How To Start An Online Store In 10 Steps
You have dreams of entrepreneurship, but you know you’re not ready to quit your job and go all in. If you’re good at making things or spotting a great deal, you don’t necessarily have to go all in to start. Starting an online store doesn’t require the same level of investment or sacrifice that full-time entrepreneurship does.
You can start small while keeping your regular paycheck, and potentially build up to working for yourself exclusively if your online store does well enough. That doesn’t mean it won’t be work (most things worth doing are), but it’s doable without having to uproot your life as it is now.
There are a few key steps you have to take and you’ll have several moments where you have to decide what level of investment you’re prepared to make into the endeavor to start.
If the ten steps on this list sound doable to you, then you’re ready to get your feet wet as an entrepreneur.
1. Decide on your product.
If you’ve been pondering setting up an online store for a while, then you may well already have a product in mind. Whether it’s something you make, like handcrafted furniture or handmade soap, or something you’ve found a source for at wholesale prices so you can sell it off at a profit, every online store has to start with a product.
Do some research to make sure your product is viable. If you’re selling something fairly unique of your own creation, ask around amongst friends and in online communities to see if there’s an interest. If you’ll be selling something that will have a fair amount of competition online, research what similar products people are selling online and if the prices they’re charging would make for a sustainable business model for you. If your initial research shows you that an online store for the products you have in mind is likely to lose money, then you should look to other options.
2. Set your pricing.
Pricing is one of the hardest parts to get right in running a new business. If you price too low, you’ll lose money or just barely break even – which won’t make the time and effort you put into your online store worth it. If you price too high, you won’t make enough sales and still risk losing money on the whole endeavor.
To figure out the pricing that makes sense you have to first figure out your own costs. That includes the cost of materials, web hosting, taxes, the percentage credit cards or Paypal will skim off the top, and any marketing costs you choose to take on to help promote your business. Then you should figure out how much you want to add on top of that to account for your own time and labor, and add some extra on top of that to make a profit.
You should also do some research into what your competitors are charging. If the number you came to is below what others are charging, you can bump up your numbers a bit. If it’s higher, then you’ll either need to consider if you can provide enough unique value with the products you sell to account for the higher price, or determine if you can afford to go lower based on what the market will bear.
3. Research shipping costs and options.
Your impulse may be to pass on the full cost of shipping to the client, and many online stores do take this route. Be warned though that shipping costs can have a strong psychological impact on consumers, with 44% saying they’ve abandoned an online purchase due to high shipping and handing costs.
In some cases, offering free shipping and upping your product pricing to cover those costs may result in more sales. As an alternative, some online stores provide a flat fee that’s clearly noted on the website, so consumers know before they reach the checkout page exactly what to expect.
Another popular option for online stores is to offer free shipping for orders of a certain size. That encourages customers to spend more in your online store than they may have otherwise, and makes the cost of shipping more worth it to you.
You’ll have to figure out what makes sense for you and your business. Research the shipping options available from each of the main providers and figure out what the numbers are likely to look like for packages at the size and weight that will be typical for your products.
4. Choose your eCommerce platforms.
Now you need to choose the platform your online store will live on. All websites have to be hosted somewhere, so you’ll need website hosting first unless you choose to build your store on a website that already exists like Etsy or Amazon. If you want a website and brand that’s all your own, many website hosting platforms make it easy to find compatible eCommerce options that you can work with in the same space you use to work on your website.
An ecommerce software will make it easy for you to list your products, set your price, and add a shopping cart to the website. They take care of ensuring the process is intuitive for both you and your customers, so you can just focus on selling.
5. Pick a name and brand.
When you start trying to figure out a name, you’ll probably feel like all the good ones are already taken. While your business name is important, try not to get too hung up on this step. Brainstorm words and phrases that say something about the products you’ll be selling, and words and phrases that mean something to you. And be sure to stay away from names that have already been copyrighted by other businesses.
Depending on your goals for your online store, you may also want to invest in working with a marketing professional or firm at this point to more fully develop your brand. They can help you design a logo, figure out your positioning, and create a plan for promoting your online store once you launch. They’ll also be a big help with the next step.
6. Build your website.
Many hosting platforms can make at least part of this step easier by providing free website templates or a site builder you can work from rather than having to build a website from scratch. If you want something more unique, you can hire a graphic designer or work with a marketing firm to help you create a website that’s more distinctly yours.
At this stage, you’ll also need to work on writing copy that describes your wares and helps persuade website visitors to buy. This is something else you can take a DIY approach to if you want to stick with a shoestring budget, or invest in a professional copywriter or marketing firm to help with. If you do go with the DIY option, take some time to research best practices. It’s not as simple as you may think. Copyblogger and Copyhackers are good resources to start with.
7. Set up a merchant account.
Online stores need a way to receive money – specifically, a way to receive credit card payments. A merchant account does the very important job of ensuring you can get paid. You have options that range from big, familiar brand names like Chase and Paypal, to companies more focused on small businesses like BluePay and PaySimple. You will have to pay something to the company in order to get your money, but the ability to accept the money your customers send should make the fees well worth it.
8. Get your SSL certificate.
Now you need to get secure. If customers are going to hand you their private payment information (or more accurately, enter it into a form on your website), you need to make sure the sensitive details will stay safe. An SSL certificate for your website encrypts all the sensitive information customers provide so that hackers won’t be able to grab that credit card information as it’s sent over the web.
9. List your inventory.
Now that your website’s set up and secure, you can get the store itself set up. Whatever inventory you have ready to go should be added to your store and assigned its proper price. Once potential customers make their way to your page, all they’ll need to do is click to add an item they want to their shopping cart and check out.
10. Start selling.
Finally we’ve reached the stage where you can start making money. If you launch your online store and don’t get much traction, then you should start thinking about promotion. Content marketing, social media, and paid promotion are all areas worth looking into to start getting people to your website.
If you’re not quite ready to make that level of investment in your online store, start with old-fashioned word of mouth. Talk to your friends about it, mention it to professional acquaintances, and bring it up at any events around town likely to attract the kind of people interested in what you’re selling.
Once your online store is up and running, take a moment to pat yourself on the back. You’re an entrepreneur now. Then get back to work. Part of entrepreneurship is that there’s always something else you can or should be doing to launch your business toward greater success.