“I have a famous brand for customized bike accessories. How could I bring it online and maximize my sales?”
“I want to start an online fashion store for sell the designer dresses & jewelry. Please let me know the steps required to build one.”
“We are a small group of housewives and make handmade crafts. What’s the process to sell these things online?”
“I have a local business of toy-making. Can I build an e-commerce store to sell these products?”
These are many of the questions about how to start an online business, and in this fast-paced environment, you need to get a right answer.
Before a few years, local businesses were making enough profit from their traditional sales & marketing activities. But with the rise of internet & large retail e-commerce brands like Amazon, Flipkart, Snapdeal & Myntra, etc. many local businesses have lost their market share significantly.
There was a time when we used to go to a grocery shop to buy some household goods, but this everything has changed.
Now, retail brands like Amazon (Pantry) & BigBasket has captured this market too. You can choose the things you want & they will deliver these products to your doorstep.
Isn’t it amazing?
So, to be in the market, it’s wise to go digital along with the traditional even you have a good reputation & solid customer base.
And, if you are one who is struggling to start an online store, don’t worry.
I’m going to tell you the simplest and step-by-step process to build your online store as well as promote it to get maximum ROI.
Though I can’t guarantee about sales, I’m sure that your honest efforts will make a distinct change in your current business.
Let’s see how you can also start an online business.
Idea Validation: Am I going right?
Suppose, you have decided to start an online business, the first thing you need to do is an idea validation.
Be careful of not being too obsessed with your idea because if the market for the product does not exist, then it may not be worth selling.
Currently, Reliance is selling JIO phones with unlimited data & calls. Will it be a right decision to create a brand to tackle them if you don’t have investments in billions & solid business plan?
Don’t get it emotional, be practical and think about what I’m trying to say.
It’s worthless to spend your time & money on stupid things that don’t bring positive ROI to you.
Sometimes, you will get success by finding loopholes in the strategies of existing businesses, but it’s rare when such tricks have got scaled to great visibility & flooding revenue.
To be honest, no one can give you 100% guarantee that your idea will work, but you can figure out what strategies you need to have to convert your plan into a successful business.
Market research is a key tool to find whether your concept can make big or not.
There are many theories but let me tell you a few simple tips that a noob can also implement.
You must enlist some products that you want to sell on an online store. There are a ton of categories to choose the products. It can be a garment product, customized mobile cases, electronics items or designer jewelry.
Make sure you have significant knowledge of that particular niche because business can’t be learned overnight. An experience & in-depth knowledge matters a lot even you are doing it online.
Some people may have no business background but learning new skills & keep experimenting can make a positive difference.
However, this article is useful for everyone to validate an idea, estimate market potential for the product, and prepare you the roadmap to start an online store.
Estimate Market Potential Through Keyword Research
The first step in building a store online is market research to find the buying potential, and the keyword research is a great way to see how many people are currently searching for the product you want to sell.
There are many free as well as premium tools like SEMRush, Google AdWords Keyword Planner, Moz Keyword Explorer, Ubersuggest, etc.
Google AdWords Keyword Planner is a great tool you can use. Currently, you need an active AdWords account to use this tool with all functionalities and creating one is a matter of minutes.
You can sign up for this service with a Gmail account and start exploring insights about the market. It shows keywords, monthly search volume, and other useful data.
If you are already using it, then no problem, but for the people who haven’t tested it can sign up here for Google AdWords account.
Then, simply sign in to your account, select Tools from the top menu >> select Keyword Planner >> click Search for new keywords using a phrase, website or category to perform the keyword research.
For example, here is a snapshot of the keyword analysis shown by Google AdWords Keyword Planner for the term complete makeup kit.
If the average monthly searches for the keyword is high, it indicates that the particular product has a high search popularity. It means people are actively looking out for products related to those keywords and that validates the demand for your product idea.
“What will happen if I enter in a competitive niche?” “Will I make money?”
These are a few questions arise in everyone’s mind when they see competition for a particular product.
Contrary to widespread perception that the competition is bad for business, it’s actually good and indicates that you have a market to sell your product.
As shown in the above screenshot, you can use the Google Keyword Planner tool to find the level of competition for each keyword. Though it’s a good sign of profitability, appropriate marketing strategies are required to tackle that competition. Because your competitors won’t be sitting quite just to see how much sales you are generating.
