How to Start an Ecommerce Business: A Step-By-Step Guide

14 min. read

Have you been spending your evenings researching how to start an eCommerce business? Or maybe you've been thinking about doing a website redesign and upgrading your site to include an online store?

If you've been actively looking for tips and advice from the online community, chances are you're feeling overwhelmed by the tons of information coming your way. 


You probably have many questions ranging from choosing an eCommerce platform to how to acquire your products. 


To save you valuable time browsing through a dozen different websites and forums, we decided to put together a step-by-step guide for how to start an online business.


Building an online store can be highly profitable, especially in challenging times like these when the world is faced with a COVID-19 pandemic. 


Whether you already have an online store and want to up your game or are looking to build your first online business, you’re in the right place.


In this guide, you'll learn about:


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Finding Your Niche

Inspired by many founders who built successful big and small online businesses, many people want to try their luck. But they often fail to consider the most crucial step: choosing a niche.


It all comes down to this: You don't want to choose a niche that's too broad or one that has zero interest by people. In other words, the ideal niche would be one that's trending but not yet popular.


One option is to build a business in a niche you're passionate about. For example, if you're passionate about dogs and are good at making things, one fantastic idea is building dog houses. 


The second option is to put your passion aside and try a data-driven approach by finding a problem that people desperately want to solve. 


You need a problem that people can't find an easy solution to and on which are willing to spend money. It will be your job to convince them your service or product can put an end to their troubles. 


If you want to start a business to make money, the second option is the right choice. However, make sure you don't go against your values because you’ll end up sabotaging yourself. 


Even if you decide to start a business that doesn't interest you, you can always hire a good writer to produce amazing content for the site. 


Simply find someone who's passionate about what you're selling and voila, your site will be ready to attract and retain customers!


Once you build a successful business and make a substantial profit, you can focus on your passions. You'll even get to enjoy your passions more as you'll be under no pressure to make money. 


Look into evergreen niches

Some niches always sell—niches where there will always be people who are willing to pay for you to solve their problem. 


Some of these niches include:

  • Diet and weight loss.
  • Fitness.
  • Self-development.
  • Making money.
  • Cooking.
  • Dating.
  • Gaming.
What these niches have in common is that they sell what people want on a profound and fundamental level:

  • love
  • wealth
  • meaning
  • acceptance

Yes, these niches can be highly saturated, but they're also massively broad, which means there's plenty of room. 


Use keyword research to find a specific sub-niche

Okay, now that you found a good niche, how do you find out what specifically people struggle with? 


The best way is by performing thorough keyword research. SEO is your best friend when it comes to peeking into what your target audience is thinking. 


Another thing to try is to go on Google and check out what comes up with the autocomplete feature.


For example, when you type in "self-development,", a bunch of possible sub-niches will appear, including:

  • Self-development activities
  • Self-development books
  • Self-development courses
  • Self-development podcasts


Another tip is to check out platforms such as Reddit and Quora, where people ask other people for tips and advice. 


Many people also use Google AdWords which is a great tool. By creating a free account, you can analyze keywords and get an idea of how much volume certain search terms receive. 


Aside from Google AdWords, SEMRush and Ahrefs are other great tools for keyword research. The tools are not for free, although they do have an open search function that gives you limited results.


Establishing Your Brand

Now that you found your niche, it's time to establish your brand. This step involves everything from choosing a brand name to designing a logo. Here are some tips to help you along the way:

Brand name

There are many ways to choose a great brand name.


If you like how your name sounds, then consider making your name the brand name of the company. 


But if you like to get creative and give a "hip" name to your company, then the first thing you want to do is make a list. Make a list of all the words that relate to your brand.


For example, if your product is dog houses, then the list can contain words such as: 

  • dogs, doggy, puppy, furry, home, animals, adorable, shelter, delightful, yard, ball of fur, comfort, safety, paws, playful, loyal, friendly, best friend, and more. 

Now take two words from the list and combine them.

  • Adorable + paws = Adorable Paws
  • Puppy + playful = Puppyful 
  • Doggy + delightful = Doggy Delight

Feel free to play with the words and create new words out of your list. They don’t need to make sense.

