Whether you have unique handmade items you’d like to sell or you want to start a wholesale or dropshipping business, you’ll need a great website with eCommerce functionality to be successful online. With relatively low upfront costs and many great code-free site builders available, it’s easier than ever to start an eCommerce business. In this article, we’ll show you how to start an online store in just eight easy steps. Make your eCommerce business dreams a reality today!
1. Pick a Viable Niche and Define Your Target Audience
The first step in starting your online store is to determine a niche market you’d like to serve. One of the biggest mistakes new business owners make is not focusing on the three components of choosing a niche:
- Profitability: You want a niche that is profitable so you can see a return on your investment and build a profitable online store. If a product is too expensive to manufacture or purchase wholesale, it has a low potential for profitability. Similarly, a product might be too expensive to ship and may be better suited for selling in person.
- Searchability: The best e-commerce stores stock in-demand products people search for. If you’re looking to start an online store that sells dog leashes, for example, make sure “dog leashes” is a keyword you target. Use SEO tools to determine products people search for.
- Passion: Consider your passions. For example, what do you enjoy talking about or researching? When you’re passionate about what you sell, you’ll be more likely to stick with it when times get tough. Not only that, but you want customers to direct people to your store because you’re the expert in a particular field, product or service.
Your target audience is just as important as your niche. You want to make sure the products you sell will interest them and that they can purchase what you’re selling with no trouble. Don’t ask people for their opinion on your product if they’re not in your target audience.
2. Choose Your Product Line
Once you’ve determined your niche and target audience, it’s time to decide on your product or service line. This can be the hardest part of starting your online store. You want to make sure you’re not selling a product that’s too expensive to produce or that no one is searching for. It’s also important to make sure you have the resources, such as storage and shipping, to accommodate your products.
If you choose a product that’s already popular, how will you differentiate yours from the best? Can you improve on an existing product? How will you make sure your online store is the go-to source for this product?
3. Create Your Brand Name and Brand Assets
Once you know what you want to sell, the next step is to choose your brand or business name and create your brand assets, such as your logo. For some, this step might come very easy and for others, this can be very challenging. One way that businesses often weed through name ideas is by going to a domain name registrar, such as GoDaddy and searching for available domains. The reason is, ideally, you want your domain name to match your business name.
If you’re not sure where to begin when creating your logo, Canva is a great place to start. It offers dozens of free and easy-to-customize logo templates. In case you don’t want to try your hand at logo design, you can always hire someone to do it for you from platforms like Fiverr and 99Designs.
4. Register Your Business
In order to process payments for your online store, you’re going to need an EIN (or employer identification number). To get an EIN you need to register your online store as a business in your state. While you can register as a sole proprietorship or corporation, generally small businesses register as an LLC (or limited liability company), which helps protect your personal assets should your company get sued.
There are also tax advantages to creating one for your new company, so check with your tax advisor to see if an LLC is the best option for you. The process of registering your business will vary from state to state, so it’s best to refer to your state’s Secretary of State for more detailed information on the process. Alternatively, you can always use a business registration service such as LegalZoom or ZenBusiness.
5. Choose an E-Commerce Platform
Next, it’s time to choose an e-commerce platform. This is the platform where you will build and manage your online store. There are a number of great e-commerce platforms to choose from, such as Squarespace, Shopify and Square. However, each platform comes with its own unique set of features, which impact affordability, capabilities, and user-friendliness, so it’s worth taking the time to find the right one for you.
Here are a few of the best e-commerce platforms for easily building an online store:
- Squarespace: Best for web design beginners looking to easily build a beautiful online store with built-in marketing tools for as little as $14 per month with annual billing.
- Shopify: Best e-commerce platform for building a dropshipping store. Plans start at $29 per month and typically involve the purchase of a premium theme for around $250.
- Square: Best for those on a budget as it offers free plans, as well as those planning to sell in-store and online.
6. Build Your E-commerce Website
Once you have decided which e-commerce platform you want to use, the next step is to go to that platform and create an account and begin building your online store. While the steps will vary depending on which platform you’re using, typically the steps will more or less involve the following.
How to build an online store website:
- Navigate to the e-commerce platform of choice (e.g., Square) and create an account.
- Choose a domain name (typically included with a plan–if not, purchase separately).
- Select a template or theme.
Add your business name and logo.
- Customize your homepage, as well as all other web pages.
- Add your products and create product listings.
- Set up a payment processor.
- Configure settings (e.g., tax or shipping calculators).
7. Optimize Your Site
Once your online store is up and running, optimize it for search engines so that it can get found online and in search engines, such as Google. This will help your website increase its visibility, gain more website visitors, and generate more sales–all for free.
Here are a few things you can do to optimize your site:
- Title tags: The title tag is the text that appears on the search engine results pages (SERPs). Your title tag must be descriptive and relevant to your product or service.
- Meta descriptions: The meta description is the text that appears under your title tag in the SERPs. Use descriptive and interesting language that encourages people to click through to your site.
- H tags: The H tags are the headings on your page. Make sure they’re descriptive and help explain what the page is about.
- Images: Include images on your page and ensure they’re properly tagged with keywords.
8. Tell the World
Once your online store is up and running, you need to market it. The reason for this is that building a business through SEO is a key component in your long-term strategy. Marketing your products and services will help bring in traffic now.
Here are several ways you can promote your online store:
- Add your brand to online directories.
- Work with influencers to promote your brand.
- Online advertising (e.g., Google Ads or Facebook Ads).
- Use content marketing to help your site get found online.
- Create social media profiles and become active on them.
- Referral or loyalty programs.
Use press releases (if you have highly unique or groundbreaking products).
- Join an affiliate marketing program.
- Try word of mouth marketing.
The best way to promote your online store depends on your business and the products or services you’re selling. Successful marketing campaigns contain many, if not all, of these strategies at the same time. Try a few different methods and see which ones work best for you.
Why E-Commerce Is Important
There’s a reason the current generation is often called the instant gratification generation: our world is more connected—and easily accessible—than ever. With a few clicks of a button, people from all over the world can purchase your products and services 24/7, 365 days per year, provided you have an online website. Sometimes, this is referred to as an e-commerce store. The overall look, speed and quality of your site can make or break a sale.