Starting an ecommerce store is the perfect way to earn extra income while managing your family's busy schedule. In this comprehensive guide, we'll walk you through the step-by-step process of launching a successful ecommerce store. Get ready to remove the panic and uncertainty as we unveil the secrets to making steady sales and achieving your dreams!
First things first, with so many options for where to build your store, it can be completely overwhelming and confusing to try to figure out which one is the best site to sell products online so let's dive into the best place to start an online store first:
Best online selling platforms for products:
WordPress is so tempting, especially if you’re just starting out. They really woo you with the idea that’s it’s free to sign up and set up and if you’re like me, you quickly think, yes! Free sounds great!
I made that mistake with my very first website – I set it up on WordPress because it was free and I wasn’t quite ready to make an investment in my business, even a small one. But here’s what I quickly realized – WordPress sites are ugly.
Really really ugly.
And in order to make them pretty, you either need extensive experience coding websites, or you need to buy a pre-made theme and learn some basic coding to install it.
I was not about to launch with an ugly shop so my “free” website quickly turned into a $180 purchase.
And on top of needing to buy a theme, WordPress isn’t set up to host a shop natively, which means you’ll need to add in apps to make it function like an actual storefront. And again, those aren’t free and they take some work to get set up.
Can you build your shop on WordPress? Sure.
If you have a background in web design or you’re eager to learn how to code or you have a friend who swears by WordPress and they promise to sit and build your shop with you, WordPress is definitely an option.
But I wouldn’t recommend to a beginner and honestly, if you’re looking to sell products of any sort, WordPress isn’t my first choice for the best place build your online store.
#2 Marketplaces like Etsy, Ebay and Amazon
You could also sell your products in online marketplaces like Etsy and Ebay
We’re going to talk about marketplaces in one group because even though they cater to different types of customers, the pros and cons for you as a seller are pretty similar.
Think of online marketplace like Etsy or eBay or Amazon as the web version of a craft fair / holiday market / shopping mall. The benefit for you as a seller is they drive their own traffic so you’re not responsible for bringing eyeballs to your online shop the way you would be if you built your own standalone website.
They’re also created specifically for product-based businesses like yours, so they already have all the features and functionalities you would need to be able to sell your products and build a good-looking online shop which is very helpful. Plus it’s often really easy to get started.
The investment for Etsy and eBay to jump in is also really low – it’s free to create the shop.
There’s a small fee every time you create a listing and they take a part of your transactions but there’s no ongoing investment outside on those fees.
With Amazon they have great traffic, they bring a ton of eyeballs but they do have a monthly fee unless you’re selling handmade so that’s just something to know right upfront.
Again, Amazon is going to bring in their own traffic and they’re going to have the tools there for you to build a shop but it’s not going to be free – you will have a fee like you will with some of the other options we’ll talk about next.
If you’re just starting out, an online marketplace can be a great home for your first product but there are a handful of cons that you should make sure you know about:
You aren’t the only person selling on an online marketplace, that should be pretty obvious but it’s easy to overlook. A marketplace is going to have a ton of different shops which means there’s going to be a lot of other people probably selling something very similar to what you’re selling and standing out can sometimes be really difficult.
You’re going to have to spend some time really thinking through:
- how do you make sure your products are visually different?
- how do you make your brand really obvious and appealing so you stand out in a sea of similar items?
You don’t own your own space – in physical shop terms, the marketplace owns the space and you have a booth within it. The marketplace can change the rules on you, they can add additional fees, they can change the costs and you just kind of have to go with whatever they choose to do because at the end of the day, it’s their marketplace and their decision.
Because you’re renting space, you don’t own your audience.
All of those eyeballs that are coming to see your shop – you don’t have a way to capture those email addresses or a place to send them that’s not that marketplace. You don’t own that audience.
You can’t get back out in front of them with advertisements.
You can’t email them to remind them that you have new products launching in your shop. That audience is owned by the marketplace itself and that can make growing and scaling your business down the line, if you’re serious about making it more than just a hobby and truly a full-time business, a lot more complicated.
Online marketplaces can be a great place to start your business but eventually, you’re going to need a standalone website where you can build an audience you own if you want to build a real business and have more control over your own destiny.
