Start an online store

Think starting an online store is hard?

It might surprise you to find out that it’s really not (great news!). What is hard is turning your online store into a successful revenue earner.

It’s estimated there are between 12 and 24 million e-commerce stores on the web. Unfortunately, only one million of them make more than $1,000 a month in sales. 

Selling is hard, but taking the right steps when you start an online store can give you the best chance of success. 

What Do You Need to Start an Online Store?

If you’ve never created or run a website before, then starting your own online store probably feels very daunting. You’re possibly picturing a techy young entrepreneur sitting at a desk writing code and doing other things you’ve no hope of knowing short of taking a six-month coding boot camp. 

Well, we’ve got great news: you can start an online store with virtually no technical skills. There are very few barriers to entry, and there are just a few things you will need to get started:

  • A domain
  • A hosting package
  • A website theme or platform (like WordPress)

These are slightly more technical elements, and we’re not going to explain them in detail (check out WPBeginner’s great guide if you want more information), but they’re very easy to set up. This should take you around 45-minutes to do, and then your website is ready to reach customers all over the world. 

Before you go live, you’ve got a list of pressing tasks you need to care of though. 

10 Steps to Help You Start a Successful Online Store

If you’re going to go to the effort of starting an online store, then you need a plan.

While you can start an online store on a very low budget, you’re still taking a financial risk. Even the best products struggle to sell themselves, and you’ll need a detailed business plan to lead you to success. 

Business Planning

Business plan to start an online store

Step 1: Identify Your Products 

If you’ve reached the point of reading this article, then the chances are you might have a good idea of what products you want to sell. It’s fairly self-evident that if you want to start an online store you need products, but there’s a lot more choice out there than you might think. 

Don’t limit your thinking to physical products. Online stores are there to sell services, digital products, and virtually anything you can think of. 

If you’re looking for inspiration for products to sell, then keep these questions in mind:

  • What’s your area of expertise?
  • What are some trending niches?
  • What target audience can you reach?

Back your ideas up with strong market research, and you’ll be able to make an informed decision about what products to sell.

Step 2: Remember there Are Different Ways to Sell

When we said there are few start-up costs to starting an online store, you might have been saying, “well what about stock?” 

Stock can certainly be a major barrier to entry as an online seller; it’s expensive to invest in and store large quantities of physical products. While that’s a route lots of online stores will take, there are other options. 

A simpler way to get into online selling is through dropshipping. 

This is where you sell other people’s products through your online store. You take care of all the selling, but another company stores and ships the products. You get a percentage of the total sale value, but you avoid the risk of having to invest in stock. 

There are positives and negatives to each method, but it’s worth considering when you’re starting an online store. 

Step 3: Consider Your Target Audience 

If you walk into an Apple store, there’s going to be a very different vibe to if you walk into an Old Navy store. They’re appealing to different target audiences (there will be some crossover), and this reflects in every aspect of the store. 

It’s the same thing with an online store. 

You’ve got to have your target audience in mind when you start your store because those are the people that matter.

When you get into choosing themes, deciding on copy, and running promotions, you’re going to have an endless amount of choice. You’ve got to decide on what you like, but what your target audience wants and needs has to play a big part as well. 

Step 4: Plan Your Branding 

Branding is something that can grow organically with your business, but it’s important to have a good idea of where you’re starting from. Knowing your products in detail, and understanding your target audience is a great starting point for this. 

When it comes to starting an online store, you’re entering a crowded space, so your branding is going to be essential. You want to stand out from the crowd, but at the same time, when you look at most successful online stores, they keep things very simple. 

Building Your Online Store

Building an online store

Step 5: Choose an E-Commerce Platform 

One of the reasons building an online store is surprisingly easy is because there are lots of great e-commerce platforms that have done much of the hard work for you. 

Whether it’s Shopify, BigCommerce, Wix, WooCommerce (WordPress’s top e-commerce plugin), or something else, they all make it simple to start an online store in no time at all. 

For a WordPress website, you’ve got lots of different plugins that add extra capabilities to your site. Depending on what you’re selling, you might use different plugins:

WordPress powers over 42% of the internet, and one of the reasons is the flexibility it gives website owners. You can shape your website exactly how you want it, which is ideal for starting an online store. 

Step 6: Flesh Out Your Key Pages

Your online store is a lot more than just product pages. There are other important pages that play just as big a role in earning you sales. Some of the pages you need to consider are your home page, about us, and contact page. 

