|Yes, another novice wanting to start up an ecommerce business!|
After getting excited about an idea for an online retail business, including doing some work on a business plan, writing out lots of ideas, our thoughts, noting features/designs on sites that we thought were good, doing tons of searches for as many things as we saw referenced about ecommerce, my partner and I are keen to pursue this idea further and it looks like this forum on this site would be a good source of help for us. I have spent some time looking at past questions/replies and bookmarked the threads that look like they will be useful to keep.
We believe the business idea has a sound premise and we will have clear differentiation from other online retailers (there really isn't anyone else focusing in the area we have identified).
We do not need to worry about 200 other sellers already doing what we plan to do and so SEO and spending time/money/energy on publicity are not concerns or factors for us at this time. We appreciate that the trading landscape may change for us in the future if our success gets noticed and then copied and which frankly, is probably the biggest risk/challenge we would face, from a business point of view. But perhaps by then, we would established enough of a good name to deserve & get some loyalty/preference from customers.
Due to limited funds, we will now have to start out on as low a cost basis as possible and with a small number of products (maybe 10-12 out of 100s of possible products) and then improve/upgrade the site as funds allow and if such changes are deemed to be beneficial to the customer's shopping experience.
Starting off small will allow us to discover & establish the validity of our idea, without serious financial risk (well we hope so!).
However, there still remains for us many things that we haven't understood yet, as well as us getting to know the order/importance of everything, what site features/elements are considered standard/usual and what are not, plus we still have many questions. There is also the “we don't know what we don't know” factor too. But I do not want to take too much space and your valuable time by listing all the things/questions we are still unclear about/lack knowledge of (I am sure past novices have posted similar posts before) and so I wanted to first see if there is a novice's guide to starting out in ecommerce that can be recommended, so that we can see the gamut of what we have to take into account/include in our thinking, plans and considerations. I have found some already but I would appreciate a recommended/comprehensive glossary of terms/phrases/jargon, preferably in PDF format.
Also, if there is some kind of overview, flow chart or diagram of the ecommerce process and the various elements in the chain or how they all relate to each other.
In simple terms, its probably safe to assume we've just landed from Mars and have no clue about anything, other than a broad/basic understanding of what we would like to do.
I would be happy to post some of our questions if you wish us to.
Our local community college has a couple of business seminars/classes that would be useful for us but none that address ecommerce specifically.
I think its also important to say that neither of us is technically minded and so designing/developing our own ecommerce site is not at all possible. We would definitely need someone to do this as well as host the site. How much is us not being techies a hindrance to success?
I can do simple/mild level computer work and have some years experience using spreadsheets, but definitely no programming, etc. But I can learn new software/things if I have some form of a hands-on teacher as I have found learning from books/on-screen/online help is hard for me as I often have questions that cannot be answered and things written down are not always clear. My partner is even less computer able than I.
In addition, neither of us has worked in ecommerce, retail, finance, accounting, legal or customer service type jobs and neither of us has ever run a business before. Again, how much is this a hindrance to success?
We certainly do have a mindset of giving excellent service and of making sure the customer experience is as excellent as possible, as well as being active in sourcing new products/manufacturers and doing whatever it takes to give us the best chance for success. We are diligent, attentive, conscientious and responsible people.
I am more of a detail/back office type person and my partner is more of a social/front line person.
Would you advise us to try and get jobs in an ecommerce business before embarking on this venture?
If so, what type of jobs would be the best to give us the necessary exposure to what we need to learn?
We will be grateful for any advice/input we receive and also, please feel free to ask any questions or suggest anything that can/may benefit us and/or be important for us to know.
Welcome to the Forums AA_Spark. At this point you have to consider yourselves as a chubby sheep in a forest of wolves. Be very careful of where you seek information because there are thousands of 'services' hoping to have you stumble into their doorway.
My responses are directed to people in the US, there are many helpful members here from other locations that can give you better information if you are not US based, and much more information from others than I could possibly organize into a single post - so these are my basic thoughts.
