How to start your online business in just six simple steps

So you’ve decided to become an entrepreneur. Whether you’ve recently quit your job or have chosen to turn your side hustle into a full-time business, it’s an exciting time. Starting an online business can also be very challenging, especially if you’ve never done so before. Making the right choices now can greatly impact your success down the line, and the last thing you want to do is spend your energy revisiting old decisions instead of growing your company. A strong foundation is the key to a successful and thriving small business.

To help you take the first steps, we’ve teamed up with BigCommerce, a feature-rich ecommerce solution for small businesses. Their retailers grow at 28 percent year after year on average, which makes them the ideal partner to help us offer advice on how to start, build, and improve your business.

1. Determine your unique selling proposition

Building a business around something you’re passionate about is one thing. It’s important that your product or service has something unique about it, too, to differentiate it from your competitors. Think about price, quality, ease of use, and the status associated with it — any of these aspects could be emphasized to help you stand out from the crowd.

Don’t have items of your own to sell? Another strategy is to source products from drop-shipping providers and market your brand as a sophisticated, expert curator. In the same way that consignment stores collect clothing and accessories that fit a certain motif, you can select items from a number of producers and market them through your own channels at a premium. This is a great way to sill bring in revenue without products of your own.

2. Build an effective online store

This is the fun part: once you’ve decided on your business model, it’s time to turn your vision into reality by creating your retail website. Ensure the design you choose is retail-friendly — photo galleries can be tempting, but a dedicated ecommerce template will make you happier in the long run. Spend time searching for the right design now so that you don’t have to rebuild everything later on. You just have to think about how you want your consumers interacting with your website and go from there.

If you don’t have a designer or a developer on your team just yet, you’ll want to find a website builder that requires as little coding as possible. If you end up wanting more customization than the templates deliver, sites like BigCommerce connect you with experts who can help you build your website on a contract basis. This means you can build a beautiful, custom site while remaining lean. A lot of bigger websites rely on dedicated developers, but this is fairly unnecessary if you keep things simple.

3. Implement features that drive sales

The second part of building a successful online store is making sure it works with features that keep customers on the page. Look for sites that offer coupons and discounts, PayPal integration, or more advanced features like an abandoned cart saver. Seventy-four percent of online retail orders are abandoned every year. You want to make sure that your store is able to recapture those lost customers and help them return to your site. Creating a newsletter and a dedicated audience can also help keep folks around once they visit the first time.

Having a seamless checkout also helps your customers make a purchase more easily, decreasing bounce rates and lost revenue. Consider offering free shipping (some ecommerce platforms include this as a feature) and partner with companies that provide real-time shipping quotes. The more accurate information you can give your customer up front, the more likely they are to purchase — and become loyal patrons.

how to start online store a laptop with red screen

4. Market to the masses

You can have the most eye-catching, robust website around — but it doesn’t matter if no one visits it. Spend some time optimizing your site for SEO. Choose long-tail keywords that you can own (think “order running shoes online” instead of the more common phrase “running shoes”) and sprinkle them in key places on your site, such as header tags and meta-descriptions. Doing so will help your site earn more search traffic and rank higher on Google.

This is relatively passive marketing, however. Engage in more proactive efforts like sending out targeted customer emails using a service like MailChimp, Infusionsoft, or HubSpot. This gives you an opportunity to remind customers of an item or service they were interested in, or re-engage them with limited time discounts.

5. Decide where to sell

These days, there are more places to sell your products than ever before. Take advantage of them by listing your products on Amazon, eBay, Facebook, Google Shopping, Instagram, and Square, among others. While it may seem intimidating if you haven’t worked with these platforms before, new ecommerce solutions make it relatively easy. Start by investigating which channels your audience uses the most. If, for example, most of your potential customers are on Facebook, connect your entire product catalog to the Shop section of your Facebook Page. Is your Instagram audience engaging with your content? Tag products in your photos to drive them to convert.

6. Constantly improve your site

It’s not enough to set it and forget it. The most successful businesses use data to their advantage, revisiting which tactics were the most impactful and where they should be improved. Services like Google Analytics will let you view your site’s traffic at a glance, while BigCommerce Analytics lets you dig into conversion rates and Average Order Value (AOV). By seeing where the bottlenecks are in your customer journey, you can adjust your copy and design strategically. No more guesswork necessary.

Ready to start creating your online business? Follow these simple steps and you’ll be well on your way. And of course, if you want a little more guidance as you get going, the experts are always around to help.

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