How To Start Your Own Business: Part 8 - A Guide To Launching An Ecommerce Fashion Boutique
What Does A Girl Need To Set Up Shop Online?
If you've been thinking about opening an online business, you're definitely onto something. Industry experts are projecting ecommerce revenue to grow a whopping 12% compared to last year. Better yet, things aren't expected to slow down anytime soon. By 2014, US ecommerce sales are projected to increase another 66%, reaching an astounding $223.9 billion.
The prospects sound fabulous, right?! But how do you go about selling online? If you want to sell products or services on an ongoing basis, your best bet is to open your own online store.
Before starting the online fashion business of your dreams, take a look at the following things you'll need to know before launch. Keep in mind that you won't need to do everything all at once, but in order to succeed online, you should definitely think about how to fit them into your strategy.
Step One: Determine What You Want To Sell And Secure Your Product
Do you have an amazing product that you'd like to offer to the rest of the world? How about a blossoming fashion line that everyone should be wearing? Whatever the case, the first step in successfully selling online is to decide what you'll be offering for sale. It's important to work with products that you're passionate about. After all, you'll be working with them quite a bit once your online business takes off. Also, make sure you have a way to secure your inventory, whether you're getting it from a third-party supplier or creating it on your own.
Step Two: Secure Your Domain Name
A domain name is the web address where customers can find your online store. Selecting the perfect domain name for your business is very important – it's a long-term decision that can make or break your success. Try to pick a domain name that is short, simple to remember and describes what you're selling online.
Step Three: Decide Which Ecommerce Solution Best Fits Your Needs
An ecommerce solution, or shopping cart software, is the platform you'll use to sell your products and manage your online business. There are three main types for you to choose from:
Hosted Ecommerce Solutions: Hosted solutions provide web-hosting and shopping cart software as one. The benefit is that you don't have to worry about securing servers or maintaining them on your own, which creates a severe drop in initial start-up costs. Hosted solutions also provide continuous software updates. The drawback is that you don't have full control over every fine detail of your store, but the functionality is typically there.
Licensed Ecommerce Solutions: Licensed solutions are out of the box solutions that you install onto your computer, meaning you have to find hosting in addition to acquiring and maintaining servers. Software features are also built in, but you won't receive updates. The benefit of licensed solutions is the increased control you receive over your online store.
Open Source Ecommerce Solutions: Open source solutions are typically free software downloads that require large amounts of custom coding and technical knowledge. Upon download, you'll begin building your online store and all its features from scratch. If you have the knowledge or resources to develop your store this way, there is a higher degree of flexibility. With open source solutions, you're also responsible for finding technical support, hosting and server maintenance.
Step Four: Choosing A Shopping Cart Software With The Most Beneficial Features
A great product isn’t enough to succeed online – you also need an effective shopping cart solution to maximize sales and propel your online business’ growth. But with so many shopping cart software options available, how do you choose the right one for your needs?
The first step to selling online is finding the ultimate web shopping cart to prime your business for success. Make sure your shopping cart solution provides these critical components:
Most shopping carts come with the basic features needed to run an online store. These will suffice for awhile, but as your business grows, you'll need more. Look for solutions with sophisticated features like batch order processing, automated drop shipping, purchase order management and advanced CRM. To help grow your business, the right marketing tools make all the difference, such as built-in newsletters, a rewards program, gift registry and affiliate program.
To get the help you deserve, pick a provider that offers 24x7 support. Without this, you'll be out of luck if you ever encounter an issue after-hours, or on weekends and holidays. If you find a provider that offers 24x7 support, be sure to dig a little deeper. Can you reach them by phone or only email? How big is their support staff?
Keeping your business and customers safe is a big part of selling online. That's why it's critical to select a shopping cart solution that exceeds industry security standards. You need a solution that's fully PCI Certified and is on Visa's list of providers. This level of security provides a much bigger safety net than mere compliance.
Social & Mobile Selling
Your online business needs to be in the social media and mobile mix. As more and more shoppers flock to their smartphones and Facebook, the potential for increased exposure and sales is obvious. When picking a shopping cart solution, look for one that offers a built-in mobile optimized store. You'll also need tools that allow you to list and share your products across multiple social sites.
Customers won't buy from your site if it doesn't look credible. That's why it's particularly important to have a full suite of design options. From dozens of free templates to full design code access, you need to be in charge of creating a site that's unique and professional.
Step Five: Start Building Your Online Fashion Boutique
Now comes the fun part – building your online store! As you become familiar with your chosen shopping cart software, you'll start setting up your product categories and entering your inventory. You'll also want to start thinking about adding different pages to your new website, including information about your business, contact details, and more. You can easily launch your new online store without having everything on your website perfected – you'll quickly learn that selling online is a dynamic work in progress.
It's also important to begin thinking about the design of your ecommerce site, as it's critical to your success. Even if you're selling the most incredible product, if a customer comes to your site and is underwhelmed, they won't trust your business or purchase from you. Fortunately there are all sorts of design options, including free templates and custom design services. Regardless of what route you take, always have your customer in mind when creating the aesthetic of your store.
Step Six: Determine How You'll Get Paid
No matter what type of product you're selling, your ultimate goal is to make money! Your next decision is how to receive payment from your customers. There are a multitude of options out there depending on your business needs.
Several first-time online business owners opt to use a simpler method of customer payment, such as PayPal or Google Wallet. These options can be utilized in the beginning if you're on a tight budget. The major drawback, however, is that customers are taken away from your website to enter their credit card information. This increases the chance that they will change their minds and abandon their order before it's complete.
Another option for accepting customer payment is to process credit cards directly from your online store. This allows your customers to select from several payment options, and more importantly, keeps them on your site. Credit card processing also creates a higher level of credibility for your online business. Your customers will know that you're a legitimate entity since you've taken the extra step in providing a convenient and secure checkout process.
Step Seven: Spread The Word
To truly succeed online, it's not enough to simply have a website. There are millions of other sites out there, all competing for the same shoppers. That's why it's critical to spread the word about what you're selling online.
There are tons of different ways to tell others about your new store. Some of the quickest methods include reaching out to your friends and acquaintances. But to really stand out from the crowd, you'll want to look to search engines for help. Most online purchases begin with a search in a major search engine like Google or Bing, so you'll want to make sure that you're getting you're getting in on the action.
One quick way to boost traffic to your site is through Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising. Based on various search terms, an ad for your online store will appear within the search results. Another way to boost your ranking in search engines is with Search Engine Optimization (SEO), which is the practice of crafting your site to become search engine friendly.
Regardless of what you decide, make sure you sell your online store to anyone who is willing to listen. At this point you've worked hard to sell online – don't be afraid to tell the world about it!
Reap The Rewards
Opening your own online fashion business is an extremely rewarding process that will continue to pay off as time passes. If you invest your efforts and energy, selling online can quickly become a huge contributor to your income and will ultimately fulfill your entrepreneurial spirit.
Keep in mind, if you can't afford a custom web design or SEO plan at the beginning, that's no cause for alarm. As your fashion business grows, so will your ability to capitalize on different online business tactics.
This is the eighthpost in a series of articles on How To Start Your Own Business.