If you have a budget to spend on marketing activities especially on premium SEO tools, you can try SEMRush or Ahrefs for keyword research and market analysis.
These tools will provide more details along with keyword research like
- Organic and paid search results
- Related Keywords
- Traffic volume
- Level of competition, competitors, and their website details
For keyword research, three major parameters you must look for your competitors are,
- Search Volume
- CPC (Cost Per Click)
For example, below is a snapshot of the analysis for the keyword “complete makeup kit.” You can do a similar search for your product idea and check out the details of your competition.
Volume or Average Monthly Searches is the average number of search for a particular keywords/search queries per month over the last 12 months of time-period.
The volume shows the popularity of the search query. Higher the search volume, then more its popularity. It means the market has buying potential.
CPC Or Cost Per Click is the average minimum price that advertisers pay to get a click on their Google AdWords ad that displayed up for a given keyword.
Higher CPC indicates that the particular keyword has a higher value as well as competition and more people are trying to bid for that keyword to appear in search results (paid) to grab maximum potential customers.
Competition (0-1) is an index of advertisers bidding on this keyword for their ads. A score of 1 indicates the maximum competition while as the 0 indicates no competition for the searched keyword.
To keep yourself distinctly ahead in the competition, you should come with a USP (not in features but in benefits) and provide the best customer service.
Selecting a niche & the product that people actually want, you can win the market. Make sure you have a proper blend of quality & VFM in your products that grab the attention of maximum people.
Talk to Your Potential Customers
Though the keyword research is a great way to find market potential, try to engage with your potential customers online as well as offline to know whether they want to buy your products or not, what they really like & expect from your product, etc.
That’s not all, ask them the feedback about your current product so you can improve it to cater the interest of maximum people.
There are many steps to find out that, but I have mentioned here the few which you can use easily.
Start discussions on the social media. Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are great tools to get real feedbacks from a ton of people.
You can tag relevant people to get the opinion who have good knowledge of that particular niche.
Social polls are also great where you can easily count statistics to validate your ideas.
Many people have built an authority in a specific domain. You can contact such people to get their opinion on your idea.
These people have years of experience trying many things where they have got a big success as well as the failure too.
Getting connected with them can bring more insights that you can’t find only by doing keyword research.
If you have a prototype of the product, you can ask them to review it and suggest improvements.
Isn’t it a good idea?
Amazon, Flipkart, Snapdeal, PayTM, etc. are big brands in e-commerce sector featuring thousands of sellers.
You can read customer reviews of your product’s competitors over there to figure out what kind of product you can sell in your store.
Since the feedbacks received from social media connections would be limited, employing the indirect methods like this can help you understand the customer requirements.
For example, if you plan to sell home decor products on your online store, you can go to Amazon or Flipkart and search for this term to check out the customer reviews as shown below.
Setting Up Your Online Store
Now, you have got how to validate idea to check profitability. After evaluation of market potential, the next step is to setup your store online to sell your products.
You can choose the one way from the three listed below that suits best to your skills & requirements.
- Selling products on e-commerce marketplaces like Amazon, Flipkart, etc.
- Launching an online store using the hosted e-commerce solutions like Shopify, BigCommerce, Volusion, etc.
- Setting up your online store using self-hosted platforms like WordPress + WooCommerce, OpenCart, Magento, etc.
All three options mentioned above have their own advantages and disadvantages. However, you can pick anyone to start an online store in India.
1. Selling Products on Online Marketplaces like Amazon, Flipkart, Snapdeal, And PayTM, etc.
I purchase many things online and mostly prefer Amazon. One of my best friends, Sham recently ordered a smartphone from there.
You might be doing the same. Or, you can say almost every one of us has purchased some items on these e-commerce marketplaces.
Nowadays, online marketplaces are very popular among customers and actively promoting themselves across a bunch of platforms online as well as offline. Hence, you can also create an account there to start selling from day 1.
These platforms have millions of ready to buy customers if you make them feel that you provide quality products having VFM.
Still, they have a bunch of advantages and disadvantages. I have tried to list a few of them below.
Advantages of Selling Products on Online Marketplaces
- A large market that’s ready to buy your products.
