How to Start an Online eCommerce Business in 7 Steps

So you are thinking about making the move online and setting up your first eCommerce business! There is a bunch of things you need to consider, here we will cover what we think are the 7 most important

  • Research eCommerce Business Models
  • eCommerce Niche Research
  • Validate Target Market and Product Ideas
  • Register Your eCommerce Business & Brand Name
  • Draft Your eCommerce Business Plan
  • Build Your Online Store
  • Drive Traffic To Your eCommerce Website

1. Research eCommerce Business Models

Starting and growing an online business is an investment – and it is hard work, takes considerable time and skill. Don’t let the YouTuber’s fool you, you don’t just spin up a website, and the next day the $$$ start rolling in. It simply does not happen like that.

There is no single business structure that works for everyone. Service-based business, software, digital product sales, and physical products are just some.

Print On Demand Business Model
Print On Demand: No Capital & Global Market

Before you can decide on what to sell online, you should understand the different business models available. If you want to turn a profit without touching your product or investing heavily at the start print on demand is a good choice.

If you like the idea of having your own products and a warehouse to ship products fast, this will require investing more up-front capital. Probably not the best choice if just starting on a limited budget.

Then there are subscriptions, where you carefully develop a product or service to be delivered/provide to your customers. This model has many benefits, the main one been you acquire a customer once and keep selling over and over (think Netflix or HelloFresh).

However, the eCommerce business model that is common to start with is a single product category that you supplement with some affiliate marketing. You can control the content marketing and branding and put the rest of your energy on driving sales by monetizing traffic.

2. eCommerce Niche Research

Unless you have a large budget, you can’t be the next Kogan or Catch. You need to niche down to run a profitable eCommerce store when starting. Photo-Light is a good example of this, they basically just sell photography lightboxes. They are the only online business in Australia that just sells lightboxes so this allows them to be very focused on marketing and online traffic strategy.

Choosing your niche is the most important step in opening your online business. Make sure that the area is competitive – an absence of competition usually indicates that there’s no market.

Conversely don’t choose an overly crowded niche, and skip anything dominated by major brands if possible. If you’re having trouble with this, drill down further on what you want to do – the more specific you are, the less competition you are likely to face. For example, if thinking about toddler toys this is a large market, you may be better targeting ‘wooden toys’ for toddlers. Niche-ing down also gives you the benefit of having a lot of “shoulder” niches, related to what you do, but not identical.

3. Validate Target Market and Product Ideas

So you have now identified a niche and business model, you might be tempted to start hunting for products to sell. Not so fast…

Before you think about product ideas, think about personas. You can’t expect people to buy your product if you don’t know who you’re selling to. Who are you? What does the store represent? Who are your ideal customers? You need to understand your typical customer, how you can reach them, and what is the size of this market.

Most entrepreneurs have no idea how many people are in their target market. If you want a start a brand targeting bamboo toddler toys, you may have to go a little broader to improve the chance of success. You do not want to build a business if your target audience is only 50K people.

Once you’ve identified the customer you are targeting, it’s time to come up with product ideas. We suggest starting with one or two – this will allow you to invest less at the start. See how these products sell, this will help determine the next step.

Before you invest in the product, though, evaluate it carefully. Even if you choose a print on demand model, you want to test it carefully and get a feel for the product yourself so you can identify any potential problems and prepare customer service scripts to answer common questions.

Part of validating your idea is to determine the viability of it. What happens if your supplier falls through is there a backup option? How will you handle shipping delays, factory shutdown periods, etc?

4. Register eCommerce Business & Brand Name

If you want to start a successful business, you need a brand that connects with your persona. Identifying your persona makes building an eCommerce brand easier. But before you set up your store and get into the finer details of building a brand – there are some basic steps you’ll need to take.

Register Your Business.

Choose a business name and register your company. There are legal protections and tax benefits for incorporating, so don’t skip it. Best seek advice on this area, there are lots of options and it is worth getting it right from the start.

Choose Your Store’s Name

The name of your site and the legal name of your business doesn’t need to be identical, but keeping them consistent has its benefits. Make sure whatever you choose fits your niche.

Logo Creation & Branding

Don’t stress about this too much but do make sure that it is not in use by another company in your niche. Logo design doesn’t have to be original, but you do want a logo you are proud of as this will be shown to the world. There are some great online logo design tools like smashinglogo that make this task really easy.

Get Visual

Consider the colours, the imagery you’ll use, and the typeface or fonts you’ll employ carefully. Do colours really matter? Think about McDonald’s, Shell, Tower Records, they all adopted Yellow & Red branding. Why? because these colours grab attention and sell!

If you’ve got the budget, you might want to hire a marketing firm to create a design brief for your company. If not, you can create your own. Just keep it consistent and read marketing tips designed to help boost your brand.

5. Draft Your Ecommerce Business Plan

By now you should have a great idea of what your business will look like. You have your target market, your product niche and your branding sorted.

Now is a good time to step back and put your business plan on paper and determine your start-up budget and monthly expenses.

