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Got Business Ideas?: Episode 1 of The Complete Beginner’s Guide to eCommerce

You’re really burning with the desire to launch your online store. But have found yourself making up all kinds of excuses? 

I can’t because I need to feed my hamster. I can’t because my great aunt needs a lift to the airport. I can’t because it’s a rainy day and I all I can do is eat ice-cream on the sofa. 

I get it.

I was in this exact predicament a few weeks ago. But it all changed when I realized that starting doesn’t mean you have to finish everything all at once.

As Mark Twain once said,

The secret of getting ahead is getting started. 

So, I’ll tell you what steps I’ve taken to get started on my online store this week and hopefully inspire you to do the same. 

And it wasn’t even that hard!

Finding that million-dollar idea 🤔

Do you have that entrepreneurial spirit, but no idea as to what you could sell?

Or, perhaps you’re like me and have too many ideas floating around in your head?

Wherever you are on the ideas front, your eCommerce business idea must be completely thought through.

That’s because the competitiveness in the eCommerce industry is insane. After all, studies are showing that eCommerce startups have a staggering failure rate of 80-98%.

No one sets out to start an online store that will fade away in half a year’s time and neither did I. 

To give my online business a solid foundation, I knew I needed to come up with an idea that didn’t necessarily need to be world-changing, but one that was positioned just right. 

The one concept that I came across over and over when reading about launching an eCommerce store was that I needed a niche. 

Why a niche is important

A niche refers to one’s business specialization or a particular focus area. 

In other words, general stores aren’t cut out for online selling. 

Unless you’re Amazon, of course.

But for us – simple side-giggers, it’s much easier to have a ‘narrow’ business idea and then scale up as we go along.

So, I started by coming up with just the most random ideas for my business: could I sell candy? What about fake flower arrangements? Or perhaps dog accessories? 

To narrow down what my niche could be, I wrote down and asked myself these questions:

  • What am I interested in and passionate about? Autumn leaves, exotic fruit, chihuahuas – nothing is too silly at this point.
  • What problems can I solve? What have I always been good at?
  • Who would I have to be competing with? Is the internet chock full of bespoke hard candy? 
  • Would any of the people I know pay for this product or service?

The answers took me to some far-away corners of my brain.

But that’s how the best ideas arise, so let me take you on a journey of one line of my thinking that got me the idea that I decided to make into an online business. 

The tale of the mystery parcel 

Zyro HR mystery parcels

To celebrate the end of the third quarter, all Zyro employees received ‘mystery parcels’ in the mail. 

HR gave strict instructions to not open them until the end-of-quarter Zoom event. 

The element of surprise was nice and what’s inside was totally wild: sweatpants, a potato, a lemon, ginger, honey, and a magic bean.

Always looking out for the Zyro crew, the goal was to get the employees comfortable in their new remote work environments (hence the sweatpants) and keep them healthy through the flu season (hence the tea-making ingredients).

What about the potato and the bean? Well, they were just funny little inside jokes. 

But what got me thinking is this: HR had shared just how difficult it was to put all of the parcels together and ship them. 

And even though they treated it as a team-bonding experience, they definitely wouldn’t be thrilled to do it time and time again. 

Then the idea struck: what about setting up an eCommerce store that would offer a selection of curated boxes that employers could send to their remote workers all around the world? 

While there are plenty of subscription box services out there, how many are tailored to corporate clients? No one wants flowers, edible arrangements, or fruit baskets anymore.

Putting together 50+ boxes for a special occasion is a lot of work for any HR department.

Plus, remote working has exploded, but how do companies keep their employees engaged and connected? After-work happy-hours and teambuilding weekends aren’t on the table anymore

So, just like that, I dreamt up my eCommerce business idea – curated boxes for business clients to send to their remote employees. 

It’s time to do market research 🕵️

One of the worst things you could do is launch your fantastic business idea without doing any market research

This happened to a budding MMA startup: they wanted to create a platform that matched aspiring MMA fighters with sponsors. 

But, it was a massive flop because, as it turned out, there were lots of aspiring MMA fighters, but very few companies that were interested in sponsoring them. 

Market research will save you the embarrassment because you’ll be able to:

  • Price your products correctly
  • Target the right marketing channels 
  • Sell a product that people actually need and are willing to pay for
  • Avoid missing any key features in your products

The point of market research is to understand what the customers are interested in buying and how the overall market landscape looks.  

