Steps To Launch Your First eCommerce Website
Setting up the Website
So you’ve chosen your products and found a few manufacturers to work with, what next? Get the website up and running.
Now some people reading this might wonder why anyone would contact manufactures before even having a website. The reason being is that it’s more difficult to get manufactures on board when the website is empty with no products versus having a website launch in the future. That said, it can still be a good idea to create a simple “Coming Soon” page.
Choosing an eCommerce Platform (aka “eCommerce Cart”)
The eCommerce platform manages all the products, categories, checkout process, and other aspects involved with a functional eCommerce website. There are dozens of eCommerce platforms available, most of which have relatively the same functionality and features. Choosing a platform can be a big hang up for a lot of entrepreneurs. I recommend taking the “Ready, Fire, Aim” mindset and just get something up and running now rather than spending hours and hours researching and testing various platforms.
I’ve worked with many different eCommerce platforms over the years and have found two that are both powerful as well as extremely easy to use.
- Shopify (Starting at $14/mo) – Shopify has done everything they can to make setting up and running an eCommerce website as easy as possible. They handle all the hosting, security, and credit card processing to give store owners more time to focus on promoting their website. However this also means that webmasters are somewhat limited when it comes to changing how the website functions and looks. To combat this, Shopify has a wide range of website templates and apps. While there are free apps available, many have an associated monthly fee which can add up quickly.
- OpenCart (Free) – OpenCart is a very powerful and easy to use platform with a long list of features. Unlike Shopify, OpenCart is open source meaning webmasters have the ability to make any changes to the design or functionality of the website. However, this also means that hosting and website security will need to be setup manually. OpenCart also has thousands of pre-programmed “extensions” that allow users to easily customize the website without hiring a developer. Many extensions are free of charge while others have a one-time fee between $10 and $50.
Bottom line: If you want to get started as quickly and easily as possible, choose Shopify. However if you’re somewhat technical and want more control over the look and functionality of the website, choose OpenCart. Again, you can always move to another eCommerce platform down the road if necessary.
Logos and Web Design
A website’s design and branding can have a huge impact on how often website visitors purchase. Hiring a designer and having a website custom designed can cost $1,000’s or even $10,000’s. If you want to minimize start-up costs there are a few solutions to ensure a good looking website without breaking the bank.
- Purchase a Website Template – Online marketplaces such as ThemeForest offer thousands of different templates (aka “themes”) for websites. They also have themes specific to both OpenCart, Shopify, as well as a number of other eCommerce platforms. Many of these themes are beautifully designed and mobile friendly. They usually only cost $20-$50 which is a fraction of what it would cost to pay a designer. Best of all, these themes typically have built in customization options which make it easy customize the website the way you want.
- Get a Logo for Cheap – A logo is an important component for any branding and marketing efforts. Again, hiring a professional graphic designer is likely not the cheapest route. Instead, take a look at 99Designs ($299+) and 19 Dollar Logos ($19+). 99Designs is a crowd sourced design platform where dozens of designers submit their logo design and only the one you like best gets paid. The quality is great especially when you provide detailed instructions on what you’re looking for. 19 Dollar Logos on the other hand is much cheaper but only has a few concepts and revisions. Don’t be fooled by the price tag and ugly website, these guys do great work for $19. The quality isn’t nearly as good as 99Designs but it’s a strong solution for those on a budget.
Domain Name and Hosting
If you’re using Shopify or any other hosted eCommerce platform, you can skip this section. For those who plan to use OpenCart or another open source platform, read on.
Every website needs a domain name for their brand and server for hosting. However, eCommerce websites also need what’s called an SSL (secure sockets layer) Certificate to encrypt sensitive data such as credit card numbers and personal information. To make the process of getting a domain name, hosting account, and SSL Certificate as easy as possible I recommend using BlueHost.
BlueHost is a very popular and affordable web hosting company that also registers domain names. They have amazing customer support which makes it a great choice for beginners. For eCommerce websites, it’s generally a good idea to go with their Business Pro hosting account for higher performance as well as the much needed SSL certificate for added security. They also have a powerful and easy to use dashboard that even allows users to install OpenCart, or another eCommerce platform, with one click.