#3 – Squarespace
Squarespace’s claim to fame is that it helps you a professional-looking website quickly. It’s less expensive than Shopify which is an option we’ll talk about next and the lower price point can be really appealing, just like that free idea can be appealing with WordPress.
Squarespace does have different pricing tiers available depending on where you’re starting and what kind of features you need so you can choose the price and the features that are going to make the most sense for where you are with your business today.
I originally opened my shop, The Graceful Goose, on Etsy but like I was talking about a minute ago, there came a point where I was ready to grow and scale and trying to do that through Etsy just proved to be too challenging. I didn’t want to drive my own traffic there and then have that traffic go out to my competitors – I was doing all that hard work, I wanted to benefit from all the work I was doing.
So I decided it was time to start my own website.
I’d already had a bad experience with WordPress so I already knew not to go down that road and I decided to give Squarespace a try.
I thought: it’s an easy product builder, they have an e-commerce option, the price is a little less expensive, let’s see what they’ve got. And while you can build a commerce site on Squarespace, that’s not what they were really created for. They were created for bloggers and people who art or design portfolios.
So if you’re an artist and you’re selling paintings or you’re a graphic designer and you want to be able to showcase a portfolio to potential clients, Squarespace is an awesome fit but if you’re going to be a true product-based business and you have a product line you want to sell or you have a single product that you really want to push out to people, Squarespace, in my opinion, is more complicated to set up and a lot less attractive.
They have a very rigid framework for how their pages can be shaped so even though they have drag-and-drop elements that should make it easy to create a page, they’re not necessarily the most visually appealing and trying to get them to look the way you want can take a lot of extra coding and finagling and theme building.
All things considered, Squarespace is definitely an option, it’s something to peek at, but it’s not my favorite.
Alright so we’ve gone through three options:
We’ve talked about WordPress
We’ve talked about online marketplaces
And we just talked through Squarespace
All of those have pros but they all have some really serious cons, too, in my opinion.
So, what is my favorite place to build a product-based business?
#4 – Shopify!
The reason I love Shopify so much – it’s got easy to build pages just like Squarespace does but it’s built specifically for product-based businesses so all the features that you need are already built into the foundation of the platform.
It has a native checkout page so it makes selling your product really simple and it’s already optimized for you in the best flow to make checkout seamless for your customers.
It’s also very easy to integrates with different payment methods so if you want to be able to take credit cards or PayPal payments or even Amazon pay payments, it gives you all those options and it makes it super easy to add them in.
So you can give your customers the option that feels most comfortable to them to be able to make that payment and hit that Buy button.
On top of having really great basic functionality, they also have built-in cart abandon emails.
Remember how I was talking about when you’re on an online marketplace, you’re renting space and you can’t reach back out to customers?
Well with Shopify, if somebody comes to your website, you’ve done all the work to get them there, they put something in their cart and then they decide not to buy, you can have it set up so that an email is sent to that person (assuming they put their email address in at checkout) reminding them to come back to your shop and buy so you can recover that lost sale really quickly, really easily, without any added fees or a lot of extra work.
It’s just naturally built into Shopify.
After my Squarespace flop, I finally decided to make the commitment and I jumped over to Shopify.
I had been hesitant because it has the $29 a month fee and I was like, “oh, do I really want a recurring membership fee?” But let me tell you what – if you’re serious about building a business it’s not going to take you long to be able to cover that $29 fee without any hesitation.
If you do the work to build a beautiful, customer-first shop right from the beginning that makes checkout easy, that engages your customer and gets them excited to buy your product, you’re going to be able to pay that $29 fee really quickly with no problems and I learned that really fast.
So when I launched my second shop, Kindly Co, I didn’t even try to dabble around with the other places, I just went straight to Shopify because I already knew from testing all the other ones that it’s the place to be for product-based businesses.
Some of the other things I really love about it – as you grow and scale, let’s say your business gets to be the size of like a Kylie cosmetics which is hosted on Shopify, or an Allbird sneaker which is also hosted on Shopify, they have a ton of add-on features that you can choose from to create loyalty programs to reward customers for shopping with you regularly or give them a percentage off when they refer you to friends.
They just make that really easy and natural to add into your shop as you continue to grow and give you so many different ways to really enhance that customer experience to make your shop a place your customers love to be.
