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Home » Random

The Passive Income Escape Plan: A Crash-Course In Starting An Ecommerce Store

Escape the Rat Race

Last month Murray Lunn from Murlu.com kicked off his series of guest posts ‘Escaping The Rat Race’, I’m pleased Murray’s back again with a Crash Course In Starting an Ecommerce Store. If you’re familiar with Murray’s work you’ll know it’s packed with detail, if you’re not you’ll soon realise it when you read it!

Over to you Murray…

Guess what time it is; yup! It’s time for another post from me, Murray, and how we’re going to escape the rat race by building our own online business.

It’s been a little over a month since I wrote quite an extensive guide to article marketing and this time around I’ve got something very special in store for you – we’re going to be talking about … stores!

Yup yup! You feel the excitement? I do. Where talking about creating a real online business through eCommerce – sound good? Let’s get right into it.

Before we begin; A bit about what I know

I know you’re itching to get started but I’d like to pass some information your way before we get into this deal.

Many people never had the privilege of working for a small business; especially in today’s society. Most people generally work in a corporate environment or as part of a franchise. The idea of a business is completely different to those that come from a corporate background in comparison to those that have worked with the small business environment.

What usually happens is that people that come from a corporate work environment bring with them the same mindset to business – although this is rapidly changing because we finally have these opportunities to start a fresh business; our own way, our own system, our own business.

So where am I getting at all this? The information in this post is from my direct experience with being able to work at a small business along with the privilege to make important decisions that have shaped my work.

I can’t say I’m a complete expert on the matter of eCommerce but the years of work I’ve put into it all have given me an edge. But this isn’t about my experience; this is about how we’re going to create our own eCommerce site from scratch.

Note: I’m not going to go into the very specifics of setting up your legal business identity.  If you’re serious about it all, get a lawyer to handle your paper work or check out sites like LegalZoom so they can set you up with a business tax ID. They can handle all the boring stuff; we want the juicy bits.

Just wanted to clear that part up first. K?

Why eCommerce?

ECommerce takes the idea of online business to a whole new level. As I’ve discussed before, along with many others, information products and services can be a great way to earn an online income but people are still skeptical to purchasing eBooks and information based products especially when you think globally – there are many countries just getting online and they don’t care much for information based products.

You know what they’re used to? Hard. Tangible. Products.

You can’t deny the value that’s conveyed from actually being able to hold something your hands and that’s what we’re going for with creating our own eCommerce site.

Before we begin though, I want you to know that running an eCommerce store is totally different than starting your own business through infoproducts. The good news is that many of the same skills you already know through blogging and being online have put you in the perfect position to take those same skills and create a physical product-based business.

So if this sounds like something you’d be willing to try out; let’s get down to business, literally.

Phase 1: Finding your niche, passion and business culture

The most important step you’ll ever make when we’re talking about business here is the first step – it’s the hardest of them all but once you start walking, you can run.

I’m sure you’ve heard it before but there are three things that truly define a great business in today’s internet-based business world:

  • Defining a niche which allows you claim a piece of the market and enough freedom to continually expand
  • Finding your passion in life and aiming yourself in the direction to achieve your goals
  • Creating a business culture which defines every aspect of how you do business and interact with customers

These are the fundamentals that will define your online business and keep you on point until you achieve success.

I can’t specifically say how to discover each of these because they truly come from within but here are a few ways you can find each: [MN: or check out our post in Start Up School]

1. Niche – Take a deep look into a marketplace which interests you and try to find something that’s not being done by others, being done on a sub-par level or is being demanded by the consumers within the market; this allows you to find a product or service you know will be in demand – this way you know you’ll be able to regularly sell your products.

2. Passion – Examine a hobby which you enjoy, activity you love or interest that seems that you can’t get enough of to the point that you feel insane not doing it – this is a great exercise to define your passion.