The most important aspect of a business is the financial one. Figure out your break-even point, both in unit sales and duration (in months).

If you can’t figure out your profit margin, you will fail. The business planning phase is also when you want to iron out details like your staff, product sourcing, logistics, and marketing budget.

Not sure how to draft this business plan and need some help. The team at Nxsys are pros at this and can guide if required.

6. Build Your Online Store

This is where the technical stuff happens. You need to choose and register your domain name and any redirect applicable URLs that might be relevant. You will also need the branding design info you settled on in the last step so when building the store the colours, fonts, logos, etc can be applied to the theme.

Choosing the right eCommerce software is not easy. You need to carefully evaluate things like loading speed, features, compatibility with different payment gateways, compatibility with your business structure, your web developer skills, SEO-friendly features, and more.

Choosing your eCommerce platform

We’ve done some research and we think the best options are Shopify, Wix, and Bigcommerce.

Leading eCommerce Platforms

Once you decide on your eCommerce solution, use a standard theme. There are lots of themes for Shopify, Wix, and BigCommerce. There are pro’s and con’s to all these solutions but having tried them all we highly recommend Shopify, from our experience it is best suited to eCommerce.

Product Descriptions & Photography

Your website theme and branding can have that wow factor but often what stands out if not done correctly are the product descriptions and photography. This is of particular importance if you are selling physical products, but also applies to images used on the site. Stock photography is an option as is taking your own photos.

If you are going to take your own product photos and need some tips read this guide here. Great images will help you stand out from the crowd, if you have a smartphone, a tripod and lightbox you should be able to take photos like a pro. If you need to buy a lightbox checkout our range online.

Photo by Instagram @mikechudley

Amazing photography sells. Setting up your online store is much more than adding your products and content. If you are going to develop the store yourself and it is your first time you can expect the process to take between 2 and 6 weeks.

Need some help with the store setup? The team at Nxsys has built many successful eCommerce stores with the leading platforms and they will get you online in a little as a few days.

Customer Support

Also, let’s not forget about support. You also have to think about customer support, customers have lots of questions about products and delivery times (mostly delivery times). You should be well equipped and prepared for this, it can be overwhelming.

There are systems available to help with this but be prepared for the research and time required to identify and implement these systems.

Also be prepared for site technical issues such as slow load times, integration issues, setup of buy now pay later apps like AfterPay or Zip. These apps can help boost sales but do take some technical effort and coding to get setup (in addition to the direct application with AfterPay and Zip).

Building Trust

Trust is another consideration when developing an eCommerce website. Consumers these days are pretty savvy when it comes to purchasing online. If the site visitor does not ‘trust’ the site they are unlikely to purchase. Again some tools and tricks can be applied that help build trust which will make an enormous difference with conversions.

7. Drive Traffic To Your eCommerce Website

If you build it there’s no guarantee they’ll come. You need to market your store. SEO is a long-term play, when building and setting up your site it can be optimized for SEO however even if done very well it will take months to see results and attract organic traffic.

The best eCommerce sites invest heavily in paid online marketing, the most popular being Facebook and Google ads. If you don’t have the funds, you better have a good work ethic and some other tricks up your sleeve.

There are lot of tutorials online about Facebook and Google Ads however simply put this is hard work. You may go to the trouble of setting up these accounts and try to figure it all out and get no results, its happens. Worse still if like us you make a mistake and get your account suspended (for life!). Facebook and Google Ads are powerful advertising tools but be warned they take policy violations seriously and your accounts can be suspended without notice.

No matter what and how you decide to sell, you should also create an email list of site visitors. Place an opt-in freebie or discount on the website, launch a social media campaign to gain subscribers, or run giveaways where the entry ‘fee’ is your customer’s email address.

Running a giveaway is the go-to marketing tactic of many to get traffic and subscribers relatively quickly. Giveaways like ‘sign up for chance to with a photography lightbox have the added benefit of increasing your brand presence and product visibility. Building an email list gives you a group of warm leads to work with, making the sales process much easier.

Providing consumers with coupons and content via email helps to keep your brand on their mind, boost sales, and establish credibility. Keep your emails interesting – ask for your customers’ input often, including reviews. Respond quickly to customer service and product quality issues, and work on building relationships.

On your site, look at how and where traffic flows. Are your product pages targeted to your persona? Are you losing potential customers in the same place? If you’re driving traffic to your store but nothing is selling, fix the leaks in your sales funnel by carefully optimizing each page and taking a close look at your product listings.

Use analytics to help with this task. Some tools can help you monitor and optimize every step of the sales process. Make use of them.

Conclusion

When starting our there are so many things to consider, if you have the drive and determination you can work your way through the processes and be successful that is for sure.

However, if all of this sounds a bit daunting, then maybe consider some help, the team at Nxsys can help out or provide advice where needed. Nxsys built the Photo-Light store and it is in the top 5% of online stores in terms of web traffic for stores launched in 2020! The store had a whopping 20,000+ visitors in first months alone.

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