- Zero/minimum marketing costs.
- All technical stuff is taken care off including hosting, design, security, etc.
- Easy promotion to improve brand awareness.
- Options are available to outsource product packaging and shipping. Drop shipping is also possible.
Here are a few top Udemy courses can help you to learn dropshipping at your own.
Disadvantages of Selling Products on Online Marketplaces
- Generally, you get thin profit margin and need to generate large volumes of sales for better profitability
- High direct competition as other people may be selling similar products.
- Minimum customer loyalty
- It can’t be customized according to your requirements.
2. Launching an Online Store Using Hosted E-commerce Platforms
If you are actively searching for the information about how to build a store online, then you might have experienced a Shopify ad or a sponsored post from a digital guy who sells courses related to drop shipping via Shopify.
Am I right?
It’s not only one, but there are many hosted e-commerce solutions like BigCommerce, Volusion, etc. providing the platform to set up and launch your online store easily.
Shopify is considered as one of popular among these hosted solutions and easier for operation.
Hosted platforms are good and allow you to launch your store online in a few hours, but you can find some pros and cons for using them.
Advantages of Launching an Online Store Using Hosted E-commerce Platforms
- You can organize your products, customize your storefront, accept payments by various methods as well as track and respond to orders.
- Customer loyalty would be high.
- Hosted e-commerce stores are easy to set up and run. You can upload your products and start running a business within no time.
- All technical stuff is taken care off including hosting, security, etc. It’s fast, SEO-friendly & secure solution to start your online store (especially, when I talk about Shopify).
Disadvantages of Launching an Online Store Using Hosted E-commerce Platforms
- The setup fees suck especially when you are starting out.
- Not complete control though you have an option to customize front-end.
- Add-ons & third-party integrations are mostly paid.
- Email hosting is not provided though you can get a custom domain.
3. Setting Up Your Online Store Using Self-Hosted Platforms
You might have heard about self-hosted WordPress or many of you have a blog there.
So, it would be better to go with self-hosted platforms to build an e-commerce store If you don’t want to depend on marketplaces.
There are many options available including WordPress, Magento, OpenCart, etc.
Though you can pick any option from the list of CMS & development tools, I’ll be primarily talking here about the WordPress + WooCommerce only.
WordPress is the most popular CMS out there. You can integrate WooCommerce plugin with it that facilitates e-commerce functionalities to launch your online store even you don’t know how to code. Knowledge of some basic configurations is required.
If you select this option, then you need to follow the simple DIY guide written below.
Step-by-Step Process to Build an Online Store Using WordPress + WooCommerce
Remember, if you are thinking to start your e-commerce store with the help of this option, initial setup and investment of few bucks is needed, but it’s completely worth against the benefits you will be receiving.
So, let’s start with the process.
#1. The first thing you need is the business name. Choose it wisely. If you already have a business, then you can use this name also or choose a unique brand name to launch your store.
Brainstorm the ideas to get a name that’s memorable & brandable. You can choose either a niche-specific keyword/phrase or generic name depending on your requirements.
#2. The second step is to buy a domain name. You can use your business name as a domain or opt for a unique, brandable name.
Still, getting a domain that features your business name is a great option to build a brand in the market.
For an extension, prefer a .com which is the most popular on the web or other gTLD like .net after your domain, but in some cases ccTLD like .in or .co.uk maybe great choice.
#3. The next step is buying a web hosting service. For most of the people who are thinking to start an online store, SiteGround’s GrowBig plan is good which offers many premium features along with 1-year free Wildcard SSL.
But, GoGeek plan is perfect if you are going to scale your business by allocating some budget on sales & marketing activities as can handle more traffic (around 100K visitors/month) and have some advanced features like Free PCI compliance that is necessary to process payments on your site.
#4. Once, you move ahead and buy web hosting; you’ll receive an email with details of your Cpanel login where you can navigate to install WordPress.
#5. Now, you have WordPress installation ready, so log in to your WP dashboard to setup your e-commerce store.
The actual process begins where you create an online store on the top of WordPress using WooCommerce plugin.
#6. To proceed further, you need a theme which is e-commerce ready. Though some good themes are available in WordPress repository, I recommend using premium themes that come with advanced features and gives more controlling power.
