The #1 ECommerce Platform for Nontechnical Sellers

Analysis paralysis is a very real sickness, and you and I are both constantly at risk.

We as “doers,” independents, marchers to the beat of our own drums. Entrepreneurs who deal in and with technology– in charge of operations from very big to very small– all have plenty of decisions to make. And any one single decision can completely shut us down if we let it.

Your Brain on Shopping Carts

It’s obvious that an e-commerce business can’t exist without a functional website. But those who have taken the leap from, “Online business is cool! I want to do that!” to “I need a website. What kind should I have?” know how loaded that task is. And how a weekend spent unpacking it can easily turn into a week, a month, or even years!

Granted, I’m the one building very comprehensive comparisons of e-commerce platforms. But if you’re the type to get stuck in a rut, I’d suggest you put that sort of thing aside. Rather, I’d like to encourage you to do the simple, easy thing.

You Gotta Start Somewhere

Look, if you’ve already been in business a while and your scale is large, then you probably want to give some good, hard thought to your next choice of shopping cart. But if you’ve never sold anything online despite talking about it forever, you just gotta start already!

Taking action today will spark an amazing sense of accomplishment and serious momentum for your sprouting business.

Why Shopify Is the Best Platform for Nontechnical Sellers

If I’m forced to give you only one option, I’m going for quick and easy. And on that note, I’m suggesting you use Shopify.

Now here’s why I say Shopify and not one of the other paid hosted platforms, like Bigcommerce, Volusion, or Magento Go: I know that plenty of people who do the Shopify trial find that it just plain makes them feel good. The admin space is clean and easy. The free, default themes are good enough to start with. It’s all quite slick.

Granted, all of the big hosted e-commerce platforms are updating like mad lately, and competitors like Bigcommerce (which I like very much) have gotten the “slickness” note. In the near future, the playing field is likely to become even more level in this specific area.

But if you need just one suggestion, I can tell you Shopify is the most consistently praised platform that I know of in terms of ease of use. And that’s what we’re focused on here. Ease. And the present.

Go Time!

So there you go. If you’ve been talking about selling online for weeks, months, or even years (!) and have yet to, I hope you’ll take my advice today and get moving! Know that it’s worth it. Know that you’re going to feel awesome for it. And even if it was possible to choose the wrong shopping cart your first time out of the gate, know that nothing’s getting set in stone here.

Just go for it, and you’ll see.

Photo credit: Tim Simpson / Flickr




In Search of ‘The One’? An E-Commerce Platform Comparison

An eCommerce Platform Comparison

Art Print by Eahkee.

Do you feel like prepping a website to function as a store and accept credit cards is a way complicated endeavor?

If you’re the researcher type, it’s almost impossible not to become paralyzed by all the choice available– the different methods, software, services for building an online store.

I have no doubt the headache drives many straight to Quitsville. Or perhaps it’s pushed you into the arms of one ecommerce platform for the most arbitrary of reasons— like your sister-in-law’s hairdresser’s cousin uses it, or you recognized the logo from a Google ad.

Expert comparisons (via articles, charts, whatever) should be the answer. But I personally have never come across one I could really stand behind. Either it’s over-complicated, or over-simplified, or it’s comparing based on factors that are mostly irrelevant to me.

It’s for that reason I finally created the graphic below, which aims to draw a fair comparison based on my own highest priorities.

A few things you should know before you dive in:

  • All the platforms I profile are good ones. Choosing is just going to be a matter of what’s best for you.
  • While I’m better acquainted with some than others, I have had at least a trial account with each of the services I’m presenting. I’ve done my best to portray them accurately, but I can’t guarantee my assessment is 100% accurate. All in all, my summaries will boil down to opinion.
  • You’ll notice that almost all of the ecommerce platforms I recommend are “hosted shopping carts.” A hosted shopping cart is the type of ecommerce platform that requires you to build your website on that company’s server, paying them a recurring monthly fee for hosting. This is opposed to the type of shopping cart software one downloads or buys for one flat fee and manually installs on her/his pre-existing website.There’s a really great article in favor of hosted shopping carts here that does a decent job of explaining my own feelings in case you’re interested.

