How to Start an eCommerce Business

Creating an e-commerce business is a great idea for all sorts of reasons, but a main one is that for the average person, it is a low-cost, high-potential way to get your foot in the entrepreneurial door. Sure, Jeff Bezos did it, and so did Steve Jobs. But the cool thing is that your neighbor down the street did it too.

Think about it: instead of having to find a pricy great brick-and-mortar location, you are able to virtually hang out a shingle. And instead of paying rent on that place, you only pay a small monthly hosting fee. And there are no labor costs either. And what about not having to actually buy inventory or stock the shelves? (I’ll share that little secret below.)

So just how do you jump on the e-commerce bandwagon? Here are the steps to take:

1. Decide what you want to sell: If you already have a business then of course the logical step is to make your website an extension of that business. You can sell products you already stock, or your services, or other things altogether.

If this website will be your new business, then the question is: What will you sell? If you have something in mind already, great, and if not then the key of course is to find something people want and being able to buy it, and then sell it, at a fair price. Keep in mind that the culture of the Internet in one of discounts. That doesn’t mean that that is a requirement, but it is something to remember.

2. Build your online store: You don’t need to hire a Web designer or reinvent the wheel. There are a lot of very good companies that offer e-commerce website templates that you can customize. For instance, our friends at do a great job at this. You want a partner that offers a shopping cart, easy uploads of your product catalogue, payment solutions, and easy handling of order fulfillment.

Once you pick a provider, you will use their point-and click tools to create your e-store. Be sure that you use a template and colors that build the brand you want. Add logos, taglines, and all the rest.

The fee you pay will be based upon the number of products you will be selling, your bandwith, etc. A new e-commerce website should run you less than $100 a month.

3. Get a merchant account: When you sell something online you need to be able to take payments online. That comes from having a “merchant account” that processes credit card payments. A Google search can do the trick, and PayPal works very well too.

4. Upload your products, or consider drop shipping: Once you have the skeleton of your site in place, it is time to upload pictures of your products. Make sure they are beautiful, and equally, make sure to use beautiful words to describe them. This is your chance to sell, so sell. Online shoppers can’t actually touch your products, so you have to create that experience for them with words and pictures.

In the alternative, if you don’t have any products or don’t want to deal with inventory, as mentioned, consider something called “drop shipping.” Drop shipping is an amazing deal where you find a wholesaler who will house and ship the products for you. You simply list their products for sale on your site and when a sale comes in, the drop shipper is given notice, they ship the product, and you the drop shipper split the sale.

Kind of amazing, right? Without having to actually stock products, or ship those products, you can still set up an online store.

5. Market your business, and then market it some more. This is where an online business is just like an offline business. Marketing is key. You need to let people know you are open for business. How?

  • On your website
  • In your physical store
  • In your e-newsletter
  • Using social media
  • Via advertising
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

One final note: Be sure to sweat the small stuff. Account for shipping costs when setting your costs. Figure out how you will handle returns. What about customer service?

The e-details matter a lot.

© 2017 The Strauss Group, Inc.

Steve Strauss

Steve Strauss is the senior small business columnist at USA TODAY, the Editor-in-Chief here at Small Business Connection, a speaker and spokesperson. He can be reached at

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