You also have an option for a completely customized website for your online store, but you either need to have a hands-on experience in coding or hire a developer for this task.
It’s not always necessary as you can create a unique looking store with a bit of customization available from the dashboard itself.
#7. The next step is optimizing your site for speed, SEO, and overall performance.
Some plugins will help you out there. Akismet, W3 Total Cache, Autoptimize, Yoast SEO, etc. are a few of them.
Still, some basic things you need to look carefully are,
- Make sure you have appropriate permalink structure.
- Your website has enabled for https (SSL).
- You have a professional logo and favicon.
- Important links are created & published including Privacy, TOS (regarding shipping, payments, refunds & chargebacks, etc.) as well as Disclaimer, Contact and WooCommerce pages.
- You have proper social media integration to maximize brand visibility.
- You have taken care of important technical aspects including Speed, SEO, Security & Payment Processing.
Sourcing Your Products
Unless you have virtual services or subscription-based products, the process of sourcing the product is not that easy you might be thinking.
Just setting up online store won’t bring revenue to you. It’s necessary to have a concrete plan of products whether you are going to manufacture them or buy from the third-party suppliers to sell on your store.
You can use drop shipping method if you have reliable supplier network.
Nevertheless, I’m sharing some useful tips here which will help you to make the entire process relatively easy.
Depending on whether you are just starting out and testing your e-commerce skills or already have an experience running an online business, you can select the way to source the products for your store.
1. Pre-Launch Phase
It’s always better to test small before diving deep especially when you are tight on a budget and taking a risk on your career.
You may know that more than 90% startups fail, and I don’t want you to be there.
Before actually launching your store on full-scale, you can come with a limited inventory.
It’s the best opportunity to validate your idea in a live environment before investing a lot in your project.
With the small capital, you will have a chance to test your progress as well as time to promote your store. Just like the warm-up before the real action starts.
If you have a traditional business, then it wouldn’t be a problem to source the products. But, in many other cases, you have an option to manufacturing these products yourself or buying from wholesale market at the cheap price.
You’ll have the chance to test different pricing modules including review samples, discount codes, cashbacks, etc. that will create a pool of traffic to your website.
For example, if you have a food product like pizza, cake, etc. making it in-house is a better way because this way can ensure the quality and keep pricing strategy flexible.
Take another example.
If you want to sell customized T-shirts or sublimation products like coffee mugs, mouse pads, etc., you can create an appealing graphics at your end and outsource the rest like printing, packing, shipping, etc. and give maximum time to managing administrative work rather than doing everything yourself. It’s important when you start growing and require a team for various tasks.
2. Intermediate Phase
Once, you have gathered data and validated the market for your product, tested different strategies regarding price, promotion, etc., raised capital, and have confidence that the product will perform well for a min. estimated time, you can look for more sources to procure supplies in large quantities.
Here, you can generate more sales volume. So, hiring a team would be a no-nonsense thing to manage different tasks including procurement, finance & marketing, etc.
In this situation, bulk orders for profitable products can help you to save a big chunk of money, so, start searching for the reliable supplier or manufactures online or offline.
3. Growth Phase
After sometimes you’ll feel that you have captured enough market and established yourself as a brand. At that time, you can either start manufacturing product yourself in your own factory or directly source products from manufacturers & rebrand to your name.
If you don’t like to depend on other manufacturers/suppliers for various reasons and are ready with great investment plans, you can set up your facility to manufacture your goods.
When you aren’t manufacturing your goods, the best way to find manufacturers and suppliers is using trusted online supplier platforms like IndiaMart, Oberlo, and Alibaba that have complete details of a ton of finely categorized wholesale distributors and the products supplies.
Still, solely depending on Google and online business directories for searching the manufacturers or bulk suppliers for your products may seem finding a needle in the haystack since most of them may not have an active digital presence or optimized website featuring on the top of SERP.
Another way to source inventory is tapping into your neighborhood business networks, connecting with other people from industry sharing same interest, and attending the trade shows to meet the folks beneficial for your business.
Though I love digital, sourcing products in this phase should not be done completely online as an internet is full of scammers are waiting for your silly mistakes.
It’s always better to visit the facility before making the deals and purchases that ensures the quality of products and saves you from being trapped by the fraudulent people to avoid monetary losses.
