You’ve thought long and hard, shared ideas with friends, told your hairdresser about your business plans, and dreamed of adding many zeros to your bank balance.
Now it’s time to stop messing around and make your online business a reality.
No idea where to begin? No problem.
We’ve put together this handy guide which is specifically designed to help you go from a great idea to a thriving online business.
We’ve condensed the process of starting a successful eCommerce business into 10 simple steps, covering everything from selecting your product range to keeping customers returning again and again.
Table of Contents
1. Find the right product
You might be able to sell ice to Eskimos, but why make like so hard for yourself?
You can have the most attractive website in the world and the most compelling marketing messaging. Yet, if your product doesn’t appeal to your core demographic, your online business is going to go nowhere –fast.
Although every business will arrive at its product range in its own way, there are some universal considerations you can take into account as part of your planning process.
Know what consumers are searching for
We don’t just mean what they’re searching for generally. We mean: what is in their search history, literally?
Conducting keyword research will help you find out:
- What products consumers are looking for
- Which search queries are unfulfilled
- Whether there’s a market for your product and how big it is
- Which keywords you should target in your SEO marketing
Solve a problem
This age-old advice may sound cliche, but is actually one of the most helpful starting points for deciding upon a new product.
Finding a product that meets a real-world need not only means you’ll have a ready-made audience, but it also ensures that your product has longevity going forward.
Remember, you don’t need to invent a whole new product to solve an existing problem.
As an online retailer, your job is to connect the right people with the right products. If the problem is that a certain group of people aren’t currently being targeted with a product they need, you can solve that problem too.
Fill a niche
When launching a an online business, you’re always walking the line between ensuring you have a big enough audience to make it profitable and standing up against competitors offering similar products.
The space right in the middle of that balance is your niche. You need to know there’s enough demand for your products to sustain your company, and you need competition that’s small enough so you can make a name for yourself.
Finding a niche is not simple and requires a fair amount of research into what consumers want, what’s on offer elsewhere, and what’s missing on the market.
Your niche might not be a product itself, but instead might be a new way of marketing a product or introducing it to a new audience.
Be realistic about your limitations
While there might be a huge appetite for a given product, that doesn’t mean it’s the right product for you to sell.
Not all products are created equal and you might find that something is wrong for you if:
- There are restrictions on its sale in your target countries or states.
- It requires more warehouse space to store at volume than you have available.
- It requires specialist storage, like refrigeration or a water supply, or has a limited shelf life.
- Its size or shape makes shipping costs excessively high.
- You will not be able to market it effectively.
When selecting your product, make sure you have a plan for how your product fits into your broader goals.
- Who you will target the product to
- The branding opportunities for your product
- Which accompanying products you could sell alongside
- How your choice will influence your website design
- How you will market the product effectively
- Whether you’ll have repeat customers
- If there is potential to scale up with your product
We’ve written extensively on how to choose the right product for your eCommerce business. Check out these other Zyro blog posts for more inspiration:
- Product Research Tips to Help You Build an eCommerce Business
- 45 of the Best Things to Sell Online in 2020
- 57 Business Ideas You Can Get Started on Right Now
- 12 Trending Products You Should Sell in 2020
2. Identify your target market
You’ve got the what, now you need the who.
Central to your product’s success is your ability to identify and target a demographic that is willing and able to purchase your goods.
Finding the right audience for your product will help you create projections for sales and revenue, as well as tell you how to brand your company and product.
Furthermore, your target market will also inform you which marketing channels to use and how to use them effectively.
In order to discover your ideal target market, follow these steps:
- Objectively assess your company. Break down the key features and benefits of your product, and how it may help customers.
- Conduct market research. Assess which potential market segments might be interested in your product, and whether they’re big enough to support your business.
- Create consumer profiles. Use demographic info like gender, age, location, and socioeconomic indicators to profile customers and their shopping behavior.
- Narrow down your market. Try to be as specific as possible when it comes to who your customers will be. You can always change this later.
- Conduct competitor research. If you have identified other companies offering similar products, see who they’re targeting. You might target the same or a different demographic.
- Get feedback. Once you have a working theory about your target market, get the perspective of those outside your company, and be open to constructive criticism.
Remember, you can always refine your target audience later, depending on who actually buys your product. This should be an ongoing step.
3. Choose an eCommerce platform
Where you sell is almost as important as what you sell.
If you’re planning to start an online business soon, you’re probably aware of how many options you have when it comes to eCommerce platforms and website builders.
