If you have been thinking about taking the leap and setting up your own online shop then we have some great tips to help you get started. The Coronavirus pandemic has proved that it’s never been more important to have eCommerce capability, and, thankfully, it’s never been easier to start selling online.
So, you may be wondering, how can I start an online store with no money or limited funds? It's much faster and cheaper to set up an online store using a website than to set up a bricks and mortar store on your local high street for example.
You can often find economical ways to start selling online such as using a website builder rather than a developer to create your eCommerce site. There is likely to be a small monthly fee that you will need to pay, however, it isn’t a huge amount, and some of these sites even offer free trials.
You may well jump straight into setting up a website, spending hours debating over the perfect theme. Maybe you are thinking about your homepage design before deciding on the actual products you want to sell. Many people waste time planning the wrong things, in the wrong order before they launch.
These mistakes are not uncommon for startups and those new to the world of eCommerce.
That's why here at Business Tech Service we thought taking the time to write this blog might be useful.
If you have absolutely zero funds to put into this project then it is going to be challenging. Options open to you are finding a free website builder with a web domain plan and opting to drop ship products (explains in this article more about drop shipping) rather than buying stock to sell.
Here in the UK things have changed quite a bit post-Brexit, however, at the time of writing this blog, all companies require a business licence, whether they sell online or from a shop. There is more on this here. If in doubt, check out the gov.uk licence finder tool to register and apply for a licence to sell online.
Use SEO (we explain what SEO is here) and other digital marketing techniques to get your first sales. Ensuring that your site is optimised for search before you launch will maximise your chances of ranking higher on search engine results pages in the months to come. This will take months organically and can't be achieved overnight!
Social media is often a simple place to start. Instagram is a great way to take your product to the world because it’s based on sharing images. It’s simple, yet incredibly effective. Influencer marketing is another way to promote your new products and online store. It involves approaching people with large social media followings and asking them to review your products, you will then send them a product for free and get them to tag your website and social account in the post.
The products you choose will be the core of your online business. They will define your brand model, revenue potential and marketing strategy.
You can sell physical products, digital goods, or services in your online store. You can sell things that you have made such as up-cycled furniture, handmade cards or jewellery. Or you can buy stock in bulk from a supplier and sell it at a profit.
If you have no ideas at all then take a look at today's market for inspiration.
What do people want? Well, a quick scroll through your social feed or flick through a magazine will tell you that fitness, health and beauty are always at the top of people's agendas when it comes to spending their disposable income. Fashion, gaming and new tech are other places that see great revenue spent, especially through key seasonalities such as Christmas. This brings us neatly to your business plan.
Failing to plan is preparing to fail, or something like that! Every business plan will be different and unique. Think about how your online presence will work to support your overarching business goals.
Your business plan is a working document that you will create. It will cover everything from the products you sell to the people you want to sell to and how you will do it. You will describe your company, analyse the market (who is already selling what you want to sell) and outline any operations such as buying of goods, delivery and overheads.
Don’t think of your strategy as something you need for a meeting with the bank manager, think of it as a living document that you’ll draw from whenever you’re working on the business. Don’t be afraid to add to the document as you go along.
Creating the perfect name for your online business might seem like a pretty simple task, but trust us, it isn’t easy. It can take weeks to come up with a name for your business and even then you may still have the odd doubt that it’s not quite right.
That’s because most entrepreneurs and business founders have high expectations. They want their business name to be instantly recognisable and in synergy with the product or service that they offer. Google it and you will find websites offering to generate a business name for you such as this one by Shopify.
You can either commission a professional designer to come up with your logo or if you are on a tight budget, why not use Fiverr to find a low-cost freelancer or if you are particularly creative, have a go at creating one yourself.
Aim to keep your domain name short and sweet and as directly linked to your brand name as possible for domain authority in organic rankings. Make it memorable and easy to type in for potential customers. You should avoid hyphens and numbers which can add confusion for customers and can be detrimental to SEO.
You can easily find and buy a domain name with companies such as 123.reg, GoDaddy and Wix for as little as £0.99 for the first year!
Before you register your domain name be sure to conduct a spot of research, see what other websites that have similar domains are doing or if there is already a business name registered using a similar domain.
You want to be as unique as possible when it comes to your competitors.
You will need an email address so that your customers and suppliers can contact you. You may well find that you can purchase a plan along with your domain name that includes an email address. It’s always a bit more professional (and trustworthy in the eyes of a potential customer) to steer clear of @hotmail addresses and rather opt for an email that directly features your brand name. For example email@example.com
When you sell anything online, your customers will be looking at your URL to check that it is secure. You can tell when a site is secure because the address begins with “https://” followed by the website domain name.
