How You Can Start An Online Store For Free

*Editor’s Note – Patrick reached out to us and provided us with a killer blog post about starting an online store. This is perfect for those of you with private label items, t-shirt designs, or even products you want to sell on your own website. I thought this was an excellent article and wanted to share it with you all!

There are so many great reasons to start an online business. Thanks to the excellent range of affordable services and software available, you can start an online store from scratch without writing a single line of code. This kind of setup is perfect for selling because you don’t need to handle transactions yourself – the software will do it for you. Plus, unlike a traditional brick and mortar store, the overheads are virtually nil. What’s not to love?

Don’t delay – get up and running

Remember, procrastination equals failure. To start making sales online, you need to find a product, create a store, and then find ways to market yourself so customers can find you. Bring the goods, then use your snazzy storefront to make conversions. Get started using an online store free trial to get a feel for the software before you buy. Alternatively, you can install an ecommerce app or plugin to your existing website to give it shop capabilities. The third option is to sell products using an online marketplace with an existing audience, like Amazon.

Always remember that the primary goal is to make sales, so when you’re setting up your store, do a little personalization but remember that you can always come back and edit, so there’s no need to obsess over minor details. The time to fix them will come. Early on, just ensure that you have ample content, quality product images, and intuitive navigation that will make it easy for customers to find and buy products (not a concern if you’re using Amazon).

Outsource order fulfillment – unless you own a warehouse

Once your store is set up, it’s important to think about order fulfillment. How will you ensure that your customers receive the products they’ve ordered? Will you have the time to do all of that yourself? Do you have the space to hold inventory?

A lot of ecommerce entrepreneurs choose to work with a manufacturer, wholesale supplier or dropshipper to manage order fulfillment for them. That means that you don’t have to hold any stock, and the packing and shipping side of things is taken care of – leaving you to focus on customers and marketing. Your profit is then calculated as the difference between your selling price and the wholesale price quoted by your dropshipper. This is one of the easiest ways to manage an online store long-term, and requires no initial investment in stock upfront.

Start getting personal

So where to start? Assuming you have something you want to sell, the next consideration is your shop name. Don’t spend days obsessing over it – try to pick something simple, catchy and brandable that reflects what your business is about. Overly wordy or jokey names are best avoided – you want it to be something your customers will catch on to instantly. Try and limit the name to between 1-3 words. If you’re struggling for inspiration, try this business name generator. Choose a name that hasn’t been trademarked already, and which still has the universal .com address available.

Next, you need to set up your store. How you do this will vary based on which selling platform or CMS you use. But here’s a good tip – if you’re creating your own store, use a design template. Existing templates have been created to make your life easier – they are clean, customizable, and optimized for tablet and mobile, which is important. Choose one that you like the look of, and make your own adjustments accordingly. If in doubt, opt for something simple.

You may not be a natural designer, but your business will need some kind of logo. Rather than go all out, the same principle applies here: just keep it simple. The name of your business in an appropriate font and paired with a relevant symbol is enough. If you’ve not thought about color, try taking this company colors quiz. Use your logo across all channels to maintain a cohesive brand identity.

Write it out

Adding content to your online store will be one of your first jobs. It’s a good idea to write this out separately, and then upload everything to the site, so you have a copy. Areas to write content for initially include:

  • Home page
  • Product descriptions
  • About us page
  • Contact page
  • Terms and conditions
  • Shipping and delivery info
  • Returns policy

If you’re not sure about your policies, do some research and see what other competitors in your field say. Think about what your customers want to hear, but also what will protect you if something were to go wrong. There are plenty of useful templates for policy documents online.

When writing your content, do some keyword research and optimize your store for SEO by including your primary keywords in the URL, page titles, headings and meta descriptions. Ensure that your content is unique and not plagiarized – Google will penalize websites that steal content. Your tone should be persuasive and in-line with the personality of your brand.

Show and tell

When adding products to your store, remember that all your customers have to go on are your words and your images. So in addition to some top notch product descriptions, you should also make an effort to take attractive product photographs. Most modern smartphones have a relatively decent camera. Set up your product in a clean, light environment where they can be viewed to best advantage. Take photos from a couple of different angles. Imagine what you would want to see – bearing in mind that the customer cannot pick up and touch the item for themselves. Here’s a handy guide to taking better product images.

Let people know you exist

Finally, remember to put the word out there. You cannot simply build an online store and wait for people to come. Free or low cost marketing channels for online stores include:

  • Writing relevant blog posts and guest articles
  • Using social networks – all of them
  • Embracing sharing sites like Reddit, Digg and StumbleUpon
  • Partnering with powerful sites of similar interest
  • Seeking out coupons and discounts for Google and Facebook ads
  • Joining in with local contests to build brand awareness

Have you set up an online store of your own? How did you get on? Let us know about your experience in the comments.

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Patrick Foster, ecommerce entrepreneur, coach & writer.

I’m currently writing on EcommerceTips.org where I share engaging ecommerce content for entrepreneurs and business owners. You can follow me on Twitter here, or add me on LinkedIn.

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