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I co-founded an ecommerce site for women-owned businesses in the spring of 2020. Like most people, I saw daily news about how the pandemic disproportionately affected women. Women were leaving or losing their jobs as schools and businesses closed, and the world moved to online shopping. I knew that I had to be proactive, and there had to be a place for women to start, pivot or grow their businesses through ecommerce.
- “I can launch my ecommerce business for as little as $19.00 a month and start making sales immediately.”
- “People will find my website and start buying my products as soon as it’s launched.”
- “Launching your ecommerce site will net you immediate income!”
Like many others, I believed these quotes and launched my business online. As I looked more deeply and learned the reality of starting an online business, I felt I had to share what I had learned. I want to save entrepreneurs focused on building and running their businesses from costly mistakes. The claims of easy, cost-effective and immediate sales do not reflect reality. Launching and maintaining an ecommerce business is complex, expensive and time-consuming.
Nearly three years later, here is what I’ve learned:
Myth #1: I can launch my ecommerce business for as little as $19.00 a month and start making sales right away
Many ecommerce services simplify and streamline creating and maintaining your online shop. The initial fees for these services can be very low, ranging from $0 to $10 per month. But once you add in website hosting, paying for your domain name, ensuring your site (and your customer data) are secure, purchasing or upgrading the theme for your store, selecting a payment gateway to process credit cards, and any number of optional extensions to improve the look and shopability of your site, and then add in extensions to enhance discovery through search engine optimization (SEO) it all adds up to an average of between $600 to $5,000 annually. And that doesn’t include even a penny of marketing.
Myth #2: People will find my website and purchase my products once I have launched my online store
I hear this often from new entrepreneurs, and it sounds very reasonable. We are ALWAYS online and connected. There is a constant stream of shopping opportunities, so it seems it is just a matter of getting your products in front of people to buy. In ecommerce terms, this is “driving traffic,” and driving traffic can be expensive, time-consuming and prohibitively expensive. But how else will customers find you?
If you have a large social media following, you can tell your community that you are selling products and that they should check it out. But if you are growing your social media presence along with your business, you probably need to purchase advertising on those social platforms so you can be found. This is expensive and time-consuming and has no guaranteed results. I know of established brands spending tens of thousands of dollars monthly to drive site traffic.
Breaking through the noise of advertising on the internet to attract customers to your site probably is the most challenging part of ecommerce. For small businesses, the cost of social media or other online advertising is prohibitive; building a following takes time and money. Most entrepreneurs don’t have this time to spend while also trying to produce the product or service at the center of their businesses.
Myth #3: Launching your ecommerce site will net you immediate income
If only this were the case. It sounds simple enough, but see myths 1 and 2. You are in business because you are passionate about the product or service you deliver and good at it. Taking the focus away from your primary business is risky, and learning to master ecommerce can be a steep learning curve. The time you spend learning SEO, setting up search engine ads, creating digital marketing assets and troubleshooting that miracle app you bought from the online store is time you are not focused on your core business.
Online is increasingly the way consumers shop, and it is crowded. Breaking through the noise online is not fast, easy or cheap. Finding a community and resources to support your transition to ecommerce or online growth is necessary for small businesses. There are several sales channels and marketplaces that can be a great starting place. You pay commissions on sales, membership and promotional fees and become part of a larger organization that offers an online structure, domain, security, a payment gateway and marketing support and opportunities to promote or be featured to a larger audience.
Every channel or marketplace has nuances, and it’s critical that you look at all the details to ensure you find the best match for your products, budget, time and brand. Customer traffic to your products may come at a very high cost in time, money and margin. More to come on that.
The bottom line is that, yes, technically, you can launch a website leveraging online tools for about $20.00 a month. But to sell your products or services on your website, to be found by customers outside your immediate network, and to grow your business? This takes an investment of learning, time and money. Your job as a business owner is to do your research before deciding what, when and how is the best channel for your brand to grow online.
Nobody understands better than an entrepreneur that nothing in business is simple, inexpensive and “overnight.” Despite the hype, this may be doubly true for ecommerce. So again, do your homework, research and make sure that your business is ready for the challenges of ecommerce.