A couple years ago I started a business with a couple partners to sell adult incontinence products online. Though we had no eCommerce experience, I loved the idea of an electronic storefront. Once the store is set up, I reasoned, I could work anywhere in the world from the beachfront to the mountaintop.
Unfortunately, I never achieved the lifestyle of my dreams, because I pulled out of the venture – due to a difference of opinion – before hitting the big time. But I learned a lot along the way.
eCommerce is a Lot of Work
It may seem obvious, but the biggest lesson is that building and running an online store is a lot of work. We did not have a physical location, but we still needed to establish manufacturer relations, select inventory, negotiate pricing and build our store.
Building the store proved a much greater challenge than expected. In spite of the online availability of “simple” DIY eCommerce platforms, the software is only intuitive for those with previous web building experience. Adding to the confusion, we had a large inventory of variable products, which required a rather sophisticated understanding of database architecture.
(A variable product is one that comes in different sizes and colors. Let’s say you carry a t-shirt that comes in 4 sizes and 3 colors. As each size comes in 3 colors, there are 12 possible variations for this one product.)
eCommerce is More than a Website. It’s Attracting Customers.
It’s tempting to think the hard part is over when the website is launched, but building the store is just the start. It’s like the commute to work. After battling an hour of rush hour traffic, you’re exhausted before the workday even begins.
Okay. Your website is live. You’re open for business, but where are your customers? They’re out there, but they don’t even know you exist. How do you find and attract them to your store?
If you offer something unique that isn’t widely available, your customers will have an easier time finding you through Google search. But most of the time, you’ll be competing against (lots of) other eCommerce entrepreneurs with similar offers.
So how do you distinguish yourself from the competition, bring people to your store and convert them into paying customers?
There are many answers to these questions. Some require out-of-the box thinking (turn your store into a community hub by using social media.) But they all cost time (e.g. SEO) and/or money (e.g. Google Ads.)
Are You Ready to Quit Day Job to become an eCommerce Entrepreneur?
Before you quit your day job to become an ecommerce entrepreneur, carefully think it through. (It may even be a good idea to draft a formal business plan, especially if you’re seeking outside financing.)
Determine your value proposition:
- What product or service are you promoting online?
- What is the competition?
- What extra value do you bring – real or perceived?
- What do you better than anyone else?
- What promise do make to your customer?
- Why will a customer buy from you instead of Amazon or eBay?
Plan your marketing:
- Who is your ideal customer?
- What is her challenge?
- How does your customer promise match her challenge?
- How do you convert your promise into an attention-grabbing marketing message?
- How do you reach your audience with your message?
- How much does it cost?
Then take an honest look at yourself. Do you have the conviction, determination and tenacity – as well as funding – to see this through? If the answer is “yes,” then I’ll look forward to hearing from you in another year or two from the beachfront or mountaintop.