Tips on Starting Your Own Online Store

Woman and Man Smiling

In a very short period of time, the coronavirus pandemic is creating massive shifts in our economy and the way we work and live at large. In turn, we entrepreneurs are tasked with discovering ways to swiftly adapt and innovate.

As you might imagine, businesses are pivoting into the digital space. With shelter-in-place orders for an indeterminate period of time, and many reluctant to venture to public spaces, focusing on opportunities online to expand your business can help it thrive in the long run.

If you have a crafty or curatorial bent, you might want to consider kick-starting your own online store. However, endeavoring into such a venture might feel overwhelming or intimidating. How exactly can one begin?

We sat down with Destinie Escobedo, the owner of Party Art Community, an online and brick-and-mortar party supply and paper goods store in L.A., on how to launch your own online shop:

Begin With Your Needs and Interests

The basics of kick-starting an online shop might be obvious: You create an e-commerce platform, toss up a few listings with solid photos and product descriptions, buy a few online ads, and boom! You’re set. But when testing your business idea, what if you’re stuck on what exactly to sell? Or, on the flip side, perhaps you’re suffering from idea overload?

Start with your passions and interests. While it might seem like you’d boost your odds of launching a successful business by tapping into what’s trending, spend time exploring what you’re most passionate about.

And when you’re creating a business that speaks to your interests, you’ll be able to get knee-deep in the niche. You’ll also naturally want to invest more time into researching that niche, its competitors and also get an idea of the possibilities. Plus, you’ll do a better job at laying the foundational blocks for a successful venture.

That could help you zero in on everything from your branding to what types of products you’d like to start selling on your online store. For instance, if you love repurposing objects, you can upcycle home goods and sell them online. Do you have an eye for finding cool vintage knick-knacks at bargain prices? You can resell them online and turn a profit.

Or if you’re an artist and love collaborating with fellow artists, you could create a collective shop that features their work. And if you are a photographer, you could consider selling stock images. Do you have a design bent? You could create email marketing templates for fellow small businesses to incorporate for their online campaigns. Start by looking at your passions and the types of products that are most in step with them.

Seek to Solve a Problem

You can also start by figuring out what problems you want to solve in your life. That, coupled with what’s trending, could help you launch a successful online shop.

When Escobedo decided to launch an online party goods store, it was partly because she wanted to solve a problem of her own. After looking online for some bags, she realized there weren’t many unisex designs. She was having a destination wedding in Greece, and desired to create gift bags for her guests.

“I wanted the guests to get excited about packing for their trip,” says Escobedo, who left her job at a commercial photography agency in Los Angeles to pursue her own business. A longtime DIY’er, she wanted to design and put a unique spin on party bags. She also wanted to home in on homemade items and bring in her love for design.

While you do want to start with what you’re most passionate about, you do what to pay attention to what’s popular and selling. And after poking around on Etsy, Escobedo could tell people were doing pretty well saleswise with party bags. “People were buying, so I thought to myself, ‘let me do my own take,’ ”she says.

Start With a Minimum Investment

You might think that you need to have a fancy site and invest a ton into digital marketing and photography equipment to be successful. That not only gets expensive, but it could take you a lot longer to launch.

While Escobedo currently has a custom site, when she initially launched in 2016 she started out by posting a few items on Etsy. She bootstrapped it with a super lean budget. Her total upfront costs were under $100. That included the cost of basic materials such as vinyl details and bags, online listings, and taking product photos with her iPhone. While she spent a little bit of money advertising on Etsy, she invested most of her marketing efforts by posting on Instagram, which cost nothing.

And within several months, she was earning about 70% of what she was making at her day job. And right before her wedding, she gave her two weeks’ notice to jet off to Greece to get married and for a one-month honeymoon. And every year since, her sales have grown, on average 58% and do size figures in revenue. So as you can see, you don’t need a ton of money, materials or equipment to launch and start raking in some sales.

Don’t Get Hung Up on Perfection

Escobedo feels as if a lot of people get hung up on having things perfect before they can fully launch. But the most important is to get things up and running. “Start simple,” says Escobedo. “If you launch with your site, you have to design it and figure out your own layout.” If you don’t have the time or money to invest in such a venture, then start with an existing e-commerce platform or an online template.

Escobedo started with just five simple designs and a few listings on Etsy. And over time, she did build out her own site and invested more into an e-commerce platform. But it was only when she had enough of a customer base, traffic to her business, and sales were steadily increasing that she invested in her own website.

Shift With the Times

Because Party Art Community’s brick-and-mortar location is temporarily shuttered due to the coronavirus, and large gatherings and parties have been put to a halt, Escobedo is looking into finding ways to adapt to the times. For instance, she’s shifted to digital workshops and offering balloon delivery to people’s homes.

You can look at how much you might be able to offer something that’s timely and of relevance to people’s lives right now. For instance, a handful of beauty and fashion brands pivoting to manufacturing hand sanitizers, donating products to frontline workers, and making scrubs and facemasks for those in the healthcare industry.

Work in Your Special Skillset to Stand Out

Fun fact: With 7.1 million e-commerce retailers in the world, and 1.8 million of those in the U.S., how can you stand out against the competition? Escobedo suggests tapping into your unique skills and background to find creative ways for your products to stand out.

When creating product photos for her online shop, Escobedo looked at other vendors on Etsy and noticed they displayed their party bags against a plain background. Escobedo wanted to add a splash of color. And when someone is scrolling around on the site, that pop of color stands out. What’s more, Escobedo tapped into her design and commercial photography background and approached the photos as lifestyle product shots.

“I wanted to create a small visual story, and wanted to add bright photos and make it eye-catching,” says Escobedo. She would small add objects falling out of the bags or around them to couch them in context.

For her popular hangover kit bags, a bottle of vodka or vials of medicine. “You have one second for someone to be interested in your product, and your photography has to be great.”

To launch an online shop, it’s important to get started and to take a gamble on yourself. Reflecting on her own business, Escobedo recalls there were a million reasons for her not to open her own store and only a few reasons to do it. But she decided to take a chance and bring her vision to life.

“It’s an amazing feeling to put together something and it working out in the world,” says Escobedo. “I designed this out of my head and people want to buy it! It’s so cool to think of something in your head, put it out in the world, and see how people react.”

Jackie Lam
Jackie Lam is an L.A.-based money writer whose work has appeared in Forbes, Business Insider, and GOOD Magazine. She is currently studying to be a financial coach (AFC®) to help artists and freelancers with their money. In her free time she blogs at heyfreelancer.com

Hi there! This post exists to offer you (hopefully) useful information and insights, but it cannot take the place of personalized professional advice. Please consult a qualified expert if you have questions about your business. Also, Azlo doesn’t endorse any third-party sites that are linked here.

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