This is a guest post by Sarah Saker, a freelance business writer and startup fanatic.
Do you want to work from anywhere and be your own boss? If you answered yes to this question and have the courage to take a leap of faith, then you should consider starting an online store.
There are several advantages to having an online store compared to a brick and mortar store. Including the fact that you can work from your home office and reach millions of customers from different parts of the globe.
Fortunately, setting up an online store is not as expensive or as difficult as you think.
Below are 7 key steps to help you set up a profitable online store.
Step 1: Determine the Products You Want to Sell.
This is arguably the hardest aspect of setting up an online store or business.
You have to carry out some research to find out if the products you wish to sell will be marketable to your target customers and whether you can earn a living selling these products.
Some of the key things you need to consider at this stage are:
- Will you be selling digital products which can be sent to the customer via the internet or physical products that must be shipped?
- Will you specialize in selling a particular item such as books, clothes, shoes, or will you be selling a wide range of products?
- Will you create the products yourself or will you be selling products manufactured by someone else?
To achieve success, it is important you choose an online store idea that fits your personality and one that you can pursue with commitment, determination, drive and passion.
Step 2: Narrow Your Market to Hit Your Target.
Running a successful online store takes more than having a good understanding of the products or services you wish to sell.
Two key questions to ask here are:
- Why should a client purchase your product instead of that of your competitors?
- What makes your product different from others available in the market?
One way to narrow your market and hit your target is by offering unique products. If you sell unique products like handicrafts, the uniqueness of your work might be the major thing that differentiates your product from others.
Even if you sell a product that is similar to several other products available in the market, you can set it apart by providing a user-friendly buying process.
One way to achieve that is by making your website user-friendly and fun to visit.
Providing great customer service can also help to enhance the experience of your clients.
Step 3: Prepare a Business Plan.
After you have determined the products you want to sell as well as your target market, the next thing you need to do is prepare a comprehensive business plan.
This is important whether you intend to finance the business with your personal funds, or you plan to obtain funds from investors.
Preparing a business plan will help you figure out the objectives you want to attain, as well as the tactics to achieve them.
Production costs, taxes, web hosting fees, shipping costs, and employee wages are some of the factors you need to take into account when preparing your business plan.
Step 4: Choose a Domain Name and Register It.
The domain name you choose should be easy to spell and short or branded so that it can easily be entered into a search engine.
Since most of the obvious and memorable domain names have been registered already, make sure that you choose one that is unique.
Include a keyword within your domain name that indicates what your business does. However, there is no need to worry if this cannot be done.
If the domain name you want is taken already, a domain name suggestion tool can help you quickly find some great alternatives.
Step 5: Select a Reliable Web Hosting Company.
Selecting a reliable web hosting service is a very important step (unless using a managed platform) you need to take when setting up your online store.
If your online store crashes or is slow in loading pages, then you can be sure that your brand image and sales will suffer.
While there are free web hosting companies out there, it is best to choose a reputable, paid hosting service, such as Bluehost.
Some of the things you should look out for when selecting a reliable web hosting service are:
- Space and Bandwidth. Do not believe any web hosting firm that advertises unlimited bandwidth and unlimited space. Typically, you will discover that the bandwidth and space is limited in some way.
- Uptime Guarantee: Select a service that has a 99.9 percent uptime guarantee. No web hosting firm can guarantee 100 percent uptime; however, it should be above 99.5 percent.
- Technical Support: Choose a service that provides round-the-clock support 7 days a week, and responds to issues rapidly.
Step 6: Select an eCommerce Software and Setup a Merchant Account.
Be sure to select an eCommerce software that provides secure purchasing options and is appropriate for the kind of products you sell.
An eCommerce software stores your customer’s personal and financial information, some can even send automated emails to everyone in your mailing list.
After selecting an eCommerce platform, the next thing you need to do is create a merchant account with a reliable financial institution or bank.
This will enable you accept payments via credit card. Since banks cost more, consider setting up your account with PayPal as it is a less expensive alternative. Before you officially launch your business, be sure to register it with the necessary government entities.
As your site is being developed and your registration documents are being filed, take some time to publicize your launch.
You can use indirect marketing tactics such as publishing articles that will direct visitors to your website.
Step 7: Design Your Online Store Website.
You can design your website yourself or hire professional designers and developers to do the task for you.
Remember that your website does not need to be too flashy. Instead, it should have lots of white space, nice pictures with colorful descriptions, and simple fonts.
The important thing is that once your customers visit your site, they should easily find what they’re searching for while earning their trust.
The following three items can go a long way in helping your site perform better.
- Fast Loading Time: If your site loads slowly, it can get your customers frustrated and that can make them leave your site immediately.
- Search Engine Optimization: If your site has useful resources, and sufficient information, it has a better chance of people finding it while searching.
- Social Media Integration: Social media integration can help you engage with potential customers that visit social media networks.
Once you complete the 7 steps outlined above, you will have a solid foundation to build upon.
In order to grow your new store into a revenue generation machine, you will need to continually build your brand, focus on creating a great experience for customers, and be creative to keep people engaged with your brand.