3. Culture – Look at businesses which you respect and would love to work at; define what would be your ideal work environment, how you’d like to be treated and then transplant that same love toward your customers – define your company culture by striving for greatness.

Now that we’ve got these items out of the way, it’s time to get into the meat of things. I know you may have been yawning a bit at this section but again, it’s important to develop your mindset and focus your passion before you begin else you could wind up down the road with a business you truly don’t care for – or one that’s not a success.

Phase II: Sourcing your products

Now we get into the fun part – finding our products. Believe me, it’s taken forever to finally put together an extensive list as I’m about to explain – hours upon hours of research, talking with others and keeping my eyes open.

You generally have three main options:

  • Manufacturers – the source, they create the products.
  • Dropshipping – low-cost products and even ship them for you.
  • Wholesale – low-cost products which you order directly to your business

In terms of getting the best deal, manufacturers are the best option because you’re going straight to the source although it can be difficult to set up connections with these companies since they often want established businesses or a large order – which may be hard for you in the beginning.

With that being said…

Five ways to find manufacturers, dropshippers or wholesalers:

  • World Wide Brands or SaleHoo – Although you can find a lot of the same information just by Googlin’, these services are highly recommended because they screen the companies before hand so you know you’re working with legit companies.
  • Trade Magazines – You can bet your ass that every market has some kind of trade magazine; just look through the ads throughout the publication and you’ll find products for sale, company contact information and more.
  • Business Expos and Conventions – If you’ve got some money to spend, I’d recommend checking out trade shows where you can find companies and make those connections which will lead you to their products.
  • Networking with other business people – Don’t be afraid to pull some strings with other business people you know; if they aren’t in your market but know information, they may tell you.
  • Sites like Alibaba – There are dozens of sites like Alibaba but just as the example, you can find many manufacturers, dropshippers and wholesalers on these sites.

Once you’ve found a supplier for your products, you will want to begin the process of contacting these companies and setting up an account representative. From there, they will pretty much guide you through your first purchase and will handle the transactions.

Don’t let these people push you around though; they will be helpful but they’re looking to make a sale. Remember, this is business so if you don’t like what you hear from people, respectfully decline their pricing and find another – there’s plenty out there.

Here are a few tips when dealing with your account rep:

  • Haggle them – Any price they give you, try to get a better one; remember, you’re buying the products, and they need to sell them – push your weight around.
  • Order in bulk – Bulk ordering is the best way to go since you’ll get a better price and save on shipping; if you can’t afford a larger order, consider going in with a friend/family member or check to see if the company does Net90 terms (you don’t get charged for 90 days).
  • Get a sample – Many companies will offer a sample to you if you’re serious about doing business; if you can, get a sample which you could also do a dry run for when you’re testing your business (detailed in the next phase).

But don’t order just yet!

 

Just keep track of everything right now because you don’t want to order a ton of widgets before you have your store open and do a bit of testing. Ordering before testing could burn you if you made the wrong call on the product you want to sell – just a word of warning.

With that being said, let’s get started with setting up our platform, testing and kick-starting our ecommerce site – ready?

Phase III: Finding the perfect eCommerce platform

Is there a perfect eCommerce platform? Unfortunately not. Although you can buy into very extensive suites, what I’ve found over the years is that you really have to define what you want out of your site instead of looking at all the features.

There are always a few fundamentals to eCommerce (some would say good practice but let’s face it – everyone wants these):

  • A great design – It doesn’t have to be the best in the world but people bounce if your site doesn’t look professional. You’ll want a modern design but also created in a way that displays your brand and company culture – you want it to speak you.
  • Simple navigation – Don’t make your customers think; get them in, out and on their way. Navigation is absolutely key to great eCommerce because if you slow your customer down for just a second (or disconnect them from the process), you’ve lost them.
  • Great web copy and media – Don’t expect to have just a paragraph of text and be done with it; you’ll need to at least include pictures and great web copy which completely details the products you have to offer. For additional value, you could add in reviews, videos and more.
  • Simple shopping cart – Your shopping cart doesn’t have to be this mammoth; you need to be able to process transactions without sending customers through loops – again, keep it simple.
  • Backend Integration – The backend needs to be able to speak to various services such as your shipping modules, account management, inventory and more – it makes your life easier.

