In this article you’ll discover

  • How to start an online business
  • Which e-commerce platform might be right for you
  • Branding and finding your niche
  • Sourcing products
  • Marketing your online business 

The rise of e-commerce has been nothing short of spectacular, accelerated in no small part by the Coronavirus pandemic. And the beauty of it is, you can easily grab a slice of the pie. Unlike a typical bricks and mortar store, you can start an e-commerce business from home with nothing more than your laptop and a decent idea.

Since lockdown first began, internet sales have mushroomed from 22.1% in March 2020 to 34.5% in February 2021. With millions of people stuck at home up and down the UK, internet shopping has been a lifesaver. Even with restrictions easing, online shopping is here to stay.

This article gives you tips on how to set up an e-commerce business from home and how to avoid some of the pitfalls along the way.

Choosing the right e-commerce model

Before you dive headfirst into an online venture, it pays to do a bit of research and work out which model suits you best. Are you planning on selling physical products or will they be digital ones? Do you have a service-based business and if so, how will you offer that over the web?

If you’ve been in business for a little while you might already have a website and be able to add an e-commerce element to it. There are plenty of plugins like WooCommerce or BigCommerce, which let you easily create your virtual shop page. You can sell physical products or virtual/downloadable ones through them. A web designer can create a custom e-shop for you if you want a more bespoke look, but you’ll pay for the privilege.

If finances are tight, there are other platforms like Shopify where you can build and run a shop for a small fee each month. Etsy and Not On The High Street also allow you to create a profile to sell products and they take a percentage of each sale instead.

And if you just want to sell products, you could look at doing it through Amazon Marketplace or on eBay. You’ll be charged fees every time you sell something but a lot of the nitty gritty involving setting up a shop and taking online payments is taken care of for you.

Finding a niche

Unless you have a huge budget, you’re not going to be able to compete with the likes of Amazon or Alibaba. Instead, you need to really focus on exactly what products you intend to sell. 

If you’ve already got established products and services, it makes sense to shift those online. But if you’re looking for something new, make sure you pick something not dominated by big retailers. On the other hand, check out the competition – if there’s none at all, there might not be any market for your idea and that’s not a healthy place to be either.

The fun branding stuff and the boring legals

Once you know what you want to sell, you need to pick a name, create a logo and decide on how you want your brand to look. Unless of course you already have one. It should be eye-catching but not overly complex and should reflect the products you want to sell and the target audience you want to sell to. You can put something together yourself on a graphic design site like Canva, which has loads of easy-to-use templates. Or you can pay a designer to create something.

Again, if you’re new to the whole self-employed gig, you can set yourself up as a sole trader and register as self-employed with HMRC. If you prefer to launch it as a limited company, then you’ll need to create a company with Companies House, using your home as your registered address.

You’ll also want a way of keeping all your accounts up to date and a track of all of your income and outgoings. Countingup is a business current account with free built-in accounting software. It’s built specifically for small business owners and self-employed people to help them manage their finances. Thousands of businesses are using it to save time and money. 

Where to source products

Setting up your e-commerce business from home will save on all sorts of overheads like rent, energy bills and business rates. But the flip side of that is you’ll need somewhere to make and store inventory before you ship it if you’re selling something physical. That’s great if you’ve got a big house and a spare room you can set aside for your business – not so great if you share with three others and you’re working from a desk in the corner of the living room.

If space is at a premium, consider dropshipping as an alternative. Dropshipping is where a customer places an order through your site, and you contact your supplier who sends the product directly to your customer, so you never handle the product yourself. It’s not as complicated as it sounds, and the process is mostly automated. There are plenty of dropshipping sites you can sign up with to run your business, or you can integrate them with an existing site.

Another option is print on demand, although this depends on the type of product you’re offering. But say, for example, you print custom t-shirts or notebooks – there are companies you can work with or integrate with your own site, which will take the order, print it and send on your behalf.

Driving traffic to your online shop

Working from home does mean you can run your business in your pyjamas sitting on the sofa if you like. But no matter where you do it, you do need to drive traffic to your site. There’s zero point in starting an e-commerce business from home if no one knows about it.

First off, almost everyone uses Google to search for stuff these days and a massive 92% don’t go beyond the first page. So if you’re not on page one, there’s a high chance people won’t be clicking on your link and buying from you.

You need to use the right keywords for your products in your descriptions and copy. You also need to regularly add high quality content to your website to rank on page one of Google. Building SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) organically like this takes time and effort but it will push you to the top of the list if you get it right. If you want a faster result you can try using Google or Facebook ads – these targeted ads help drive traffic to specific pages on your site, but you’ll be charged a fee.

Get marketing

As well as hitting up the right keywords, it’s a great idea to promote your business through social media. It’s one of the fastest ways to get your name out there and also costs nothing apart from your time. If finances are tight, it’s a far more effective use of your time and resources than traditional ads in local newspapers and magazines.

You can sign up to platforms such as Facebook and Instagram for free and post relevant content to build brand awareness. You’re able to engage directly with the people you most want to target and really get to know what they want. Then, if you link back to your site your followers know where to go and eventually some of those will convert paying customers.

There’s a lot to think about when you’re starting your own e-commerce business. The Countingup app will help you keep on top of your business finances. With automated bookkeeping and simplified tax returns, you can focus on making your dream venture a success. Sign up today and get three months free.