It also helps to build a relationship & trust helping to grow mutually.
Getting Your First Sales (Proven Ways to Promote Your Store)
For almost every person starting an online business, getting the first sales may seem quite challenging.
Unless you make the real money, it’s worthless to have a solid business plan & infrastructure. So, making people buy from you and convert them into delighted customers is more important than any other things.
Yes! You can drive some traffic by using paid advertisements and marketing channels, but it would be costly especially when you haven’t tested your niche/product to its full.
Instead, you can leverage social media and a few online tools which are available for free to get your first customers.
I’m listing a few free as well as cost-efficient methods to grab customers to improve your sales.
#1. Leverage the Social Media
There is a huge number of social channels & communities including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google Plus, etc.
You have a chance to use them to promote your store and get some quick sales without investing a lot.
When you will create a web store, make sure you have an account on every major social channel.
It’ll help you in brand awareness, drive quality traffic and a few sales too if you have proper funnel activated.
Try to reach maximum people in same niche liking & following the products like you have. Different groups and communities having active netizens would be a goldmine for you.
But before you start promoting the products, make sure to warm up these accounts, improve following and giving value to your prospects.
As rich-media is trending these days, creating visual contents for your social media campaigns will help you to get more reach.
Creating short videos between 30-120 seconds showing your products, store and USP can give you a hell lot of publicity without paying a dime on ads.
#2. Let Influencers Help You
It’s a tricky though; you can manage to get there.
The influencers like well-known bloggers, YouTubers, and other celebrities from different industries have large social media followings with a high engagement rate.
Simply, search for these people based on your product segment, to get their followers as your target audience.
Create a list of the influencers (excluding your direct competitors) with at least five people/pages per social media channels in an excel sheet. Once, you have this list in your hand,
- Send them your product as a review sample.
- Request them to promote your brand on their social media channels
- Give good discounts to their followers
Lately, I found a post on a forum where one guy has posted his journey of e-com store. He is sacking a quite big money, using influencers marketing.
Let me tell what he does.
He has an online store filled with a lot of goodies that he wants to sell. Instead, of paying on CPC or CPM basis which has an uncertainty of getting sales, he requests influencers to promote his products on their page.
Don’t get me wrong, but he has a budget for that, as it’s not completely free. But, he gets what he pays for.
As he gets quality traffic that mostly converts, he is sacking around a huge 250-375% of ROI for his campaigns.
Isn’t it amazing?
Just a proper research is required as I said earlier & a few bucks.
#3. Promote Your Product Through Cost-Efficient Ads
Advertising on search networks and social media can burn a lot of money if proper care has not taken.
Unlike organic reach achieved by free promotion, spending your money in the right direction can make you quick revenue by PPC advertisements.
But there are many marketers who claim you to give cheap clicks & leads from both search engine as well as social media but remember one thing, at the end ROI matters.
So, if someone is giving a guarantee of making you the sales instead of many blank clicks, then only ask him to run your campaigns and fire the rests.
It’s always better to hire an expert who actually knows how your industry works and cares about your investment in marketing.
#4. Start Your Own Blog
You are reading this article; it means you know or at least have an idea of what a blog means.
Actually, I’m not going to explain that but starting a blog is a great way to get people to your site who are searching for your product.
By providing them value through your blog and educating about your products, it easy to convert them into your customers.
As you already have a WordPress website for your online store (that we preferred), you need not worry a lot.
You can simply turn on the blog feature from your WP admin dashboard or create a separate subdomain, especially when you have a bigger site.
A blog filled with relevant quality contents helps you to rank in search results, gets you social media shares, liked & followers, and brings more visibility for your product.
You can check the pages ranking in search engines or try some tools like BuzzSumo to get an idea of what’s popular, and people love reading. Crafting contents around these topics will surely bring you more readership, establish you as an authority, and helps to get the first few customers.
For example, if you are selling trendy apparel for men, you can search for keyword “latest fashion trends for the men” on BuzzSumo and write a blog post on ”the latest fashion trends for men” or similar to cater your readers with much interesting content.
Here’s a snapshot of the search query for the keyword “latest fashion trends for the men” on BuzzSumo.
