“I would like to start a online portal for purchase of designer jewelry. Please let me know the steps required ”
“I want to sell t-shirts online. What do I need for this ? ”
“I want to sell handmade crafts online. How do I proceed ?”
These are some of the questions I am constantly getting from my readers.
It made me realize that many of my readers are consider starting an online store.
Maybe you are out on your own and are thinking I don’t know how to do it.
It’s easy to start an online store and sell the products that suit their passion.
Through this article, I am going to share with you a sequence of steps that will help you start your online store and put you on a path to earn money.
Before jumping into the process, let me share a true story of a person who was in a similar boat as you, but is now a proud owner of an online store business.
Please meet Akshay Jain, founder of CustomBaba, an online store for customized t-shirts, hoodies, sweatshirts, and more.
Akshay is an engineer by education who had worked at Volkswagen India as a SAP consultant. He always had a passion for starting an online business and becoming an entrepreneur.
Akshay took the risk to pursue his passion and started an online company. However, that did not succeed. But, there was no doubt in his mind that he wanted to launch another online business and become successful.
In his words ” Failure taught me a lesson and made me capable for where I am today .”
Every success has failures buried beneath, even I lost 15,00,000 rupees in my first business.
Akshay spotted another business opportunity in the customized apparel segment and that is how he started an online store CustomBaba in January this year (2017).
With an investment on 15 stitching machines and a wordpress website, he started his journey. CustomBaba started generating an overall revenue of 5 lakhs per month within less than 1 year of operations.
Below is a snapshot of a portion of his earnings coming from his credit card paying customers.
Currently, with good manufacturing resources at disposal, he is focusing more on manufacturing and building a good team to further grow his online store business.
Let’s see how you can also start an online business.
Idea validation – Can your product make money too
You must be having some products in mind to sell on a online store – it could be electronics, designer jewelry or handkerchiefs.
But you must be careful to be not too obsessed with your idea because if the market does not exist then it may not be worth selling (no demand = no revenue).
So, it is important to validate your idea before straight away jumping into the execution.
To be honest, no one can tell with 100% certainty that your idea will work.
However, I can share some successful strategies that will help you validate your idea, estimate market potential for your product, and give you the roadmap to start your online store.
Select Your Favorite Section
- #1. Estimate Market Potential through Keyword Research
- #2. Lookout for Competition
- #3. Talk to your potential customers
- #4. Setting up your online store
- #5. Sourcing your products
- #6. Getting your first sales (5 Proven ways to promote)
- #7. Dealing with Competition
- #8. Legals – Registration and GST
#1. Estimate Market Potential through Keyword Research
A great way to know the market potential is by finding how many people are currently searching for your product.
That’s where Google’s keyword planner tool comes into picture. Google’s keyword planner tool helps you search for keywords related to your product and displays the total number of monthly searches for those keywords.
To use this tool you need to sign up for Google Adwords account. Then, login to your account, select tools from the top menu, and then select “keyword planner”. On the next screen, click “search for new keyword and ad group ideas”.
For example, below is a snapshot of the analysis for the keyword “custom t shirts”.
If the average monthly searches for the keyword is high, that indicates a high search popularity. A higher search popularity means people are actively looking out for products related to those keywords and that validates the demand for your product idea.
You can do a similar search for your product idea
#2. Lookout for Competition
Contrary to popular perception that competition is bad, having some sort of competition is actually good. Competition indicates the presence of a market for your idea.
As seen in the above picture, you can also use the Google keyword planner tool to know the level of competition for each keyword. This will give you a better indication of profitability of your product.
You can also use SEMRush to do keyword research and find details like
- organic and paid search results
- level of competition, competitors, and their website details
- related keywords
In particular, focus on three parameters to know more about your competition –
For example, below is a snapshot of the analysis for the keyword “custom t shirts”. You can do a similar search for your product idea and check out the details of your competition.
Volume is the average number of search queries per month for the queried keyword over the last 12 month time period. The higher the volume of searched keyword the more its popularity. The more the popularity, the more the competitors.
CPC which stands for Cost per Click is the average minimum price that advertisers pay for a customer’s click on a Google Adwords ad that popped up for a given keyword. Higher CPC indicates more number of competitors are trying to bid for that keyword indicating higher competition.
