How to Choose The Best Online Store Builder to Help You Grow Your Business
You've decided on which products and services are right for your business (or at least have some ideas) and you know how to price them to pay yourself what you deserve (and if you’re a member of The Badass BusinessMum’s Club you know how to treat your customers with bonuses and freebies in a way that actually helps your business).
The next step is to decide where are you going to sell your products? In this lesson you'll be discovering your best place for you to sell your products or services. You'll be comparing the pros and cons of selling on a shop site like Etsy or through you own website. And you'll find out the best place to create your own business website, whether you use it for e-commerce or as a blog or portfolio site.
Your free download with this lesson is a handy comparison of shop sites and website creation sites / software and blank worksheets for working out your best options (<< Just click that link or the image below to download it (for FREE. No sign up required!))
And download your week 2 checklist here so you can track your progress on this week's lessons.
So, now you're all prepared - let's get started....
5 reasons you shouldn't rely solely on social media to run your business
I both love and hate social media. I love that it can be a quick way of getting lots of eyes on your products and reach a large audience but hate that it is so time consuming and unreliable. It is tempting when you first start your business to set up a Facebook business page and use that to sell your products through. After all, it's free and easy and the World and their wife is on Facebook so you have a audience right there!
However - reach on Facebook is very low, the World and his wife might be seeing your posts but unless they're your target market, that's not going to help you and sales transactions on Facebook are soooo time consuming (post a photo of your gorgeous products for sale - get vague PM from someone wanting to buy 'it' - spend 10 minutes establishing exactly which 'it' they want to buy - send a Paypal invoice - wait for payment - send the 'it' to your customer) and Facebook business pages are crap store fronts!
I'm not saying don't have a Facebook business page, I'm not saying don't use social media - What I'm saying is don't use your social media accounts as your primary way of doing business. And here are 5 good reasons why.
Social Media is unreliable
Social media website algorithms change regularly. There's not a day goes by when some new 'rule' isn't shared on how to get the best engagement on social media. Unless you live under a rock you will know that Facebook changed it's algorithm this year causing a massive drop in organic (non paid for) reach on business pages. Imagine if you were relying solely on Facebook to run your business and all of a sudden only 20% of your page likes are seeing your updates! Pretty catastrophic!
Best practices vary across sites
Each social media site is different and has different 'best practices'. On Instagram, the more hashtags the better, on Pinterest, hashtags aren't recommended, Instagram images are square, Pinterest images are vertical, Twitter images are horizontal, Facebook posts should be short, Google + posts should be long (and so on. And so on. And so on.....)
You do not have to just learn how to be good at social media - you have to learn how to be good on all the different sites (or at least the ones you use - you really DON'T have to be on them all!) and creating different descriptions and different images all takes ages every time you post a new product for sale.
Is it the best way to invest your money?
Social media sites make their money from business advertising. The best way to get seen on social media is to pay. Which is fine - you need to invest in your business and advertising is a perfectly valid investment. But the costs can soon add up and you need to make sure your ads are driving sales and not just views.
Would you be better off spending your money on fees for a site such as Etsy or hosting your own website?
The public go on social media to be sociable, not shop
When the World and his wife go on Facebook, they are catching up with their friends, family and favourite celebrities. They are trying to avoid TV spoilers and watching funny videos and sharing memes of Sean Bean. They are not generally shopping. As a small business owner you spend a lot of time on social media with other small business owners. It's easy to forget what 'normal' people go on social media for!
Even using adverts you have to catch your target market's attention amongst all the other things going on in their newsfeeds / timelines.
It's not a 'shop front'
Social media sites are terrible shop fronts. Most people will only see what you have posted at the time of day they are also online (or what the site thinks your customers want to see!). Even if a potential customer does happen to check out your profile they aren't going to see a neatly laid out, sensibly categorised store.
They're going to see a list of your products and photos, all mixed up with shares and other bits and bobs you've posted. Some social media sites seriously limit the amount of information you can share in your profile about your business so anyone who has questions needs to make the effort to PM you (and we all know folks online want quick and easy so they aren't all going to make that effort!)
What to use social media for instead
Use social media for what it was intended (like, you know, being social with people) and get to know your customers, build a community around your brand and then funnel them towards your website (where it’s all about you and you have complete control over the content)
Why you need your own website (even if you sell elsewhere online)
It is your own space on the internet where you can do whatever you want. You have your customers’ full attention on your brand and your products, services and content.
There are no rules on what you can sell (well, apart from, you know, actual laws)
You have space to engage your customers in a way that isn't possible through social media or a profile on some shop sites.