  • Adorable -> Ador
  • Playful -> Plei
  • Animals -> Animalis


The next step is to put together a tagline. The tagline should be clear, concise, and memorable. 

  • For example: Making beautiful homes for your four-legged friend. 

Now connect your tagline with your brand name:

  • Adorable Paws: Making beautiful homes for your four-legged friend. 

Don't forget to do a quick search to see if the brand name is taken. If it is, then repeat the steps again with this in mind. 


Logo

Once you come up with a brand name and a tagline, it's time to design a logo. 


The logo should relate to what you stand for as a brand. Think about what you represent, what you want to accomplish, and how you want customers to see you. 


If your goal is to provide safe and beautiful dog houses to every dog owner, then the logo can be a simple dog house with a tree or a dog paw inside a heart. 


Don't worry if you don't have any graphic design skills. In this day and age, you can easily hire a freelance designer to design a great logo for you. A few popular platforms to hire freelancers are Upwork, Fiverr, and 99Designs.


Get visual

Ever wondered why many fin and tech companies have blue-colored logos? Or that 85% of people base their product purchasing decisions on color? 


According to color psychology, cool colors produce feelings of trust, loyalty, and stability. Red means love, passion, and excitement. Purple represents sophistication and creativity. 


The colors you'll choose for your site will represent your brand identity. Just think of Coca-Cola. The white and red colors instantly remind you of the brand. 


Although colors have different meanings in different cultures, understanding color psychology can help you pick your core brand color.


Choose one to three colors for your main palette, and then you can add a few more muted colors for your secondary palette. Stick to these colors, or otherwise, your site will look messy. 


Use your brand colors in your logo and any infographics, presentations, or social media graphics that you will publicly share. 


Make sure you avoid website design trends such as auto-playing videos, large cookie alerts, and hover menus. 


Register your company

You can not set off on an entrepreneurial journey without registering your online business. When you register your business, your personal and business assets are legally secure. 


Registration also protects you if a customer or competitor decides to file a legal action against you. 


The process of registering an online business is different for every country, so make sure you check the laws in your specific location.


Acquiring Your Products

Every big and small business starts with a great idea. That idea needs to grow into a made or manufactured product. 


There four most common methods for acquiring your products include:

  • Making the product yourself
  • Manufacturing the product
  • DropshippingWholesale

Make

Let's imagine that your product is natural plant-based soaps. You want to keep production costs low and retain control over the quality of the products. At the same time, you can physically produce the products yourself. 


In this case, a great option is to take the matter into your own hands.


People love buying hand-made things. They're eco-friendly, trendy, and made with love. You can create your own products if you're selling things like jewelry, fashion, or natural beauty products. 


The advantage of making the products yourself is that you have full control over the quality, and the process is cost-effective. However, there are a few downsides, such as limitations, time, and scalability.


Manufacture

The other option is to find a manufacturer to produce the product for you. You can find a local manufacturer or look for one from overseas. Keep in mind that manufacturers from countries like China and India tend to cost less than domestic ones. 


Manufacturing your product is a great idea if you have an amazing idea for a product that doesn’t exist currently, and you believe it will sell. 


The pros of manufacturing your product are that you'll have control over the price and the quality of the product. Also, it's not uncommon for a manufacturer to give you the lowest cost per unit.


There's also a downside to manufacturing your product. If you're working with a manufacturer from overseas, there's always the risk of being scammed. 


Another downside is that manufacturing your product can be pricey and end up costing your thousands or tens of thousands of dollars.


Wholesale

Let's assume that you want to sell a product that you know people love buying. You want to avoid losing thousands of dollars and get up and running quickly. 


In this case, wholesale is the right option for you.


Wholesale involves buying products directly from the manufacturers or from a middleman supplier at a lower price and then reselling those products at a higher price. 


The most significant advantage of wholesale is a lower risk compared to manufacturing as you'll be selling already established brands.


The downside is that you'll likely be faced with many competitors who'll be selling the same products. 


You'll have to fight extra hard to convince consumers to purchase from you. 


