Now that I’ve chosen my niche, it’s time to set up my store. After a few trials and errors, I’ve decided to do things a little bit differently this time.
I think the biggest fear I used to have at the back of my mind was the fear of losing money if the business went sour. If you’re into “The Secret” and “Think And Grow Rich”, you’ll recognize that mindset as a terrible one. And while I’m not really sure of the science behind what effect a positive mentality has on your business(if there is any science), I can say this for sure:
Your mindset will have a direct effect on your effort and performance in your business.
A few days ago, I was chatting with a friend (also growing an ecommerce business) and he said something really profound. He said that the most important thing in business is focus. And your mentality dictates how well you focus on your business.
You see, focus will dictate whether you make a smart investment or a stupid one. If you lose focus(even for a few fateful minutes), you may end up taking a bad decision that will almost kill your business(this has happened to me with Fish Finder Source). I got lucky and managed to keep it afloat, and even make it successful in its own way in the end, but that was again because of focus.
So this time, I’m going to focus on focus and spend money where necessary, but I’m going to spend it smartly. Like anything else you want to build, you’ll have to spend time and money to really build something worthwhile.
So here’s my checklist for setting up my online store.
Step 1: Decide on a Platform
I’m planning on having around 50-100(maybe 200 at the most) products in my inventory. That’s not too many, and for this kind of store, I think Shopify is ideal. Shopify has great support, a great backend, easy payments, and an overall smooth experience. It will let me focus more on the “functioning” aspect of my store and less on the “designing” aspect.
I don’t want to go for open source at this time, mainly because of the design hurdles. WordPress, OpenCart, Magento, PrestaShop and so on are all good, but unless you are willing to spend a huge chunk of money just for designing, they just don’t have the “flair” that certain Shopify themes have.
I’m not going to use a free theme, for sure. I’ll be spending some money here, but I know that I can get a very sleek looking store for comparatively cheap. If I need to modify the theme in any way, I can do it myself.
Step 2: Set Up Theme and Visuals
There was a time where people(myself included) used to say “get your store up first and worry about design later.” I would have to both agree and disagree with this statement. I do agree that you need to get your store up and running as fast as possible, but I’m no longer convinced that a cookie cutter store will make the cut anymore. There are just too many of those out there now, and it’s critical to give your store some personality.
I also like to have a theme that takes up the whole page width. Even though this blog doesn’t take up the whole screen, the dynamics are a little different in information sites vs ecommerce sites. In blogs, the value is inherent and obvious – in ecommerce sites, the value has to be conveyed more strongly, and I feel that lots of white space on the sides kind of detracts from that value(unless the rest of the store is really, really good, but that’s unlikely with a readymade theme).
The first step of personality is getting a nice logo.
If you want a logo, don’t, don’t, don’t go to Fiverr. I’ve been there enough, and the logos are really hit-or-miss. Your logo is perhaps the most important part of your brand, and it’s worth paying a designer $100 or more(certainly not $1000 though) to get a nice logo made. Your logo is one of the first things that people look at, and you want it to exude charm and confidence.
The best graphics designer is one that you already have a good professional relationship with. Luckily, I found my guy on a side project of mine, and I really like his work, so he’s my go-to guy – and I’ll probably use him for most of the other graphics work, too.
Once you’re done with the logo, it’s a good idea to sketch up what you want your site to look like. Do it on a piece of paper, your phone, or a tablet – I prefer tablets because it’s easy to directly manipulate the image.
For sketching, I like to use Adobe Sketch or Paper53 – both fantastic drawing apps. Use a stylus or use your finger – whatever works. As you sketch, try and get a feel for your store colors too.
While there’s a lot been said about color psychology and how it influences buyers, I’m going to keep it simple. Since my product is related to the automotive industry(and safety is a selling point), I’m going to use strong but comforting colors – so probably dark blues/navys with black effects and some white/light grey sprinkled in.
Next up is the background. This is optional, and there are visually brilliant stores out there that have white backgrounds, but I’m going to stick to an opaque image as my background – maybe of a long, winding country road, or maybe a very opaque asphalt design.
I think backgrounds and headers are really, really important because a large portion of your visitors are not going to go to your home page – many will go directly to your product or category pages.
