Many aspiring business owners get into e-commerce for the pursuit of a dream, day-to-day autonomy and potential for an uncapped paycheck. A significant percentage of these entrepreneurs are so passionate and driven that they decide to bootstrap their e-commerce business completely, meaning the business supports itself without any outside funding.
Bootstrapping an e-commerce business will undoubtedly present challenges, but it’s more than doable. While every e-commerce company is a bit different in their needs and available paths to success, overarching bootstrapping tenets apply to any kind of e-commerce site.
Invest in a Quality Hosting Provider
No, hosting your site isn’t the massive effort of writing a business plan or promoting a crowdfunding campaign for e-commerce seed money. However, without a quality site host, your website will experience lots of downtime, load slowly and just generally be unreliable. These effects cost brands money through lost conversions, customer churn, negative brand reputation, and more. It’s tempting to pinch costs where you can when bootstrapping any kind of business, but soon-to-be e-commerce stores would be wise to pay top dollar for a reliable site hosting provider. Here’s a rundown of 2018’s best web-hosting sites.
Weigh In-House Development vs. E-Commerce Platforms
Every e-commerce store needs a website. It won’t make a difference if you sell your custom furniture online or launch a subscription belt store out of your garage-turned-office without a website that can house and market your products. The thing is, coding an e-commerce store is expensive, unless you can code, then it’s just incredibly time-consuming. Consider your web development options and do the math to gauge if using an e-commerce store builder like Shopify or WooCommerce would work. Bonus: these platforms also come with site hosting so you can forget about the previous item on the list.
Focus on Branding
Despite the global e-commerce market positioned to be worth $5 trillion by 2022, independent e-commerce stores shouldn’t assume there’ll be enough revenue in the ecosystem after the big players take their cut. Consider that Amazon now makes nearly 50 cents out of every e-commerce revenue dollar in the U.S., and five percent of overall U.S. retail sales. Then there’s Walmart, which has focused heavily on building out their e-commerce experience over the past few years, and Chinese powerhouses like Jingdong (JD.com) and Alibaba.
What’s the point of all these statistics? More money will enter the market, but it’ll be tough sledding for brands that don’t stand out. If you’ve already had thoughts about getting through the branding so you can start selling products, think again. Your brand name, logo, company colors, mission and anything else company-centric, affects business for brick-and-mortar and e-commerce stores substantially.
Leverage Organic Acquisition Channels
Operating a business on a lean budget doesn’t mean money can’t be spent on marketing. However, paid acquisition strategies, in which a company pays money when an ad results in a click or conversion, can new e-commerce brands in hot water quickly. Consider pay-per-click (PPC) search engine marketing (SEM) advertisements. After launching, your site won’t rank well organically for some time, but it’s nice to have a way to grab screen real estate immediately.
SEM does that, but no matter how well ads perform, a store must keep spending to get more impressions. Organic acquisition channels, or inbound marketing, can bring traffic and conversions without a company needing to spend additional money. Among the many organic channels to focus customer acquisition in, search engine optimization (SEO), social media engagement, and email marketing all work well in tandem and can provide impressive returns on investments (ROI) among any channel—paid or organic.
There are too many details to keep in mind when starting any type of e-commerce business, let alone one you’re funding solo. Above knowing these four essential things to launch and grow a bootstrapped business, success will hinge on the ability to balance a tight budget with cost-effective decisions that enable future business growth.