You know, instead, just read some of the following posts to really get the basics of great eCommerce design and practices:

Okay, with that out of the way, let’s start exploring some of the different options we have for our first eCommerce site. Before we begin, let’s get realistic – you’re probably not going to drop $20,000+ on an eCommerce platform – you’ll probably go with something open source or is at least entry level (so you can expand later on).

From my own research, the following are some of what I would consider the some of the best to look into:

  • Yahoo Small Business – Yahoo offers a small business package that comes with just about everything you need to get started with your first eCommerce store.
  • Amazon or eBay – You don’t necessarily need your own store; you could piggyback off both of these and still get by – these are great if you’re starting on a shoestring budget.
  • Magento – Magento exploded on the scene with a free and paid version; this cart is very robust and will basically take care of everything out of the box.
  • ZenCart – ZenCart is a very popular, free shopping cart solution – there are plenty of developers out there that can customize the hell of it to do whatever you need.
  • 1ShoppingCart – 1ShoppingCart is well known around the internet as being a great shopping cart to handle, well, anything – customize the hell out of it or just run it from the box.
  • Paypal – A lot of people already use PayPal so why not just go ahead and integrate it into your own system! Easy enough.
  • Google Checkout – Google checkout is much like PayPal ‘cept offered by Google.

[note: the BRT Store runs on e-Junkie]

There are a ton of other ones which you can find with a quick Google search but the best advice I could give to you is: write down everything you want out of your eCommerce site and send it to every possible eCommerce platform/shopping cart provider out there. They’ll respond to you with what their software can and cannot do – from there, it’s your call.

Phase IV: Getting your site set up, testing and doing a ‘dry run’

Now’s here’s the moment of truth! It’s time to get your site up and running – /holdsbreath. Okay, exhale – it won’t be as difficult as you think.

Site Setup

ECommerce is a bit tricky because if you don’t understand programming, you’re best off passing it to someone who can – outsource baby! Sure, you may have setup your small website or blog but when you’re talking about SSL certificates, shopping cart integration, data feeds, databases and more – it gets a little out of control, especially if you’re not a code junkie.

My suggestion? Find a freelancer or freelance team that will setup shop for you. Yes, this does mean you’re going to spend money.

You’ll also want to focus on a few other items when setting up your store:

  • Product pricing – based on competitors, market demand and your own costs
  • Copy and media – make it look snazzy because copy and looks do matter since people can’t touch your products; also be sure to utilize SEO for your pages.
  • Banners and display – think along the lines of product display in stores; put your best products out front, include up sells and cross sells, push, push, push!
  • Communication channels – make sure your email is fully functional and never forget things like phone and live chat on your website – it helps with trust!

Consult your developer at this point so you can figure out the best practices in setting up your shop. Whenever you go off track, pull that list of what you need from your site and make sure you’re keeping everything in check – don’t go off into crazy tangents until you have the basics of the site down.

Okay, let’s move on to setting up our first ‘dry’ run:

The reason why you’d want to do a dry run is so that you can figure out how your market responds to your products. The easiest way to do a dry run is to list your product on eBay, run it for a while and see how much it sells for and what kind of reception you gain – simple enough!

The point is to keep it a small scale test before you order your main shipment – this is where a sample item can come into play if you received one – free market research baby!

Additionally, ask people within the market plenty of questions and record all of them to a file. Ask them what pricing they would buy your products at.

Do some research on your competitors by calling them up, place an order and seeing how they do business. Try to one-up them in every aspect.