What's more, if you'll be selling multiple products, you'll have to deal with multiple supply partners which can become difficult to manage.


Dropship

Traditionally, people who were starting an online business had to invest thousands of dollars in inventory. 


With the dropshipping model, that has dramatically changed. Now you can sell products you don’t actually own. 


This is how the model works:

  • A customer places an order from your online store.
  • Your store automatically sends the order to your dropshipping supplier.
  • Your dropshipping supplier prepares the order for your customer.
  • Your dropshipping supplier ships the product to your customer.


Overall, the process works by you taking orders from your customers and forwarding them to your supplier/dropship partner. They ship the product to your customer in your name. 


The price difference between what you charge and what your dropshipping partners charge you is your profit. 


For example, let's assume that the customer ordered a dining set. The customer pays you a retail price of $200. You keep $50 and pay your supplier $150.


The most notable pros of drop shipping include:

  • less investment
  • easier to start a business
  • easier to scale
  • wide selection of products to sell


The cons include:

  • low margins
  • inventory issues
  • supplier errors

Building Your Store

Now that you have developed your brand identity and decided how you're going to acquire your products, the next step in the pipeline is to set up your online store.


Domain name

The domain name should include your brand name. It'll be the address for your website that customers will type or click on to enter the site. 


Apart from a domain name, you'll have to choose a domain suffix. The majority of companies have the.comdomain suffix, which is a safe bet. 


Other options are.coor.net. Avoid suffixes such as the.orgthat is generally used by nonprofits and similar such organizations.


For example, if your brand name is Adorable Paws, your domain name should look something like this:

  • adorablepaws.com 

eCommerce Platform

Many new business owners struggle with the decision to choose a platform to build their eCommerce store. With so many options available, the task can seem challenging and overwhelming. 

  • What features do I need?
  • What platform is the most cost-effective?
  • Which platform is the easiest to use? 

The best platform for your business is the one that fits your budget and needs. Before making a pick, carefully consider things like features, speed, cost, compatibility with different payment gateways, and more. 


If you're not a tech-savvy person, you'll want to choose a platform that's easy to use and doesn't require any coding from your end. 


Let's look at three great options for your business:


Exai

Many platforms work on the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) principle. Exai is different in this regard. The team at Exai will take care of every aspect of building an online store for you. 


Once your store is created, you can easily add, edit, and delete products of your choice. The platform is user-friendly and offers website owners the ability to make minor changes to their site without having to hire a developer.


You can add products one by one, or input all products at once using our "import all" option. You can also customize your images, edit product descriptions, change product prices, write product names, and more. 


Other notable features include: 

  • A fully integrated shopping cart: Once you add a product, Exai will automatically generate a "Shopping cart" and "Checkout" page so that you can sell your products immediately. 
  • Safe payment: Your customers can make payments by using safe payment providers, including PayPal and WorldPay.
  • Inventory oversight: Preview your past and pending orders to evaluate sales and to manage your supply. 
  • Customizable product pages: Play with color, fonts, images, and layouts to create intensely beautiful product pages that capture attention and drive sales.
  • Search Engine Optimized online store: We design your online store with SEO best practices in mind. Your product pages will be SEO-friendly so that you can start ranking for search results. 
  • Managed hosting services: We will handle the hosting of your website so that you don't have to waste time searching for a hosting provider. 

Choosing a platform that's user-friendly and lets you make basic changes without help from a developer will save you a great deal of money in the long-term.


Shopify

Shopify is another popular eCommerce platform. Similar to Exai, Shopify offers hosting services, on top of eCommerce services. 


The platform offers a friendly user interface and excellent customer support to its customers. 


However, be aware that setting up a store on Shopify will require help from a professional developer. 


Creating a Shopify store is a big task and especially daunting for someone with not much tech and business experience. 


Setting up payment methods and other backend development tasks may not be easy for a person who's not a Shopify expert. 


You'll need a Shopify developer to customize the UI of your store, make integrations, make code changes, and more. 


Apart from that, Shopify can be a great platform for low-budget newbies that need a user-friendly online store builder.  


It all comes down to how much you're willing to spend. 