In a nutshell, the SSL certificate “encrypts” the data transmitted back and forth making them safer to transact on. These certificates are pretty affordable and you can buy them when you purchase your domain name.
Every single website on the Internet has a unique set of numbers linked to it called an IP address. If you wish to have an SSL certificate (and we recommend that you do) you need a “dedicated” IP address.
That means your website will have an IP address that isn’t used by any other sites. Prices average about £5 a month and you can usually get this service along with domain purchase and SSL certificates.
The cost of setting up an online shop can be free (if you choose to go with a basic plan via a website builder) and range up from around £20 a month, right up to thousands of pounds for a bespoke design eCommerce website.
What you choose will depend on your budget, time and technical competency. Be clear about how much you are willing to invest and consider the options.
A website builder offers off the shelf options which basically allow you to choose a theme, from the tiniest of details right through to major functions. Most website builders allow you to get started with a design, drop-in content and products and get started quickly and easily.
The drawbacks are lack of control, lack of uniqueness and not a lot of upscale functionality. Shopify has a nice, manageable 20 templates to choose from, while Wix has more than 500 templates available!
Check out our independent review of the best website builders out there.
Web designers can build a quality, bespoke eCommerce shop but whether you opt for an agency or freelancer you will, quite rightly, pay more of a premium. Designing and coding a website from scratch is not a fast task and you will be paying for their knowledge and time.
Employing a specialist eCommerce web designer will offer complete flexibility in your design and allow you to scale your online business if you need to. Many designers and agencies will offer ongoing support for peace of mind as well.
Think about creating a Kickstarter page whilst your site is in creation! A Kickstarter or coming soon page is a simple single-page attached to your domain featuring your logo and some simple branded messaging letting your visitors know that a pretty exciting website and product launch is due very soon.
While everyone is checking out your ‘coming soon’ page, you can get back to building or designing the store behind the scenes.
Coming soon pages build excitement around your brand prior to your launch wherever you share the link such as social channels. They can help keep your domain branded while at the same time helping to generate a targeted list of early adopters interested in your product.
Read more about this in our blog; Website Builder vs Web Developer vs Design Service - What’s best for startups? Check out Childsey - a digital agency that can build your website and take care of all the digital marketing aspects as well, nationwide!
Devise a simple user journey, think about the fact that a customer can enter your website from any page, not just the homepage.
In terms of design, think of your online store as a physical store that you would walk into off the high street. The site should be user-friendly, with the aim of making it as easy as possible for customers to buy something. Try to limit the number of clicks in a customer's journey, from entry onto your site through to checkout. A customer will get frustrated if they’re made to click through countless pages before reaching the product category they want.
Personalise your online shop’s design so that it fits with your business’ branding and values. Be sure to shout out key USPs (unique selling points) that you offer such as next day delivery, simple returns and any offers that you may have running.
You need to take payments from your customers through your website so you will need what’s known as a payment gateway. A payment gateway is a service that authorises credit and debit card payments for online businesses. Sensitive information, such as credit card numbers, need to be protected from fraudulent parties. Choosing a provider can sometimes be a bit overwhelming.
PayPal is a great first step and well-recognised by shoppers, but if you have a high turnover it can start to be expensive.
Some security checks must get carried out during the application process. It’s recommended you apply for one once you start to build your website as the process could take a few weeks.
At the time of writing this article, there is no legal requirement for eCommerce websites to provide Terms and Conditions on their site, however, you should create one to make sure you are protected against any misuse of your site or plagiarised content.
When setting up your products on your site make sure you optimise product titles and descriptions for search. This includes making sure that any keywords that they may be searched using are included, as well as ensuring that titles are under 80 characters.
Ensure that you have a unique title and description for your website (don’t copy and paste from other people's sites or from the content that a supplier may pass through to you)
Clean product photography helps you in Google shopping (should you wish to list your product there), images sell products more than words. Look for media agencies that may be able to help you with some unique lifestyle images of your products to really get them selling.
Once you get up and running don't neglect the data. It's worth getting a local digital agency involved if sales warrant it, to help set up Google Analytics tracking, monitoring traffic and conversions.
Who is purchasing from you? What are they buying? How can you improve your eCommerce site to reflect their habits? Obtaining data from your site and then using it, may cost you initially, but should allow you to improve your site thus growing revenue in the long term.
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