Starting your own online shop (eCommerce store) is a fantastic way to supplement your income and it can be a lot of fun. Based on my own experience, I’ve complied a list of steps that you can take to start your own web-based store:
1. Decide what you’re going to sell and decide how it will be manufactured
Do you know what you want to sell? Are you going to make the goods yourself, have them manufactured in Australia or overseas, or are you going to buy existing products and re-sell them? If applicable, do you know how you will import the goods into Australia? Do you know what your minimum costs will be and do you have the funds to pay for them?
2. Test your market
Do you know if there is a market for your product? Do you know who your target market is? Do you know who your competitors are? Once you’ve paid to manufacture and import your goods, and then add mark-up and postage, will your prices be comparable to those of your competitors? And is there enough demand to support another business entering the marketplace? Does your product have a unique selling point (USP) that will set it apart from its competitors?
If possible, buy or make a small quantity of the goods that you plan to sell and try selling them on Gumtree, Ebay, or Facebook. Try experimenting with different prices and see how quickly they sell. Yes, might have to buy the items at retail and sell below cost, but that is preferable to investing time and money in goods that people aren’t going to buy!
Once you’ve confirmed that there is a market for your product, you can safely start making or ordering stock.
2. Choose and register your business name
Once you know what you’re going to sell, and you’ve confirmed that there is a market for them, you’ll need to choose a name for your business. It’s a good idea to choose something memorable, that preferably tells you something about the business. Avoid strange spellings or uncommon words because that makes it harder for people to find your business online. Check that your chosen name isn’t already registered, and check that your preferred domain names are available.
Once you’ve chosen your name, you’ll need to apply for an ABN (if you don’t already have one) and register your business name. At this stage it is a good idea to visit an accountant as they can help you set-up your business correctly and give you some information about your tax obligations.
3. Set-up your online store
When setting up your website there are a number of different options ranging from cheap to expensive:
- Web Design Agency (or Freelance Web Designer)
If you can afford to spend $5-$10k, arguably the best and safest option is to hire a reputable web design agency to design and develop your website for you. They will be able to design a website with conversion and SEO in mind, and they’ll be able to take care of then entire process from start to finish.
- eCommerce Solution
Another option is to create your own website using an ecommerce solution such as Shopify. This is a quick and easy way to get your website up and running as soon as possible, and no experience is required. You are charged a monthly fee, so in the long run these services usually end up costing you more, but you can always setup your website this way to begin with and go to a web agency later down the track.
- DIY Website
If you have some technical savvy or you’re prepared to learning, the cheapest option is to set up your ecommerce store yourself. You can use free CMS software such as WordPress along with a free ecommerce toolkit such as Woocommerce, however you will need to learn how to implement this software. There are also a lot of security considerations to take into account if you choose the DIY option. Ensure you have a SSL certificate and use a reputable payment gateway.
Not sure which option you should choose? Think of it this way, if you were to open a bricks-and-mortar version of your shop, what would you do? Would you rent a great looking shop in a great location and hire a professional to do the fit out? Or would a cheap warehouse be more suitable for your business? This might help to give you an idea of which option would work best for you.
4. Start marketing your online store
Now is the time to start implementing a multi-faceted marketing plan. This will be limited to your time and budget, but some suggestions include: Search Engine Optiomisation (SEO), Google Adwords, Social Media Marketing (SSM), blogging, and advertising through both traditional and digital channels.
5. Monitor your progress and continue to grow and develop your business
You can use free analytics software, such as Google Analytics, to monitor traffic to your website and track how people navigate the site. This will help to determine areas that you need to improve on. For example, if you’re getting lots of traffic to your website but your conversion figures are poor, maybe you need to redesign your homepage or have another look at your pricing.
Growing up, my parents were always business owners, and I thought it was awful. They worked 7 days a week so they were hardly ever home and holidays were out of the question. I saw them working so hard and decided I never wanted to be self employed.
Meanwhile, my friend’s parents had conventional 9-5 jobs. They had weekends free and took regular holidays, so as I child, a 9-5 job seemed like a dream come true. Of course, I wasn’t aware of all the negative things that they had to deal with such as lack of freedom, and little hope of financial advancement. In reality, my friend’s parents had to commute 2hrs to and from work every day, they also had to work long hours during the week, and they’re probably still working even though they’d be in their 60s by now (meanwhile, my parents retired in their early 50s).
But it took me a long to time and realise this, and an even longer time to realise that this wasn’t the way it had to be!
After I finished studying, I was determined to get a 9-5 job. But that wasn’t so easy. I ended up landing a job as a makeup artist, which I know sounds pretty glamorous, but it was a lot of long hours, traveling and hard work. Because it was a commission based job, it taught me something very important:
How much work you put in can and should be reflected in how much you earn!
I didn’t mind working long hours, and I loved the fact that I was being rewarded with lots of money! From that point forward, I routinely worked 2-3 jobs at a time. I worked in offices, retail stores, restaurants, and nightclubs. I loved working hard and I loved earning money. I was also very quick to quit jobs and/or be fired, so I ended up working at a lot of different jobs, but each job taught me something valuable. I also spent time being unemployed and collecting the dole, which I found incredibly soul destroying.
