E-Commerce Startup Tips for the Struggling Entrepreneur

“You can make six figures with e-commerce! Just buy our course to get started!” Sound familiar? It feels like every two-bit internet personality you’ve never heard of is trying to sell you their ridiculously successful lifestyle. They tell you they were just like you, struggling to make ends meet, but now they’re traveling the world or buying their next sports car all because of their system. Best of all, you can get the first step of their sage advice for free!

This sort of thing is a big pet peeve of mine. They are practically predatory because it’s clear who they’re targeting: the people who were “just like them,” currently having trouble paying the bills. Be wary of anyone selling you a dream.

The fact is it is possible to find success in e-commerce. But the answer is in knowing where you need to spend the money and where you don’t. There’s a lot you can learn yourself, but there are also expensive services that you need. Non-essential “guru” advice is not one of them. Here are a few better things to spend your money on, and we’ll follow up with ways to find the advice and training you need without spending on ridiculous courses.

Unavoidable Costs of E-Commerce

Setting up a full-fledged e-commerce website is expensive. Some costs include:

  • Hosting and buying your domain.
  • A security certificate. (Yes, you NEED one).
  • Web design and e-commerce platforms.
  • Fraud prevention.
  • Tax services (unless you know taxes very well, it’s not a good idea to try and file business taxes without help).

Hosting and Server Costs

There’s good news and bad news here. Hosting an e-commerce site is a predictable financial variable that scales as a site grows.

The bad news is that it’s not an area you want to skimp on, and going for the cheapest plan available could mean that the service won’t be able to handle everything you need it to. Running an e-commerce site isn’t like hosting a blog: there is a lot of data to store and transfer. You can start off relatively cheaply in the $50 to $200 per month range, but this is a service you’ll need to consistently upgrade as traffic and sales increase.

Security Certificates

Unless you want a giant mess on your hands, you need to make sure your website is secured. This includes purchasing SSL certificate services and transaction protection services, but maintaining a high level of customer security doesn’t end there.

You’ll want to invest in additional customer identities’ verification systems, such as address or card CVV verification. This is another area where you likely can’t avoid spending. Failing to provide sufficient security for customers could cost you your business if a large enough security breach occurs.

Fraud Prevention

Fraud prevention is related to security but is a rather more in-depth area. Companies small and large both wrestle with the difficulty and expense of dealing with fraud. Some employ expensive in-house fraud prevention systems, but there’s no way you’ll be able to take that on yourself.

Instead, when you’re shopping around for e-commerce packages, make sure to check the services that they offer. Two-step verification, tracking numbers, real-time analytics with suspicious behavior alerts are all great resources to watch for when you’re making your decisions.

Design and Development

There are a number of services out there that are “all in one” e-commerce start-up packages. A lot of the features we’re talking about, including the building of the actual website, are included in these plans.

It’s a great idea to start with one of these packages, as they can save you prohibitively expensive start-up costs in design and development. But don’t go in without a strategy for scaling up.

You’re going to want to start putting money away early for development costs. Before long, probably sooner than you plan for, you’ll need the development of custom features, and you may want to begin differentiating yourself by hiring a custom designer.

Tax Services

Business taxes are a whole new beast. The most important thing is not to wait until tax season to start thinking about how you track sales and expenses. You can do it yourself in an Excel file for a little while, but cutting this corner could end up costing a lot of time and money. Investing in professional advice can end up saving a lot more than you spend at tax time, and accurate reporting will be a big component of that process.

There are a number of useful tax tools you can access for free, but you’ll want to transition quickly into an accounting for business service.

Who to Avoid and Who to Seek

Avoid:

  • Anyone shilling a book, subscription, or expensive set of marketing courses.
  • Self-styled gurus and experts who claim to be able to teach you to replicate their success model.
  • Anyone trying to sell you a lifestyle. What you’re about to undertake is hard work.

Seek:

Instead, search around for blog communities and introductory guides. Search for one thing at a time. For example, for SEO look into true industry leaders like Moz who offer a very expansive guide to SEO at no cost. They do the course thing, but their blog and site are full of resources that don’t require paying up.

For more general marketing help, try online communities like this Slack marketing group.

Better yet, go to local meetups and events and find yourself a mentor.

Not all books and courses are bunk. But you need to immerse yourself in communities of industry folks first to work out whose advice might be worth paying for.

Don’t fall for the traps. Save your money for the things that matter, you can work out the rest on your own. You’re capable of that.

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