Competition(index) is the density of advertisers bidding on this keyword for their ads. A score of 1.00 indicates the highest level of competition, and a score of 0.00 indicates no competition.
Even with the competition, you can differentiate yourself by having something unique in your product or by choosing a niche within your product idea that would make you a winner.
Let’s take Akshay’s case for example. Instead of selling normal t-shirts, where there would be high competition along with demand, Akshay focussed on customized t-shirts and other custom apparel that helped him stand out.
#3. Talk to your potential customers
Talk to your potential customers before starting your online store to know whether they really like to buy your product, what are their needs, and to take their feedback.
Action 1: Start 3 discussions on your own social media (Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn) and tag relevant people to get the feedback.
I often do it on my own social media channels before starting anything. For example, I asked if any of the techies needed my help in content marketing and more than 40 people responded. For the people who responded, I spoke to them, asked questions, and probed further to validate my idea.
Read customer reviews of your product’s competitors on online marketplaces such as Flipkart, Amazon, Snapdeal, and PayTM. Since your social media connections would be limited and you can only get so many responses, you can employ this indirect method
- to understand the needs of your potential customers
- to estimate the potential demand for your product
For example, if you plan to sell coffee mugs on your online store, you can go to flipkart and search for coffee mugs and check out the customer reviews as show below.
Akshay, because of his previous venture experience of selling garments could spot the demand for customized apparel.
He also noticed that
- there were funded competitors in his business which meant a good demand for the product
- the metrics on Google Webmasters and SemRush, which are tools that help you to perform keyword research, traffic monitoring, competitive analysis etc confirmed sustained demand for customised apparel.
You can adopt a similar process to validate your idea as well
#4. Setting up your online store
Once you have evaluated the market potential for your product and decided to start an online store, the next step is to setup the online store.
Now, this can be done in three ways:
- Building your own store through WordPress + WooCommerce.
- Launching your store on Shopify.
- Selling on online marketplaces such as Amazon, Flipkart, Snapdeal, and PayTM.
The above three options have their own advantages and disadvantages, however, they are more than sufficient for you to start an online store of your own.
#1. Building your own store through WordPress + WooCommerce
If you want to have your own store, don’t want to depend on marketplaces, and want to build your own brand then you may choose this option.
WordPress is a very popular website management tool that helps you to publish and manage content on your website. WooCommerce is nothing but a software plugin that facilitates ecommerce for WordPress websites.
If you choose this option i.e WordPress + WooCommerce , then you have to first get your own hosting and domain name.
Follow this step by step process to start your website & configure yourself.
Once you are done setting up your website, you can follow the simple instructions on this link to install WooCommerce and enable the e-commerce part to launch your online store.
#2. Launching your store on Shopify
Shopify is a ecommerce solution that allows you to set up an online store to sell your goods.
It lets you organize your products, customize your storefront, accept credit card payments, track and respond to orders.
Shopify stores are easy to setup and run. You can upload your products and your business is up and running.
In 6th segment of this article, we will talk about how to find customers for your online store.
#3. Selling on Amazon, Flipkart, Snapdeal, and PayTM.
Most of you would have purchased some item or the other on e-commerce marketplaces such as Amazon, Flipkart, Snapdeal, PayTM etc. Online marketplaces such as these are very popular with customers and hence provide you with a ready stream of customers from day 1, once you start selling on them.
It is also common for online e-commerce businesses, who have a store of their own, to explore additional revenue streams by selling on these marketplaces.
But, do keep in mind that, they have their own advantages and disadvantages. Some of the advantages are
- a large established market to tap into
- no marketing costs
- all technical stuff is taken care off
- brand visibility
- option to outsource product packaging and shipping to these market places
Some of the disadvantages that come with them are
- lower profit margins, so, have to generate large volumes of sales for profitability
- high direct competition
- no customer loyalty
- cannot customize your online store experience
Now, let me do a quick comparison that highlights the pros and cons of each so that you can decide what is best the option for you.
Here is the excel sheet link to get a better picture of the comparison.
#5. Sourcing your products
For most of you, the process of sourcing your products will not be an easy one. Nevertheless, I will share some useful tips and pointers which you could utilize to make the process relatively easy.
