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Learning the ins and outs of an eCommerce business requires you to learn many of the same lessons that you’ll need to create a new business in general. Still, there are also some unique aspects of the eCommerce model that you’ll need to wrap your head around if you want your eCommerce store to be a success.
Luckily for you, we’ve got plenty of experience in launching eCommerce businesses, which is why today we’re going to share everything you need to know about starting an eCommerce store. We’re going to cover everything from eCommerce marketing to the types and of shopping cart solutions available on the market.
So if you’re thinking about starting an eCommerce business, read on.
10 Steps to Start an Ecommerce Business
Knowing how to start an eCommerce business can quickly get complicated and start to feel overwhelming, and so we’ve tried to make it as easy as possible by creating this simple ten-step process.
Step 1: Learn the Basics of eCommerce Business
Before you even start to think about how to start an eCommerce business, you need to wrap your head around what makes a successful eCommerce site. This means taking a look at what your favorite eCommerce businesses are doing and identifying what you can learn from them and what you might need to do differently.
You’ll want to analyze everything from their marketing to their business plan, the shopping cart they use, and even the different colors and calls-to-action that they use across their website. You can also get a little help by reading eCommerce guides, especially if you’re using one of the most popular eCommerce CMS like Magento. These kinds of open source eCommerce software are widely used, and so there’s also a huge amount of support and documentation, both from the company and from its users.
Because of this, you’ll be able to find plenty of information, from overall guides on building an eCommerce business to think pieces about eCommerce best practices and walkthroughs on how to get specific tasks done.
If you’re lucky, you’ll even be able to find videos that help you to see exactly what’s being talked about, as opposed to reading about it and then having to figure it out yourself.
Some YouTube channels even specialize in teaching their viewers how to start an ecommerce business. For example, Wholesale Ted blends together ecommerce business ideas with practical tips from successful ecommerce site owners and even a little bit of inspiration. Definitely worth a watch if you learn best from videos.
Step 2: Choose Your Niche for an eCommerce Store
Once you’ve got a good understanding of the different eCommerce marketplaces and the way in which different software works, you’re ready to start identifying which niche you want to operate within. This requires further research, but the good news is that this will save you time when it comes to writing your business plan because you’ll already know who the competition is.
When you’re selecting your niche, you’ll want to carry out some research into the size of the market. After all, if your eCommerce business ideas get too niche and too specialist, your audience might not be big enough for it to be sustainable. Even if it is big enough, there might not be enough room for you to scale up and to thrive.
At this stage of building an ecommerce business, you need to start out by identifying your niche before then carrying out competitor analysis. It’s only once you’ve done this that you can start developing a business plan, and even then, you’ll want to include the next few steps on this list, too. The good news is that your business plan isn’t set in stone, even after you start building the business.
With that said, you still need a business plan, because that will inform the general direction that your company takes and can even help you to secure funding from banks and investors. Of course, as your ecommerce business evolves and you enter new marketplaces, you may find that the plan needs updating. That’s just the price you pay for participating in a rapidly evolving industry.
Step 3: Create Your Buyer Persona
The next step to creating your ecommerce business plan is to spend some time creating buyer personas. The goal of a buyer persona is to create profiles of the different target audiences that you’re serving. For example, if your business sells lingerie, you might have a persona for women who are shopping for themselves and then a separate persona for men who are buying for their partners.
Buyer personas typically focus on a range of factors, including demographics (i.e. age, gender, location), purchasing history (i.e. potential customers, new customers, repeat customers), and intent (i.e., are they researching or are they ready to buy?). Creating too many personas can be counterproductive because it forces you to dilute your company’s messaging, but having too many is better than having too few.
When it comes to marketing, having buyer personas can help you to make sure that the content you’re creating is targeted specifically to the people who you’re trying to reach. It acts as a sanity check for your ecommerce brand so that everything that you do can be checked back against who it is that you’re trying to reach and the message with which you’re trying to reach them.
Step 4: Choose a Product to Sell
The next step in assembling your eCommerce roadmap is to start identifying which products you’re going to sell. This is one of the most important steps when it comes to starting a business because if you get your product selection wrong, then you’re going to struggle to secure any sales.
The good news for your business is the products that you stock will be informed by your buyer personas as well as by the research that you’ve carried out into the competition. If you’ve identified gaps in the market or areas where demand is greater than supply, it’s a good sign that people will add those items to their shopping cart.
When you’re starting a business and choosing which products to sell, you need to think about a range of different factors. Your market research will inform where you start the search, but your eCommerce brand will also need to think about the supply chain before it commits to stocking any given products.
