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Selling Products Online: A Crash Course

Starting your own online store can seem daunting, and you may find yourself overwhelmed with questions. Here's everything you need to know and what you should watch out for. 

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Starting your own online store can seem daunting, and you may find yourself overwhelmed with questions: Where should I start? Am I ready? What tools do I need? Do I need to hire someone to help?

Before you begin Googling “how to create a website” or budgeting for a team of programming pros, think about how you intend to run your business. Set goals. Identify what you want to sell, how many items you’d like to sell, and how many orders you expect to sell in one month. As you continue reading, jot these answers down and have them ready by the time you reach the end of this article.
 
Whether you’re just now starting your business or you have been around for a few years, the e-commerce world presents its own set of unique challenges when you decide to open an online store.

Here are a few common misconceptions about owning a site:

  1. Once I have a website, I will be found. 
    • Your site is not going to automatically blow up just because it exists. Put time and energy into optimizing your site with Search Engine Optimization (SEO) best practices, promoting your site on social media, and investing in a bit of paid advertising. Depending on how you intend to use your site and how much traffic your site gets, it’s not a bad idea to consider hiring an SEO or SEM agency to get you started. The cost may seem unnecessary at first, but having the correct practices in place right out of the gate will help build your traffic faster and more efficiently.
  2. Once I build the site, I just add products and I’m done. 
    • Imagine your online store is your child-your brain child if you will. Children require love and attention daily to thrive. The same goes for your site. Nurture your e-commerce store regularly by performing maintenance checks. Ensure all links are working, images aren’t broken, all transactions are going through successfully and all customer complaints and suggestions are taken into consideration. If you come across an issue, take care of it right away. Don’t let a small error turn into a giant problem. Keeping your site up-to-date and fresh is a must. Adding blog content, new product photos, and new technologies/strategies (newsletter signup, faster checkout, etc.) to accommodate your customers’ interests is crucial to staying competitive in the online world.
  3. I need to have a fully customized site right off the bat. If I spend the money now, it will pay off in the future. 
    • This idea may seem appealing (everyone is a perfectionist at heart), but it can be a dangerous gamble if you don’t know where to begin or what to look for when hiring outside help. If you’re new to the game, focus on functionality and simplicity. Remember: the more customized your site is, the more money it will cost to get your site started and maintained. Even if the ideas are flowing and you have the “I can see it now” vision with a list of 100 must-need-now items, take a step back and identify what you really need to get started and what can wait for the future. Plus, if you hold off on some of the more fun ideas, you can add them later and call attention to them specifically via social media and other forms of marketing. This will translate to customers that you are growing and working to make the site better for them.

The above misunderstandings are not meant to discourage you or invalidate your intentions with owning an online store. It just helps to start off with realistic expectations.
 
Now, get your answers ready to figure out what kind of site is perfect for you. Here are some popular website options for your online store:

Small online shops with little e-commerce experience: Create your online site yourself with template-based platforms such as Wix.com or Squarespace until profits allow for growth.

Medium-sized shops with a dedicated e-commerce staff: Hire a dedicated web designer and experiment with platforms that allow for customization and coding, such as WordPress.

Big businesses with large marketing budgets: If your company is fulfilling and shipping a large quantity of orders daily, seek out platforms with full customization capabilities like Magento, Shopify, or BigCommerce. Hire a dedicated team to manage different facets of the website to ensure it is constantly improving and evolving.

Modeling your online store based on your current business and translating your brand to a proper website platform is the key to making it or breaking it online. One wrong move could cost you a wad of cash and a lot of headaches. Don’t be discouraged. Everyone starts somewhere, and that’s the most important thing-that you make that first move. To ensure success, take your time, write down your business goals, put a well-researched plan in place, and set realistic expectations.

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Alan Cobourn

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