When starting my companies, Star Child Music Management and Top Notch Threads, I encountered all kinds of hurdles that no one had warned me about. I knew I needed exceptional products and services, but finding the right manufacturers, spreading the word, getting the right artists—no one told me what a challenge those tasks would be. Here are some things I wish I had known before launching my ecommerce business.
You Should Research Everything
You already know that you need to stand out amongt the crowd of other online businesses. If you’re selling t-shirts, like me, you can’t just have designs no one else does; you need to set yourself apart in other ways. So research your potential audience and find a niche: what do they like? How much do they typically spend? Where else do they find similar services and products? You need to establish an emotional connection with your customers, so what do they respond to?
Here’s something annoying: when people find a product from an online store, they’ll read what they can about it and then go over to Amazon and buy it there. If you want to compete with Amazon, you need to research all the other outlets where similar products or services are also provided. Offer free 2-day shipping, write your product descriptions hilariously, make your site gorgeous to look at—do what you need to keep people on your site once they’re there, and don’t give them incentive to relocate anywhere else.
Do thorough research regarding potential manufacturers/suppliers, too, if you don’t have space where you are creating 100 percent of your product yourself. Your supplier’s location is important to take note of. If they are international, then they will most likely be cheaper, but they’ll also have longer shipping times. If you source domestically, it will be a bit more expensive, but the quality and labor standards are higher—plus shorter shipping periods.
I wish I had known where to start searching when getting my companies off the ground. Here are some directories you can use: ThomasNet and Maker’s Row for domestic, as well as Oberlo, AliExpress, and Sourcify for overseas—but there are definitely more, so be sure not to limit yourself! Hint: you can also find product suppliers by using your product’s NAICS code.
Talk About Your Business Like It’s Your Child
Standard advertisements and commercials are not that effective. Sometimes they’re necessary, but other times people simply tune them out, or they can be far beyond your budget. Over time, I learned that one of the best ways to create some buzz was an old-fashioned but often overlooked method: networking.
Talk about your business as much as possible. Squeeze it into personal conversations, professional ones, emails, whatever you can. Don’t be obnoxious about it, of course, but it won’t help you to be self-conscious about your ventures. Let people know you’re excited about what you’re doing, and your passion will rub off and make them curious in turn.
Also, allow people you tell to spread the word. There are a few folks who might feel as if they need your permission to discuss your business when you’re not around, so let them know you encourage any simple outreach they can do. Ask for introductions, too—if a friend has a friend in a position to help you grow, leverage that connection and see if they would be willing to help you in any way.
Be Accessible Through Social Media
Social media is beyond important. Not only does it make you feel more legitimate, but most people browsing the Internet also have a higher likelihood of stumbling across your social media channels rather than your website itself—how often do you click on mysterious company websites, just out of curiosity? What about a company’s Facebook page? The latter is easier to find because it’s on such a popular platform, and people are already familiar with the format.
I have amassed over 90,000 followers on Instagram. I’m in the businesses of selling luxury streetwear and managing talent, so I make sure all of my pictures are glamorous or outright sexy. I give audiences glimpses into lifestyles they are attracted to, and thanks to the power of images, people are more likely to follow me for more of the same content—and buy my products to bring a little bit of those images into reality, as well.
Even if you learn all you can from the entrepreneurs who came before you, there will still be a learning curve. Be open to new opportunities, be confident in your vision, and know that this process is a learned art.
Launching an ecommerce business is hard work, but it can be well worth it. What obstacles have you encountered while pursuing your own venture?Opinions expressed here by Contributors are their own.