There are different procurement options for ecommerce businesses, ranging from manufacturing their own goods to acting as a wholesaler or a reseller or adopting a dropshipping business model. There’s no right way or wrong way to approach your ecommerce roadmap, and so the most important thing for you to do is to make sure that your procurement process reflects what will work best for your own eCommerce business.
Step: 5 Build Your Brand
Building an eCommerce brand isn’t as easy as just setting up a website. If you ask any marketing guru, they’ll tell you that it’s vital to develop a set of brand guidelines that outline everything about the way your brand will be portrayed. When we look at world-leading brands like Coca-Cola, for example, the way that we think about them tends to be tied up in their branding.
The first and most obvious step to establishing a brand for your eCommerce business is to settle on a name. The best names are unique and easy to pronounce in different languages while simultaneously reflecting the purpose of the eCommerce site. One of the best examples of this comes from the dating industry. Tinder is called Tinder because, like a tinderbox, it aims to provide a spark between two people.
But building eCommerce businesses requires so much more than just coming up with a catchy name.
You’ll also want to think about the tone of voice that your site is going to use throughout its written and spoken communications. It’s not enough to say the right things – you need to say the right things in the right way.
This covers everything from your slogan/tag-line to the way that you answer the telephone or sign off on your emails.
As well as written guidelines, your eCommerce marketing team should also think about visual guidelines. You’ll want to think about which colors you want to use and how they reflect your brand, and you’ll also want to develop a logo that uses these colors and which reflects what your business is all about.
Step 6: Do All Paperwork
Good news! The planning process is complete, and now you’re ready to start filing the paperwork for your eCommerce site. What this looks like will vary from region to region, and so if you’re struggling with this part, then be sure to reach out to a professional who can help you to file the paperwork for your site.
Still, as a general rule, you’ll need to register your business with a local authority. You can’t just build your eCommerce site and start making sales because eventually, your local tax authority will end up knocking on your door and asking why they haven’t received any taxes.
You may also need to apply for a license to launch your eCommerce business or to sign up for an employer identification number. There’s no way for us to cover all of the paperwork that you might need to fill out because it varies so much from country to country and sometimes even from region to region. The only thing that we can do is assure you that no matter where in the world your eCommerce business is based, there’ll be some paperwork for you to do.
Remember, if you’re ever in doubt, then consider hiring a professional to help out. Finding someone who knows how to start an eCommerce site can be helpful, of course, but it’s even more important to find someone who knows the local law.
Step 7: Create Eсommerce Store
Good news – you’re finally ready to start building your eCommerce store! The first step is to decide upon which CMS you’re going to use but be warned that there are literally thousands of different options to pick from. For our part, we’d recommend using an eCommerce CMS like Magento. Knowing how to start a site isn’t always easy, but ready-made eCommerce software can certainly make it much easier to get started.
Once you’ve settled on your eCommerce software, you’re ready to find a developer who can help you to make your site a reality. Different developers specialize in different things, ranging from building super secure sites to creating custom functionality that goes above and beyond the basic functionality of any given eCommerce software.
But choosing the right eCommerce solution is only the beginning. You’ll also need to decide upon a domain name, which is likely to be influenced by the brand name that you’ve already selected and to identify the best possible eCommerce web host for your budget and situation. It’s generally a good idea to find a host with servers located in the rough geographic region that you’re trying to target because that can help to ensure the fastest possible loading times.
Even once your eCommerce store has been built, you’ll still want to spend some time focussing on UI/UX design. Here, the idea is to make sure that your website is as easy to use as possible, and if you spend some time working on your customer journey, then you can maximize the chances that people will go through and complete the checkout process instead of just visiting your store, having a little look around and then navigating away.
Of course, you’ll also need to think about the practical elements, such as the shipping options that you have to offer and the payment methods that are integrated into your eCommerce solution. Some eCommerce businesses make the mistake of overloading their customers with too many options, ultimately causing decision paralysis. Instead, it’s better to spend some time researching what your customers actually want and then providing a handful of choices to cater to them.
Step 8: Adding Products to Your eStore
This step should be a little easier if you’ve prepared for it by following step #4, although if you want your eCommerce store to be successful, then you’ll need to continue to grow it by adding new products as time goes on. For most eCommerce businesses, this comes naturally, because as they continue to learn more about their customers and what they’re looking for, they can use those insights to tailor their offerings.
But while regularly updating your eCommerce store with new products is a no-brainer, people often forget to establish a process for adding them. It’s important to follow eCommerce marketing best practices if you want to be successful, and indeed the reason that they become best practices in the first place is that they work.
Your eCommerce solution should offer the ability to create and specify different categories and to associate them with the products that you add. Take advantage of this capability to make your website easier to navigate, and be sure to add high-quality pictures for each of your eCommerce products while you’re at it. At the same time, remember that loading speed plays an important role in the success (or lack thereof) of your eCommerce store, and so placing too much emphasis on HD images can actually impact your site’s performance.