I highly recommend that you begin learning to use the platform of your choice as early as possible, long before you have established suppliers. If you are unable to build and manage a site, there are shopping platforms at Yahoo and Amazon (for a few examples) where you would not need to do more than fill in the blanks and adjust the settings. These are overhead costs that can be well worth it if you aren't fluent in site management. It is usually not a good idea to start out by having a site designed, managed and hosted by another person, things can and do go wrong. Once you know your own business, you may decide you would be better off on your own, but to start it isn't the safest route.
You will need to buy a domain name, these often come with a hosting package that you don't have to buy until/unless you need it, but you do need to buy a domain name and have an account that you can manage it with at the registrar where you buy it. Initial cost depends on how many years you prepay, minimum is about $10. When you have a domain you can start thinking about putting together some logo/colors, "about us" type info to have handy and work on until you get further along.
I would consult with a legal entity to get your business incorporated, Delaware Corporations are usually better for larger entities so you may fit better in a LLC setup. Many people use online services for this, it can be fairly inexpensive compared to using a local law firm.
You will need a merchant account in most cases and you can discuss that with your bank (preferably - they tend to keep their customers' interests at heart) or with a business that deals in merchant services. You will need this account to accept payments from your online business.
As far as gaining experience, I think you can forget about seeking employment as you have no skills to offer an online business. Spend time doing research, at places like the FTC (if you are US based) that can help small businesses understand their rights and obligations. Check you local laws too, to see if you will need to register your business and have a license - this varies from one location to another.
There is tons more, but I really need to run and I'm sure you'll get input from others here to get you going. Research pays off and there is no such thing as too much research. Good luck.
First, if your idea is that sound, DO NOT SHARE WITH ANYONE. At least not until you have your ducks in a row and the website ready to roll out, as I will promise you that if it really is a good idea then your copycat competitors will be on line within a week with all your ideas, products (or knockoffs)... and likely do it better because they know the web better than a pair of newbies.
Start with a different idea, something semi-local. Obtain a copy of an eCommerce software (ranging from free to thousands of dollars) and learn how to run that before going for the Big Idea.
Be prepared to invest two years of your free time, and work time, too!, to this project before it whups your a$$ and you scream "mama!"
At the end of two years have a chance of breaking even and perhaps making a little profit.
So wildly successful that Venture Capitalists will offer obscene amounts of moolah to either build your branded web company, or buy it to put down yet another rising competitor to the Big Brands.
Oh... and what not2easy said, too.
And welcome to Webmasterworld, were opinions and experience reside, and some really nice folks as well.
Thank you not2easy and tangor. All comments/advice have been carefully read and kept.
@not2easy: Thanks for your welcome.
As to the platform of choice, what do you mean by that? And how do we decide what to choose?
Our concern about creating the site ourselves is that, as is the case with many other avenues of human venturing, there are numerous things that are never really taught, shown or talked about, but after you have been "in the business" for a while (could be years), you pick up this knowledge and know how over time and the cumulative knowledge becomes your power and advantage. I talk of hidden things, nuances, subtleties, experience, the computing/ecommerce equivalent of a medicines contraindications chart, etc., etc., all of which are and will be unknown to us. This is why we figured going to a developer would be preferable.
We are not scared of hard work at all, just that the learning curve maybe too steep or too much for us. If we get into a technical mess, who is going to get us out of it?
We are concerned that our name may be tarnished but our lack of technical knowledge.
The .com domain name has been purchased some time ago, as well as the other main extensions (.net, .org, .us) and a couple of misspelling .com domains.
We have also registered the company as an LLC in our state.
We do not yet have a business bank account and our personal banking is with an online only bank (big name) and a credit union. If we accept only Paypal, do we still need a merchant account?
@tangor: Thanks too for your welcome and input. We have not shared the idea with anyone (has been really hard not to but we know we have to keep it between ourselves) and all our handwritten documents, all computer data and all file names do not show the full company name or refer to the idea in any way. As we go through our day to day life, we see evidence all around us that our idea is quite good and valid - we get excited all the time! I think it may come down to a question of how much demand there is for "X", a question we have not been able to answer to this point and which put a hole in our business plan (market sizes and projected income). To test our idea, we thought of running some local promotions in our area, in a couple of our intended markets and just see what happens. We would obviously need to have the site & the products ready to go before we could do that.
