Bootstrapping Your Way To Success
Putting your hard earned cash into a new eCommerce venture is a blind leap of faith. You’ll be wracked full of self-doubt and thoughts of “what if I fail?”
Thoughts of failure are entirely rational and happen to everyone. Making a success of any new business means pushing through all the barriers that you imagine to conspire against you. It’s effortless to get sucked into the “it’s all too difficult” mindset where nothing gets done.
He who watches the wind will not sow, and he who looks at the clouds will not reap.
Fortunately, the cost of starting an eCommerce business is at an all-time low. Tools and technology are getting better and easier to use while it has never been as straightforward to research and source products.
When you look at some of the successful eCommerce stores that started three, four or even five years ago, recognise that they probably invested four or five thousand pounds into developing a website. Using EKM that development cost is eliminated and instead you’ll pay a monthly fee for the eCommerce platform.
When considering this price, keep in mind that as the eCommerce website builder platform gets refined and improved, you gain the benefit of the new technology introduced with each new update. Essentially you ride on the coattails of cutting-edge eCommerce software development.
With low start-up costs, your only significant investment is in stock or product development, and this is why we coin the term “bootstrapping” to mean borrowing less and not diluting the original shareholder stake at startup. You’ve seen them squirm on “Dragons Den” when asked to part with far more of the business than they anticipated, so when you use EKM you’ve already covered your significant business start-up costs.
What Are You Going To Sell?
Trying to find products to sell can seem fraught with difficulty. There are trends to follow, top seller charts, best selling products on eBay and many more. None of these will help you though, not in the long run. Selling a product just because it’s “in demand” means that you’ll primarily be competing on price and the scope for profit is poor.
Breaking into markets that are driven by price means competing against long-established operators who have mastered economies of scale and who have learnt how to create effective advertising campaigns. Trying to compete in these fiercely competitive markets is like walking into the lion’s den armed with a twig that you found lying around at the entrance. You’ll get eaten alive.
Apart from the price, you should also consider that one of the leading driving forces for an eCommerce websites success is product reviews and if you don’t have any, it’s difficult to gain traction. It’s a good reason to stay clear of mainstream products.
There is a better way. The answer to finding a product to sell is to look around you and determine what your interests and hobbies are. Find your passion and follow its desires. When you do something you love, you can bring the real authentic “you” to the party and make a connection with your audience with which they can relate. It’s much easier to grow a Facebook or social media following when you are passionate about your work.
Even seemingly bizarre niches can have their place, and no topic is too small for this approach. In fact, the more niche you go, the better for many reasons:
- Less competition
- Better targeted Adwords or Facebook Campaigns
- Easier to manage keywords
- Focused Inventory
An Example Of Niche Thinking:
Instead of “wedding dresses” think “beach wedding dresses” or even “plus size wedding dresses” or even more niche “long sleeved wedding dresses”. Many people have skin conditions like Psoriasis or eczema and want to cover up their arms on their wedding day.
The idea is to specialise and be unique while providing expert knowledge on your chosen subject. In this way, you differentiate yourself from the thousands of other people trying to sell mainstream products.
Here’s another example:
Instead of selling flowers online, think of selling plants. Instead of plants think of selling a particular plant. How about being the definitive website for Orchid plants which can be notoriously difficult to keep! It’s this level of niche that means you can provide the customer with everything they need to know about their product purchase.
Don’t worry that your niche is too small in the beginning because as you become more accomplished at eCommerce and marketing, you can grow your site and your product offering.
Starting too big means you’ll have to put in a mammoth effort managing multiple stock items, product descriptions and the labour overhead that comes with a more extensive website.
Do What You Love Better Than Anyone Else
The difference between selling something you can make a profit out of or selling something you believe in is night and day. When you don’t care about the product, you don’t care about the price. Hence price wars begin, and it’s a race to the bottom of the barrel.
When you care genuinely, madly, deeply about your product or your service, there is much less reason to discount. Establishing your business in a space where you are the expert brings so many more benefits over being just another retailer.
Sell Items That Require Expert Knowledge
If you have expert knowledge on a subject, then put it to good use and build your site around it. The products are always the star of the show, but backing those products up with stellar blogging in the form of guides, how to’s and more information is what will make your site stand out.
In-depth knowledge has lasting power, with it comes respect and authority. Don’t be shy about making your voice heard and your blog a significant part of your site.
Offer Better Support
Whether you agree with it or not the world of the five day work week and putting your feet up on the Sabbath has receded long into the past. In the fast-paced world of eCommerce business, consumers expect same day deliveries, deliveries on a Sunday and extended customer support hours.
Not everyone can reach those standards immediately. However, one of the ways you can offer superior customer service is to implement “live chat” and provide assistance to customers browsing your website.
As well as helping the customer live chat also gives you a wealth of insight by tracking pages browsed and showing you from where your visitors are coming. You might also gain valuable ideas for future products via the questions that frequently get asked.
Gain Reviews For Your Product
Reviews, reviews, reviews. Concentrate your efforts on gaining legitimate reviews for your products and seeking feedback. User reviews are such an essential part of your business, and they go a long way to establishing credibility. Everyone reads product reviews these days before making an informed buying decision so make sure yours are well stocked.
Set Proper Expectations
You’ve seen the Facebook and Youtube adverts showing how to get to a six-figure turnover in six months, and while I’m not disputing that in extraordinary cases this may well happen, you have to be realistic with your expectations.
With a following wind and some luck on the way, it should take you about three years to build an established eCommerce business that can stand on its own two feet. Your mileage may vary of course.
The process of launching your shop is the beginning of a long journey. Like Frodo’s quest to destroy the ring you will come up against many obstacles on the path to profitability. There is so much to be learned, and you can’t possibly take it all in with one sitting.
Learning “Internet Marketing” means going from having a business idea to sourcing or making your product and making a visible website presence. After that there is keyword research, Google Adwords, Facebook marketing, email marketing, autoresponders, organic traffic generation, conversion techniques, abandoned cart saver emails, headline writing, copywriting, SEO… the list goes on and on.
Of course, all that on top of stocking product and dealing with customer enquiries, returns, packaging and deliveries.
The more profit you make, the less of the above you’ll have to learn to do yourself by outsourcing to other suppliers but suffice to say this is a journey of discovery to be embraced rather than a get rich quick scheme.
Consistency Will Reap Rewards
Working on your business for an hour or two every day is far more preferable to an eight-hour session followed by days or even weeks of inactivity. By writing 1000 words a day, you could write an entire novel in a year and still have plenty of time left over to play with the kids, spend time with family and enjoy life.
Many people go into business with an all or nothing attitude that precludes everything else around them while they work on their project. In some cases, this may be the way to get a new project off the ground but for the majority of people who begin an eCommerce business the little and often approach is the best.
For a start updating your site frequently will curry favour with Google. The search engine loves regular fresh content and providing it will help to make your website visible on the search engine.
Also spending a little time each day working on growing your business will allow you to establish a routine that will give you a better work/life balance whether you are starting up full time or trying to build an additional income stream.
Using an eCommerce website builder will reduce your start-up costs significantly because you won’t be ploughing capital into software development. Costs which can easily run away with themselves once you start developing custom eCommerce software.
Finding a product to sell means doing some navel gazing to find out what you are passionate about. Explore niche markets based on your idea.
Provide better support and information than your competitors. Investigate using live chat as a means of customer support and create a blog schedule to provide more information about your products. Make the pursuit and gaining of customer reviews a priority.
Don’t listen to “experts” telling you how to build a six-figure income in no time at all. Recognise that building an eCommerce business is a long-term project and work on it consistently.
And finally – enjoy what you are doing. Far too many people pursue profit for its own sake rather than creating something truly worthwhile that they can be proud of. It takes time, but the result will be there for everyone to see.
About the Author
Tony Cooper founder of Storebuilder Ltd has a career than spans 17 years in internet marketing, working with some top UK online start-ups and digital agencies. Tony is an approved EKM partner and is available to help you grow your ecommerce business.