Starting an ecommerce website is one of the fastest ways to launch a new venture—or to expand an existing business into cyberspace. Here are 9 steps to starting an ecommerce company.
- Find your niche. As a small startup, you can’t hope to compete with the Amazons of the world selling everything under the sun, so don’t even try. Instead, select a niche you can own, such as clothes for English bulldogs, sun-protective hats and clothing or decorative fireplace screens. (I’ve searched for all of these products in the past year, and found specialty sites devoted to all of them!) If you’re taking a physical store online, you don’t have to sell every product you carry in your store—you can start small by selling just a few of your most popular items, then expand.
- Choose your domain name. If you’re launching a new business, choose your business name with an eye to potential domain names (URLs). You want your domain name to be easy to say, spell and remember. Of course, it also has to be unique, which is getting harder and harder. Use a site that offers domain registration, such as Web.com, to search for domain names you’re considering. If the name you want is taken, try variations such as abbreviations, punctuation or unusual spellings—just try to keep it simple. Register your domain name and make sure to renew it every year so you don’t lose the rights to it!
- Choose a Web hosting service. You want a service that offers 99.9 percent guaranteed uptime (i.e., your website won’t go down), has the bandwidth to handle the amount of Web traffic you expect at your ecommerce website and offers good customer service and assistance.
- Design your site. Many Web hosting companies offer one-stop shopping where you can not only register your domain name and have your site hosted, but also choose from a range of templates and either build your own site or have the company build it for you. Templates are a great low-cost solution for most startup ecommerce businesses, but if you want to get fancier, see if the site offers custom website design.
- Make it mobile. Mobile-friendliness is increasingly important for ecommerce websites, so plan your site with mobility in mind and an eye to the future.
- Plan how you’ll get paid. You want to be able to accept all types of payments online, including debit and credit cards and PayPal. And, of course, you’ll want to make sure your shopping cart and payment solution is secure to protect both your customers’ data and your company’s.
- Handle inventory. Make sure your ecommerce website offers a simple-to-use backend solution that lets you track inventory, edit product listings and keep everything up to date so customers are never disappointed.
- Market like crazy. Use SEO and online advertising to capture prospects who are looking for what you sell. Once they become customers, try to get their email addresses so you can market to them with email.
- Watch the data. Also look for a website solution that offers the ability to create and analyze reports on visitor traffic, browsing and buying habits and other data so you can see what’s working and what isn’t.
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Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. Email Rieva at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Google+ and Twitter.com/Rieva, and visit her website, SmallBizDaily.com, to get the scoop on business trends and sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports.