5 Things I Learned In My First Year As An E-Commerce Entrepreneur

When I first started to build my online store, I had no idea what I was doing. I remember signing on to my new online platform for the first time and feeling completely and utterly overwhelmed. That paired with the fact that I had three young kids running circles around me led to a ton of stress and frustration, and I found myself wishing that I could just shell out the money it would take to get my vision up and running.

Looking back, I’m so glad I didn’t contract out this important element of building an online business. Why? Because by pushing through my fear and ignorance, I figured out how to build the store, for and by myself. In addition to saving me thousands of dollars I forced myself to acquire important foundational information and more importantly it gave me complete creative control over my work. This being said, there are a few things I wish someone had told me from the get-go.

1- DIY more than you think you can.

One of the most frequent pieces of advice I give to new entrepreneurs is to DIY more than you think you can. Many of the critical steps to building an online store are simple to figure out with a bit of patience and good old Google. Don’t hire a fancy photographer or costly web developer to carry out tasks that are easy enough to do yourself. When I started Little Box of Rocks, I took my product photos on my kitchen counter and fumbled through Photoshop to edit them myself. The process was slow and frustrating, but by doing this myself, over time I became an expert. In addition, as I was growing the business and reinvesting profits, I didn’t have to waste capital on outsourcing what became a very simple task.

2 – Learn about SEO for your online store.

Shortly after I opened my store, I arranged to speak to a prominent e-commerce store-owner. This woman had been successful in taking her concept and making it a million dollar business. I asked her what she had done, and her advice was simple: read the Google document about SEO. I remember being shocked by how simple this was. Following the conversation, I spent a few hours learning some basic techniques for optimizing my online store, and over time it began to pay off. Udemy has some great courses on Search Engine Optimization.

3 – Avoid the spammers and time waster emails.

When you first get started, you will notice a few things changing in your email inbox. Suddenly, you will be contacted by those presenting “opportunities” for various things – some legitimate and some completely not. Beware of those contacting you to schedule phone calls to talk about “collaborating” or “working together.” Although initially these types of emails may seem personal and even flattering, what this typically means is that you’ve been placed on a mailing list that is intended to drum up prospects for THEIR business. In the beginning, I wasted a lot of time hopping on phone calls. This was partly because I was naïve, but also because I like to maintain an open mind. While many opportunities have come to me this way, these business contacts are not always real. My best advice is to be extremely picky with the amount of time and energy you dedicate to “out-of-the-blue” meetings and phone calls.

4 – Create an enticing opt-in.

Often this step is underestimated, but it’s critical. In case you aren’t familiar, an “opt-in” is an offer that is given to those willing to give their contact info in exchange. Often it consists of a pop-up ad with an offer for a discount or something for free in exchange for an email address to subscribe to a mailing list. Building an enticing opt-in allows you to stay in contact with those who are already interested in your service or product. These are your most likely customers and can easily be converted into repeat business with a properly executed mailing list.

5- Don’t forget the up-sell. 

Sometimes the simplest sales strategies are the ones that we miss, but there is a reason that McDonald’s became famous for its “Would you like fries with that?” saying. Offering an enticing up-sell is an easy way to increase your sales volume, even in the beginning when your store traffic is low. One thing to remember is to keep it within a reasonable price range. It’s critical to remember to keep your offer within a reasonable price range. McDonald’s offered larger fries, not filet mignon. Be sure that your up-sell is something your customers can justify adding to their purchases.