So you wanna to start an online business, hey? (Or maybe you’re just curious what it would be like). Well, here is what we have learned in our first 100 days as new owners and managers of an online store. Hopefully these tips and lessons learned will help you or simply entertain you. Since neither of us have ever worked in retail or sold products online (unless you count Facebook marketplace) this has been an interesting and fun journey to say the least!
Here are our top 5 tips and lessons learned as we reflect on the first 100 days of launching our online retail site The Watermark Shop.
1. If you build it they will come – but not always buy something
Google loves to email you every week saying ‘congratulations your picture got 20 views’ and show you analytics on how many hundreds of people are coming to your website. Expect to be confused then because the sales may not necessarily be rolling in! Talking about the ins and outs of Google Analytics is best saved for another blog, but we’ll at least say here that we have found it a bit confusing to track and understand how people are getting to our website, what they are doing there and how we can turn that into sales!
On that note – those first few sales are so exciting! We still have a little text message celebration for pretty much every order! Yet we also dream of the day we have so many orders that that isn’t possible. But for now, we’ll cherish this tradition and thank God for every order.
2. While you build it, you might go a little crazy
So, apparently building a website is harder than you think. If you don’t have any prior experience, endless hours to spend and infinite patience then you may want to outsource this important task. And you probably don’t want to chinch out here either. Creating a website is like a grander version of that experience trying to recreate some cute, bite-size snack you see on Pinterest for your next party. They always look so do-able in the picture but in reality, yours turns into a lop-sided, half melted mess that barely resembles your Pinterest inspiration. It’s really hard to get it right!
Lucas, Jenn’s husband, is pretty handy all around and has done some website work before, so he offered to create a website for us. However, a lot of the WordPress templates and designs were pretty basic and cookie-cutter Jenn had a different vision and well, her expectations were fairly high. As much as we had this vision of what we wanted, getting there cause a lot of frustration and late nights. Here are some examples:
- Our ecommerce platform is Woocommerce and with that you would think it wouldn’t be that hard to purchase a WordPress theme and it should just work as described? Nooooo. Our initial theme had a glitch so after troubleshooting for weeks, we eventually put in a tickets with WordPress to completely delete the theme and get a refund, which landed us at the beginning and starting all over again.
- You would think that changing the colour of your font in one section of the page, or moving text slightly over to the right would be a problem? Nooooooo. Sometimes the smallest tweaks are mind-blowingly impossible. It’s not a click-and-drag kind of process. There is so much coding in the backend that doesn’t allow you to do certain things, unless your theme already has it built-in.
- You would think that things should just come already available with a theme (a navigation menu, discount codes, etc) Nope. There’s a plug in for that! We quickly learned that you can’t get very far without getting all the plugins. Since a lot of plug-ins have overlapping capabilities though, we had to do some research and try to choose carefully which ones were worth investing in. Our site has only been live for 5 months and we already have 13 plug-ins! Sadly, you also have to be carful because plugins can also slow down your site if you keep adding more and more. On the flip side, you kind of need them to have a functioning site with all the bells and whistles that consumers expect.
If building a website on your own isn’t your thing – find someone who can do it for you. We worked with Virtually Yours Inc. to integrate Shipstation with our website and work out the whole shipping process (that was definitely an intimidating learning curve so we really appreciated the guidance and it was a great experience working with Victoria). Virtually Yours also specializes in website building, design and optimization and much more!
3. Once you build it, you need to make Google like it
Search engine optimization (SEO) is thankfully one of Lucas’ specialties, so we’ve tried to make this a priority from day 1. In fact, Lucas had our domain up from the moment we purchased it while we were still building the website, so that Google could start to recognize it as a new store. Search traffic is so critical to your online business, to drive online sales and it’s hard work getting your site in the rankings by Google, or other search engines. Brand new websites don’t have a lot of credibility as far as Google is concerned.
We have been putting a lot of time in the background doing little things to try to increase our odds of getting picked up by search engines. It can feel like very tedious and pointless work at times, but it is starting to pay off! We are already ranking on the first page with Google for certain keywords.