You have complete control over the look and design of your site (depending on where / how you decide to create your website) - you can inject your branding into every single colour, heading, font choice, image, icon and text divider to get your brand message across.
So, what’s stopping you do it?
The time it’s going to take
It’s going to cost money
I can’t build a website, it’s far too complicated
Yes it will take time and some money but what if I tell you it is possible to have a fully functional, mobile optimised site with integrated e-commerce and blog up and running in less than a week, for less than £6 a month using simple ‘drag and drop’ software?
I’m talking about Squarespace which I use and highly recommend but even I admit it’s not for everyone so carry on reading for a look at three different ways of creating an online shop or website.
There is a trade-off when building a website between cost, ease of use for DIY-ing it and the unique-ness of the finished website.
Discover the best way of selling your products / services online
A Hosted shop
The simplest option is a shop on a site such as Etsy, or Creative Market, where you get a 'shop' to sell your products. You can upload your images and product descriptions and the website takes care of all the order processing and taking payment. You just have to dispatch your products when you get your order notifications.
Easy to set up. Most sites, you just need to create a free account and you can get started.
No worrying about technical stuff. There is no coding needed - just fill in the boxes, press list and your product is live. The backend dashboards are designed to be as simple and easy to use as possible. Many every day processes are automated to save you time re-listing, calculating shipping or creating shipping labels.
Support is available. If you have any problems, you can contact support and they can sort any problems out for you. The quality of the customer service will vary from site to site though!
Hop onto a well-known brand’s success and reputation. Etsy have a name for themselves as a seller of handmade, original products. Amazon have recently started Amazon Handmade and everyone knows Amazon! Hopping onto a site that is already a well-known name means you can take advantage of the customers they already have.
Mobile apps so you can work ‘on the go’. Many of the shop sites have mobile apps that help you read your messages, check your orders or even create listings means you can take advantage of that 10 minutes waiting for the kids after school and use your phone to check on your shop.
Some customisation to match your branding. Most customisation on these types of sites is limited. But you may be able to add a banner and product photography can make a powerful brand statement.
Sites will have extra promotions available for you to advertise your products in a prominent place on the website (for an extra fee) such as the homepage or at the top of the product listings.
Some sites have very limited customisation. You may be able to upload a banner but that might be it. You are constrained by the site’s layout for your shop and product listings.
You don’t make the rules. There will be rules on the types of products your can sell. It is important to check the website rules and guidelines. Breaching these guidelines could result in your shop being shut down.
Fees can quickly add up. It will probably be 'free' to set up a shop but you will need to pay fees for selling your products. There might be both listings fees and final commission fees. It may just be a commission. If you sell a lot of products these fees will quickly add up. Some sites have an option of paying monthly and you can list a certain number of products and the final commission is reduced. There may be different packages depending on how much you sell a month. There may also be additional sales transaction fees on top of the fees from your payment service (eg; Paypal)
Marketplaces become over-crowded and it’s easy to get lost in the noise. When customers search for a product on a site such as Etsy, there will be an enormous amount of products listed and yours won't necessarily be at the top of the list. You will need to spend time finding out the best way to list your products to maximise their visibility in search.
If the website you sell on gets bad press it can have a negative impact on the image and reputation of your shop. (Eg; Early on this year Etsy announced they floating on the stock market. Reports from Etsy sellers suggest sales have been lower since this announcement was made)
Etsy (handmade, vintage and supplies)
Amazon Handmade (Handmade and designed products)
Creative Market (digital products - eg; photography, graphics, website themes)
Fiverr (services at bargain prices - eg; copy writing or graphic design)
A drag and drop site builder
A drag and drop site builder such as Squarespace, gives you the ability to easily create a website from a range of templates, without needing to use any coding. You get more control than on a shop site, but with less back-end hassle than building your own site from scratch.
You have a lot more control over your site design and content. (The levels of control will vary - as I said earlier, there is a trade-off between ease of use and customisation)
It’s only your stuff for sale - if your customer’s on your site, they’re interested in your products.
No commission fees. When you sell something, you keep all your money (apart from the payment processing percentage from a service like Paypal)
You can sell what you want - there are no rules to follow from the site.
There will be support available. If you have any problems, you can contact support and they can sort any problems out for you. The quality of the customer service will vary from site to site though!
It is easy to create your website. You will have a template to work from and any customisations are made using easy to use tools and software. There is no need to use HTML or CSS to create an attractive, functional website.
You have to design and build it (and we are visual creatures - if your website is less than attractive, it will turn buyers off). You need to invest time and/or money in making it look and function properly
You may need some technical know how (how much depends on where you decide to create your website.) There may not be a huge range of templates available and you might need to have some technical knowledge to make your website truly stand out.