Aaaall that said, I really do hope you find this useful! Here we go:

Wanna share this? Be my guest! Just copy and paste this code to your own website or blog:

Links:

Shopify | Bigcommerce | Volusion | Magento Go | Bigcartel | Storenvy | IndieMade | E-Junkie




Anatomy of a Lifestyle Business; Or, How to Make $10K/mo in Online Retail

Photo/dress by Minted Republic.

A “lifestyle business” is one that funds its owner’s ideal life without getting in the way of it.

In the online communities where the term “lifestyle business” is most used, it generally refers to a business that requires very little work and that is location-independent.

However, the personalities present in these communities are generally young, single, MBA-type males who aspire to travel full-time and take the party with them. Testosterone runneth over, if you get my meaning.

Now I’m just poking fun. ;) There’s nothing wrong with this profiled person nor his ideal way of living.

But to relate this idea to other groups of people… to an artisan, a lifestyle business might be better described as one that allows creative freedom and the ability to outsource monotony. Or, for a parent who prefers home ownership to continuous world travel, a lifestyle business might be one that’s simply manageable from home on a part-time schedule.

No matter what your ideal lifestyle looks like, I think we can agree that creating a business around the day-to-day life you desire is a smart strategy, right?

Recently I was intrigued by a guy named Jun Loayza and a lifestyle business he’s working on, an online clothing store called Minted Republic.

Jun is a serial entrepreneur with both failed and successful startups under his belt. Fairly recently he decided to launch an e-commerce site which he could pass off to his girlfriend once she left her corporate job, in hopes that the two of them could travel the world together. Minted Republic was born.

Here’s the rundown on how he was able to take this e-commerce business from 0 to $10k/month in the first 4 months.

Preparation/Strategy

  • First off, he set the rules for his business in order to afford the lifestyle he wanted: It had to be something he could manage completely online. (That means no inventory to care for.) And it had to take up very little work time once established– an average of 5 hours per week.
  • June chose his niche based on a couple factors. First, women’s apparel is one of the best-selling categories online. And second, his girlfriend already worked in the fashion industry so she knew a bit about it.
  • Once his overall concept was set, Jun got several of his friends involved to manage tasks like styling, advertising, web development, and photography. (While we know these people were paid, it’s unclear how much. More on this later.)
  • Finally, Jun personally met with a few clothing manufacturers in LA to negotiate a dropshopping arrangement. That is, Jun sells the clothes through his website, then the manufacturer ships the items to customers directly from the warehouse.

    By the end of negotiations, the manufacturer was given a small percentage of ownership of the company in exchange for the desired wholesale prices, rights to sell any item from any of their collections, and the convenience of dropshipping.

Technical Arrangements

  • Jun chose Shopify as his e-commerce website platform because he found it very easy to use.
  • After purchasing a premium Shopify theme, he had his web developer customize it to his liking, as well as add several Shopify plugins in order to get extra functionality.
  • To get his products on the market right away, Jun’s strategy was simply to “copy what works,” shifting all initial focus onto the product photos. That meant a simple, sleek web design and a shipping and returns policy mimicked from another site.
  • To get top-quality product photos, Jun (along with the hair/makeup stylist and photographer friend he rallied in the beginning) used Model Mayhem to find a model at $400/day. They shot on friends’ and public property, and their girl brought along some of her own accessories to wear in the photographs. (They also purchased accessories for the shoot which they returned the next day, but I don’t condone that anyone repeat this strategy.)

Marketing Efforts

  • A lot of money was spent on advertising to get Minted Republic off the ground. As a takeaway, Jun found that Facebook ads were frequently clicked but rarely accounted for sales.
  • Ads on fashion blogs showed greater success than Facebook ads.
  • Even still, getting fashion bloggers to wear Minted Republic clothes in photos on their blogs– sometimes accompanied by a giveaway– proved to be their most effective advertising.
  • While the company has a sizable following on the popular social media channels, Jun is pushing to get more customer-submitted reviews and images to use for marketing on these networks.
  • Finally, a Minted Republic “VIP” program (for customers who have made purchases of a certain amount or more) has been recently introduced to better encourage repeat business.

