How To Start an eCommerce Business Today - Step By Step

February 26th, 2015

Starting an ecommerce business can seem daunting, and most online guides only explain small parts of the process. This guide will give you a full roadmap for starting an online ecommerce business. It’s split up into 23 actionable steps, each explained clearly for those who are new to ecommerce.

There are many ways to make money online. This guide focuses on how you can set up a real business based on your e commerce ideas. If the only thing holding you back was lack of knowledge, you can get started today by following the steps here. If you are completely new to ecommerce, there will be a lot to learn. However, it’s not as complicated as it might seem.

Let’s get started!

1. Domain Name

Your first big decision, and one of the most important, will be choosing a name for your business. It should say something about what you are offering and even about you and the personality of your brand. The snappier and more descriptive the name for what you are selling the better, because you want it to be memorable.

Once you’ve decided on a business name, the next step is to find out if that name is available as a “URL” or domain name. Finding out if your URL is available and has not been claimed by another business already is easy. Domain names can be searched for and purchased online at sites like GoDaddy or Network Solutions. You can also purchase your domain directly through your hosting company (more on hosting in the next section.)

If you are struggling to find a suitable domain name, start a list of ideas and keep adding to it until you get closer to what fits. Online URL name generators can help you come up with ideas and let you know if the domain is available.

We recommend choosing a “.com” domain extension whenever possible because they are the most universally recognized. Sometimes the .com domain won’t be available. If your business will be locally-focused, you can choose your country’s suffix, such as .co.uk, for example. But if you’ll be going global with your ecommerce business, get a domain that ends in .com, .net, or even .biz.

2. Hosting

What is Hosting?

Every website needs a hosting provider. The host is where your website “lives” online – where the files are stored and accessed by anyone who visits the site. You could think of a host like a piece of property, while your website is the house you build on that property.

Choosing a Host

There are many website hosting companies to choose from. Here are some important things to think about when choosing a host:

  • Included software: Most website hosts will include one-click software installations for free. If you know you’ll need a certain software package, get a host that includes it. For ecommerce, consider shopping cart software and payment solutions. For a simple ecommerce setup, WordPress with the WooCommerce plugin will be enough to get you started. (More on this in the Platforms section next.)
  • Cost: Website hosts tend to charge similar amounts for their various packages, but shop around a little to find a good deal.
  • Scalability: As your website grows, your demands for file storage and bandwidth will grow as well. Compare the offered packages to ensure that your business can scale up and your host’s servers can handle the traffic.
  • Reliability and customer service: When comparing hosting companies, try to find one that has a reputation for fast servers, minimal downtime, and good customer service reviews.

3. Platform

Your next decision is the best software foundation upon which to build your store. This will be determined by whether you build your own website, use an ecommerce platform package, or outsource to a web agency who will custom-build your site for you. (More information will be covered about outsourcing in the next section.)

Should you prefer to build your site yourself, choosing the best ecommerce software can seem daunting if you are not confident and you are setting up an e-business for the first time. There are a variety of ecommerce solutions to choose from, each offering different features and benefits. Considerations may include price, features, ease of set up, choice of designs and scalability.

Popular e commerce platforms include:

  • Shopify
  • Magento
  • Wordpress with WooCommerce
  • Big Commerce

Shopify is by far one of the most popular e-commerce software platforms. It is scalable, flexible and has mobile responsive themes. It will take time to build your store, and using Shopify requires some investment if you need access to their full range of features and themes. Shopify allows you to target particular groups of customers with promotional discount codes, which means you can test out new products or reward returning customers with bonus offers. Their shopping cart is saved, which means less abandonment of sales when a customer has to leave your site before buying. Shopify support includes: telephone, live chat, or email. There are many add-on packages available that allow you to add more features to your store as needed (similar to WordPress plugins.)

Magento also offers flexible and responsive functionality. The software is fairly easy to learn, including important SEO elements. You can manage more than one sales portal via a dashboard, and Magento pricing is reasonable. Some marketing options are limited. For example, if you offer a product in a range of sizes or colours, you are not able to identify to the customer which are out of stock. In regards to customer service, there are mixed reviews. It is only available 9am-7pm Eastern Time, but their staff have a good reputation for being helpful.