But we probably won't know for sure if the business idea is more than just a hobby that will gives is a bit of extra $ each month, until it is actually operating.
Unfortunately, we don’t have another idea to turn to with which to get our knees dirty.
We considered using ebay shops and the Amazon Marketplace but we felt that those giants would have access to our data and of course, our idea, from the getgo.
Which ecommerce software would you recommend (2-3 suggestions would help if are you are keen on that many).
Currently, I am not working so I do have a lot of free time to devote to this ( I have an independent income that keeps me OK).
Not to be negative, but... It actually worries me a little if somebody says that they haven't found anybody focusing on their niche, because... Frankly, there might be a good reason for that. At this stage in the game... Unless it's some sort of idea that revolves around a very new trend or concept, pretty much everything has been done on some level at this point. I would not take a 'build it and they will come' mentality. I would start slow and test the waters. If your idea is that good, then it should be good enough to stand the test of time, and there should be no huge hurry. Too many people throw a ton of money at this and assume that will guarantee success, but many are in for a rude awakening. The beauty of the internet, is that you DON'T have to have a ton of money. With all the web builder sites out there now, I think you should be able to start something on your own. It's not like the old days where you have to hand code and do all your graphics from scratch. Just dive in and learn. If you don't want to handle server-side scripts and all that, that's fine. But you should be able to throw up a basic site and get a cart going. Even if you switch to somebody else to handle that eventually, how are you going to know what they're doing if you don't know how anything works? No matter who it is, you need to know enough to watch over people and maintain control. You don't want to put yourself in a situation where somebody else holds the key to your livelihood. I think having ideas stolen is just part of the game. I would concentrate on building a brand and reputation. Let somebody else deal with offering the cheap stuff. You want the people with money anyway... not the penny pinchers. That's the way I look at it anyway. Unless you're the kind of people that have all kinds of money to throw at something, while you kick back and be the boss. But short of that, I think you should get involved on a technical level.
Building an e-commerce site with no domain experience is really not for beginners these days. I set one up myself many years ago and knew only html4, but I wouldn't think of doing that today. Users and the internet are far more sophisticated. There are more exploits going on than I could keep up with as a one or two person operation today.
I have not seen an out of the box solution to set up an e-commerce website without at least good site experience under your belt. I would not suggest any software package because it needs to have a well built site to be installed on and that doesn't happen without turning over your information to developers. It is not a DIY project with the experience you have described. If you pay a developer to create your site and set it up, you will need to plan to continue to pay them for upkeep and updates and alterations. This line in your first post:
makes me think this isn't the best path for you.
|"Due to limited funds, we will now have to start out on as low a cost basis as possible and with a small number of products" |
That was the reason I suggested you look at some of the shopping platforms available via existing e-commerce portals such as Amazon and Yahoo. Unless you have a big enough budget to have your site built to suit your needs it is the easiest way to get off the ground. Because you don't know what you don't know it can pay off to let another service supply the framework as you learn your options and to let you see how it goes. If it is a huge success and you need a bigger, better site at least it would not be a gamble at that point.
You can get a good feel of what it's all about going through the tours these places offer. They don't want to have surprised clients needing extra support so they will give you an accurate outline of what you get and what you need to do. Paypal offer you the ability to accept credit cards, checks and Paypal via their accounts, and they offer interactive guides so you can choose the best service level for your needs. There are nationwide online banks that will give you the information you need to set up your account with them in case you prefer to process your own payments. Most of the suggestions I give here will be happy to upgrade for you as you grow or see a need.
If sharing your idea or business plan is a threat to using these types of resources you might want to see what you can patent or trademark before moving ahead. Going it on your own leaves you open to more dangers than others copying your idea so it could be a valid investment. Prepare to pay for good legal advice, this subject seems to cost more than many other specialties.
One other thing - there is a good source of information on both patents and small business straight from the government. Look up the Small Business Administration and see what guides they offer. Time spent researching can help you be prepared for each step of your plans.
