The last two years have been very profitable for the online selling industry. The pandemic boosted ecommerce and made online shopping an integral part of all our lives. Most businesses finally made their transition online, and a lot of new online businesses were created, too. In fact, US ecommerce sales passed the $1 trillion mark for the first time in 2021. If you’re an entrepreneur, now’s a fantastic time to start an ecommerce store.
This guide will walk you through building your ecommerce business without paying a penny! Let’s jump right in.
The first thing you should know is that ecommerce websites are significantly different from typical websites. That means you’ll need to put some extra effort into the setup process and opt for a specialized ecommerce website platform. If you already have a WordPress website, we recommend that you install the WooCommerce plugin to make a smooth, seamless transition.
Setting up your WooCommerce-based online store is pretty simple. You can easily find a step-by-step tutorial on YouTube that will walk you through the entire process. WooCommerce is free to get started and you can run your business for a long time without needing to pay for any plugins or custom development. In just a few hours, you’ll be able to go live.
If you don’t want to use a WordPress-based website, you can go with a dedicated ecommerce website builder like Shopify, which provides you with all the necessary tools you need to build a professional online store. Shopify comes with a 90-day free trial — but you may have to shell out some money for third-party app integrations. Like WordPress, building a Shopify store is fairly simple and you can achieve great results without paying a developer.
Next, you’ll need to get yourself a dedicated social media management tool for content distribution. A social media presence will help you build your audience and brand, and most platforms are providing new and exciting ways to monetize the attention you get there. A proper social media tool will allow you to save time and automate posting across different social media channels.
To get started, we recommend Hootsuite — which allows you to manage up to 10 channels for free. Hootsuite gives you access to their main features and is the perfect tool for new businesses. It’s easy to use and has tons of free resources — including troubleshooting — in case you face any problems.
While it can be a good practice to customize your marketing communications for each social media platform, there’s no need to worry about that in the beginning of your ecommerce journey.
Email marketing is extremely important for ecommerce sellers. From cart abandonment emails to reactivation and retargeting campaigns, it’s essential to market directly to potential customers. In fact, email marketing delivers an impressive ROI of $42 for every dollar spent! That ROI is much better than any social media or paid marketing method. So, no matter what product you want to sell, or what your personal opinion is of email marketing, the fact is that it’s extremely important to collect as many email addresses as you can.
One great strategy for growing your email list involves offering a freebie or a discount in exchange for an email address. You can also choose to run referral campaigns, which we’ll discuss later in the article. For your email marketing needs, we recommend MailChimp. Not only is it the market leader, but it also has a bunch of free HTML email templates to choose from.
Mailchimp is a “freemium tool” – meaning you won’t have to pay a penny before crossing 2,000 contacts or 10,000 sends per month. It provides great marketing capabilities, an excellent drag-and-drop responsive email builder, and it integrates with your website, too.
As your business grows, the challenge of keeping track of all your customers will become more complex. Disorganization will eventually lead to dissatisfied customers. Let’s face it: there’s no way for startup owners to check and respond to every social media comment, direct message, and email. On top of that, customers often reach out on multiple platforms, and keeping track of all the communication can be confusing. That’s exactly why you should be using a CRM tool to help you centralize your customer interactions.
HubSpot is a perfect place to start. It allows you to have a common dashboard to track conversations and automate future interactions. You can use HubSpot’s “free forever” plan to fuel your customer interactions with up to 1,000,000 contacts and no limit on data storage. Although many people find their pricing plans expensive, paying a premium in the future can be a great value add to your efforts. However, you can simply use the free version for now.
HubSpot also publishes a lot of courses on digital marketing and tutorials for getting the most out of the platform. Learning HubSpot is fairly straightforward, and we recommend that you brush up on the basics of your CRM to grow your business and knowledge base.
Accounting can be a headache. But the worst thing you can do is ignore the need for accounting altogether. Accounting tools help you stay on top of your finances and in compliance, and it’s imperative to have one.
Xero is a great pick for ecommerce sellers. Xero offers you a 30-day free trial which is more than enough to test your ecommerce business idea — and it has very affordable prices if you do decide to continue. Integrating accounting software is a no-brainer for any business owner — so the sooner you take care of this, the better.
Now comes the best part: getting paid. You’ll need a payment gateway integration for accepting payments on your ecommerce site. There are more than 100 payment gateway providers, but we recommend you choose from those with the biggest reach in the industry: PayPal or Stripe.
Furthermore, you may also want to integrate your web store with Apple Pay and Amazon Pay, too. This will help increase your compatibility with popular payment methods. As a fledgling business, it’s important to make it as easy as possible for your hard-earned customers to pay you.
Referrals and rewards are two of the best strategies you can implement to retain your most valuable customers. Not only do these tactics motivate your customers to return and spend more money — it also makes them feel special and valued.
The way it works is quite simple – existing customers invite new users to your store using referral links. When any new user signs up using an existing customer’s referral link, they both get rewarded. These rewards could be a discount promo code or a free voucher that they can redeem to buy an item of their choice from your store. Rewarding your customers for referrals is a great way to bring in new customers and get the existing ones to shop more frequently from your store.
There are plenty of good solutions available for both, but we would recommend starting with Referral Factory. It has a huge library of ready-to-use templates and comes with a trial period of 15 days. For rewards, you can try Marsello, which is one of the best-rated rewards software there is. Marsello also comes with a 30-day free trial, so you can try both without putting any money down.
You’ll be surprised at how much of a difference having these solutions make. They’ll also help your brand reputation and boost its value in your customers’ eyes.
The last, and perhaps most important step, is finding an inventory and order management software solution. If you want to be successful in ecommerce, this is absolutely essential. This software will automate your backend processes and allow you to seamlessly scale your business. When you manage inventory by hand, mistakes are almost inevitable. It’s important to avoid overordering, understocking, and losing track of inventory.
These are the kinds of mistakes that put your business in jeopardy. Frustrating customers ultimately costs you orders. On top of that, it’s important to keep customers updated on shipping status, order time, and operations. When done manually, all of these tasks add up to an unsustainable workload.
That’s where all-in-one solutions like Cin7 come in handy. You’ll be able to seamlessly manage your inventory, process your orders, facilitate your shipping, and more. The ability to automate workflows, integrate with hundreds of platforms, and access cutting-edge analytics is integral to your ecommerce store.
Now it’s your turn to put what you’ve learned here to the test. You have most of the tools you’ll need to be successful in building your ecommerce store — with zero investment!
If you have any questions about the exciting journey you’re about to take, feel free to get in touch with the experts at Cin7. They’re more than happy to help you as you make your way towards ecommerce success.
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