Depending upon the phase of your online business, you may choose the ways in which you procure the product.
#1. Early launch phase
When starting out, if you want to further validate your product before you invest a lot of money on it or if you only have a small capital to begin with, depending upon the type of the product you plan to sell you can
- make product yourself at home on a small scale
- buy from wholesale markets and give it your brand name
- buy from small local markets or mega marts
For example, if you have skill, products like chocolates can be hand made at home without having to order huge quantities from manufacturers or suppliers, hence keeping your costs low and giving you control over quantity.
#2. Growth Phase
Once you have validated the market for your product, have capital in hand, and are confident that the product will sell, there are three ways in which you can procure your product:
- source from a manufacturer or a supplier
- self manufacture at a factory
1. Source from a manufacturer or supplier
For most of you, this process of finding a manufacturer or a supplier where you could source the product from will not be an easy one. Nevertheless, I will share some pointers which you could utilize to make the process relatively easy.
Solely depending on google search to find manufacturers or suppliers for your products may not be productive since most of them may not be tech savvy and so may not have a website or may not have an optimized website that could show up in the first page of google search results.
So, the best way to find manufacturers and suppliers is to make use of online supplier platforms like IndiaMart , Oberlo, and Alibaba that have details of lakhs of suppliers and millions of products listed on them.
Another way to source products is to tap into your neighborhood business networks and attend trade shows organized in your city, which could lead you to manufacturers or suppliers of your product.
I asked Akshay to offers some tips for you to approach manufacturers or suppliers
- Never negotiate on these online platforms. You should gather the details and approach them in person and look at their facility and the quality of their products. This way you can avoid fraudulent persons and any monetary loss.
- With manufacturers, the higher the size of your order the lower will be your costs. So, try to order more.
- Personally visiting manufacturers and suppliers will also help you to gain trust and build the relationship, ultimately benefiting your business.
2. Self manufacture at a factory
If you don’t like depending on other manufacturers/suppliers and are ready to make greater financial investment, you can setup your own factory to manufacture your product.
Acmeshka, a jewellery & lifestyle brand, is a good example of people choosing to manufacture on their own. Acmeshka makes jewellery at a small factory in Mumbai.
#6. Getting your first sales (5 Proven ways to promote)
For most people, business is slow in the beginning and getting your first sales could turn out to be quite challenging.
Without having any real customers and testimonials to showcase, spending money on paid online advertising to bring traffic to your website would not be cost- efficient.
Instead, you could leverage social media and other free online tools to get your first customers.
Akshay used Quora platform where he had a sizable presence to get the word out and make his first sales.
If you observe, many questions that get asked and addressed in Quora appear in Google search results. Therefore, you can also create a presence on Quora and address questions related to your product that people might already be searching for. This should bring people to your online store and give you your first sales.
Similarly, let me show you 5 other ways of getting your first sales for your online store.
#1. Reach out to Influencers and give them free samples
Influencers like bloggers, youtubers, and other social media celebrities have large social media followings with a highly engaging audience. Figure out the influencers in your product segment, whose followers are your target customers.
Once you have the list of these influencers,
- send them free samples of your product
- request them to promote your brand on their social media channels
- give discounts to their followers
- give them a share in your revenue if their followers buy your products
This will drive your target customers to your online store and give you your first sales. For example, if you are selling apparel like clothing and bags, reach out to fashion bloggers and instagrammers.
Below is a picture of Devina Malhotra, a well known fashion blogger, promoting a bag on her instagram
#2. Promote your product through Facebook
Facebook is a powerful social media platform where you already have your friends, family, and acquaintances. These connections could be your first customers. So, leverage these connections to get people talking about your product.
Secondly, create a business page and join the facebook groups where your target customers discuss their interests and look for tips. Participate in those discussions to spread the word on your product .
Lastly, find the pages that your target audiences follow and try to get your product featured on their posts in exchange for free samples.
Implementing these techniques will surely drive your customers to your online store.
Below is a snapshot of PosterGully’s facebook page promoting their online store for posters and prints
#3. Start your own blog
Starting a blog is a great way to attract people searching for your product and converting them to your customers.
Here is a step by step guide to start your blog in 5 minutes (even if you are not a tech person).
