I’ve been around e-commerce for 8 or so years. I’ve worked for tiny brands and big brands, and more recently, I started my own brand. There’s been a lot of trial and error over those years. Lots of stuff I’ve tried has fallen flat on its face, but much has stuck. The stuff that stuck I’ve tried again and again and it’s continued to work.
That’s what inspired this list. I wanted to create a resource that I could hang on a hook. That I could refer to. That I could refer others to. Because I do get asked by a lot of newbie e-commerce merchants “where should I start?” I’ve created a bit of a starting place. One that’s a bit unconventional in the sea of terrible e-commerce resources and blogs that are out there—this lacks a lot of the shiny, reaffirming stuff and might seem like hard work to some. But, starting a business is hard work.
By the way, this post is meant to be a nudge. I’ll go into more detail on these items in a future post. Want to know why, in more detail, I recommend the stuff in this post? Email me for a chat.
1. Watch, Listen, and Read These Resources
Folks are right when they say learn by doing. However, the more you watch, listen, and read the more stuff you’ll know about in order to learn by doing.
Here’s my go to podcasts, books, and blogs:
- Add To Cart – Hosted by Nathan ‘Bushy’ Bush who use to head up digital for the Super Retail Group, Add to Cart is down-to-earth and features some of Australia’s most successful e-commerce business owners. As Anthony Nappa from Oz Hair & Beauty recently told Bushy—best e-comm podcast name ever!
- The E-Commerce Playbook – Andrew Faris would have to be one of the most generous business owners going. He really gets under the hood of his holding company 4×400 and his 5 DTC e-commerce brands. He gives it to you warts and all. Fascinating listening.
- The Unofficial Shopify Podcast – Interviews, tips, gossip. Sorry Bushy and Andrew but if you have to just listen to one of these podcasts this is probably the one to start with. Kurt Elster and Pau Reda—these guys aren’t only smart but they’re freakin’ hilarious.
- Stark Naked Numbers – Jason Andrew has the ability to explain finance in fun and interesting ways. You won’t get bored. Also connect with him on LinkedIn as he posts heaps of great stuff there, YouTube, and do his free Shopify Compass ‘Finance 101’ course.
- It Doesn’t Have To Be Crazy At Work – This isn’t an e-comm book. Nor a business book really. But, it’ll give you a reality check. If you want motivation to start your own thing read this. But, don’t read it if you have no intention of changing your life or you’ll end up mighty depressed.
- How Brands Grow – Brand marketing fundamentals 101 written by one of the top marketing thinkers in the world, Professor Byron Sharp. One of the most important books on marketing ever written. I’m not BSing you.
- Smart Marketer – Between Ezra Firestone and Andrew Faris in terms of generosity it’s a close race. Ezra shares his experience and expertise using his own brand BOOM! By Cindy Joseph as the case study. Check him on YouTube too.
- Common Thread Collection – Long form. Detailed. Top blog.
- Moz – If you want to get your head around SEO this is the place to go. Though, I really miss Rand Fishkin’s Whiteboard Fridays. If you’re brand new to SEO read this.
- Neil Patel – Another take on SEO. More focused on content. Neil is one of the top content marketers.
2. Install Google Analytics and Search Console on Day Dot
Undoubtedly, Google Analytics (or GA as us cool kids call it) is the must use platform for web analytics. It provides rich data on who your customer is, where they came from, and how they behaved on your site. But to do all that, it needs to build data. Don’t drag your feet. Install it the day you launch your site. If you want more info on the power of GA, check out the Measure School’s YouTube channel.
The Google business product that’s talked about less, though, is Search Console. I consider it the jewel in the crown. Google Search Console (or, GSC for us lazy acronym-loving folk) is the control centre for your store’s SEO efforts.
You might have been hit by ads for SEMRush or Ahrefs or Moz, but before you pay any of these platforms heed, get familiar with Search Console and let it rock your world for a little while.
3. Identify and Solve a Customer Problem
Many e-commerce businesses start because they think they have a cool product idea or worse, because they watched a YouTube video with some dropship bro standing in front of a Lambo promising ‘six figures a month’.
The best place to start a business is by uncovering a customer problem and setting out to solve it. Most businesses aren’t going to become category creators like Uber or Airbnb. And that’s okay. But, generally, you want to tap into some sort of need or demand that is not currently well served. Else, you just become a competitor.
How do you find a customer problem to solve? Start close to home. What are your hobbies or interests or areas of specialisation? What problems do you need solving? Maybe you’re into archery and there is some ultra niche problem that nobody has solved that you could solve with the right product? Ask people. Look at reviews of existing products and see where they fall short. Start turning over rocks to see what you can find underneath. I reckon this is one of the most enjoyable steps of starting a business.
4. Know Your Customer
By uncovering a customer problem first it’s really easy to know who the customer is. You know the problem, you know the customer.
Again, lots of e-commerce merchants launch their brand and then go prospecting for customers. Wrong way around, mate.
Before I launched Ottie Merino I socialised the idea around a hiking group I run. I went out and said “I’m thinking of creating this product, as I have these issues with the current products that are on the market. What do you think?” And people started to bite and share their views. “Sounds like a great idea. How about you do XYZ too?” And I paid close attention to who these people were and created a profile of them. What brought them together as a group? That was my customer.
5. Be Distinctive
We’ve all heard of the idea of ‘differentiation’. Be different from your competitor. But, the granddaddy of brand marketing, Byron Sharp, suggests that you don’t need to be that different to succeed, but you need to be distinctive (i.e. standout) and be available (i.e. get in front of your target market).
6. Be On Par
Sounds like a contradiction, aye?
It’s important to have points of difference or be distinctive. However, there will always be things you need to have parity with your competition on.
This is especially true in the detail. All your competitors share shipping info on their sites clearly, so should you. All your competitors provide good customer service, so should you.
The design of your website too. Look at your competitors and use their site layout as a bit of a blueprint for yours. End of the day, most websites are roughly the same. Unless you have a particular talent for UI/UX and web design don’t try and reinvent the wheel.
This is sometimes referred to in business as ‘hygiene’.
7. Be Clear on Shipping
An unexpected or unreasonable shipping fee is one of the top reasons your customer might abandon their cart. Be clear on how much you charge for shipping as far up the funnel as you can.
Don’t hide in on some shipping policy page that’s linked deep in your footer. Get it onto the product details page. And don’t feel bad about mentioning it a few times. But, ideally, don’t hide it on the shipping page of the checkout, requiring the customer to enter details before you reveal the magic number.
In terms of how much to charge for shipping—I will do a detailed blog on this—the simpler the better. If you can offer free shipping, it will make it a lot easier to communicate and for the customer to understand. And, in some categories, it may be a ‘hygiene’ factor—you’ll have to do it to be seen as competitive. If you can’t offer free shipping consider flat rate. Calculate your average shipping fees using this calculator to get a ballpark on what it’s costing you to ship an order. If your average is $5-15 consider just slapping a flat rate on your shipping and calling it a day. Finally—this is the pricing model I like least—you charge a dynamic amount that’s calculated at checkout. Bad customer experience (CX) and hard to communicate.
8. Unit Economics
I’m not an accountant. I have a basic to intermediate understanding of finance. Go do Jason Andrew’s Shopify Compass ‘Finance 101’ course and learn about unit economics and why it’s important among a heap of other important financey stuff you should know as a business owner. If your unit economics don’t work, your business doesn’t work.
This post will grow over time. No doubt I will add things, remove things, and change things. Hence, as I write this in May 2021 it’s titled ‘8+ Things…’ Need to give it space to grow.
Any questions or comments, feel free to hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org.