Online stores are a great way to experiment with generating a (very nearly) passive income. If you’re a tech whizz, you can whip-up a store in hours and start making sales immediately.

But you’ve got to ensure that your store attracts the right type of customers who are empowered and ready to buy.

This guide for the seasoned ‘geek’ will run through the ‘ins and outs’ of starting an online store.

Choosing Your Domain

In choosing your brand name, you will first need a good idea of what you want to sell.

In some instances, keeping your brand name quite general will allow you to change inventory without too much fuss.

Adjusting your marketing and web design will be relatively straightforward compared with ‘starting from scratch’ in having to rebuild a whole new, niche online store site.

When registering a domain, it’s a good idea to play with name generators.

Always consider the spelling in other languages, and include a keyword within the title if you can.

Run your names by some friends before you start.

It is worth the effort of getting your brand identity right, as it will help sell the products for you.

Knowing Your Customers

Whether you’re in it because you love a particular product, or you’re making a web store as a purely profit-driven project, you will need to come up with a plan for identifying and targeting your ideal customer.

Social media analysis tools like Buzzsumo can help you research content types and popular websites, as well as identify key influencers to outreach to. All this will help you build up a holistic customer landscape.

Once you have compiled any insights into notes, you will then need to create a set of customer personas. This is an exercise where you make up a representative example of a typical customer, including things like:

  • Their average shopping budget
  • The content they read regularly and share
  • The accounts they follow on social media
  • The devices they use.

These customer personas should form the central axis of your content planning and brand development.

Information Architecture

A great e-commerce site starts with a logical site structure, optimized to help your customers find what they want quickly and easily.

In the beginning, stages, don’t worry about stocking a vast range of items in your online store. 20-30 products is a good start, and you can always add and take away based on sales reports in a month or two.

Not holding any stock yourself, and just selecting a ready inventory of products to dropship is an excellent way to combat any stock or revenue issues. Check out this Udemy course to learn more about dropship.

Regarding categorization, forget alphabetical listings and instead label products by type. Competitor research can give you a head-start on the products you need to sell and how to group them.

Scour Amazon for best-selling and popular product categories.

Here are the basics your store needs to be covering:

  • Homepage
  • Main category pages
  • Product pages
  • About us
  • Shipping and sizing information
  • Privacy and returns policy
  • Contact us
  • Blog + product content

You should always ensure with your site structure that your visitors are no more than three clicks away from the homepage.

Don’t overlook the blog page in the beginning stages of making your store.  Adding informative content and articles about your products will build up your authority and help customers get inspired to buy.

You can batch write a few month’s worths of weekly posts in advance, or outsource the task to a freelance writer.

Setting Up For Merchant Services

Choosing your e-commerce host is a personal decision, as each has its strengths and appeal.

You can opt to open a marketplace store on Amazon, eBay or Etsy, or choose to build your custom site from your dedicated server using something like Magento or Drupal (if you have the skill level and want complete control).

If you wish for a service that’s easy to use and still allows for customization, you can make your web store using a subscription as a service (Saas) option like Shopify, WooCommerce, BigCommerce, etc.

Your decision in picking a service should consider your needs for:

  • Ease of adjustment to inventory and web design
  • Security requirements regarding accepting multiple payment methods and protecting your customer’s information
  • Marketing plugins and analysis tools
  • Ability to sync your inventory levels with your sales
  • Methods for calculating sales tax (within the US) and bookkeeping, accounts, etc.
  • Bespoke features such as product personalization or customization tools intended for customer use.

Promoting Your Store

Once you are up-and-running with your store, you will need to consider your marketing methods to bring in consumers and build your site’s search rankings gradually over time.

Setting up Facebook advertising on a small daily budget is relatively easy; however, getting the targeting for ads right requires a little more work.

You are ideally aiming to target your shop advertising posts to around 70,000 Facebook users (as an average) to start generating good results.

This means that your targeting criteria should be neither too broad or too narrow in scope. Look at your audience research and target your ads to relevant interests and keywords based on your customer personas.

You should also consider altering your headlines, images, videos, and ‘calls to action’ and testing them to find the most efficient ad formula for your needs.

Consider advertising through Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat — wherever your customers have shown to ‘hang out’ most frequently online.

Some will allow for advertising, or you may have to use user-generated content ideas or social media influencers to help you get your products in front of the eyes of potential fans.

An email list is a powerful lead-generating tool, and you should make the most of your loyal fans by offering them exclusive offers and great content that will encourage them to write reviews, engage with your marketing and champion your e-commerce store to their friends.

Running e-commerce email campaigns is a no-brainer for any savvy entrepreneur.

Building your online store requires some careful planning in the beginning stages. But once you’re set up and beginning to advertise, you can make adjustments and improvements based on your customer feedback and analytic reports.

Utilize automation and tools to streamline your administration time as much as you can, and don’t be afraid to chop and change inventory until you attain the regular sales averages you need to grow your business over time.