There are so many things we didn’t know about SEO and how important it really is. You can build the most beautiful website, but who’s going to even know it exists? Sure, your Instagram followers would probably know about it, but what if Instagram crashed or disappeared, who would know you exist now?
4. Social media can be a full-time job!
Okay, let’s stop talking about the website now and talk about social media. For us, our main platform is Instagram, but we also have profiles and activity on other social networks including Facebook, TikTok and Pinterest.
One helpful app we use to plan out our social posts and content is Later. This is great for managing and scheduling posts across platforms to save time. There is a free or paid version – but you get quite a bit with the free version which is great! There are many content planners out there and they all have many great things about them, we just liked how Later was laid out and how you can preview your Instagram feed to see what it will look like before you do any posting. Later also send out blogs to your inbox and they have some pretty good tips and insight on Instagram. We’ve taken a few tips and hacks from their blogs which have been very helpful!
This is an example of what Later looks like. You can see all of your uploaded media to the left, and your preview screen for Instagram to the right.
We also LOVE using Canva to design Instagram and Facebook posts and stories, it has also been very helpful to re-size photos for our website. There is a huge selection of templates to choose from and it’s very user-friendly. Highly recommend Canva since it makes you feel like a graphic design pro. We decided to get the pro version since there are far more templates to choose from, along with stock photos and icons to use. You can also add your brand colours into Canva so everything looks on brand. For example, let’s say you’re creating an instagram story using one of the Canva templates, you simply have to click on your brand colours palette and Canva will apply all your colours to the elements in the template, It’s pretty amazing! Here’s a link for Canva if you’re interested in checking it out!
In general, social media is tough because it demands so much time to stay engaged with your followers and the platforms are also always changing. For example, Instagram just announced it’s going to be changing to put more focus on video content instead of pictures. We have been trying to create Instagram reels and the like, but those can also take SO MUCH TIME! So in general, this whole piece is definitely not as easy as we thought it might be but thankfully we’ve found a few programs to help us stay efficient.
One helpful tip – plan your content out in advance. Set aside some time, one day a week or it could even be once a month to plan your content out. We generally like to plan out our content two weeks in advance which has been helpful since we both have other jobs and this is our side hustle. Knowing our content is scheduled and done is a great feeling and leaves us more time to focus on other things! If you decide to plan your content each day, it’s not a bad thing, We just find it takes us away from other tasks and we can spend too much time on content each day when we can just bang out a full 2 weeks over one morning cup of coffee (okay, fine – maybe two cups). ALSO – it’s okay Re-use your pictures/content. If you write a blog, use that as an Instagram post, a story, a pin on Pinterest, etc. You get the drift? It’s a great way to stretch out content.
5. Marketing your online business
Marketing in general has been a big focus for us. We’ve had some success so far in working with Influencers on Instagram to help get our name and products seen by more people. Some partnerships have been more fruitful than others. It definitely helps to create a bit of a connection with the Influencer though, as well as finding someone who genuinely likes your products and is aligned with your brand values.
Trying to build and manage an email list is another aspect of marketing that we have been working on. We really like using Flodesk which is an online program that makes it easy to create and send really nice looking emails. It has preloaded templates for different events like sales, new product updates, etc. and they are super easy to customize. Flodesk also offers some good analytics built-in so you can see and track how many people you are sending emails to, along with their open and click-through rates.. We do pay to use Flodesk but it’s well worth it because it’s so easy to use and saves us time with the existing templates.
If you’re interested in checking out Flodesk, here’s a link that will give you 50% off your subscription with them – https://flodesk.com/c/3W24L2
As we’ve gone through this blog, we realize there is so much more to share! We had a pretty funny mishap in trying to come up with our logo and an interesting experience defining our brand. So we’ll have to share those stories in our next blog!
For now – we hope you enjoyed these 5 lessons learned and hope that they might help with starting your successful online business or even your brick and mortar that requires a website!
We’re curious which one you found most helpful, or perhaps there are other questions you have? Let us know in the comments! We’d love to help anyone else on their journey to chasing a dream and starting a new business!