This is the fifth post in a blog series. You can view the previous week’s post, “The Truth about Branding in 2022” here.
Before we get into the wonderful world of websites, let’s journey back for a moment to a simpler time …
… a time long before Google Analytics, or HTML, or website optimization. A time when the scrappy young entrepreneur would save their meager earnings to one day be able to hang their name above the doorway of their very own store, a store they would go on to fill with shoes or soaps or Russian nesting dolls.
This optimistic young business owner didn’t know whether they would succeed or fail, but that didn’t matter. They chose to do it anyway, maybe out of arrogance or idealism or just wanting something more in life. Day after day, customers or none, this scrappy young entrepreneur swept and dusted and tinkered with the products in their store, all in hopes of making it just a little bit better.
And when they heard that bell above the door ring, they stood at attention, watching discreetly as the customer moved about the room, picking up this and that, before finally making their purchase. Hooray!
Flash forward to today. That same entrepreneur is now saving up their money, not to hang their name above the doorway of a store, but to place their name (their brand, if you will) on their very own website, a website that they, too, will go on to fill with shoes or soaps or Russian nesting dolls.
It may sound a bit less romantic, but the comparison holds: For eCommerce businesses, websites are the new storefront. They must be created, cared for, and designed to facilitate the best possible customer experience, much as you would a physical store.
Just like the store owner, today’s entrepreneur, too, must sweep and dust their store and tinker with the products (i.e. update and optimize their website). They must create a welcoming atmosphere and continuously search for better ways to present their merchandise.
And like the store owner who would discreetly watch customers, taking note of what they chose to pick up or pass over, the eCommerce owner can actually watch how customers interact with their website (through some nifty digital tools we’ll get into here in a moment).
All this to say, your website is a pretty big deal. I mean, you wouldn’t just throw together a store, slap some paint on the walls, place some products haphazardly, and hide the cash register in the back room. Similarly, you shouldn’t haphazardly throw up a website where the customer has to work just to figure out what you’re selling and how to purchase your products.
The good news is you don’t have to get it right the first try. You can start with a lean, effective one- or two-page site and expand from there once you know more about your target audience. Think of it like shrinking your store down to the size of a lemonade stand (work with me here). You make your first few sales on a modest but functional lemonade-stand-sized website, and then expand outward into (Huzzah!) a fully-functional digital store.
In fact, you really shouldn’t build an entire website right away. Often, I’ll sit down with a new eCommerce founder who hasn’t even made their first sale but already spent their mom’s life savings on a flashy logo, a suitcase full of business cards, custom collateral, and a trendy 10- page website … before knowing diddly-squat about their audience.
Maybe the entrepreneur loves their red and black color scheme, but what if their audience responds better to purple and blue? Maybe they’re absolutely convinced that their audience is young women who live in big cities, but what if their audience turns out to be middle-aged men in the rural South?
If they’ve already created a full-blown website and bought the proverbial T-shirt, this entrepreneur is at a big disadvantage. They’ve wasted six months of valuable time and now have to rethink their entire brand.
Don’t overbuild or overthink your first website, because you’re gonna be wrong. Remember, you don’t know anything yet, so it’s better to start small and, most importantly, to start learning.
CREATE YOUR WEBSITE IN 4 STEPS
A functional eCommerce website needs just four things:
1. A platform for your website — We suggest Shopify
2. One or more products — This one’s on you
3. A way to purchase these products — We suggest Square
4. A way to deliver these products — We suggest ShipStation
There are scads of website builders and payment processors and shipping companies out there who know what the heck they’re doing. You won’t have to reinvent the wheel here. You just need a functioning credit card and some determination.
SHOPIFY — Shopify is a perfectly adequate platform for creating and launching your first eCommerce site (with the understanding that you’ll eventually outgrow it). Stay away from Wix or Squarespace. You’ll need something in the way of a logo and images, but as we said, don’t aim for perfection here. We’re looking for a minimal viable website.
SQUARE — Square is your best bet for reliable payment processing. You can set up an account online so that you can easily process payments when the time comes.
SHIPSTATION — For shipping, ShipStation works great. This is another fairly simple application process that you can knock out by just going to their website and completing the steps.
At this stage, you could reach out to a marketing company for help, but honestly it’s a little early. At CleverFunnel, it’s exceedingly rare for us to recommend paid advertising or testing during this phase. And really you should be saving your dollars for when you have a better idea of how your first customers respond to your site.
There’s a lot of legwork you can do on your own before taking on the cost of a marketing agency. Drawing on your own scrappiness and, frankly, the good nature of your family and friends (we’ll discuss how to attract your first 1,000 site visitors without spending a dime in the next blog), you can make some serious headway without spending serious cash.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR
Starting an eCommerce business is like building a rocket in your garage and expecting it to take you to the moon—it might not work, and even if it does, there’s a good chance you’ll get hurt along the way.
The good news is you’re not the first person crazy enough to try this. There are many others (myself included) who have tried, failed, and tried again. By learning from our many (many) mistakes, you can launch an eCommerce business that makes it safely to orbit and beyond.
In this blog series, you’ll get a step-by-step guide to creating and launching your eCommerce business years 1–3. We go over how to create a functional brand, set up your website, and develop an advertising strategy that scales with you. We’ll go through the various pros and cons, so that you can feel empowered to make the best decisions for your business.
My name is Chris Franks, and I’m the founder and CEO of CleverFunnel, a digital marketing agency that focuses on using straightforward, data-driven strategies to drive real results for our clients.
I’m also an avid lover of indie music, fly fishing, baseball, and sunscreen (although that’s more of a genetic necessity). I wrote this with the hope that my story could help other young entrepreneurs achieve their goals, without losing their savings (or their sanity) in the process. If any bit of this helps you, it’ll have been worth it.