@dpd1: There are a couple of small sites that we've found in recent years that are in this space. They are aimed at 1-2 specific markets only. The products we intend to sell already exist (we think more will be made if we are successful) and these two facts tells us that this is an idea worth pursuing. Yes, it could be a business that produces just a few extra $ a month...but also, it could just as easily produce millions.
That's why starting off small seems to be the right option for us.
Another thing: There is no possibility that the need we have identified will ever reduce, decline or go away.
I would also respectfully say to you if others followed the idea that "everything's been done by now", we wouldn't have ebay, amazon, facebook, twitter, blogs, peer-to-peer money lending, peer-to-peer file sharing, peer-to-peer gambling, private car lending, private homes/rooms/B&B rentals, etc., etc.
I am not claiming our idea is revolutionary, but we believe there is a need and currently, its not being met. As I mentioned in my OP, our main/biggest challenge (but not our concern) is that the idea is readily copyable. But there is enough for all if others decide to join in with us.
I do no know what "server-side scripts" are. I suppose we will find out in the near future.
But I do agree with your point about knowing how stuff works so that at least, if we do hand the site over to a 3rd party, we will know what should be happening and what shouldn't. My reply to you on this is where do we start to learn all this stuff? Is there some sort of free online "sandbox/play pen" where I can discover the main elements that I need to learn, practice, make the mistakes and then go on to build the site myself? I am not good at learning from books/written guides, unfortunately, except for simple/uncomplicated things.
Price won't be a major factor for us and given the current lack of other avenues for customers, we hope that convenience will trump price, at least in the early period. Yes, building a brand and importantly, a reputation are key objectives for us and are above making a profit in the early stages.
@not2easy: What do you mean by "no domain experience"?
Can you please send me the link to the Yahoo shopping platform? I found the Amazon one in my searches but I'm not sure about the Yahoo one.
I can see the attraction of using the expertise/framework of such sites. My concern with using Amazon is if they have access to our data as they would be a direct competitor to us for some items.
The business idea cannot be patented or trademarked. The most we can hope for is to be able to trademark a tag line we have in mind for underneath the business name and which, as we understand it, requires us to use it in our business for a period of time.
We have already carried out many searches on numerous topics and read all kinds of documents, both from the government, SBA and SCORE. SCORE has been partially helpful, but the SBA has not been of any particular benefit to us. Unfortunately, because we cannot determine the sizes of the markets we intend to trade in (due to non-availaibility of information), we cannot make any forecasts/projections.
Hi AA_Spark, By "no domain experience" I mean registering and managing your domain, arranging the type of hosting to suit your needs and building a website. Marketing your site and your brand, getting some traffic started, and managing your brand and reputation. Behind the scenes, building out your site and testing to be sure you are providing a good user experience and a solid checkout funnel. Then you can begin learning about robots, statistics, knowing what is going on at your domain. Without mentioning cart setup, gateway and security, there is a lot more. Once you start, it seems like each new issue leads you to learn more that you need to know. That's why it seemed to me you might be better off if you don't need to pass all those stumbling blocks to get started.
For a learning playground, visit w3schools, they have a pretty complete (if not completely accurate) place to learn and try your skills. Gives you an idea of how things work in free, short and simple lessons.
About Yahoo Stores, sorry I don't have a link handy, but it's pretty easy to find Yahoo and look around their site.
|But there is enough for all if others decide to join in with us. |
I'm as positive as the next dreamer out there, but this line above tells me you have not clearly thought capitalism out correctly. Yes, everyone can get in business, and the web seems attractive, but the reason for business is to have something no one else does, does it better, and crushes all competition as it arises. Lacking a killer instinct to prevail and excel I fear your project is doomed to failure before you even start.
While there are many nice people on the web, and many of them here, none of them are going to give an inch to be top predator... and if they do they are simply known as "lunch". On the other hand, they are equally keen to anything remotely "new" or "fresh" and will jump on it like white on rice, ie. have all the tools and experience already in place to take anything new to full presentation in a flash, and probably already have sufficient "authority" to make it stick. Not saying anyone here will steal from you... but once an idea is on the web you can bet your bottom dollar 10,000 others (that number might be small) will be on it in a New York Minute (and that's pretty short, measured in nanoseconds).
Some "cottage" industry on the web does exist, but only in backwaters, local, and never rises to the top.
