Small businesses are built on the capacity for personal interaction and relationship-building between owners and their customers. When that’s no longer possible in the traditional sense, small businesses essentially lose the one superpower that enabled them to survive under the threat of Big Business.
But there is good news. Perhaps now more than ever, many customers do want to continue to support their favourite local shops and the SMB owners that they’ve come to know and love. They just need to be given the avenue to do so.
Whatever stage you’re at in the digital evolution, or however behind you may feel, know that you can still catch up and find yourself thriving online. As the saying goes, “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is today.”
This post will take you through the main steps of starting to sell online. These include:
- Deciding what inventory you’ll put online and how you’ll get it into your customers’ hands
- Determining what domain provider, hosting platform, CMS, and/or website builder you’ll be using
- Setting up the required apps and software
- Posting your products and services
- Establishing and maintaining methods of fulfillment
With that, let’s get you and/or your clients selling online!
What are you selling, and how are you fulfilling your orders?
Before you sit down to research website builders, there are a few things you should sort out first. Ask yourself (or your client) these questions:
- Understand the inventory situation. What services are being offered? What products are being sold? How are they typically sold? How have things changed with COVID-19 (i.e., are credit cards being taken over the phone? Is cash no longer being accepted?)
- If products are being sold, how will orders be fulfilled? Local delivery? Pick-up only?
*Organizing shipping is quite a feat to tackle on its own. Initially it may be best to start out with local delivery and pick-up, then deal with looking into shipping options, packing materials, etc., after the client has the initial stages of online selling down pat.
- Set aside some inventory for online-only selling. Managing inventory with multiple selling platforms can be tricky at first, so it’s best to make it as simple as possible and let your client develop a personalized system as they go along. If your client is selling only online (i.e., no phone orders, or walk-in purchases), this isn’t necessary.
- If services are being offered (e.g., piano lessons, an interior design consultation), how will those orders be fulfilled?
Some important notes for this stage:
- It may be best to start with about five products or services. Putting an entire inventory up at once can be very overwhelming, and managing the listings, sales, and fulfillment can feel like a lot for an online newbie as well. Instead, start off with products that are their top sellers, and do it in a way that is as manageable as possible. You want this process to be something you feel comfortable, confident, and positive about. Don’t be so overwhelmed and frustrated that you (or your client) give up altogether before there's been the chance to grow into it.
- Once you’ve chosen the products or services you want to focus on, find or generate pictures, pricing, and a description of each.
- Note any important attributes or variations in your products (e.g., dimensions, various sizes, colours).
What tools do you need to set up an online store?
There are four elements needed to create a website: a domain name, a hosting platform, a content management system (CMS), and (unless you’re a coding whiz) a website builder.
On top of this, if you want your website to have special capabilities (e.g., the ability to sell things), you may need to install additional plugins.
Feeling overwhelmed? That’s completely valid. It is overwhelming to research all the options for each one of these elements, then try to figure out how to integrate them all with one another.
Fortunately there are many other people who have recognized this problem, which is why there are several great tools and platforms out there that offer 2-in-1, 3-in-1, or even 4-in-1 options.
When so many of these tools are genuinely fabulous options, there’s absolutely no need to feel like you are compromising on the quality of your website by taking the “easy way out”. In fact, as someone with some experience building websites both from scratch and with one of these one-stop solutions, I can tell you that often your website will look just as good, if not better, using a platform that’s been built to make the process easier.
Furthermore, your website will often be cheaper if you purchase all the elements in a bundle from one party, rather than from four different providers.
And ultimately, the time you’ll save and headaches you’ll be spared are perhaps what make it most worth going with an all-in-one solution.
Unless you’re a fairly experienced coder, or have extremely precise specifications regarding what you want your website to look like and have a good bundle of cash sitting around so that you can pay a professional to set it up for you, going with a bundled solution is by far the superior option for most people looking to establish themselves online.
How Vendasta can help
Here at Vendasta, we offer eCommerce-ready websites on Website Express, our website hosting and building tool.
Our bundle of tools and user-friendly process offer you everything you need, as well as the support and resources to set it all up without any stress.
Website Express includes seven beautiful and professional vertical-specific website templates that come with the WooCommerce plugin already installed. All you need to do is add products and services and you’re ready to start selling!
And while these templates are vertical-specific, if the one you like most aesthetically is outside your vertical, you can still select it and customize it exactly to your needs. This is because Website Express exercises the power of DiviBuilder’s visual builder, meaning you can customize your website and online store with no complicated coding required.
Additionally, there are three bonus templates in Website Express, including a blank, light, and dark option. These do not have DiviBuilder or WooCommerce installed. Though this gives you and your clients the ability to craft your site completely from scratch, it will require much more coding knowledge and web expertise. So while they’re an option, you’re likely to have a much more positive experience if you go with the ready-made templates.
However, if a client wants to import their existing website and just use Website Express for hosting, they can do so using the blank template. There are additional instructions for the rest of this process on the “IMPORT” tab once they’re in the Website Express dashboard.
Best of all, Website Express and all its capabilities are found in our Local Business Online Toolkit, a bundle of products and services all specifically tailored to empower you to guide your clients through COVID-19 and see them come out the other side. For additional features, such as access to connect your custom domain name, unlimited backups of your site, and a staging environment where you can test out any changes before they go live, we also have the upgrade option, Website Pro.
Setting up the required apps and software
At this point, your next steps will be determined by the tools you’ve chosen to work with. Therefore it's tricky to give any specific further advice.
(This is why it’s so important to choose a solution that’s user friendly, integrates seamlessly with other tools, and comes with strong support and resource materials to help you along the way).
However, there are some things I can tell you to be sure that you cover throughout your setup process:
- Personalization with your own logo, address, etc. (all platforms should cover this, but sometimes people forget to update these in the template when making their website)
- Your inventory
- Inventory tracking
- Product attributes (e.g., can customers select the size and colour of the item they're ordering?)
- eGift cards
- A bot to answer questions or notify you of customer inquiries
If you are looking for a little more specific, step-by-step guidance on how to get a website up and running, stay tuned for our upcoming e-book, academy course, and webinar on how to get things running with Vendasta's tools and solutions.
Congratulations! You now have all the knowledge you need to set up your own online store! On the off-chance that you run into any problems we might have missed, check out the following resources for extra information on completing Vendasta's process with the tools we offer:
- WooCommerce information
- DiviBuilder community forum
- DiviBuilder informational documents
- Website Express
- Setting up your store
- Adding WooCommerce to your WordPress website
- WooCommerce new store owner guide
- Adding and managing products
- Show how much stock is left
- DiviBuilder overview
- Transforming elements on DiviBuilder
- DiviBuilder hover options
- WordPress dashboard
- Creating new pages
- General glossary
- Common errors
And finally, if you are a Vendasta partner, never hesitate to contact one of our Customer Success team members, who are always happy to walk you through any process that might be giving you trouble. If you’re not a partner, give our team a call to learn more about how Vendasta can skyrocket your sales, reduce churn, and help you scale your agency.