Another area to focus on is the product descriptions on your eCommerce website. Getting product descriptions just right is as much of an art as a science, because your marketing needs to target humans and search engines at the same time.
Product descriptions on your website should be SEO-friendly while simultaneously appealing to human beings who’ve arrived at your store from a search and who are looking to make a purchase.
But that’s not all! eCommerce marketing is a many-faceted discipline, and you can increase the number of sales you make through your website by adding new features and functionality. For example, you can offer up suggested items (a little bit like Amazon does), so perhaps if a visitor to your eCommerce store is buying an iPhone, you could upsell protective cases or phone chargers.
Another staple of eCommerce marketing is the use of promotional codes that people can enter as they reach the checkout of your store. There are different ways to do this, but two of the most common types of promotional codes in eCommerce marketing are those offering either free shipping or a certain percentage off your purchases.
Step 9: Customer Engagement and Marketing
Simply building and deploying your eCommerce store isn’t enough. Unless we’re talking about the movie Field of Dreams, there’s no truth to the saying, “if you build it, they will come.” If you want your eCommerce business to make any money, you need to have a comprehensive marketing plan and promotion strategy.
In today’s eCommerce business landscape, the most common approach to marketing is the inbound marketing approach, which largely relies on bringing people to you by providing great content instead of interrupting them when they’re in the middle of doing something else.
When you’re creating content as part of your eCommerce marketing strategy, you’ll want to think about everything that we’ve talked about so far, ranging from the use of high-quality images to search engine optimization, to help people to find your content when they’re running a search. Your eCommerce business can cater to search engines by identifying and using keywords that relate back to your products, but make sure that you don’t overdo it and end up keyword stuffing, which can lead to your site being penalized.
Once your eCommerce marketing content has been created, you’ll still need to distribute it. That’s where your ecommerce promotion strategy comes in. When you’re building a business, it’s vital to set up social media accounts to help to promote it. Your ecommerce site should also include social sharing icons so that it’s easy for people to share your site pages or your content pages with their friends and family.
But social traffic and SEO are only the beginning, and your eCommerce business will also want to investigate other opportunities, such as paid advertisements. There are different types of paid traffic that your business can tap into, from pay-per-click (PPC) to banner advertising and remarketing, the latter of which will allow you to promote specific products to people who’ve visited the relevant pages on your ecommerce site.
Finally, you’ll also want to think about email marketing. Despite being the oldest technology in the modern digital marketing mix, email can be hugely powerful for an ecommerce business.
By building and segmenting your email marketing lists, you create a pool of people that you can reach out to at any time, and you can even customize the messaging you’re delivering.
For example, if you’re reaching out to previous customers who haven’t shopped for a while, you could remind them of previous purchases and offer them a discount code if they come back.
Step 10: Process Optimization
Even once your eCommerce website has been launched, and you’re receiving traffic through to your pages, the job isn’t over. The final step is to focus on optimization by looking at your analytics and finding new ways to streamline your website’s performance. You can identify areas of your ecommerce site where page loading times are below average and try to find fixes, or you can look for bottlenecks and pages that frequently cause people to navigate away.
One of the most important aspects of process optimization for eCommerce sites is a process called conversion optimization, in which ecommerce webmasters strategically test two different versions of the same page to see which results in the most people who make a purchase. It’s important for every ecommerce business to do this, but make sure that you only change one thing at a time so that it’s a true scientific test.
The other thing for eCommerce business owners to focus on is the weak points on their website. Weakness can be measured in different ways. For example, perhaps a key page isn’t bringing in enough traffic from search engines. If that’s the case, you’ll want to revisit your keyword strategy and consider updating the page to see if you can improve it.
Alternatively, perhaps certain pages have a high bounce rate (meaning that people are more likely to navigate away from once they land on it), or perhaps the bounce rate is fine, but your eCommerce visitors aren’t converting into customers.
Whatever the case, you need to be able to identify the weak points on your eCommerce site, and then you need to take steps to eliminate them. Knowledge without action isn’t enough – you need to identify those insights and then use them to inform whatever you do next.
Get Started Now
Now that you know everything you need to know about creating an eCommerce business, it’s over to you to start work on your business plan. There’s never been a better time to launch an eCommerce site.
It’s true that there are both pros and cons of building an eCommerce business, ranging from the ability to tap into a global marketplace to the fact that the industry is highly competitive and that it can be difficult to find a niche. That’s why it’s so important to work on your eCommerce business plan before you get started.
The good news is that there’s help available! Contact us today to find out more about how we can help you make your eCommerce business a reality.
Previously published at https://www.zfort.com/blog/how-to-start-an-ecommerce-business