Takeaways

To be totally fair, “$10k/month” makes a great headline, but it’s hard to say exactly how well Minted Republic is doing so far. We don’t know how much of the $10k that’s coming in each month covers the cost of inventory. We also don’t know how the money is being divvied up among the various people involved. But all things considered, it looks like growth is happening quickly and steadily.

In case you were wondering, this business is definitely taking more time than a few hours per week. And should Jun ever reach his ultimate goal of 5 or less, it won’t be that way every single week. Updating inventory, for instance, is likely to take some time unless the business can afford a full-time team. But who knows where the business is headed yet.

Though Jun entered the process of building Minted Republic as a seasoned entrepreneur and spent a decent chunk of change upfront in advertising, much of the strategy and tools he used are highly accessible. For instance, the Shopify online store platform, Model Mayhem for finding local models and photographers, as well as the insight one can take from his marketing efforts. So I hope that you’ve picked up something you can use for yourself.

So, what do you think of all this anyway? Anything in particular stand out for you?

Would you like to see more posts like this one?

I’d love to know your thoughts!




What Kind of Success Is Realistic for a Small E-Commerce Business?

What Kind of Success Is Realistic for a Small eCommerce Business

Photo credit.

Reality check: What kind of success can one really expect from a small online business?

Whether you’re in the beginning stages of your business or just stuck in a rut, this question is likely in the forefront of your mind. But while I’ve wanted to address it for a long time, when I juxtapose my knowledge of ecommerce with my enthusiam for it, I find myself conflicted in my answer.

I want to say, “There’s no limit on the success you can have with the right product.” Or what’s maybe a bit more accurate, “You get out what you put in.” But this isn’t nearly the whole story. And so the answer I feel most comfortable serving up is everybody’s least favorite: “It depends.”

What I can tell you straight, though, are the factors it depends on.

1. It’s not just about working hard

It’s easy to equate “hard work” with success, but the reality is not quite so simple.

It’s possible to spend lots of time and energy going through the motions, even following step-by-step guides, without creating anything of value for other people. And it’s that value creation + the ability to communicate it clearly in presentation that earns money in the end, not necessarily the hours you put into it or the amount of stress you felt.

The most important thing is offering customers a product (or product-buying experience) that they can’t just get anywhere else. If your work is not achieving this, sadly it’s in vain.

2. “If you build it, they will come”? Nope. No way.

Whether it happened to us while we were writing an old personal blog or with our first Facebook fan page, at some point all of us go-getter types realize we can’t count on an “if you build it, they will come” strategy.

If you haven’t already experienced this yourself, think of it this way. Web traffic is comprised of real, human people. People like you and I. And people like you and I don’t habitually seek out brand new websites that no one’s ever heard of. If you don’t actively work on reaching customers (through SEO, content marketing, involvement in online communities, or other promotion in front of relevant audiences) it’s not realistic to expect traffic or sales.

3. Numbers start small

And now, this is as real as it gets: The average ecommerce website’s conversion rate is just 1-3%. This means that it will likely take 30 to 100 visitors to your website for every one that makes a purchase.

But people who know this going in don’t lose their motivation when they see very, very small numbers of sales at first. Rather, these people immediately focus on betterment– how they’ll keep promoting their website to get more traffic, how they’ll get higher-quality traffic by promoting in the most relevant places, and how they can make their website look more professional, be funner to shop, and easier to use.

4. One (wo)man’s failure is another one’s success

Finally, what is “success” to you anyway? Is it defined by a number, like 10K? $50K? $150K? Or $1M+ and nothing less?

Is success, for example, being able to work part-time from home with your kids, while not getting behind on bills? Or is it having enough supplementary money to go out on the town more often?

Is success independence? Comfort? Notoriety? Possessing the affluence to lavishly support a worthy cause?

Your idea of what success is makes a huge difference in how you go about pursuing it– consciously or otherwise. Combined with the above knowledge, this individual feeling you carry into your business is a huge indicator of what will come out.

I share a lot of specific tips here on my blog, but the truth is that the smaller things won’t have much benefit unless the larger foundation is solidly in place. For those of you in a shaky situation, I hope you find this info helpful! I’d love to hear your feedback.