Fees can quickly add up. Check what is included in the different packages each website offers. You may need to 'upgrade' to have access to certain features such as having your own domain name, e-commerce or being able to use affiliate links or your own choice of ads.
Functionality may be limited. If you have very specific ideas on what features you want on your website (eg; a members only area) it might be difficult for you to get these things without a pro's help.
Limited access to your website coding can mean you might not be able to make changes to your website to improve things such as SEO.
Build your own site from scratch
If you have specific requirements for your website, either what you want it to do, or look like, then this option is best for you!
You have complete control over your website. What you sell, the colours, fonts, layout, the pages you have, what it does, any extras - everything! You can make your site truly unique and different from any other website on the whole of the internet!
Your website is your property. No-one can shut it down or do anything to it apart from you. There are no rules about what you can sell.
Loads of choice of themes and design elements. Using a popular content management system, like WordPress, means there is a huge huge selection of website themes available to make designing your site easier.
A plug-in for practically everything. Nearly every single thing you could possibly want your website to do is possible with the huge range of plug-ins available if you go for a self-hosted WordPress site.
It can be as cheap or expensive as you like. WordPress software is free to download and install. You can use a free theme, though the paid ones are more attractive. The prices of themes vary enormously, from less than £5 up to over £3,000 (for a fully customised design) Plug-ins can be free or paid, depending on exactly what you want them to do. The one thing you do need to pay for is for hosting for your site.
Lots of resources available. Because WordPress is such a widely used platform, there is no shortage of pros available to help you make your site extra special if you don't fancy the DIY route or need help with some features.
You need technical know how. You will need to download and install WordPress onto your host's servers and install your chosen template. Any template changes will need to be done using HTML and CSS.
Too much choice can be a bad thing! If you go with WordPress there is hundreds of thousands of different themes available. If you are an indecisive type, or likely to keep changing your mind, you need to be disciplined when planning your site design.
You will need to take responsibility for the backend processes, such as spam blocking, making backups of your site, installing plug-ins and trouble-shooting problems if things don't work. It is possible to break your self-hosted WordPress site!
Support is variable. There is millions of people using self-hosted WordPress websites, so in theory a search on Google or Youtube will help you find the answers to any questions you have. Many sellers of themes offer really good back-up and support but some disappear as soon as there is a problem! Ultimately, your site is your responsibility - if you break it, you have to fix it. Or pay someone to fix it for you!
>> How to decide which option is best for you
There are literally hundreds of blog posts online telling you the best place to sell your products from or the best place to build your website (I've linked to some of them at the bottom of this post!) but the most important thing to remember is there is no single option that is best for everybody. You need to pick the option that is best for you, based on your finances, time, technical ability and website requirements.
What you want to do with your website?
Not just what you want to do with it now, but what do you want in the long term.
What do you envisage for your business' future? An online boutique selling hundreds of products? A fully monetised blog complete with affiliates, ads and sponsors? An exclusive membership site with access only to your e-course attendees? A large resource library available freely to all of your readers, or maybe only your email subscribers?
Choosing a website option for your business to grow into is essential, even if you don’t use all the features straight away.
What features should you be looking for?
As I said, it will depend on your goals for your business and how your website fits in with these goals so to get you started, I have created a comparison of the options I've mentioned above for creating your shop and/or website.(<< Click there to download it!) There are many other options available in addition to the 8 I've compared - have a look at the resources listed at the bottom of this post to see some recommendations / pros and cons of some of the others. (You will also find this blog post about how to find your perfect online shop site helpful. << free blank comparison worksheet included with that post too)
Test out your options
Take advantage of free trials offered by sites you are interested in using. Read recommendations and reviews but bare in mind these are opinions and the authors' requirements won't necessarily be the same as yours.
You're not restricted to only using one option either. There's no rule that says you can't sell on more than one shop site, or a shop site and your website.
And my final point is that it doesn't matter where you sell your products and services. Wherever you choose, you will still need to market your products, take excellent product photographs and write convincing sales copy. No option is a surefire way to overnight online business success!
(Some more) Useful resources for bloggers and creatives
Time to Take Action! Download and use the Notes sheet to write down the important features you need for your website. Download and read these comparisons of some popular sites for e-commerce and website creation and then use the blank worksheet for your own research. Sign up for free trials for the sites you like the look of and get experimenting!
Don't forget to join us in The Badass BusinessMum's Club to get weekly Badass Business Lessons delivered straight to your inbox and access to the Exclusive Resource Library!)
Come back next lesson to discover what your website needs to be a professional and engaging online experience for your business.