One should desire to earn millions, but must be willing spend all effort to earn the first buck, and then the second and not have pie in the sky expectations. Making money on the web is hard work!
If you think you have recognized something that others will desire, and that this something does exist and is available and that there's room for all, you are doomed. While the technology of mousetraps has improved over the years, it has still yet to be bettered, or be different in use, general cost, or application.
dgd1 gave some good commentary. Take it to heart. Take mine, too.
I personally welcome all newcomers to the web. I do urge them to put in time and grade to learn what is required to field a website and maintain it, to expand it, to make it work. Else it is an expensive hobby.
|I would also respectfully say to you if others followed the idea that "everything's been done by now", we wouldn't have ebay, amazon, facebook, twitter, blogs, peer-to-peer money lending, peer-to-peer file sharing, peer-to-peer gambling, private car lending, private homes/rooms/B&B rentals, etc., etc. |
Actually what I said was: "Unless it's some sort of idea that revolves around a very new trend or concept, pretty much everything has been done on some level at this point."
And what you originally said was: "an idea for an online retail business"
I took that to mean, selling a product line. And yes, you would be hard pressed to find any product type that people haven't attempted to sell at this point, UNLESS it is something that is a brand new trend or timely. So if somebody says... 'We don't see many people doing this'. That tells me that there MIGHT be a reason for it. For all I know, you may have the best idea to ever come along in history. I don't know. But I'm just saying as an example... 'I didn't see any site focusing on coat hangers, so I made a site that sells coat hangers, and it just sits there doing nothing'... That would be an example of why someone didn't see anybody else doing it.
I appreciate all the continued contributions to my request for help and advice.
@not2easy: I do have a portfolio of domain names that I have invested in for some years now, so domains are not new to me. I have not however had to "do" much with them other than set the dns periodically and set the appropriate keywords for my parking provider.
We do not think we will have to do much marketing in the early stages of the business. With so few offering what we plan to, we think word of mouth and the social media energy will get us good exposure. If it does not, we will have to change our plans. As things develop/change, so will our approach and what we end up doing.
I don't know about those other things that you mention, but we are not deterred by hard work, or the apparent enormity/complexity of what lies ahead of us. We have both made big achievements in our respective lives, achievements with things which seemed like "no way" when we each first came across them. And overcoming our fears and achieving success with those things that scared us before gives us a great deal of confidence to do it again.
I see people less able than ourselves make successes of their ventures (in more competitive markets than our idea) and so, why not us?
Thanks for the mention of w3schools. I'll be checking it out for sure.
@tangor: Amazon, as an example, sells lots of merchandise and has had massive success and multiple effects on retail. But people still shop at Walmart, Macys, Target, Kroger, other retailers, small local retailers, et al. The markets they each serve with their merchandise is big enough for all of them to compete in and have a share. In addition, Amazon can never really compete on items that have to be handled, seen up close and examined or tried on. Plus Amazon can never compete when you want something "right now" and you just go to the store and get it. So, there is space for many players to exist.
I realize that being online only, we will have a challenge to compete with big online names (or names with a street presence too), should any of them think its worthwhile to take an interest in the product lines we will be focused on. But being the biggest, or having a famous name aren't always the factors that determines success and there are many people who prefer to spend their money with someone other than Amazon, Walmart, etc., for various reasons.
I appreciate your sharing your view on what you think someone needs to have in order to be successful in business. We believe in ourselves, in our idea, in our values, in our mindsets and the way in which we intend to conduct ourselves with our customers, suppliers and competitors.
. How do I find out what is required? What would you recommend?
|to learn what is required to field a website and maintain it |
@dpd1: The business will sell many products, not one product line. In addition, we are starting off small because we don't really know what demand there will be for what we have identified. Therefore, in the worst case scenario, if the site ends up sitting there with no activity, the most we would have lost is a relatively small amount of money - an amount of money we are more than happy to risk, because if we don't and someone else develops and takes such an idea to the sky, we are going to be mad at ourselves, for quite a long while.
|How do I find out what is required? What would you recommend? |
Start at the top of this thread and read it again. Others, besides myself, have offered everything EXCEPT the code that needs be written to open a website. Until that domain name you have parked is an actual site so that user and robots can find it, you'll never get the hands on OJT which you say you are prepared to do and have done before.