A blog helps you to rank in google search results, gets you social media shares, and brings visibility for your product. But, it is important to write on topics that your target customer wants to read.
You can make use of a tool called Buzzsumo to type keywords related to your product and find the most popular articles that people are reading. Creating content on such topics will surely bring new audience to your blog, establish your brand as trustworthy, and gets you those first customers.
For example, if you plan to sell jewellery, you can search for keyword “jewellery tips” on BuzzSumo and write a blog post on ” wedding jewellery tips for bride” as it seems to be one of the popular choice of readers.
A snapshot of the popular articles for the keyword “jewellery tips” on BuzzSumo
Contests are awesome ways of creating a viral engagement with your target audience to drive them to your online store. Since you will be a new business, you can start with a small budget.
One way to do this is to run a contest yourself on your facebook page as seen below.
The other way is to outsource the contest to a social media influencer who will implement it on his/her account.
You can frame the rules like asking people to follow your account, like your account, and tag along their friends. Below is a snapshot of a instagram influencer promoting the contest of a brand.
#5. Affiliate Marketing
This is one of the popular ways to get your first sales when you are starting new. Affiliate marketing is allowing other people to market your products on their websites with the purpose of sending potential customers to your online store.
In exchange, you can share a percentage of revenue with them. The advantage with affiliate marketing is that you only pay when you make money from sales.
At the beginning, be generous with the percentage of revenue that you will share with your affiliate marketers. That would drive many marketers to do business with you and in turn will get you a lot of potential customers from their respective websites.
#7. Dealing with Competition
More often than not, you will have competition in your business. So, you should be able to convince your potential customers to buy from you. Once you do that, you will gain a competitive advantage that would defend you from your competitors.
Depending upon the type of product you are selling on your online store, you can gain such competitive advantage by
- differentiating yourself by having something unique in your product or by choosing a niche within your product idea that would make you stand out as a winner.
- creating quality products that satisfy your customer needs either by your own manufacturing or sourcing from a quality supplier/manufacturer
- providing great customer service
- testing different pricing strategies and employing the best price for your product that can also cut your competition
- providing reliable and speedy order fulfillment
#8. Legals – Registration and GST
Like any other business , starting an online store involves a bit of paperwork. The best way to start an online store in India is to register it as a proprietorship firm.
This is the easiest way of starting and closing any business. Once you start generating revenues and profits, although not mandatory, you can consider changing the registration to a private company or LLP.
Registering as a private firm or LLP has some advantages such as raising funds from investors for your online store, liability protection incase of any litigation etc.
Lastly, with GST being implemented across the country, you must get a GST number to be able to ship products to your customers.
Now, that was a long article with a lot of information. But, I hope as you were reading it you didn’t get bored but rather were excited and imagined yourself starting your own online store. So, let me summarize the entire content for you to refresh your memory.
Once you have an idea of the product that you want to sell online,
- Use the strategies like keyword analysis, talking to your potential customers, and other discussed ones to help validate your idea and market demand.
- Next, setup your online store through WordPress, Shopify, or Online marketplaces after evaluating the pros and cons of each with the help of the comparison table that I have shared.
- For sourcing your products, depending upon the capital investment and your confidence in the product, choose to hand make it at home, buy at local markets, or source it from a manufacturer/supplier with the help of online supplier platforms such as IndiaMart.
- Generating your first sales need not be so challenging if you follow the strategies that I discussed like reaching out to influencers, starting your blog, using facebook, and more.
- If you have competitors for your product, gain competitive advantage by differentiating yourself, creating quality products, providing great customer service, and executing more such strategies that I shared.
- To hit the ground running, register your online store as a proprietorship. As your business grows, consider changing the registration to a private company or LLP. In addition, register for GST to comply with GST taxation law and to be able to do business.
- Lastly and importantly, take advantage of Akshay’s inputs and tips that I shared throughout the article and implement it for your online store.
I hope that my article has given you the confidence to pursue your dream of creating your own online store and to make good money out of it. Now, It’s time to take action.
It would definitely take some hard work and time on your part to launch your online store. But, remember that “a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.”
If you don’t take action today, you will always wonder whether you could have made it big if you just tried.