At 21 I landed an entry level job in the Accounts Receivable department at a food wholesaler. I was promoted within the company and ended up with a promising career in accounts ahead of me. I moved onto another company (and other 9-5 job) where I continued my career in accounts. But I hated accounting so ended up going back to school and studying design. There were a few hiccups along the way, but eventually I became a graphic designer.
At 25 I was working full time at a graphic design agency – and I loved it! But I was still trapped in the 9-5. As a junior, the pay was terrible, and I never made more than my base salary, regardless of how much overtime I did or how hard I worked. I was also working Saturday nights and at night club and doing freelance graphic design in my spare time, so that I could earn enough money to pay my mortgage.
After a couple of years, I was offered another job with better pay and shorter hours so I decided to take it. But that job was TERRIBLE and I walked out after three weeks. I started job hunting again but my prospects weren’t too good. Unemployment rates were pretty high at the time, and there were a lot of unemployed graphic designers out there. I couldn’t believe that I’d quit two design jobs and now I was unemployed. I was so mad at myself!
I heard that my design skills might enable me to get a job in marketing, so I started to apply for every marketing job that I could find, and was lucky enough to get a job. But it was only two days a week, so my wage, along with the freelance work that I was doing, was only just enough to cover my bills. I was still focusing most of my energy on getting a full time design job. Not only because I wanted to earn more money, but also because I was still stuck in the limiting mindset that I “needed” a 9-5 job.
Meanwhile, I had the opportunity to spend a couple of months doing volunteer work in Nepal, and then visit Europe with my family. And thanks to a surprisingly large tax refund, I was actually able to afford to go, and I was able to take the time off from my marketing job. If I’d been working for a design agency at the time, it’s unlikely I would have been able to take time off, so even thought I feel like my professional life was in shambles, it actually allowed me to take advantage of a great opportunity.
The time away allowed me to relax and made me realise that I loved working 2 days a week and doing freelance work. I just spent so much time worrying and job hunting, I never had any time to enjoy it! But when I returned to Australia, I was determined that things would be different! I was going to keep working at my marketing and build up my freelance business so I could freelance full time!
And then I lost my job.
But almost immediately I was offered two freelance contracts with two different agencies. I couldn’t believe it! Just like that I was freelancing full time (and this was after I’d been looking for work for 12 months!). For a while everything was great. Financially things were fine, and I was continuing to build up my freelance business. But then I lost one of my contracts and work with with the other contractor was beginning to dry up. I panicked and started to apply for full time design jobs again.
Surprising, I landed a job almost immediately. It was a great paying design job at an agency only a 10 minute drive from my house. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was! I loved the financial security, but going back to a 9-5 job (which in reality was 8.30-5pm plus lots of overtime) after I’d experienced the freedom of freelancing was not fun. I’d look out the window on a beautiful sunny day and wonder why on earth I was a sacrificing my freedom just for a bit of financial security.
Most days, I had to stay in the office at all times, so I couldn’t even go out for lunch or go to a doctor’s appointment and taking a day off work was almost completely out of the question. I questioned why I was holding onto this job when I was in the very fortunate position to be able to freelance instead. I told myself I’d go back to freelancing once I’d built up my freelance business some more. At this point, I was working 42hrs+ at my job, plus doing 10-20hrs of freelance work during evenings and weekends, and my volunteer work and my social was starting to suffer. I desperately wanted to quit so that I could freelance full time, but I didn’t have enough freelance work. I knew I had the capacity to get more work if I was able to answer my phone during business hours and spend more time going to networking events and promoting myself. But a little part of me still believed that I “needed” a 9-5 job, and quitting my job was just SO SCARY.
For me, the turning point came when work at the agency started to dry up and I started to get sent home early without pay. It made me learn firsthand a very important lesson:
A 9-5 job does not automatically mean financial security or job security.
But even once I stopped holding onto the false illusion of financial security, I still didn’t quit my job. I just needed another little push, which the universe sent to me in the form of a job offer. I was offered a trial at a prestigious advertising agency, that would lead to a permanent job if I made a good impression. This was a dream come true. For a long time I’d wanted to break into advertising. But making the leap from graphic design agency to advertising agency was extremely difficult. I was so overjoyed just to have the opportunity to spend even at day a the advertising agency! I wasn’t allowed to take the day off work, and I figured my days at my current job were numbered anyway, so I quit my job so that I could attend the trial.
But the advertising agency was AWFUL. The other designers were miserable and spent the entire day loudly complaining about how much they hated their jobs. Meanwhile, the job itself turned out to be an entry level job (with an entry level salary), when at that point of I’d been in industry for 5 years. I ended up getting offered the job, but even thought it was supposed to be my dream job, I decided not to take it.
Since that day I’ve been a freelance graphic designer and I can honestly say it is THE BEST JOB IN THE WORLD!