5 Great Stories About Twists of Fate + E-Commerce Success

No thanks to our reptilian brain, we all commonly experience fear/resistance that can keep us from taking meaningful action in our lives.

Unfortunately, our higher thinking selves can take this fear/resistance and dress it up in quite convincing, legit-sounding excuses. One of the most harmful excuse of all is the “I’m an anomaly” one.

This particular excuse says, “I can’t do _______ because I’m _______.” Or, I’m not _______ enough.” Basically, there’s some special reason why success in a certain area can’t happen for you. You are too far an exception from everyone else. But these statements are almost always untrue.

If you have experience with fear or resistance– maybe you’re just getting started in business or going through a rough patch– I hope you’ll find the following stories inspiring.

They all profile successful online store owners who weren’t the most likely contenders to score in the e-commerce game. These are people who had quite legit-sounding excuses not to pursue e-commerce but ended up much happier for having done so.

While I’m only going to include a brief summary for each, I hope you’ll check them out further. :)


Myra Callan, Twigs and Honey

After receiving a master’s degree in Geography with an emphasis on Environmental Science, Myra Callan could not have been further from the usual suspect to begin a bridal accessories business.

It was during her own wedding planning that she caught the bridal accessory bug and opened shop online at Etsy.com.

These days, her work is highly respected and envied in the space. Her high-fashion, vintage-inspired charm has captivated many a bride-to-be, and her full-fledged, standalone e-commerce site (built on the Shopify e-commerce platform) is an absolute delight to visit.

www.twigsandhoney.com


Heather Allard, The Mogul Mom

Heather did not originally set out to be an entrepreneurial mentor to moms everywhere, rocking her popular blog, The Mogul Mom, and selling e-courses like her current “Get Retail Ready” and “Get Famous Fast” offerings. Nevertheless, here she is!

As it were, Heather was just a few years into a freelance copywriting career when her second daughter, Grace, was born.

Realizing a need for a baby product to help Grace’s especially active sleep habits, but with no prior experience in product creation or selling, she jumped into action to design, manufacture, and market Swaddleaze.

Since then she has had success with three businesses, one of which she sold for a six figure sum in 2008. Is there any question why women are so eager for her advice?

www.themogulmom.com


Matt Snow, Ex-Boyfriend

Matt Snow was just a poor graphic design student at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh when he decided to start his online shop, Ex-Boyfriend.

With his sights on a “someday” design career, likely at an ad agency, and a need for just enough funds to fuel some good times in college, the chain of events to follow landed Matt full-time in the apparel industry.

Today Ex-Boyfriend sells hoodies, messenger bags, tote bags, bottle openers, and more. And reaches customers from all over the world. Says the man himself: “Who knew there were so many kitten/zombie/robot/food/pop culture lovers in the world?”

www.ex-boyfriendcollection.com


Steve Chou, My Wife Quit Her Job

Steve and his wife were both gainfully employed, albeit mildly complacent, when the couple found out they would be having their first child. (Nothing like baby news to whip a couple into action!)

Adamant about being a stay-at-home mom, Steve’s wife then set out to replace her yearly income of $100K with a brand new online wedding linens business– despite the fact that niether of them knew anything about e-commerce or the weddings linens industry.

Nevertheless, she and Steve were able to meet their goal of earning $100K in that very first year.

Today Steve talks about the ins and outs of his family’s e-commerce business on his blog, mywifequitherjob.com, where he also offers up the ultimate e-course for reproducing their success, Create a Profitable Online Store.

www.mywifequitherjob.com


Sarah Burns, Tag a Towel

Sarah Burns’s life took a major turn while vacationing in Hawaii for her husband’s birthday one year. A single visit to a property for sale soon resulted in a home purchase and total relocation.

No sweat, though. Following this major life change, Sarah Burns found plenty of ways to make a living online and fuel her dreams independent of her location.

Today she offers virtual social media consulting and sells her clever invention Tag a Towels, through her separate e-commerce website.

www.tagatowel.com

Photo credit: Richard Masoner / Flickr