eCommerce4: Learn how to sell online in 4 steps

Our guides are informational resources that tell you how to do something. This guide includes tools to show you how to do something. Our tools are interactive, some include templates that you can use as a starting point and were created for you to use to complete specific steps in starting or growing your business. Most are in the form of Google Slides, so feel free to copy them to your Google Drive for an editable version of any tool.


PLAE

Before using this guide, make sure you have identified what you will sell, products or services, and validated your idea through some pre-sales. If you haven’t done so, complete our Launch4 guide. Launch4 will help you cover the basics like finalizing your business idea, confirming there is a market and making your first sales or presales to make sure you’ll make a profit - it will lay the foundation for success in your next steps.

The eCommerce4 guide will help you start selling online using a marketplace in 4 steps.

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Pick an eCommerce platform

An eCommerce platform is an online service where shoppers can easily browse and purchase products and/or services from multiple suppliers. You’ll then need to figure out the eCommerce platforms you want to sell on. You can start selling online on your own eCommerce website or use other online marketplaces like Amazon and eBay to help you, too. Some platforms you might have heard of are eBay to buy good, AirBnb that sells lodging, Lyft that sells transportation and care.com that sells child care. Picking the right ecommerce platform is just as important as the product/services you sell.

You can use marketplaces to:

  • find customers  at very little cost

  • test your products/services

  • create a brand and online presence without having to invest time and money in a website

  • find affordable products and services to help you build your own business.

How do eCommerce platforms sell services?

Consider creating a profile with our partner Thumbtack, they let you get started for free and through our partnership you’ll even get free credits! They can help you sell in 5 easy steps:

  1. Request: Customers come to Thumbtack looking to hire professionals for their personal projects. They submit a request by answering specific questions.

  2. Notification: Thumbtack send you those requests by email, text or push notification. You decide if you want to quote or pass.

  3. Quote: You send a quote with a personalized message and a pricing estimate - Thumbtack automatically includes your profile with your reviews, credentials and contact information.

  4. Credits: You pay only when you send a quote with Thumbtack credits. As a registered user on Skysthelimit.org, you’ll get $80 in free Thumbtack credits to get you started.

  5. Hire: Up to 5 businesses, like you, can submit a quote for each request. Customers will compare and hire the pro that’s right for them. You can message back and forth through Thumbtack.

Other great platforms where you can list and promote your business website are Freelancer, Craigslist, Postmates, Fiverr, and Upwork.

 

Activity 1.1 - Pick an eCommerce platform

If you sell services, consider creating a profile with our partner Thumbtack, they let you get started for free and through our partnership you’ll even get free credits! Other great platforms are Freelancer, Craigslist, Postmates, Fiverr, and Upwork. If you sell products, consider listing your products on Amazon.com and Etsy.

 
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Build your online store

After you decide where you will sell, you’ll need to actually build your online store. Some eCommerce sites allow you to pick themes and designs - make sure you pick one that works with your brand. The first step into creating a great shopping experience for your customers will be to tell them about you and your business and how to contact you. Definitely include a customer reviews/feedback section, create compelling “About Us” and detailed “Contact Us” pages to tell your story - remember to include pictures of you, and your team! If you’re using a hosted, all-in-one eCommerce platform, these are included.

Next, you’ll need to set up product/service categories and upload your inventory with the right amount and type of information. Your product and its price are two things that can guide the amount of content you have on your product page, but the most important factor is always your customers. You need to provide enough content for every customer, whether they’re already an expert in what you sell, or if they’re just starting to learn about your products. Your product pages should focus on four main elements: your product, your brand, your copy and the user experience.

  • Your product is the star and in order for it to shine, what you’re selling will inform how it’s presented. What questions will your customers have before they can commit to buying? And remember that people DO judge a book by its cover, so invest in solid product photography.

  • Your brand is especially important on your product pages. With the way products are discovered these days, someone might never see your homepage before buying from you, so branding on your pages matters.

  • Your copy combines the written information your customers need with your brand’s unique voice and tone. You want to give your ideal customer the right amount of information to help them buy the product they want, and convince them that buying this product is going to work out for them. You can use copy to add more relevant information to delight your customers. For example, as a clothing business you can give your customers information on how each piece fits depending on their body type. That kind of information encourages their trust and makes for a more confident buying decision.

  • Your user experience is how things are arranged on the page and what’s included. You should add plenty of white space surrounding the product images and description. According to research by ConversionXL, white space creates a higher perceived value of the product in the user's mind.

Last, and probably most importantly, you’ll need to set up shipping methods and payment gateways. While some eCommerce platforms store and ship your inventory, other do not - make sure you take that into consideration when choosing a platform! They simply provide a way for customers to buy, but you’ll still be responsible for shipping or delivery. And if you haven’t done so already, we highly recommend that you setup a separate business bank account!

 

Activity 2.1 - Learn how to design your website

If you decide to create your own eCommerce platform, you’ll need to learn how to create a website including the design (what to include) and layout (how the page will flow).

If you decide to sell on an existing eCommerce platform, you’ll still need some tips to build your pages.

Either way, don’t forget to setup a section for customer reviews and feedback!


Activity 2.2 - Decide how you will get what you’re selling to your customers

Set up a contract with national, orinternational, freight company like USPS to ship your products to your customers. If you’re delivering a service and don’t have a car, you might need to talk to some car rental agencies or find a car/ride on an app like Getaround, Turo or Lyft. It’s important to have that figured out before you start selling. No one likes to wait weeks to get what they’re buying.

