E-commerce start-up guide – how to launch a successful online business

5 min read
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Thinking of selling online? This is without doubt the best way to maximise your sales. It may seem daunting, but if you seriously want to grow your business, then this is where the opportunities really lie. If you follow this simple guide, you’ll be all set.

Ready to go?

Before you start, you’ll need to decide which route to take. You can choose to trade through an online marketplace, such as Amazon or Etsy, or build your own e-commerce site yourself.

The online marketplace

This is the easiest option of the two in terms of getting started in e-commerce. You’ll also have access to a large customer base on a recognised platform.

However, there are drawbacks so it’s not necessarily best for you. You’ll lose control over how your page looks as you’re operating under their brand name. Fees can soon add up, so do your research in advance.

If you’re happy this is the right way, make sure you choose the marketplace that suits your product.

  • Handcrafted products do well through Etsy

  • Personalised items sell well through Not On The High Street

  • And eBay’s the go-to site for collectables.

Amazon might seem like an obvious choice if you’re selling books, and you can even get your orders packed and posted for you. But what are your chances of competing with Amazon’s prices? Look at the formulas you’ll need to calculate business viability in our blog article about how to run a successful business before you go any further.

Creating your own e-commerce site

If you think you’d rather go it alone, don’t be daunted. There are plenty of options available to help you launch your e-commerce site if you need them.

  1. Template-based websites. You’ve probably seen ads for the likes of GoDaddy, Squarespace, Weebly and Wix.

    They all offer all-inclusive options with a database of products, shopping cart, checkout page, payment processor and a database of orders – the basics in other words. And that’s actually all you need to start selling online. You could be making your first sale in a matter of hours. But it’s also worth mentioning that, while there are plenty of opportunities to customise your site, you won’t have 100% control over how it looks and works.

  2. Dedicated e-commerce specialists. You’ve probably heard of Shopify and Magento. These players offer more sophisticated options beyond the core features listed above. This means you have the potential to create a beautiful, brilliantly functioning site, but it also means a lot more effort. Choose a platform that integrates with your online accounting software (Shopify integrates with QuickBooks) and has features such as built-in analytics to help you analyse your performance in online searches.

  3. Do it yourself. Building your own e-commerce website from scratch means total control over design and functionality. This option definitely offers the most freedom, but also the biggest commitment in terms of time and initial outlay. It also probably means hiring coders, designers and content writers to get you up and running.

Get the right domain

Securing the right URL is the starting point – platform providers register your domain for you, but if you’re launching your business as well as your website, now’s the time to do some research. A simple, memorable and original name can spell success for a website.

Promote your site on social media

Whatever e-commerce route you choose, remember to let your customers (and potential customers) know. Shout about your new site on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

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Other forms of digital marketing

  1. Search Engine Optimisation. Think of this as your ‘free’ traffic. SEO, or organic traffic, is referrals from search engines that you have not paid for. There are many resources to discover more about SEO such as Moz and Search Engine Land. The best and simplest route to good SEO is to create great content that people are willing to share and link back to your website as a source.

  2. Paid Search. In the Google search results you’ll notice the top results have a small ‘Ad’ icon next to them. You can pay to appear there, as long as your ad is relevant to the search query the user has entered. In fact, you only pay if someone clicks through to your site. It’s a good idea to get professional help with this to get you started, but it is possible to teach yourself.

    There are many resources available, but it’s worth starting with the Google Adwords Tutorial. But don’t forget Bing in all of this. Many people don’t use Google at all and the same options are available with Bing – which can be even more effective.

  3. Paid Social. Placing ads on social media sites like Facebook or Instagram is a growing area. This way you’re able to reach a large audience quickly, and you can target people based on demographics such as age, income, gender and location. On the downside, people seeing your ads may not be in the mindset to buy, so your ad really needs to grab their attention. Read our article about how to get started with Facebook ads for more details on this.

  4. Don’t forget email marketing. This is cheap, and you can personalise your message, but it takes practise to get it right. Automated email programmes such as Mailchimp are highly recommended. Just make sure you have permission to send marketing emails to the people in your database.

So, ready to take the plunge?

There are plenty of resources out there to help you with your e-commerce start-up. Your time will be precious so ease your burden by using automated accounting tools such as QuickBooks.

Did you find this e-commerce startup guide useful? The QuickBooks blog covers a wide range of business-related topics - it’s all part of the support we offer to help small businesses grow.

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