How did I do it? I'll tell you how! This start-up guide is for wantrepreneurs that want to leave behind their cubicle and create fantastic opportunities for your family and jobs people cherish - just like I did. Shopify is a robust platform that enables anyone to start selling something today.
The best method is to find products that interest you and get creative juices flowing. Go on Alibaba.com, Etsy.com, or google "shopping" search for product ideas. Alibaba is a huge amazon-like company for wholesalers and manufacturers to show their goods. The nice thing about this website is that these companies can also make custom items for you, whether it be apparel, electronics, or more unique offerings. Start off small and stay focused. To date, Shirtwascash, has mostly stuck to just t-shirts and now we're finally in a position to really expand on that. We make everything locally and I'm glad we did but a lot of others source their products elsewhere.
You don't need to change the world to change your life. Too many entrepreneurs, especially within start-up culture, feel the need to create something revolutionary and untested. One of the companies that first got me thinking outside of the "change the world" mindset was an awesome brand selling beard kits and supplies for men. They had an awesome brand, concise message of quality, and he was doing 5-figure sales every month. Finding a niche that interests you is very important but not necessary.
Niches are very important, however. Make sure you know (and preferably can relate to) your target audience. Somehow within the saturated apparel market, Shirtwascash was able to stand out as unique, fun, and our quality keeps bringing people (and their friends!) back. I suggest your mindset me more about "I can do this better than website XYZ" rather than "what is something that's never been done before?!"
Once you have some products you'd like to create, buy wholesale, or sell in general - it's time to move on to the next step!
Branding is super important. It builds confidence in your potential customers if done properly and gives their memory a point of reference in the future. Making your brand stand out is the most important part to really make a sustainable business that converts to sales. Shirtwascash got it's name from a random poster online. While we were testing the idea for feedback, someone commented "those shirts are cash", and it stuck. I spent very little time picking colors or other non-essential timesinks. Just stick to the necessary things and develop it as you go.
Once you know the products you want to sell, the name, and have a general idea about how you want the brand to look, create a Shopify store for a free trial. Our blog about "How I made $40k within Shopify's Trial Period" may interest you to know how we launched.
We are going to briefly go over how to set up Shopify. You can skip this if you'd like because it's rather straightforward if you have experience online. That said, I highly suggest you create / modify your own theme, add the products, and do all of the heavy lifting. This is one of the most simple aspects to learn and if you're too lazy to figure this out, you're probably not going to succeed.
The first thing is to create an awesome looking store. Shopify makes this easy through Themes. There are free options and more professional ones. If you just want to test this out, keep your costs down as much as possible! Go with a free one. You can view all of Shopify's themes here. We bought ours from their store and I customized the hell out of it. Making the perfect theme takes time and effects sales, but your products are more important and will drive sales (if people want them).
Once you find a Theme you want to use, customizing it is the best time to really create that perfect brand. Selecting colors and making minor adjustments is usually built into the Theme you bought. Go to Online Store -> Themes on the left and you'll see something like this:
Now you can play with all of your Theme's options on the right and see how it looks in real-time on the left. If your theme doesn't have a lot of options, you should consider finding a new one.
Adding products on Shopify is really easy. Just click "Products" on the left and "Add a product" on the top right. You'll see something like this:
Creating your Theme and adding products will be a trial and error thing but once you get the process down, it'll go really fast. Be sure to add products into Categories to make the customer experience better. Also, pictures are king. Real product pictures is an art but you don't need to spend a lot of time doing that in the beginning. Just get some products up, make the website look trustworthy, and try to make some sales.
This is probably the most common excuse I hear from wantrepreneurs. The good news is, you don't need any money to make money! You might need to change what you're selling or how you're initially selling it based on your finances. I highly suggest not spending ANY money until you have sales. If you can't drive sales, then why bother gambling the kids college fund?
Now that you have an idea for products and a brand, you could try something like Kickstarter to get started but I suggest just sticking to Shopify. In the descriptions of your products and marketing, say This is a pre-order the most awesome blah. Or something like that. Do a pre-order over the span of two weeks to a month and set your initial sales goal to $10,000. Why $10,000? Because that's what my pre-sales were, duh!
Every first-time entrepreneur thinks customers will drop everything, spill spaghetti from their sleeves, and take out their wallets when you launch. Sadly, this isn't reality. You have to drive traffic and then the market will let you know if it's a good fit / product. Keep in mind that pieces of this step could (and probably should) happen before spending time creating a website. Market validation is the most important factor here. So, how do you drive traffic? Good news: there's this thing called "the internets" !
Where you should post is completely based on what type of products you sell. Since you did such a good job of knowing which niche you want to go after when selecting products, you should be able to find people that care on: Reddit, Instagram, blogs, Pinterest, Google+ groups (yeah, they're alive), Wanelo, Polyvore, forums, twitter, facebook groups, and a ton of other places. If you have a particular type of design, try googling it's keywords and see what comes up. Make a million accounts all over and create genuine posts for them.
What kind of posts you create is based on your product type and the community you are posting to. If they like personal stories, make your story personable and be real. People like a well-written expression of what you're doing. When we launched, we focused on getting out "4chan designs shirts". People loved how crazy that idea seemed and our products. Your posts can range from written posts looking for humble feedback, images of the products on relevant boards, and really anything. Being creative here and doing a lot of Googling to see what others (and competitors) did is extremely valuable.
We also suggest making your first potential customers feel special - because they are. I've been extremely community-focused since day 1. Our users were truly a part of our company from the start and watched us evolve. Which is another side point... internet people are stupid but not dumb. They've seen all types of advertising and marketing before. Make sure you are being real when you post and you understand how that community expects to be spoken to. Getting replies, upvotes, likes, etc, is the most important goal. Starting an email list (mailchimp.com) is an important tool too. Use that list to announce launch and keep people updated on orders.
Another trick is to use your competitor's success to your advantage. Go to similarweb.com and type in your competitor's websites. They will show you a lot of information for free. With this website, I can pretty much figure out how other apparel companies are generating sales online. It's very useful.
Once you sell awesome products and put them in front of the right people, you should start to get sales. Keep in mind that 1% to 3% of the traffic you generate should convert to sales. If you are getting people to your website but no sales, then either your products need to be changed, how you present them, or you need to get the right type of visitors. Selling dog food to cat owners isn't going to work out.
If you believe you have the right kind of traffic but still no sales, then it's going to be that your products just aren't up to snuff. My rule of thumb is that anything I think is awesome, is stupid and won't sell. That is one reason I built my business to be user-submitted (crowd validation) designs but you can test your market in a lot of ways. I suggest not using your personal friends as your source of feedback. They won't tell you the truth and probably know how much you want their approval. Anonymous internet people is my go-to and it's free to talk to them. Here's the formula for sales:
You can get to this point without spending any money, and if you do, let me know! Once you have the website and products are starting to ship, you will learn new things very fast and likely put way more time into your company than you thought possible. Congrats! As for this "How To", this is where we end. The rest is in your hands, but worry not because you'll become more resourceful over time.
Want to learn more? Shopify's blog is honestly a great resource.
Check out their: Ecommerce Business Blueprint: How to Build, Launch, And Grow A Profitable Online Store.
Have any questions? Let me know in the comments below!