image via Wired
Etsy began when 4 young men decided to do some freelance web design work. One of them actually was into woodworking and had built wood cases for PC’s that he was hoping to sell online. One of their website design clients was a community-based organization that held craft fairs throughout the year.
As they worked with some of the crafters involved, they heard nothing but complaints about eBay which was, at that time (2006), the only marketplace for individuals to try to sell their goods without having their own sites. Their complaints were pretty much the same – E-Bay provided no support to sellers and charged horribly high fees just to display goods on the site, whether they sold or not. The merging of these two things – crafters who wanted to sell their goods online and the dis-satisfaction with E-Bay gave birth to Etsy. Between that 2006 launch in an apartment, into which they all carted their belongings with no moving help, quite a bit has changed for these guys. Today, they are a public corporation with a worth of over $2 billion.
You may not envision that kind of growth, but you must still move through all of the steps of getting that launch completed and then engaging in all the kinds of marketing that will bring visitors to your site and move them along to become paying customers.
Hopefully, you have chosen a product or service about which you have extreme passion. If not, don’t launch and go back and find one about which you can have that passion. Your heart will just not be in it enough to get you through the coming rough patches.
Assuming that you are not launching a business in website design, you are going to need help getting your website up and running. If your passion extends to doing all of this yourself, then you will need to go through a step by step process:
- Choose an e-commerce platform – two good ones are Shopify and Open Cart, but there are several others. This will allow you to set up such things as shopping carts and checkouts. Shopify is easier to set up but you will not have the flexibility with some of your site design as you will with Open Cart.
- Get a domain name and a server for your website. A big word of caution here – take some time with your domain name. You want is easily remembered and easy to spell, and you may want to trademark it. If that is the case, you cannot choose generic words, such as Holiday Inn, because both of those words are too common. Get a catchy name – that’s what the founders of Etsy did, and they were able to easily trademark it. Good servers are so numerous, you will have no problem. If you are not certain, find people locally who have sites and ask them who they use and are they happy.
- Designing Your Site: There are so many do-it-yourself design companies these days, you will quite literally be “walked through” the process, from choosing a theme to adding text, links, and media. If you want to get up and running quickly, designing your own basic site probably a good option.
- Getting Someone Else to Design Your Site: This is really a great option if you have a little time and the money. Designers come in all price ranges, but if you check their portfolios and references, you should be able to find one within your budget constraints. Professional designers have the skills to do things that you may not. For example, if you are selling product, and you put up really high quality photos (which you should), you may not understand how to compress them. If you don’t compress them, your site will load very slowly and you will lose visitors. Neil Patel, probably the best guru of site design and e-marketing really recommends using a professional designer. He paid $20,000 for his Crazy Egg design, but then he is in a different “league” than most of us, and he had a whole team of designers and many sophisticated elements.
- Get a Logo: If you are using a designer, s/he can help you with this. If not, there are websites for this too! 99Design is a really popular one – you submit your information, and designers submit their ideas to you. You pay the one you choose, and they start at $99. 19DollarsLogos is another site run by two guys who do a nice job too.
You have built it and now you want them to come. Obviously, you know that visitors are not just going to “find” you. You will have to launch a strong marketing campaign. Here are the critical things you must do immediately:
- Get a business blog on your website. Probably the easiest platform to use is WordPress, and if you do not want to do any of this yourself, you can hire someone really cheap to do it – that’s how easy it is. Just be certain that you get buttons for sharing, plug-ins for SEO analysis, and several other things your designer will recommend. You just want to make sure that your blog is accessible from everywhere and that your posts are assisting your optimization on search engines. Once you have that blog, however, you have to be faithful in posting regularly. Blogs take a while to get established so do not be unrealistic about the blog’s performance during the first year. If you do not write well, then you should contract the maintenance of our blog out to someone else. There are many companies out there that will regularly publish great posts on your blog for you.
- Get a LinkedIn Profile: Get one for yourself and one for your business. And don’t stop there. Join groups on LinkedIn and start networking.
- Get a company Facebook page and a Twitter account – you will use these frequently.
- Spreading Your “Brand:” This is far easier said than done, and the key word again is patience. You have to get your name out there, and it takes time, just as it does for a brick and mortar store.
You cannot develop a marketing campaign until you have a complete picture of your target customer. Some of this information you will have naturally, if your product or service was developed with a specific market in mind. Some of this information you may be able to get from competitors’ sites and blogs. Now you are ready to being.
Use Facebook a lot, and get family and friends to share all of your stuff every day. The same goes for your blog posts – as these same people to share them
Find some great ways to drive traffic to your site and engage visitors once they are there. Have a contest, publicize it on Facebook, and offer a substantial prize award. Announce it on Twitter. In order to participate in the contest, readers must access your site and leave their email addresses. This is going to begin to build your email list.
Advertise freebies and discounts and anything else you can think of to drive traffic to your site
Set up reciprocal posting with another e-commerce owner whose business is related to yours but who is not a directly competitor. You can post on each other’s sites with backlinks to your sites.
Take up a cause. Offer to donate a small portion of every sale to a favored charity and ask potential customers to participate. Publish photos of you and your team taking part in this charity’s activities.
If you have the money, purchase ad space on the sites of related businesses, on Google and Yahoo. These may be a bit pricey, but your goal is to get a stream of traffic as quickly as possible.
You may find that marketing is not something that excites. You really want to focus on your product or service, and that’s very common. So, your step here will be to hire a content marketing firm. They are pros at what they do and can probably generate more initial traffic than you can. All-in-one firms will conduct strategic marketing aimed at your customer base, will use Google Analytics to drive where and when and how you market for your customer base, and will maintain your blog and other web advertising venues.
Most new e-commerce entrepreneurs are of two types. The first type has already quit his day job for this enterprise, and, usually has a nest egg of money on which to live for quite some time. The second type is the individual who is or has launched the site but who has kept his/her day job, so that there is a safe source of income while the business grows. Whichever type you are does not matter. What matters is you are fulfilling a dream, and with passion and a willingness to take on the hard tasks, you will get there.