Starting an eCommerce business from scratch Part Three: Automate & Grow
I’ve been busy applying the strategies I’m writing about to my own eCommerce business urbantradr.com, trying out many ideas, and posting the results here in my blog. It’s because of this that you can be sure that I’m only slightly ahead of the advice I’m offering, but critically far enough ahead to make sure the advice is valuable!
In part three I’ll be covering how to automate your new eCommerce business, this will cover choosing a platform for your on-line store outside of your sales channel on eBay. Adding modules, and also streamlining your shipping solution.
Your domain name and hosting
OK, if we are going to have our own on-line store, we are going to need a domain name, and somewhere to host it. There are many places to buy domain names, I tend to use www.godaddy.com for general .com’s, and I use www.123-reg.co.uk for country specific domains. I have been looking for a small UK-based company to migrate my GoDaddy domains to though, as I would like to give my business to a UK based start-up if I can.
In terms of hosting, what you really need here is probably a turnkey solution, this is a hosting provider that offers a domain and hosting solution for a cheap monthly price, and that also offers installable add-ons for free. Such as WordPress or OpenCart.
Now as for our actual domain name, we need to make sure this matches the brand we have created for ourselves on eBay. The name you have chosen on eBay can be changed, so you do not have to stick with something you don’t want. Now is the time to think long and hard about the brand you want to use. See this great straight to the point article by Mike Blakely. My advice here would be that in the modern age, our buyers will tend to be clicking a link from a social network endorsement rather than from Google. SEO (search engine optimisation) at this point is likely not a factor for us, and when it is in the future our domain name will likely have little bearing on it. Far better you choose a brand name because it strikes a balance of resonating with you, and others than worrying about it’s SEO score.
Your own eCommerce site
Having your own on-line store is not a necessity, and it’s unlikely to attract many direct sales for some time, however it does give you your own on-line presence and over time will begin to produce sales as it benefits from the sales funnel effect of eBay. The major benefit to us at this point is it gives us a “hub” to use as our automation point. I’ve reviewed and used many eCommerce solutions on the market, from free open source lightweight frameworks, to paid for and/or subscription monsters. The best in my opinion to date (at least for our needs) is OpenCart. OpenCart is an open source solution that is free to download and install on your own servers. The actual process of installing OpenCart is way beyond the scope of this post. But there is plenty of documentation on-line, and wonderful blog posts elsewhere that can help you with that, such as this great brief overview from Chris Howard of Cooshtee.com. Dealing with servers can be very daunting if you’re new to this. If you get stuck, be sure to visit internet forums to ask for help. If you’re really stuck, feel free to leave a comment and I’m sure I can help you out.
A final word on the platform choice. This platform is very customisable, and I’m sure you will want to spruce it up with your own design. Themes, or templates as they are usually referred to are available on-line in abundance, from free to paid. Take a look at Themeforest OpenCart themes.
So with our store now installed and up and running it’s time to look at how, and why we automate. Automation is key to our success. Many entrepreneurs with on-line businesses are locked in to working in, rather than on their business. Whilst it’s OK at first to be everything from lead purchaser, head sales man, dispatcher and customer service rep, we do not want to eventually swap our day job for well, another but infinitely harder 24hr a day job with an even more demanding boss…us! So we have to automate.
Now automation is not about cutting costs, when we automate we must have our customer in mind. It removes us from the process and allows it to keep on ticking away without us. We are dispensable in our own business. So if we become ill, or busy in another area of our life, our customers and our business do not have to suffer.
Our first port of call in automation is order management. An app that I use is OpenBay Pro from Welford Media, (recommended to me by Gavin Edley of Vitalife Health, a great example of what can be achieved from opening your own on-line store, Gavin now owns several real brick retail stores across the UK). OpenBay is an add-on module for OpenCart that allows integration fo your on-line store with both eBay and Amazon. It will automate product listings, stock control and order management from the admin area of your OpenCart installation. This means that you can have one process for your store, ebay and Amazon sales channels. All products and stock are listed, updated, removed from OpenCart and pushed out to eBay. Each day you (or preferably your dispatcher) can login to OpenCart, print off the new order invoices and get packing, returning to OpenCart to mark products as dispatched.
You now have one system in place to create new products, price them, sell them, and communicate with your customers no matter which platform they actually made the purchase from. Now hiring that first part-time helper may be not so daunting.
Again, any specific questions around these modules, please feel free to leave a comment.
Postage and packaging or Shipping
Up until now, you may have been going to the local post office to get stamps or labels placed on to your packages. Royal Mail offer an on-line solution that will allow you to print off your own postage on to stickers and mail them yourself from a postbox or post office, or any Royal Mail collection point. This is a system that you can top up, so if you do have a helper they can learn a single process without having to access any credit/debit cards or cash.
I hope these posts have proved helpful. In part 4 I’ll be discussing launching our own branded products, including; dealing with manufactures, shipping, customs and product/marketing design.