WordPress + WooCommerce is free and scalable, but there is no customer service. There is a help page with a community who can help. There are a wide range of themes and plug-ins available, including your shopping cart. For those familiar with the WordPress platform, the learning curve will be shortened with some features that are similar, such as managing your inventory. It facilitates downloading digital products, such as ebooks, as well as physical products. Excellent analytics enables you to track which products are doing well and where orders are in processing. Discount codes and keeping track of particular customers is also possible with this software. There are many other great free features, which you can view here and subscriptions are available for a wide range of themes.

Big Commerce has a good range of features without need for custom coding. They offer a full range of features for flexibility, it’s easy to learn and has good customer service. This platform also offers recovery of an abandoned shopping cart, making transition to sale much easier should a customer leave your website for any reason. Features include the ability to entice new customers with a discount code creator and manageability via a smartphone app. Their selection of website themes is fair, given pricing.

Platforms that offer a range of features, plus scalability, good price and good customer service mean you will have the kind of flexibility to offer your customers and clients the kind of experience that is enjoyable and memorable, as well as making development of your business easily manageable.

Before choosing a platform, it may be helpful to write a list of the things your customer might want to see when buying online. Check out Website Builder Expert for more expert advice on ecommerce software solutions.

4. DIY or Outsource

Whether you choose to do it yourself or outsource the building of your new online business largely comes down to two factors: budget and willingness to learn. Both options have pros and cons.

If you have time to learn, then you can do as much as you can with a template-based website builder (such as the platforms mentioned above) for under $1,000. There are a number of these available and most have free trial options which you can upgrade as you decide which extra features you need for full flexibility and scalability. It is worth reading reviews of the various options, particularly in relation to after-service, as some are better than others.

You might also want to choose a degree of outsourcing at the construction stage and assume full management after the site has been built. Being involved in the process of building your business portal makes management and adjustments easier later, as you become familiar with the various parts of your e commerce technology. Go to freelancer sites to find talented individuals to outsource work to, such as PeoplePerHour.com, Freelancer.com, WeBuildWebsites.com, or Odesk.com.

Should you choose to outsource, it is worth verifying that you will own all of the content on the site, in case you ever decide to switch web development companies later. If you do not have ownership, you potentially lose your content. Similarly, some web developers use their own bespoke platform, which means that moving to a new service provider means starting from scratch. Knowing this from the outset could save you lots of time and money!

Outsourcing a WordPress website build with WooCommerce add-ons will likely cost around $1,000. This reasonable investment will more than pay for itself once your ecommerce business is running, and WordPress is perfect for start-up businesses and those business owners who are looking to transition online.

Consider the following elements when deciding whether to build your site yourself or outsource in terms of your budget, skills and time available:

  • Installation of your site, with add-ons
  • Populating your product database
  • Photography
  • User interface and web design
  • Writing templates (sales process correspondence) and setting up automated emails
  • Shipping and product fulfilment

5. Product Descriptions and Photos

Writing your product descriptions and choosing appropriate, high resolution photographs are key to your products being sellable.

If you will be selling products from a manufacturer, use the manufacturers’ provided photos, descriptions, and product specifications. If selling your own custom products, make sure to take high-quality photos that clearly show the product from multiple angles. Write interesting descriptions that clearly and accurately describe the product.

If you are struggling to do your business justice in your text or images, this is a piece of work you may also choose to outsource, depending upon your budget. There are many great freelancers available via online agencies at affordable prices. As a rule, marketing agencies will come at a premium for providing complete, custom ecommerce solutions all in one place. However, they may also save you time.

6. Basic E Commerce Business Plan

Having an e commerce business plan will help keep you on track as you develop your business. It need not be overly complex, but will be your checklist to ensure the viability of your e commerce ideas. Keep your business plan under review as goals may evolve as your business grows. It should include the following elements:

  • Target Market: Who you want to attract to buy your products? Are you selling to customers, to businesses, or both? Consider their geographical location, demographics, languages, and buying habits. The better you understand your buyers and their habits, the easier selling to the various niches will be.
  • Audience: Your audience may be wider than those who will be direct customers. Your marketing campaign planning will involve reaching out to them directly, for instance via social media, or indirectly via what they read and view. So, messages and campaigns may also focus on bloggers, magazines, influencers or other online publishes who will then share your information to your target markets.
  • Goals: Set measureable goals. For instance, a primary goal will be to stay on budget, so you will need to know your costs per conversion. How many visitors do you need in order for X number of conversions, assuming a conversion rate of 2%? Break down the elements of your development plan and get as specific as you can about targets (dates, revenue, customer numbers, etc), so you can measure progress. Be realistic and set achievable small goals for the short and medium term, which will help you achieve your bigger goals further down the line. Bear in mind that your goals are not carved in stone; e-commerce is incredibly dynamic.
  • Competition: Keeping an eye on what your competitors do helps you stay abreast of changing trends within your market. However, be aware that competitors may also be merely testing markets, and what or how they sell may not be a good option for you to copy. Review their activities periodically as part of your marketing strategy.
  • Finance: Cashflow is king in any business. If you invest capital at the start of your new business venture, you must make sure you can recoup your investment at a rate which will allow you to continue reinvesting in new product lines, while also making enough profit to generate a good salary for yourself. If figures are not your strength, consider outsourcing to a book-keeper or accountant. Liveplan.com is also a great tool to get started with your business plan and will help you stay on track. It covers budget and revenue planning, as well as personnel management.

7. Logo

Choosing a logo is one of the fun aspects of starting a new ecommerce business. You will want your logo to reflect what your business offers. Have a look at other competitors and ideas online for inspiration. If you are creatively minded, you may have some design ideas of your own.

Outsourcing need not be expensive. There are websites such as Freelancer.com, ODesk.com and PeoplePerHour.com, where you can have this work done by talented designers for as little as $15.00-$75.00!

8. E Commerce Web Site Design

Most ecommerce platforms will allow you to choose a pre-made design based on a “theme” or “template.” These designs can be customized to suit your specific needs, but they provide an easy way to get a base to start from.

Look for a theme that is:

  • Responsive. This means that your website will display well across all screen sizes, whether on a smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer. Most modern templates are responsive in order to comply with Google’s requirements for ranking.
  • Easy to use, which makes building your online store fun and exciting. Some have drag-and-drop features, which are intuitive and allow you to easily move around parts of your website.
  • Modern. Web designs become outdated quickly, so get a theme that’s up to date with the current trends in web design. You should update your design at least every two years.

Remember, if you are outsourcing set up and installation to a web design agency, costs of your initial investment will be much higher. Choosing a template that fits one of the platforms we explored in Section 3 will make starting up your e-commerce business much more affordable.

9. Stock

There are a number of ways to move products online, not all of which mean you have to hold stock. However, if this is your preferred method of profit making then be sure that if your goods are perishable, you only hold enough for last minute supply. Investment in stock could be one of your biggest overheads, so you want to ensure that you are not losing money by holding out of date goods.

You need not hold goods on your own premises, though. Services like those from Amazon or Shipwire.com allow you to store your goods in their warehouses and they will arrange for parcel deliveries, too. In addition to not needing storage space of your own, you have the assurance that any damage to your goods during storage will be protected by their insurance.

Similarly, drop-shipping is a retail business model which means that you do not handle any of the goods you sell, only the marketing via your portal. Instead, customer orders and distribution management are the responsibility of the manufacturer. This simplifies your e-commerce business when starting out.

10. Mailing List Software

Email marketing is still one of the most important methods of reaching out to your customers. As you build your list of customers or clients, you will be able to sell to them over and over by creating an email marketing campaign. This will continually remind your customers of your service, and you can send them targeted offers and promotions.

Choose from newsletter services such as Mailchimp, Get Response, or Aweber. These allow you easily create emails to send to your list. Pricing for the service will depend on your list size. Often you can sign up for a free trial, which will allow you to review the software before you make a purchase. This investment is well worth it.