WordPress - WooCommerce

WooCommerce is an open-source eCommerce platform built on WordPress. In other words, it lets you turn your WordPress website into an eCommerce store. 


You can sell physical and digital products, track orders, offer coupons, process payments, and more. 


However, as you can't use WooCommerce without WordPress, you'll need at least some type of knowledge of the two platforms.


What's more, the platform doesn't provide hosting services, so you'll have to take care of that yourself. 


Also, keep in mind that WooCommerce doesn't have a traditional customer service, although you can find many online resources to help you.


With that being said, if you want to retain full control and access to your store's code and backend, then WordPress and WooCommerce are a great pick for your business.


Launching Your Store

So, you've chosen an excellent platform for your online store. You added all of your products with complementing eye-catching visuals. With everything being set up, it's time to launch.


Here are a few things you need to do to help you constantly optimize and upgrade your business:


Connect your site to Google Analytics

Connect your site with Google Analytics. The platform is a great tool that can tell you who's visiting your store, how much time they spend on the site, and which product pages are getting the most visits. 


You can then use this information to come to valuable and on-point decisions. 


Submit your website to Google Search Console

How do online business owners know that their site is performing well? They use Google Search Console.


The Console is another amazing tool that lets you see which keywords are driving traffic to your site, how often your site is shown in search results, how many people are clicking on the site, etc.


Get an SSL Certificate for the website

Customers love doing business with a company that's safe and secure.


But how do you let visitors know that their private information will be safe and secure from outside threats? 


You get an SSL certificate.


When you get an SSL certificate, your site's URL will go from "http" to "https." The "s" stands for secure encryption. 


Once you purchase your SSL license, people will know that your website is reliably protected.


Start blogging

In today's day and age, one of the most effective ways to drive traffic to your site is through content. 


Here are some statistics that prove that:

  • Businesses that have a blog section on their website have a 434% higher chance of ranking highly on search engines(Tech Client).
  • Businesses that use blogs in their marketing strategy get 67% more leads than businesses that don’t(Hubspot). 

With these statistics in mind, consider adding a blog section to your site that you'll use to attract visitors. 


If you don't possess good writing skills, you can always hire a freelance content writer to produce engaging blogs and articles. 


The content you'll be posting should address the problems your visitors are facing.


For example, if your target audience struggles to maintain a healthy diet, offer them tips for how to establish healthy routines.


Building Awareness

Now that your store is up and running, it's the right moment to start thinking about how you'll generate sales.


The top-performing marketing tactics that are highly effective for driving traffic and converting that traffic to sales are:

  • Social media marketing
  • Email marketing
  • Paid ads

Social media marketing

The goal of every business should be to drive trust and build a relationship with its customers. And social media is a great tool for that, as well as for generating sales. 


The first step is to identify your target audience and choose the most relevant social media platforms for your business. 


For example, if you're a tech company, Twitter and LinkedIn might be the best platforms for driving sales. 


On the other hand, if you're selling hand-made jewelry, Instagram is where you should be building your followers base. But to use social media to generate sales, you'll need an audience that's large enough. Here are a few tips for how you can grow your followers base:
  • Share valuable content:the best way to engage people is to give them valuable and awesome content. It can be articles, infographics, videos, ebooks, or anything that might entice them to visit your social media accounts and, ultimately, your site. It's an excellent way to build a community that loves to interact with you. And when a person tries to communicate with you, make sure you take a few seconds to respond.
  • Develop relationships with influencers: make contracts with social media influencers to spread hype and viral buzz about your product. To find popular influencers in your niche, go to Instagram, Facebook or Twitter and start looking for popular individuals. Or make a search on Google. You're likely to find curated lists of the best influencers in your niche. 
  • Give giveaways: people want to win stuff. Contests are a great way to have people win things and at the same time, drive traffic to your site. How do giveaways work? People will have to follow your social account, visit your website, or fill out a form. Make sure you giveaway products that relate to your business. 
Encourage customers to contribute content: motivate your customers to share images of them using your product on their social media, if possible. You can then use the images for your own social media posts. Don't forget to tag your customers in the post to give them recognition.