For my home page, I want to get some nice images for sliders and collection features. Now if your lucky, you can probably find some really nice images of your product on ShutterStock(paid) or any other stock image site. If not, you’ll have to do some product photography yourself, or if you are dropshipping like me, find someone who has the product and happens to be a photographer, and have them take a nice photo.
So to recap, here’s what I’m focusing on for visuals:
- A good theme that takes up the whole page width
- A strong logo that conveys my brand and my professionalism
- Color palette for my store
- A background image/pattern
- Strong images for sliders and features
I won’t mind spending a few hundred dollars on these things, since this can be the deciding factor between customers having or losing trust in you.
The images and colors you use have to appeal to your target audience – the kind of people that you feel are most likely to buy from you.
Taking all of this into consideration, I finally went with the Retina theme by Out of the Sandbox. It’s a beautifully designed theme with great styling and lots of customizing options. At $140, which is what most decent themes on Shopify cost, it was a good deal. You can see a live demo of the theme here.
Step 3: Write Some Killer Content
Before I even started adding products, I started working on a couple of in-depth content pieces related to my niche. I found these content ideas using a mix of thinking about what people would be looking for when researching my products, and by looking through the Google Keyword Planner.
My goal was to have 2-3 1500+ word articles that explained nearly everything there was to my niche. I chose to do this because of the (accidental) success I had on Fish Finder Source. One or two of my informational posts on it turned out to be my biggest traffic drivers.
Some easy, low hanging fruit pieces are things like
- How to choose a blue widget
- The best blue widget
- Installing blue widgets
At this early stage, I’m sure the posts I wrote are not as comprehensive as they can be, but as I learn more and more about my niche, I can always improve them.
Having killer content means that when you do start building links to your store, when search engine crawlers reach your website and they see this awesome content, they’ll know to give it higher priority.
Step 4: Adding Products
Next up is adding products. Now I’m a little apprehensive when it comes to tedious work(especially on a moody internet connection like mine), so for the first upload, I prefer to dump all the products in a spreadsheet and do a batch upload, and then edit each product individually.
To start, I just copy/pasted everything from the manufacturer’s spreadsheet, only modifying the title to make it more user friendly. In retrospect, it would not have hurt to wait before driving traffic and partially rewriting descriptions, but oh well.
My plan was to start getting traffic and then focus on writing a few descriptions per day. These things are not set in stone, of course, and I always tinker and update them anyway.
For images, Shopify’s import function has a neat feature where you can provide an external URL to an image and Shopify will copy the image from that URL to your store’s files. Building the spreadsheet, uploading, and doing an initial check took about an hour.
If you are driving paid traffic like I am, a good way to prioritize which products to edit first is to simply go to your Google Analytics and seeing which products are getting the most visits and have the highest bounce rate/least time spent on the page.
Step 5: Displaying Your USP
Since we are small, unknown online stores, it’s really important that we very prominently display our USP, or Unique Selling Proposition.
A USP is basically “why someone should buy from you and not someone else.” Often, it’s simple things like trust and security that can win over a customer. Adding flair, personality, and sometimes even cheek goes a long way, too.
Take Finch Goods, for example, which is run by Richard from A Better Lemonade Stand. Finch Goods states their USP as “going through hundreds of men’s lifestyle products and curating the best of the best.”
For my store, I chose to display my USP in a few places. First, in the homepage text, where stores normally write a watered-down version of their about us page. I’ve also placed it in my sidebar, which shows up on the home page and category pages.
Next, in the about us page itself. I’m going to admit that I am not the best at creating an about us page, and I’m sure I could do a lot better. Here’s an informative post on crafting an About Us page.
Finally, I’ve put my USP in the product page itself. Shopify themes let you easily add tabs to product descriptions, so what I do is I add the tabs code in my theme layout itself and insert the content directly, instead of having to type it in on every single product page.
Each product description has one tab with the description, one tab with links to my buying guides, and one tab with my USP.
Setting up my store was the easy part. Of course, I’ll have to keep updating and tweaking the content, but the challenging part now is to drive traffic, and most importantly, get that traffic to convert.
In the next post, I’ll be talking a little bit about how I plan on marketing the store and what apps and software I use to help me do that.
Image credit: Out Of The Sandbox Themes