At this point you don't know if you need a static HTML site, dynamic, CMS... If you want to maintain control you need to do it yourself, or hire a qualified webmaster UNDER RIGID CONTRACT (that's a different kettle of fish, but required to make sure you don't get screwed by the help and you know what your expenses will be).
There might be a few "websites for dummies" books out there, but I don't put much faith in those. An active website, an engaged mind, and a willingness to work and learn as you go, is the best way I know to learn how to be a webmaster, and a web business.
BTW, your comments re: Amazon and Walmart go only so far. You will find that Amazon does spanking good business because it sells for LESS and overnight or two day shipping is compelling for many. As for B&M stores, folks might go there to lookie touchie but when they feelie for their wallet, they clickie on-line.
Your short steps are:
Obtain a suitable host.
Move parked domain there.
Create Index page ("Hello world!" if nothing else)
Along the way you'll look at editors or notepad, ftp, and the W3C tutorials for HTML. Don't worry about Apache or WIN guts at the moment. Won't need those tools until you actually have a website running and the uglies come to play.
Meanwhile, see my previous suggestion: Put up a website that is NOT your Big Idea to LEARN how to do the grunt work of creating a website. It's not just words, there's user experience, graphics, aesthetics, handicapped, mobile/tablet, responsive.... and these are not learned in a few weeks... and you don't want to learn how using your Big Idea.
|Put up a website that is NOT your Big Idea to LEARN how to do the grunt work of creating a website. It's not just words, there's user experience, graphics, aesthetics, handicapped, mobile/tablet, responsive.... and these are not learned in a few weeks... and you don't want to learn how using your Big Idea. |
I don't have any other idea, but I can start work on a website using one of my domains to practice on using the registrar I am with as the host. Do you think if I do everything else on the site except having actual items for sale and taking orders for them (and of course having the mechanism to do that) is sufficient or do I actually need to sell things in order to get the necessary experience?
(I do have some vinyl records and CDs that I would like to sell).
If you intend to learn a new business, you need to experience ALL of it, including missed shipping dates, lost items, refunds, theft, payment company difficulties (or happiness as the case may be).
Everybody has something they can sell... and if that Vinyl collection is sufficiently broad, and you have the gift of gab to create the site, pages, interest, cart, etc., then you'll have learned quite a bit. (and that's not a bad niche anyway).
The way to find out what you don't know, beyond all that's been shared here, is to dive in and do it.
Most people's first site is hosted where they bought the domain, after that not so much. Hosts are not all the same. Spend a week or so looking at hosting plans, there is a lot of promotional baloney out there, but after visiting a few that deal with hosting problems you should know whether hosting where you plan to is a good idea or not - search for (hostname) problems and read the issues others have had at just about any of the top US hosts. Hosts that I felt good about suggesting to friends a few years ago have become disasters today. When you have read enough to see some consensus - Then start with one of your domains.
Thanks tangor and not2easy.
I'll begin and then come back with issues I cannot resolve, as well as an update on my progress/thoughts/views, et al.
I've had a thought.
What about buying a handful of each of, say, 6-12 products that we have in mind to sell and put them on the practice website instead of the vinyl/CDs I have?
I am thinking that the music (which isn't broad based) will be hard to sell as there is nothing to distinguish my copy of a record/CD from someone else's, except for condition. And how will people ever find my site among many others selling the same record and of course, ebay?
I would also like to post our current questions and get your replies to them.
Only thing is, whatever goes wrong with that may follow you for a long time. The point isn't to sell your music, it is to learn what happens when you build a website.
Your website is just that, yours. Do with it as you think best. The advice which has been freely shared comes from many years of experience on the web, and effort to prevent you from making the same mistakes or chase off in the wrong direction.
Your website has to function as a sales site for you to experience the monetary side of webmastering. Sell whatever you like. Heck even sell your Big Idea if you just can't wait.
At some point it's time to chit or get off the pot. You will have to have an actual FUNCTIONING website before more advice can be made.