 

Activity 2.3 - Setup your business bank account

If you decide to sell through your own website, you’ll need a business checking account to manage your working capital cash flow and to have money easily accessible.If you decide to sell on a marketplace like Amazon, you’ll need a bank account to receive payments for the balance of your orders - this is typically done through a direct deposit.


Need a little help picking an eCommerce solution for your business or setting up your online store? Let us connect you with a successful and  experienced business owner that can help, guide and advise you.


 
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Advertise and market your products/services

So you built an incredible website for your business, but no on is biting. Just because you build it doesn't mean customers will come. Marketing is one of the most important things you will do, even more so if you build your own eCommerce platform. It serves two main purposes - to promote your business and brand and to convince your customers to buy.

What does this process look like? A customer wants to buy something, say a pair of jeans, and they are open to buying from any brand so they search for “blue jeans for men” on Google. Google previously ranked, or graded, a ton of eCommerce websites just like yours, and now it shows them in “ranked” order as results. At the top, your customer will find sites that most closely match the words the customer searched, or keywords (learn more on how Google search works). The customer will clink on one of the links and eventually buy a pair of blue jeans or abandon their search. If they abandon their search, the business they visited will know it - if they have a well thought out marketing strategy. They can then show an add the same pair of jeans on the customer’s social media, something marketing people like to call retargeting, and eventually wind up buying the said product. WOW! That seems like a whole lot, but you can also do the same with your business! You’ll need 3 main things, social media sites for your business, solid and well thought out marketing and sales plans, and a thorough SEO (search engine optimization) strategy.

Once you have your ecommerce store up and running, your next step is to start connecting to potential customers. Another advantage of the all-in-one ecommerce platform is the built-in SEO tool that allows you to optimize your site for search engines and users. Connect with your customers on social media and advertise through PPC ads and shopping engines.

 

Activity 3.1 - Learn the basics

Learn how to start advertising your business online through Google Analytics, Google Search and Facebook. You’ll also need to optimize your copy (or the words) on your website, social media sites and all ads. You can use Google’s keyword planner to align your product descriptions with what people are actually searching for. Combine your paid SEM efforts with search engine optimization (SEO) to improve your chances at driving traffic to your business site.


Activity 3.2 - Create/Update business social media sites

At this point, you should already have at least one business social media site. It’s time to make necessary updates to optimize your sites for SEO, setup retargeting, and start running ads.


Activity 3.3 - Create/Update your marketing and sales plans

At this point, you should already have marketing and sales plans. Now it’s time to fine tune them and get to the nitty gritty. For your sales plans, you’ll want to hone in on your sales region, the specific for how you’ll handle a customer through the purchasing experience (and after) and update your budget. For your marketing plan, you’ll want to create some detailed scenarios, like the example above, for how you will deal with different customer interactions (or lack thereof). Don’t forget to include a retargeting plan!

 
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Sales and delivery

Your sales plan should include a detailed description for how you will manage customers during and after the shopping experience. One thing you may have forgotten to include is whether or not you can or will negotiate sales prices - this is especially applicable if you’re selling services on an external marketing platform like Thumbtack. When a customer is interested in your services, Thumbtack let’s you know, and you'‘ll then contact the customer and negotiate the terms to finalize a quote. Try to get the job! Ask for a quick phone call to discuss the details of the job. This will give you the chance to learn what the person really needs and be very customer oriented.

If you will negotiate, here are 5 things customers want to see in a quote:

  • Good customer service: Greet customers by name and address any specific details the customer included in their request.

  • Qualifications: Describe similar jobs you did in the past, and share your experience.

  • Price details: Be clear, know where you fit with the competition, and describe what is and what is not included.

  • Next steps: Ask to set up an appointment, start a conversation, encourage questions and ask your own for more context. Show you are reliable and easy to communicate with.

  • Attention to detail: Double-check your spelling and grammar, let them know you have the right kind of licensing and/or insurance. Proactively ask questions to be sure you are on the same page as your client to avoid surprises!

Whether or not you get the job, be sure to follow-up with every customer right away and leave them with a positive experience of you. You can follow-up with a thank you note and even include a small gift. Be sure your follow-up is branded, well written, brief and very professional - but stay true to your brand and tone. Follow up with everyone, not just customers. Even if you didn’t finalize a sale, you should still check back in to say “thanks for your interest - maybe next time!” You can even ask why they did NOT choose you.

If you did finalize the sale, you’ll need to ask for customer reviews. Reviews are often the biggest influence on a potential customer's decision so be sure to ask for them every time you work with a customer. In the early stages of your business, a good strategy is to offer something in exchange - like a coupon, a free add-on service, or expedited shipping. Just make the ask! It’s completely fair and expected to ask customers for references, but it may take more than one request. Email or text a few of them with your review link and request a detailed and specific review. Give them a nudge after a few days - don’t be shy.

 

Activity 4.1 - Get sold products or services to your customers in a timely manner

In section 2, you create a plan to get what you’re selling to your customer, now it’s time to put that plan into action. Make sure you deliver products quickly, minimize internal processing times, or be on standby to approve orders through your marketplace.

 
 
 

CONGRATULATIONS!

You now have the skills needed to start selling online!

Check out our Pathway to Business Ownership to educate yourself and get more help.