Monday, May 28, 2012

Starting an Online Store

In March of 2010,  I opened Sorella Bella- an online clothing store geared towards LDS Sister Missionaries.  Basically, I sell modest skirts and dresses, accessories, travel supplies, etc.  I did everything myself, from setting up the website to ordering inventory, with a $4000 loan from my Grandpa (which I paid off over the following year).

Starting a business was complicated, but exciting!  It was challenging, but so enjoyable I didn't mind the late nights.  In fact,  I'm of a mind to start a few more once I can build the capital.  If you have been thinking of starting an online shop, here are some tips.

1.  Develop your idea.  An online store is relatively easy to set up with small start-up costs, so there is a lot of competition out there.  You need to find your niche, figure out whether you want your own website or want to sell through a third party like Etsy.

2. Use drop-shipping wisely.  It eats up your profits like crazy, an very few wholesalers will offer it anyway.  Plan on building your own inventory, and reinvesting your earnings back into inventory for as long as it takes.  Drop-shipping is mainly useful only if you are offering a new item experimentally.  For instance, I decided to expand my product offering to shoes, which can be very expensive to hold in inventory.  I drop-shipped, and found it wasn't profitable so saved some money and heartache.

3.  Your search engine ranking is basically a reflection of how well you are putting the word about your store out there.  SEO = Put links everywhere you can!

4.  It is hard to change once you're established.  Do research and pick your website name, hosting company, shopping cart platform, etc. very carefully.

5. Keep good records.  At times you will wonder if it is worth the work, hassle, trips to the post office.  Keep an excel spreadsheet with income and expenses so you can make educated decisions.  (Plus helps with taxes!)

6. Wherever you possibly can, DIY!  I use Prestashop, a free open source shopping cart, for my online store.  You can't beat the price, and there is a great community forum willing to help the clueless. 

7. Invest in excellent product photos.  Upgrade your camera, do some online research on how to use it.  My website is not currently the best example, but I can tell you that the top-selling products are those with the best pictures.

8.  USPS is easiest for shipping.  If you print priority postage online, you save something like 15% and get free delivery confirmation.  I also occasionally use FedEx when mailing heavy packages more than a few couple states away- sign up for a business account and you can typically negotiate some percentage-off savings.  UPS seems to be the most expensive, so I don't use them.

Do you have or are you thinking of starting a webstore?  Have any tips of your own?  Any questions I can help with?

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