You need to know how you can position your product or service so that you’re solving your buyers’ problems. And you definitely want to do it better, and possibly in a different way, than your competitors.

Start by checking out what’s happening in your industry: read the news, Google around, and read publications related to your niche. 

I did exactly that for my curated box idea. I started by reading about the newest trends in the field of HR by hitting up a few of the most reputable sources of HR news online.

Then, I specifically dove into the resources that talked about remote work challenges that the sector was facing. Could better employee engagement be a solution to some of them?

I also joined a group of HR professionals on LinkedIn to ask for their opinion and got some truly valuable feedback. 

LinkedIn HR groups

I also could’ve interviewed multiple people who work in HR at companies of different sizes, but thought that LinkedIn was a nice shortcut and saved me quite some time. 

Paying particular attention to the size of the company that the HR people were working it, it helped me identify that it’d be startups and small-to-medium sized tech companies that I would like to target with my new eCommerce business. 

Who’s your buyer? 💰

You’ve got your business idea and you have a clearer idea as to how your market looks. 

Now, you need to understand who’s going to be buying. 

A good place to start is to look back at your market research notes. Usually, the more specific a niche is, the more specific the target audience will be, too.

Start by jotting down the general demographics of the people you would assume are interested in your product. 

Based on this information, start creating user personas (an archetypal profile of your ideal customer). 

Once you have an idea of who you imagine would be interested in your product, it’s time to call up people in your social circle who would make good examples of these user personas. 

Ask them for their honest opinion and listen to the problems they are facing in their life. You want your product to be solving most, if not all, of them. 

My own market research made it clear that different companies have different needs and requirements for their HR departments. 

Bigger companies might be more concerned with overall employee costs, while start-ups or smaller companies want to look as attractive as possible to both existing and potential employees. 

In my research, it became clear that the biggest problems HR professionals were facing now were related to remote work. 

And their biggest pain-points? Employer branding and employee engagement – done remotely. 

Bingo! My product could solve both of those.

Employee engagement would get a nice boost because people would appreciate receiving some goodies to celebrate team achievements or even their birthdays.

And once they share the box contents they received with their friends, or even share snaps of it on social media, employer branding would get an uplift too.

Kick your competition’s butt 🥊

You might have already had a look at who you’ll be up against within your market, but now it’s time to put your ninja kit on and get into stealth mode. 

Go through your competitors’ websites carefully. Pay attention to things like call-to-action buttons or sections where the customer’s being prompted to make a purchase. 

Try and understand who your competitors are selling to. 

Are they going after the exact same target market as you? And where are they advertising their services, anyway? 

Follow their social media accounts and sign up for their newsletters to get a feel for their marketing strategy, too. 

Understanding your competition is vital for multiple reasons: 

  • You can learn from them. Do they have a huge social media presence? Note down how often they publish new content, how they interact with their customers, and what type of content they create. No need to reinvent the wheel here.
  • You can do better than them. Read all the reviews you can find and find your competitors’ Achilles heels: do they have issues with their shipping? Or do the products too often look nothing like the photos on their website? Or maybe the customer service was sub-par? Understand your competitors’ weaknesses and strive to do better than them.
  • It helps to position your brand better. Market positioning is a real thing. Maybe your main competitor runs a wholesale website where HR professionals typically order gift items in bulk. We could position our goodie box store as the go-to HR gifting service, saving HR departments the time and effort of buying the individual items and then packaging and shipping them to the employees. 

Next week: where do I sign?

So, we’ve learned how to develop a passing thought into a semi-solid business idea. 

Semi-solid isn’t bad (just think about what a scrumptious dessert is semifreddo). 

It’s only natural that as you work on your business, the idea is bound to evolve and change slightly. 

And what do you do with a nearly-formed business idea? You should look into how you set it all up as a real business. 

I know, the legal bits aren’t nearly as fun as cuddling puppies, but knowing if there could be legal hurdles to launching your business is very important.

Plus, before you ship stuff to actual people, you’ll probably want to form a legal entity that will make your customers trust you more. 

Written by

Author avatar

Matleena

Matleena is a seasoned eCommerce writer, with a particular interest in emerging digital marketing trends, dropshipping, and growth hacking. She’s addicted to coming up with new eCommerce business ideas and making them a reality; she deserves her nickname of ‘print on demand business mogul.' In her free time, she enjoys cups of good coffee, tends to her balcony garden, and studies Japanese.

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