Phase V: Launching your eCommerce site with a BANG

Now’s the big day, it’s time for an official launch (or soft launch if you’re still unsure) – you want to start it up with a bang, don’t ya? Get those sales coming in right away.

Each site is going to be different but there are quite a few ways you can start driving leads to your store as soon as you open, such as:

  • Purchase online advertising – Google Adwords is a simple and cheap way to go but you could also try out banner ads and other forms of online advertising.
  • Join social media – Jump into Twitter, Facebook and YouTube; connect with people that may be interested in your products – provide value and convert leads.
  • Tell your friends and family – your family and friends are likely to support you so why not use them as the first few customers (and reviews, sneaky sneaky!)
  • JV Partnerships – talk with other business owners in your area or niche, see if they would like to cross promote one another and send out marketing materials to their customer base.
  • Hold a contest – snag up a ton of cool, new gadgets and offer them up as a prize for promoting your business online (such as a retweet contest or fan on Facebook).
  • Test out offline advertising – plunk signs all over your local neighborhood print out flyers and put them on car windshields, guerrilla marketing!

If you’re coming from a blogging/website background, you already know the various ways to drive traffic to your website – need I mention more?

Phase VI: Handling your eCommerce backend

Once people do enter your site, try your best to process their orders very quickly and get them out the door the same day.

Also, call them up on the phone and send them an email personally thanking them for their order and let them know if they have any questions that you’ll be there for them.

You want to convey your brand and trust from the first customer and onward.

Here are a few things you can do to keep customers in the fold:

  • Start an email list and begin sending out a regular newsletter
  • Create a log-in system so customers can reorder on the fly
  • Send regular updates to individuals to ask them to order another product (pretty please)
  • Reward your long-time customers with discounts and bring them back in the fold
  • Thank them regularly to show your appreciation

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you these because the basic train of thought is to treat people with respect and care. Remember the last time you had a great experience with a company? Yeah, try to replicate that in your own business.

Always try to go above-and-beyond with your customers. If a customer has a problem, take care of it immediately. If they give you praise, thank them profusely. If they seem to dip away from your business; bring them back into the fold.

Remember that because of the net, if a customer has a great experience they are likely to tell others – this will send you additional sales. However, if they are disgruntled, they will do some serious impact – you can’t delete what’s been published so one bad review could loom over you for many years to come – always make sure you clear these troubles up by delivering a quality product and superb customer support.

Phase VII: Other things you’ll need to pick up (along the way)

The scope of this post is to really give you an overview of where to get started with eCommerce. I literally couldn’t tell you ever aspect of it because it’s such a huge subject in general – it would take hours upon hours of even talking to skim the tip of the iceberg.

A lot of these things you’ll figure out along the way or through documentation provided by your shopping cart, suppliers, competitor research and more.

If you can keep an open mind to new technologies, you’ll be set for the future. Don’t become like all those old, grumpy business owners that rejects change; pay close attention to what younger adults are doing as it will show you where technology is heading. Reinvest back into your business and you’ll always be set for the next curve.

Conclusion

What I tried to do in this post is to get you started, from scratch, with starting your own eCommerce shop. I know all of this may seem a bit overwhelming but my suggestion would be to start small and work your way up.

Don’t worry about starting a shop that has thousands of products – pick out a few which you truly love and start offering those first. As you learn the ropes, continue to expand your business just like you would any other project you’ve previously worked on.

If you’d like to get a great foundation of knowledge about business in general, I would highly recommend you consider consulting by Matthew here at BigRedTomato. Matthew certainly knows his stuff and let’s face it, I’m 23, I have my own experience from working in the eCommerce field but it takes the years of experience Matthew has to really come out swinging – take my advice as the foundation then step up your game.

I hope you enjoyed this edition of escaping the rat race; take a while to absorb it all in and ask yourself if eCommerce is truly for you. Like any business project you work on, it may be a hit or miss. It’s the ones that have the balls and tenacity to at least try that will create a successful online business – do you have what it takes?