The big names like Wix, Squarespace, and Shopify are likely already on your radar, and you’ll be weighing up your options based on your needs.
If that’s the case, you’re doing the right thing. Thinking carefully about what features you need, what level of experience you have, and how much you’re willing to spend will help you narrow down your choice.
Since you’re reading this on the Zyro blog, it’ll come as no surprise that we think you should give Zyro’s website builder and eCommerce platform a try.
All biases aside, though, here are the 5 of the most compelling reasons you should choose Zyro:
- Single dashboard. Everything, from inventory and product listings to orders, shipping, and customer contact, is managed from one place.
- Omnichannel. Sync up and sell across platforms like Amazon and Facebook, and share your message on multiple social media, search, and other ad networks.
- Speed. No website builder can compete with Zyro for speed. Thanks to its professional templates and easy builder, you can create your store in hours, not days.
- Ease. Anyone can use Zyro, without any coding or web design experience. Its drag-and-drop editor and grid layout make website building simple.
- Price. While you should always be willing to pay for quality, Zyro makes all its eCommerce tools available to you at a remarkably affordable price.
Do your own research, though. You know your need and customers the best, and you should select the eCommerce platform that caters to them
4. Establish your brand
A brand isn’t one thing; it’s what you look like, what you say, how you say it, who you say it to, how you think, what people think of you, and a million other things that add up to a whole.
That said, brand building should be undertaken deliberately, with the aim of creating a compelling narrative around your company and products that strikes a chord with your target audience.
At this stage in the process (before you’re thinking about creating marketing materials) your branding should consist of:
- A value proposition. What problem does your product solve? What benefits does it confer to customers? Why should someone buy it?
- A company, brand, and product name. All three might be the same or totally different. Either way, your name should speak to your audience.
- A visual language. Perhaps start by designing a logo, deciding on an appropriate color scheme, and thinking about the fonts and images you might use.
- A voice. Your brand should have a clearly defined and recognizable way of communicating. Everything from website info to marketing copy should share a voice, if not a tone.
- Consistency. The key to effective branding is ensuring that every element conforms to a recognizable whole.
If you’re looking for more help developing your brand, check out this comprehensive guide to brand building:
5. Create a captivating online store
Web design is easier and more accessible than ever. You’ve really no excuse for having an unattractive website.
A blank page staring at you can be an intimidating place to start when it comes to creating your first website. This is why it’s advised to use a website builder over other options, like content management systems, or coding it from scratch.
A website builder will provide you with template options, customization functions, and tools to help you build a great online store.
The success of online businesses hinges on their ability to convert traffic into paying customers, and the most important tool at your disposal is your website.
This is why you must make sure your website:
- Has an appearance in keeping with your brand aesthetic throughout.
- Is easy to navigate, making it quick and simple to find desired pages and info.
- Contains strategically placed calls to action, encouraging visitors to make a purchase.
- Displays products or service listings in the most attractive way possible.
- Is designed for conversions and search engine optimization.
If you choose to use a website builder like Zyro, the process of creating your website will go something like this:
- Create an account. Join Zyro, or sign up for the website builder of your choice.
- Choose a template. Find a designer-created template that suits your brand.
- Customize your site. Use the drag-and-drop editor to add content and get the look and feel you want.
- Add your store. Create an eCommerce page and add your product listings.
- Publish. Take your website live and start inviting in traffic.
There’s way more to building a beautiful website and online store than we have space to cover here. Here are some other resources you might find helpful when you get to this step of your journey:
- Best Small Business Website Examples
- 6 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Building Your Online Store
- How to Design a Website
- The Latest and Hottest Website Builder Trends (2020)
6. Start marketing and developing traffic
If you build it (and market it really effectively) they will come.
When deciding how to start an online business, one of the most daunting steps is sharing your product or service with the world for the first time.
The best way to avoid this kind of anxiety is to approach your initial marketing efforts with a solid plan which clearly lays out:
- Your aims for the campaign(s)
- Your target audience
- The marketing channels you’ll use
- The core messaging you’ll communicate
- Your plan for converting traffic into paying customers
- How you’ll capture user data, and what insights you want
- The means by which you’ll retain customers
If you’re using an eCommerce platform like Zyro, you should be able to manage most of your marketing activity from through that platform.
Social media advertising, Google Ads, and SEO tools all come built-in, making it extremely easy to run and manage campaigns.
Since we’re completely obsessed with small business marketing, you can check out some more posts we’re written that go into more detail about specific techniques:
- What Is Social Media Marketing?