#5. Run A Marketing Campaigns on Forums
Though social media is good for driving traffic, the conversion rate is generally less because login their social accounts to share updates, see hot contents, chatting their contacts and mostly to kill time and rarely reach to the buyer’s stage.
But, on the forums or Q&A sites, you can get targeted people having a few objections, queries or want a comparison/reviews of products.
As these people usually have great buying intent, you can promote your products there in a genuine way.
Yeah! Some people do it aggressively and which is against the rules of many forums. Though you have a chance to post a link, don’t act like a spammer.
Help people out there who want your help and indirectly turn them to visit & buy from your store.
Quora is one of the great among these all to start engaging with people and converting them into the buyers by solving their issues.
#6. Run an Online Contest/Giveaway
The contests or giveaways are proven methods of creating a viral engagement and grab a larger target audience in minimum time.
Since you will be a new business or have a small budget, you can plan contest accordingly.
The giveaways with Apple products and subscription to any popular service work great, but you can try giving your own products too creating a relationship with your target audience.
You can either run a contest with the help of influencers or use some online tools that run contest/giveaways plus capture leads/social following.
#7. Affiliate Marketing
If you have a store on online marketplaces, then affiliate marketing is an insane way to get sales. There are many publishers to promote your products if they seem it’s VFM to their readers.
By maintaining the quality of products & after-sales, you can easily make them happy to associate with you.
Offering some generous payouts, you can drive a large number of affiliates to make them work double hard for you to promote your products, ultimately increasing sales volume.
The main benefit of affiliate marketing as a business owner is you pay only when lead/sale is generated depending on the type of campaign.
Kill the Competition
“Are you serious?” “I’m not going to kill my competitor anyways!”
These reactions are common after seeing such weird heading.
You won’t be killing any human (It’s a crime! LOL), but reducing the competition by using some strategies.
As both of you have started an online store for earning the profit, you need to convince people how you’re better than the competitors and make them buy only from you.
By doing that you’ll get the reviews or testimonials from your clients providing you a competitive advantage over the rests.
Though competition is a spirit of marketing, there’s no mean by coming second when you have the ability to stand out as a winner.
Have a look for following points that will help you improve your score.
- Always come with USP that differentiates your product from others.
- Selling the quality products only that fulfill your customer needs. Have your own manufacturing unit or a network of quality suppliers.
- Try providing great customer service and support for 24×7.
- Create simple buyers journey to every part & give hassle-free shopping experience.
- Ensure speedy & reliable order fulfillment.
- Let feel them safe by providing all legal pages on prominent places.
Legal Journey– Business Registration and Taxation
Though starting an online store is easy and in a digital form, you still need all paperwork in your hand to avoid further legal complexions.
Registering your business in any allowed form can make you remain safe.
You can either start a sole proprietorship firm, Private Company or LLP.
In my opinion registering your business as an LLP could be a better option or you can go for private company. These firms have some advantages like liability protection in case of any litigation or raising funds from investors, etc.
Here is a snap to help you to compare your needs to register a company.
You also need a GST number to be able to ship products to your customers along with company registration. If you have any issues in legal concerns, you can either consult a C.A. or a legal advisor.
Now, you have read a long article of more than 5000 words with a lot of information. And, I’m sure that you haven’t got bored but rather excited to start your own e-commerce store.
Though you were reading this post with complete dedication, let me quickly recap the entire content to refresh your memory.
- You have an idea of the product that you want to sell online.
- Use the strategies like keyword analysis & market research to validate your idea and market demand.
- Next, set up your online store through Online marketplaces, hosted or self-hosted platforms by evaluating the pros and cons of each. We selected self-hosted WordPress + WooCommerce.
- Source the products depending on growth phase & investment capacity.
- Promote your online store on different channels to get customers buying your products.
- Deal with competition using different strategies like quality products, great service, VFM, etc. & stand out as a winner.
- Get all legal formalities done like business registration & GST or any other legal certificate that require.
I hope that this is one of the articles you must be wanted to pursue your dream of building a career in e-commerce.
Now, it’s time to take action.
I’m not saying it would be an easy journey and definitely need some hard work and time. But, remember that “a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.”
If you don’t take action today, you will always wonder “Whether I could have made it big if I just tried.