It’s tempting to focus all your energy on your product pages (and these are important), but people are evaluating your entire website. Every page is a chance for you to connect with your target audience and convince them that you’re trustworthy and worth the money. 

Think carefully about the words you choose, the creatives you use, and the image you want to create for your business.

Step 7: Choose Your Theme 

When you were reading step six, you might have been thinking, “but what about the layout?” You can start looking at themes (basic layouts) before you start fleshing out your main pages, but it’s sometimes easier to see how things fit together if you’ve got a good picture of what’s going to be on each page.

WordPress offers a lot of free themes, which are like editable templates you can use. This makes it incredibly easy to start an online store in just a few clicks, but it does limit you slightly. 

If you want more freedom and flexibility with your theme, then look at SeedProd, a super easy drag-and-drop landing page builder for WordPress.

Step 8: Don’t Forget About the Pre-Launch

As your new online store starts to come together, you might be tempted to click the publish button and jump into selling your products. 

There’s nothing stopping you from doing this, but you could potentially be missing out on a big opportunity. 

The launch of a new store is an exciting event, and you want to capitalize on that excitement. One of the ways you can do this is by doing some pre-launch marketing. Using SeedProd, you can create a great “coming soon” page and start marketing your online store before it’s even online. 

Run promotions, create a buzz, and really make the most of your official launch. Not only can this ensure your online store has a great start to life, but it also takes the pressure off slightly, meaning you’re not in such a rush when building your site. 

Growing Your Online Store

growing sales

Step 9: Factor in Your Marketing 

One of the great advantages of having an online store is that it allows you to take advantage of every marketing channel. Whether you’re sending out flyers, uploading a video to social media, or advertising on Google, it’s a chance to drive people to a central place where you can continue the conversation. 

You can add new elements to your online store at any point, but it’s worthwhile factoring in your marketing from the beginning. For instance, many online stores run a blog that helps bring people to the site and builds relationships with potential customers. 

Another great option is affiliate marketing (here’s a quick guide to how it works), and this can even play a part in your pre-launch. 

With AffiliateWP, you can set up an affiliate marketing program in just a few minutes, enabling you to quickly reach your target customers around the world. 

Step 10: You’re Ready to Launch

You’ve taken care of everything you need to do to start an online store, now it’s time to launch!

With a bit of luck, your pre-launch will have stirred up a lot of excitement, and you’ll have a line of people waiting outside your virtual door. However, the saying “Rome wasn’t built in a day” isn’t so well known for no reason. 

If you don’t see immediate results, then don’t worry. One of the key elements of online marketing is consistency. Keep doing the right things over and over, and success will start to come to you. 

FAQs: How to Start an Online Store

  • How do I start my own online store? To start your own online store, you need a domain name and hosting. Once you have these set up, then you can use a website builder or e-commerce platform to build an online store and sell your products. 
  • How much does it cost to start an online store? It costs very little to build a basic online store. You’ll need to pay for your domain name, hosting, and website builder. You can get all of these for as little as a few dollars a month from a company like Bluehost.
  • Are online stores still profitable? Online stores can certainly still be profitable. It’s all about what you make of it. It’s easy to set up a store and make it look great, but the key element that will lead to success is your marketing.
  • How can I create an online store for free? If you have an existing website, then it’s possible to create an online store for free by adding an e-commerce plugin. A great example of this is the WooCommerce plugin for WordPress. It’s a free plugin that can turn your website into an online store. 

Starting an Online Store is Also About Marketing 

When you start an online store you might think it’s about building a website and filling it with products. That might build you a store, but it’s not going to help you grow it. 

Instead, you need to start with a comprehensive plan that factors in your marketing.

At AffiliateWP, we always say we don’t want people to just build an affiliate marketing program; we want them to build an affiliate program that will grow sales. It’s the same thing with an online store; we don’t want you to build it for it to just sit there, we want it to take off!

If you want that to happen too, then it’s well worth building an irresistible affiliate marketing program with AffiliateWP.

Find out how AffiliateWP can help you grow your online store!

William Palmer

About the author: William is a technical writer for Awesome Motive. He's passionate about helping small businesses unlock the power of affiliate marketing, and summit the rankings with great SEO. In his spare time, you'll find him exploring the wonderful scenery of Cantabria, Spain.

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