Keeping track of your target market’s buying habits will also help you plan tailor made offers in the future, based on their tastes and possible significant annual events in your sales cycle (e.g. January and July sales for U.K. customers, Thanksgiving for U.S. clients, Christmas, Easter, etc.) Each of the email newsletter solutions mentioned above will allow you to create segmented lists based on demographics or purchasing history.

Software such as Marketo or Getdrip.com allow you to “set and forget”, so you can plan your email marketing efforts ahead of time. Items such as follow-ups, coupons, and other special offers can be sent out automatically with minimal input from you.

11. Automatic Templates

In order to maximise time management and efficiency, you will want to automate as much of your on-going sales processes as possible. Your preferred content management system (CMS) for your ecommerce business may include this as an option to track your invoicing and payments, send template welcome emails, order confirmations, shipping and distribution details.

This is particularly important for business-to-business ecommerce, in which building a trusting and lasting relationship is paramount for gaining return business. However, customers generally appreciate acknowledgement and helpful information, even when they know that they are receiving automated correspondence.

Automated emails can be set up to automatically trigger timely and relevant communications with your customers. This software, with your pre-written templates for different stages of the sales process, will be your business communications work-horse.

As with all communications, all of your templates should be branded not only with your logo, website and contact details, including social media links, but your “voice” as well. Have fun with your communications and express your business personality. This will contribute to a memorable and unique experience for your customers.

12. SEO and Keywords

SEO (search engine optimization) is about optimizing your website for specific keyword phrases in an attempt to rank high in Google, especially on the first page. This can take time and testing, via both “organic” (Google’s regular search results) and “sponsored” (Adwords) campaigns. SEO is a very important element of ecommerce because it influences your website’s visibility in search engine results.

Given the constantly changing rules of SEO, it can be off-putting and seem overly complex to the beginner. However, there are basics that you can learn about keywords and optimisation that will make a big differences in your rankings.

SEO has a learning curve but it is an important investment in time that will greatly benefit your online marketing efforts. Moz.com is one of the leaders in the SEO industry, and they have an excellent beginner’s guide, which is a great start. Follow that guide to learn the basics of keyword choice and placement.

Put some time in to learning how to get the most from keywords and SEO, but in brief: choose a keyword phrase for each of your pages and insert that keyword into the important places on your page. For instance, make sure the keyword is in your URL, page title, headings, image filenames, image alt tags, and paragraph text. Don’t overdo it or attempt to trick the search engines, though. Read SEO blogs like the one at Moz.com to help you stay on the healthy side of search engine algorithm demands.

13. E-Commerce Marketing

This brings us to the biggest learning curve of all for any business: marketing. Remember, no matter how fantastic your product or service, if nobody knows you are there, you simply don’t have a viable business, or at best you will have a small number of local customers and not grow.

You will need to consider the following – be that via your in-house team, or outsourced:

  • Link building: Onsite SEO (discussed above) is only half the SEO equation. Additionally, it’s very important to gain links to your website from other sites. The more “authoritative” Google considers the other website, the better. It’s like a vote of confidence from a site that Google already trusts.
  • Promotion: Promotion should be done both online and offline. Traditional methods of marketing, such as direct mail, are applicable to online businesses.
  • Email marketing: As discussed earlier in this guide, email marketing is a must. Start building your email list with your first customer.
  • Google Product Search / Google Shopping: Add your products to Google Shopping to create additional revenue from their shopping channel.
  • Google Business Listing: Create a Google Business page via Google+. Your Google+ account will include a business listing with a map. Work your page with regular status updates, increased followers and interactions – see more in our ‘Social Media’ section, next. Make sure your site is linked to your Google Place, so that potential customers can find you on mobile devices when they are in your locality. They should be able to navigate via a map to where you are.
  • Blogging: Your ecommerce website can include a blog. Blogging serves a number of functions: it is good SEO to help you rank more highly online, and you can use it to create and develop your brand.
  • PR: PR is your general public relations work (e.g. writing articles or advertorials for the press), or press releases when you have something newsworthy to tell people.

