommerce store’s software. You’ll be able to process and fulfill it from there.

How do I handle payments?

Online stores handle payments with the help of what’s called payment gateways. They are an integral part of most online store software and work seamlessly behind the curtains. You don’t have to worry about the technical aspects of the process.

From your point of view, customers can pay for your items online, and then you receive a transfer afterward.

How do I handle taxes?

The store’s software lets you set the tax rates according to your jurisdiction. Then those taxes will be taken into account when showing product prices as well as processing payments later on.

What about the design? Don’t I need a designer?

No. You can select a beautiful ready-made design from the web and have it installed in your store. Designers are expensive, so this is a real benefit!

Read also:

๐Ÿ‘‰ How to build your own website: 2 ways to do it even if you’re a beginner

Don’t forget to join our crash course on speeding up your WordPress site. With some simple fixes, you can reduce your loading time by even 50-80%:

 

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