- How to Sell on Instagram in 10 Simple Steps
- What Is Affiliate Marketing and How You Can Start
- The Top 10 eCommerce Marketing Trends of 2020
- What Is Guerrilla Marketing?
7. Capture and use analytics data
Without big data analytics, companies are blind and deaf, wandering out onto the web like deer on a freeway.
If you’re not capturing user data and using analytics to give you actionable insights, you’re basically going to keep stumbling around in the dark. You might get lucky, but chances are your business will not be successful.
Collecting rich analytics data allows you to:
- Monitor results in real-time. Don’t wait to see when your inventory runs low; follow performance day to day, or even hour by hour.
- Get a solid overview of your business. Decide what your key performance metrics should be and keep track of them on a regular basis.
- See what’s working and what isn’t. Understand where customers are coming from, what influences their purchasing decisions, and what should be changed.
- Improve your marketing and user experience. Making incremental changes and tracking their effects will help create sustainable growth.
- Create compelling justifications for funding. If you’re looking for further investment in your company, you’ll need solid data to back up your request.
If you’re using a website builder and eCommerce platform like Zyro, you should already have some data capture and analytics tools at your disposal.
For instance, every eCommerce package with Zyro gives you access to realtime sales reports and tools like Google Tag Manager, Google Analytics, Facebook pixel, and Pinterest tag, among others.
While you might choose to use some tools more than others, collecting as much data from as many sources as possible will give you the best view of your company’s current status.
8. Optimize your messaging and website
Do more of what works. Stop doing what doesn’t work.
By this point your website is live, your store is active, and you’ve begun making your first sales. It’s now time to take those data insights you’ve been collecting, and turn them into action.
Even if you’re hoping to make passive income from starting an online business, you will need to put in some hours making improvements when you first get started.
It’s worth noting right that, unless your initial launch has been completely disastrous, any changes you make to your marketing approach or website should be incremental and evidence-based.
Testing and optimizing (especially if you’re A/B testing) will help you:
- Hone in on your ‘real’ audience
- Discover which marketing channels you should be focusing on
- Identify which messaging resonates best with your target audience
- Remove steps and hurdles that are preventing customers from making purchases
Remember though, optimization isn’t just about user experience, you should also take opportunities to improve site speed by reducing the amount of content that needs to be loaded.
Also, optimize for search engines by creating new, keyword related content. Finally, ensure more uptime by hosting your website on reliable servers.
It’s this kind of activity that will start to grow your online small business into a thriving success
9. Nurture return customers
It’s always cheaper to convert existing customers than it is new ones. Repeat custom should always be your goal.
There’s no single way in which every online business should approach customer retention, but some effective methods you might try include:
- Capturing contact information. Be sure to collect customer emails, as this is the single best way to bring a customer back to your website. Get their permission to send marketing communications.
- Keeping customers engaged. Contact past customers on a regular (but not annoying) basis. Invite customers to connect via social media and provide incentives to stay engaged.
- Releasing new products regularly. Make sure customers have a reason to return by offering new products for them to purchases. These can even just be updated versions of old products.
- Upselling secondary products. Have a core product, but want to make extra sales? Stock a number of smaller-ticket items, and make it easy to add them to a basket at checkout.
- Selling subscriptions. If your product or service suits a subscription model, it can be the most effective way of fostering return customers and creating a reliable revenue stream.
10. Scale-up at a sustainable rate
Growth is good. Too much growth too quickly can be counterproductive.
Up until now, we’ve covered how to start an online business from the ground up. Once your business is up, running, and making sales, though, you’ll want to start growing.
If you’ve followed the advice in this guide to this point, you’ll be in a position where a lot of your growth develops naturally, thanks to data insights and incremental optimization.
However, if you want to speed up the growth of your online small business, you might consider:
- Expand your product line. Once you know what your customers want, start introducing new products to your inventory to encourage larger purchases.
- Sell on new platforms. Your own online store is a great place to start, but how about selling on Amazon, Facebook, Instagram, or other platforms?
- Increase your marketing spend. Reach more potential customers by increasing your marketing budget. Only to be done strategically.
- Get further investment. Bringing in new investment money can open up new avenues for exploration (including the other points in this list).
Most of the steps laid out in this guide are made infinitely simpler to execute with the aid of a website builder with strong eCommerce functionality.
With this in mind, we recommend you try our Zyro for free, and see whether its features match those you need to start a business.