14. Social Media

Your SEO and brand visibility will be significantly boosted by using social media. Social media allows you to spread your information, brand voice or marketing messages out to a wider audience, as well as keep existing customers and clients engaged. Engagement is the key word here; think of social media as more of a ‘hang out’ or ‘party’. Having a presence and sharing content shows that you are reaching out and interested in your followers and those whom you follow. Not using social media may give the impression that you are not easy to reach and not keeping up with modern communication trends.

Consider building your list of customers via a platform which suits your e commerce products and services, lifestyle (if relevant) and budget. For example, if your business uses video to demonstrate products or what you do, then obviously having a YouTube channel will be central to your social media strategy.

Here are the main, high traffic social media platforms used by e-commerce businesses:

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Google+
  • YouTube
  • Tumblr
  • Pinterest
  • Instagram

There is no need to wear yourself out by attempt to conquer all social media platforms. Choose the 2-3 that make the most sense for your particular needs, and expand from there later if you see a need for more variety.

15. Google Webmaster Tools

Google Webmaster Tools helps you get feedback about the health and performance of your site. Here are some of the things Google Webmaster Tools helps with:

  • Google may detect issues in relation to the health of your site e.g. whether it is optimised for mobile, time your site takes to load, etc.
  • Statistics on pages and features will help you better understand where traffic is coming from and show you how your potential customers or other publishers use your site e.g. backlink creation (which can boost your SEO).
  • You can see how many of your pages are indexed by Google over time.
  • You can see which keywords your site ranks for and how often someone clicks through to your site using those keywords.
  • You can also see how often your site is crawled by Google’s bots and whether errors were encountered.

These tools help optimise your site technically and structurally in order to help Google better understand the purpose of your site and represent your site online to your target audience.

16. Google Analytics

Google Analytics is a detailed system that shows you website traffic, audience location, and important statistics like bounce rate and visit duration. This is a vital tool to set up when you start your ecommerce business, and you should monitor the data on a regular basis.

Analytics software lets you analyse your visitor traffic to gain a better understanding of where visitors come from and how they interact with your website. For example, if you notice that many people leave after viewing a particular page, you can look at the page to determine what’s causing the problem.

Google Analytics can be connected to your Adwords account, so if you run paid ads with Adwords, you can monitor their performance.

This software is like your shop-floor eyes and ears, enabling you to personalise your sales to your different segments in real time. There are many more monitoring features available with this tool worth checking out when you are ready to really turn up the volume on sales.

17. Backups and Security

Ensuring consistency, speed and reliability of service to your customers is key to giving your online shop visitors a smooth and pleasurable experience. It is vital that your site maintenance is a regular part of your operations. Your consistency of sales and reputation are built on good engineering, so make sure that your hosting provider service or e-commerce platform and plug-ins have built in security and backups.

Regular back-ups of your site ensure that new product, service or feature additions to the site and information are not lost. Criminal groups regularly trawl the net for websites which are not well-tended, so choose a reputable host who provides daily back-ups.

Whatever you do, choose user-names and passwords that are memorable to you and not generic. Ensure that if you are outsourcing your website build that your webmaster does not set you up with a user name such as ‘admin’ with the password ‘password’. You are asking to be hacked!

18. Returns Policy

A small percentage of the products you sell will end up as returns. It’s best to make this process as hassle-free as possible for your customers, so that they will value your service and give you their return business.

There are examples of Returns Policies online via websites such as SEQ Legal  which you can buy for a nominal fee and adapt for your business. Think of the best experience you had when returning something you bought in the past and seek to emulate those standards. You should be explicit about:

  • Who is responsible for the cost of any return shipment?
  • How long your customer has to return your goods?
  • Will you provide a courier, if so, are there tracking facilities?
  • The process your customer needs to follow. Should they login to submit a return request? Should they print a shipping label specifically from you? Do they need an RMA (return material authorization) number?

You might find it useful to read the returns policies of your competitors. You will probably find some good ideas for yourself and you might be able to improve on others’ policies.

19. Terms and Conditions

Terms and Conditions are protection both for you and for your customers. These set out the terms of usage of your website and your services. They may include your customer’s expectations of delivery methods, discount codes and even complaints handling procedures.