Plus, probably the best part is that Shopify is that it’s super user friendly.
The base theme that a store comes with is already beautiful.
It’s already built to be able to make a lovely product-based business, to really feature your product and make it front and center in a way that you are used to seeing when you shop on an e-commerce store.
Your customers aren’t going to be confused when they come to your shop, wondering if they stumbled onto a blog or somebody’s MySpace page – something funky and random.
They’re going to know exactly where they are and it’s going to look professional right from the get-go.
So if I had to choose, if I could have started all over again and skipped trying WordPress and Squarespace, I would have gone straight to Shopify.
The other options have some pros and there are people who have definitely built successful product-based businesses on them – but my pick without hesitation is Shopify.
Alright, so now that you have a good idea of the best website to choose for your ecommerce store, let's talk through what you need to work on to make sure it's ready to turn website traffic into repeat buyers.
Setting Up for Success
Next you need to identify Your Ideal Customer:
Understanding your target audience is key to running a successful Shopify store. Take some time to research and identify their needs, preferences, and the problems they're facing. What frustrates them the most? By knowing their pain points, you can brainstorm product ideas that will help solve their problems and meet their desires.
Create a Hero Product:
Now that you understand your ideal customer, it's time to choose a hero product. This should be something that aligns with your passion and has the potential to sell well to your target audience. Whether it's handmade crafts, organic baby products, or personalized gifts, make sure your hero product stands out from the competition and resonates with your customers.
Get the Basics Set Up:
Before you embark on your Shopify journey, there are a few essential steps to take.
First, decide on a name for your business that reflects your brand and speaks to your target audience. Next, consider buying a domain name for your online store. It adds a professional touch and helps customers find you easily.
Create a dedicated business email account to handle all your communication professionally and don't forget to claim your Facebook and Instagram pages to secure your desired handles.
Lastly, check your local regulations to see if you need to officially register your business.
Build an Optimized Shopify Store:
Now comes the exciting part – building your Shopify store! To convert visitors into buyers, focus on creating clear messaging and a user-friendly interface. Choose a visually appealing theme that suits your brand and showcases your products effectively. It doesn't have to be expensive, a free Shopify theme is totally fine when you're just getting started. What matters is that you take the time to optimize your product descriptions with persuasive copy, high-quality images, and customer reviews.
Planning for Sales
Developing a Profitable Offer Plan:
Identify offers that resonate with your audience and plan when to promote them to maximize sales. Whether it's seasonal discounts, limited edition releases, or bundles, tailor your offers to meet the needs and desires of your customers. Experiment, track results, and refine your offers based on data and customer feedback.
Tracking and Analyzing Results:
Evaluation is crucial in the world of ecommerce. Track and analyze the success of your offers using Shopify's built-in analytics tools. Examine sales data, conversion rates, and customer behavior to gain insights into what's working and what needs improvement. Use this data to make informed decisions for future sales planning and to continuously optimize your store.
Marketing Like a Pro
Create a Simple Content Calendar:
A content calendar will keep you organized and ensure consistent engagement with your audience. Map out what to post and when to drive traffic to your store without feeling overwhelmed. Plan engaging social media posts, blog content, and email newsletters that align with your offers and keep your customers excited about your brand.
Choose the Right Marketing Channel:
With so many marketing channels available, it's essential to focus your efforts where your target audience is most active. Whether it's Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, or YouTube, find the platform where your ideal customers spend their time and invest in building a strong presence there. Engage with your audience, share valuable content, and promote your products strategically.
Leverage Partner Campaigns:
Building relationships and rapidly growing your audience is possible through collaborations with like-minded individuals or businesses. Partner campaigns can help you reach new customers, foster trust, and create a sense of community around your brand. Look for opportunities to collaborate, such as guest blogging, joint promotions, or influencer partnerships.
You made it to the end! You now have the tools and knowledge to create a successful Shopify store and generate steady sales. By taking the time upfront to set your shop up for success, you can achieve your goal of making extra income on your own terms.
Remember, building a business takes time and effort, but with the right strategy and mindset, you can create a profitable store that fits seamlessly into your busy life. Enjoy the journey and embrace the freedom and flexibility that comes with being your own boss.
Cheering you on!