Top 8.5 tips for getting started in ecommerce

Written by Guido Jansen in
January 2010

At my daily job, some of the people who come to us for a Magento webshop run companies that already have a webshop and know what is involved with it. Some other people though have a retail store or a complete new business model but have little to no experience in the e-commerce field. This post tries to hand some tips to the second group.

Tip 1: Time and money estimates

Thought about a rough budget for the project startup, the maintenance costs and how much time it will take you to run the website? Good. Now triple that and I will assure you it will be a lot closer to reality then your own estimates.

Tip 2: Crawl before you walk

It's great to think big. It gives your team a goal to work towards and keep in mind what the big picture is. But don't start running before you can walk or even crawl. This is new to you, take the adventure on but do so step by step. Slice the big picture into smaller parts, there is no shame in starting small. No-one expects you to start an e-Bay or Amazon sized business overnight. Besides, being small gives your company agility, something bigger companies don't have so you can move faster. In every project we see people having some for of hindsight. If you start big, you can't always use that hindsight anymore because processes are now fixed and hard to change. If you start small, you can optimize processes and products much more easily.

Tip 3: (Be ready to) Adapt

After you start your online business , the market will change and your customers will change. Recognize the trends and start your business with the assumption that things will change and you will need to adapt. Don't start out with to many fixed processes that can't be changed later on. Be flexible.

Tip 4: Focus

Expanding is great, but don't start with it. Focus on your main product. Your company will be a lot more likely to succeed when it's the leader in your space so aim for that first. There is not enough time to focus on multiple businesses.

Tip 5: Don't mix emotions and business

I've seen several people making bad decisions based on the emotional connection they have with a product. Sure, it's important to know your product, but promoting an unpopular/ loss-making product just because it's the one you've put a lot of effort in isn't the right move. Stay passionate about your business but keep yourself emotionally at some distance to the product. If it's not working out, either make it better or move on.

Tip 6: Get out of your cave

It's wonderful that you think you have a great idea and the product is wonderful and that every living soul craves for your product. But have you asked those souls how they think about your product? Customer surveys are an important part of finding out how your (potential) customers view your product and what you need to do to improve it and stay ahead of potential competitors.

Tip 7: Handle it like a regular retail store.

You need someone to build your store (developer), a decorator (designer) and a party to handle logistics (connections with your suppliers and backend. You also need to pay for rent and electricity (hosting costs) and the repairmen (SLA for bug fixing and upgrades). You need employees (to handle the orders and customer support), the store has to be cleaned every day (optimize product information) and there must be a sign outside your store to lure people in (ads on other websites). You need new promotions every week or month, you must spread folders and brochures to spread the word (newsletters and offline campaigns) and you need to analyze your product performance (analyze statistics) (you might want to hire a marketing and analytics company for that). I can go on some more but I think you get where I'm going here. Don't se a shop as something you can "just put online and it will work and generate profit for itself". It needs just as much dedication from the store owner as any regular store.

Tip 8: Be different

Don't just provide the same product/service as everyone else, just to do so a little cheaper. That's not how you will win the war, you need to be different. Be nice to your customers. Get to know them, interact with them and engage them. Have the best product with the best service and the best conditions. Have an easy return policy. Seduce your visitors in buying your products. Have cool gadgets or deliver your products in the most beautiful gift wrap. Make a brand.

Tip 8.5: Get help

Look for guidance in your project from people with experience and hire professionals in the field to help you with those parts of the business that are not your piece of cake. Outsource parts if you need to. It's no shame to get help, e-commerce has many facets, you can't be an expert in all of them. Also: get a partner to help you. If you can't even convince someone in your network to team up with you to start a new business, how likely do you think you are to succeed? I hope these tips will help anyone who thinks about starting their own online business. If you have any other tips: please leave a comment!

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