It is worth exploring the Terms and Conditions (T’s & C’s) of your competitors, or even some of the bigger companies, then copying and editing to adapt to your particular business. If your business is particularly niche, you may also want to seek legal advice.

20. Budget

Any business requires investment of time, money and effort. Your business plan could include costings of initial investments and projected sales against which you can monitor revenues and profits.

Some of your initial outlay, assuming you outsource, includes the following:

  • Logo design: approximately $15-$150
  • High resolution images of your products: Professional photography services will generally charge by the hour and start at $50 upwards, depending upon the amount of products you sell. Stock photos are $2-$7 per photo.
  • Similarly, custom video production to demonstrate products can cost upwards of $1,000 per production.
  • Web design costs will depend on how much development you take on. It can cost as little as $40-$100 for a professional, attractive WordPress or Shopify template. However, if you hire a web design agency to code a custom design for you, expect to pay $1,000 to several thousand dollars.
  • Google Adwords: You have to find key words within your price range and low hanging fruit to begin with. General guidelines quote no more than $0.30-$2.50 per click (CPC; cost per click) for starting out on Google, then increasing to higher competition terms as your return sales increase. Budget spend all depends on a variety of factors, but mainly working out your cost per acquisition of customers / sale. (Conversion rates are discussed in the next section.) An Adwords budget can start from as little as $100 per month to thousands per day, depending upon your goals and conversions. Set a budget for campaign management and be aware that this can quickly drain your budget if it doesn’t work.
  • Social media campaigns: Social media accounts are free to create on your own, but if you hire someone else to do the work, you could pay $50-$500. Thereafter, advertising campaign management costs will depend upon a variety of factors, including how many accounts per platform, rates of sponsored advertisements, numbers of postings, level of in-house expertise, purchase of automation software (Hootsuite, Buffer). Track hits to your site from social media and sales conversions.
  • Accountancy software: Sage is the most widely known, but more options are coming online all the time and with expanded functionality to support more aspects of business management, including customer relationship management (CRM). Packages start from as little as $10 per month to several hundred.
  • CRMs: These systems enable you to track your leads, build your relationships with them and sell to them over and over. Do your research on flexible functionality, scalability of customer relationship management and compatibility with your accountancy systems, email, or social media marketing. Some of the better known software systems include: Zoho, Salesforce, Sage, Infusionsoft, Netsuite, and Snapforce. Prices will depend upon whether you go open source (which can be free, but has risks), your number of employees or business partner contacts, number of customers or clients, and functionality required. Salesforce sets the standard and has packages starting from $25 per month, per user to $250.00.

List all of the elements of your business you would like to automate and research software options available.

At all times, you should be tracking the results of your marketing campaigns, otherwise you are merely throwing mud at the wall to see what sticks; this is risky and costly in terms of time and money. Learn your conversion rates and keep marketing campaigns under review. Every business is different, but advertising and marketing will be your biggest expenditure, next to staff resource.

Regular monitoring of cash-flow will help you budget for specific items of expenditure and build up a buffer against seasonal lulls in your sales cycle. Some ecommerce cms can connect to outside accountancy software to help you manage your budget.

21. Google Adwords, Facebook Advertisements, Twitter Promotional Campaigns

Without strategic investment in online marketing, your competitors can bury you beneath the power of their ranking on the search engines. However, building your SEO and reaching customers quickly is possible through the immediacy of advertising.

Online advertising methods are as diverse as the businesses which use them, but there are some marketing systems which have the edge over others in terms of timing of your campaigns and statistical feedback. For instance:

  • Google Adwords are the advertisements you see at the top and to the right of your search results (sponsored advertisements). As Google also owns YouTube, your adverts may also appear at the bottom of a video screen and they can appear on other website publisher’s pages. They involve a balance between use of appropriate key words, good advert structuring, competitor activity and your bid price for key words.
  • Facebook Advertisements appear on peoples’ news feed and are triggered by their activity on Facebook i.e. what words they use in their updates, comments on friend’s status and clicking activity through to websites. You can choose to set a budget up-front. There are, of course, free promotions management methods, too.
  • Twitter advertising involves paying for promoted tweets, accounts and trends. Peoples’ interactions on Twitter and the information they provide at registration can be used to help make promoted content by advertisers, such as yourself, more relevant for users.