Email marketing

According to data from 2018, email marketing is the most effective marketing channel. Currently, there are almost 3.9 billion active email users. 


That's why having a great email marketing strategy in place can be crucial for the success of your business. 


Here are four crucial steps for starting an email marketing campaign:


  1. Build a sizable email list: the best way for convincing visitors to give you their email address is by offering to provide them with something of value. This is where nicely written call-to-actions come into play. Entice more people to subscribe by giving them free ebooks, white papers, email series, update lists, etc.

  1. Start sending emails to your subscribers: As soon as a person subscribes to your email list, send them a follow-up email to inform them what they can expect to receive from you. If you promise your subscribers to send them one email per week, stick to that promise. The goal of your emails is to sell your product. What many businesses do is they send a weekly newsletter to their subscribers. These newsletters contain a mix of information, including company updates, offers, announcements, articles, and more. 

  1. Understand your email analytics: to gain valuable info about your subscribers, their wants and needs, as well as the effectiveness of your email strategy, you must understand email analytics. What you want to do is track your open rate, click-through rate, and unsubscribe rate. The open rate tells you how many people opened your email. The click-through-rate indicates how many people clicked on a link in your email. The unsubscribe rate tells you how many people have clicked the “unsubscribe” button at the bottom of your email. 

  1. Segment your email list: The next step is to divide your email list into more specific targeted groups. For example, if you're an online platform that connects developers with startups, you'll need to divide your list to developers and startup founders. Once you segment the list, you'll want to send different newsletters to your two target groups. The developers want to learn more about tech news, while startup founders are seeking advice on how to run a business more effectively. 

Paid ads

Paid ads are the next recommended step once you build a large social media audience. 


For example, let's say that you had 500 likes on your last week's Facebook post. 


How do you turn that engagement into sales?


The answer is through remarketing. 


How can you do that?


Simply go to Facebook Business Manager and click on the 'audiences' tab under 'assets.' 


The next thing is to create a custom audience.


By selecting 'engagement' as your custom audience type will let you target people who have engaged with your Facebook and Instagram posts. 


You can run image ads, video ads, slideshow ads, collection ads, and more. 


Apart from paid apps on social media, Google Ads is another amazing tool for generating sales.


If you're considering spending money, Google Ads is the right place to spend it. 


According to research, in 2016, Google helped provide $222 billion for businesses, website publishers, and nonprofits nationwide. 


In a nutshell, Google Ads is a platform that acts like a marketing channel known as pay-per-click (PPC). You, the advertiser, pay per click or per impression on an ad. 


As advertising your product on Google Ads can be expensive, you have to learn the best practices for how to do it right. 


Consider reading blogs and listening to tutorials to ensure it's money well-spent. Or, you can always hire a PPC agency.


In the meantime, here are a few tips:


  • Target the right audience: when using the platform, don't forget to filter your audience on the basis of geographical location, age, keywords, and more.

  • Target specific devices: if you believe your potential customers are using only mobile phones when going online, then make sure you choose the kind of devices your ads will be displayed on.

  • Use it smartly:before creating an ad, make sure you figure out your objectives. Your objective can be to get more email subscribers, enhance brand awareness, or make a sale. Consider creating a landing page that will be designed to focus on that specific objective. A well-optimized landing page will help convert visitors into leads.

Ready to Create Your First Online Business?

We've reached the end of the guide. 


Hopefully, you learned a great deal about how to start an eCommerce business. 


You're now equipped with the knowledge of how to choose a niche, create a brand, acquire your product, and promote your new store to potential customers.


Your entrepreneurial journey will be challenging and exciting. You'll hit roadblocks, and you'll celebrate many accomplishments.


You'll meet many incredible people and will have to deal with a few complaints along the way.


Regardless of all the challenges, creating a business is a rewarding and beautiful experience. 


So, the last advice we want to give you is to invest in proper website maintenance services. Website maintenance is critical if you wish to ensure your store is running properly. eCommerce stores are often complex and even the smallest setback like website speed can lead to a significant drop in traffic and revenue. Think of it as a housekeeping activity that you must do regularly. 


Now it's time to get to work and create your top-notch eCommerce business!


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