Each of these advertising methods require specific knowledge, experience and skills, which can be managed in-house or outsourced to social media campaign managers.

22. Payment System (PayPal, Adyen)

There are a range of customer payment systems available for e-commerce websites. Shopping cart software systems include PayPal, Adyen, Authorize.net, 2Checkout, Amazon payments and Google Wallet. PayPal payments are made to an email address, making transactions smooth and secure.

Adyen is a payment solution for mobile, online and in-store transactions. E-commerce businesses can accept almost any type of payment, from anywhere with this option, so this includes card payments and also the facility to ‘resize’ the page by detecting what kind of device your customer is using. This is invaluable in increasing conversions from smart-phones, for instance, where ease of navigation can make the difference between a sale and your customer clicking away to a competitor after struggling with seeing text or inputting their details.

If you’ve chosen to use a comprehensive ecommerce platform like Shopify, you will be able to use their built-in payment options.

23. Pitfalls to Avoid

The potential pitfalls with any business are endless, of course, but by really doing your research and planning your budget and time, many online retailers succeed; it is after all, a growing marketplace.

  • Plan Ahead: You know the drill – failure to plan is planning to fail. Not making time to regularly review your business plan and procedures will lead to you falling down somewhere along the way. Ensure that time is scheduled for reviewing relative sales of products, updating customer, supplier or business partner contact details, and testing your website for errors. Have scheduled plans for the short, medium and long term (i.e. hours and days, weeks and months, as well as ‘x’ years ahead). Goal setting in 12 week cycles is discussed in The 7 Mistakes Entrepreneurs Make When Launching an Ecommerce Set Up.
  • Monitoring: Measure and monitor all business threads regularly and consistently. If you do not set targets and benchmarks, how will you know if you are progressing and have a sustainable business? Jim Joseph, the North American president of New York-based communications agency Cohn & Wolfe talks about keeping a log of activities and to-do checklists in Entrepreneur.com. Examples include: cash-flow analysis, sales per week / month / year, marketing metrics, and data management.
  • Know Where Your Customers ‘Hang Out’: Terry Lin, the founder an online fashion accessories business reminds e-tailers to reach customers where appropriate or they feel comfortable communicating.
  • Play To Your Strengths: Your keys to success will be in knowing your own skills and abilities and those of your partners or team. Failing to delegate is one of the biggest brakes on your dynamic growth.
  • Missing a Niche? Research and investigate markets to identify gaps which your products could fill. Trying to sell everything to everybody is a common mistake of many businesses, both online and offline.
  • Staying Connected During Change: Any changes to how you do business needs to be communicated not only to your own teams, but your customers and business partners and sub-contractors through all media. Failure to do so makes you look unprofessional and can lead to a loss of sales.
  • Keep Abreast of Technology: Great businesses use the apps and software their partners and customer prefer. It makes working together easier and will smooth transitions of customers from arrival on your site to sales when they know you are responsive to their needs and lifestyles. If this is not your strength, find a great IT person to integrate your business into new technologies. Failure to keep up will give customers to your competitors.
  • Keeping Your Eye On The Ball: Any new business owner can become overwhelmed with keeping all the balls in the air. Failure to prioritise is one of the most common time-wasters in business. Customer satisfaction comes first, which means keeping an eye on consistency in core business operations. Playing with something that does not need fixing right now, like website tweaks, could mean an IT team is not integrating responses to social media criticisms and questions from customers into its schedule.
  • Legalese Lip Service: Put your business on a firm grounding with any contractual arrangements, especially for business to business ecommerce arrangements. Most of the time business transactions will go smoothly. However, occasionally, communication breakdowns can happen over a detail. When writing your contracts, ensure they are water-tight by running them by your legal expert.

We hope you found this guide to starting an ecommerce business informative and useful. Starting a new business is usually a large project, but by following this guide you can tackle each step individually until you have a well-running online enterprise. If you have questions about ecommerce, leave a comment below.