The Complete Guide to Building a Profitable and Successful Online Store in 2021

Online Store

In the famous words of Bob Dylan — the times they are a-changin’.


People are wanting to become their own boss and with online shopping becoming more popular, becoming your own boss by setting up your online business has never been easier!


Although it’s more accessible, it’s still not the easiest thing to do if you don’t know where to start.


Well, fortunately, we have a whole structure laid out, that essentially comes down to 5 steps:

  • Researching your niche and competitors
  • Creating a product
  • Sorting out any legal documents and certification
  • Creating your online store
  • Promoting your online store

So, let’s get your business started in 5, 4, 3, 2…

1. Research

The research process is probably the process that is going to take the longest time — but don’t be disheartened, it’s one of the greatest processes too!


Research involves two main sections — finding your niche and then getting to know your market and competitors.

1.1. Find your dream niche

Find your dream niche

We’re going to jump straight into finding the perfect niche for you.


This might seem like something simple but it can be daunting if you have many ideas (or even no ideas at all!).


So how do you find your niche? Well, you can start by identifying your interests and passions.


There is no point in putting all this effort into a project that you don’t absolutely love.


But how do you find the right passion to profit from? Well, here are a few questions to get your thoughts started:

  • How do you like to spend your free time?
  • What do you look forward to doing when you aren't doing it?
  • What magazines do you subscribe to?
  • What topics do you like to learn about most?
  • What clubs or organizations do you belong to?

After you have found your passion, you should try to identify problems that you can solve in that field.


You can do this by researching keywords, looking at forums, or even asking around in your community and on social media what problems they face in this particular area.


Another important thing to keep in mind is that you probably don’t want to be producing content and products for a market where there is no need.


Having a passion in your niche is, unfortunately, not enough to be successful.


You want to make sure there's a need for it, otherwise, your work will stay a hobby and never grow into the lucrative business you want it to be.


A way of figuring out if there is a need in your niche market is by doing a keyword search. We recommend Google Keyword Search.


Here is a complete guide on how to keyword search like a pro.


Once you have done this, you can look into specific sub-niches.


Sub-niches can be a great place to find an open market, especially if the main market is saturated.


An example of a main niche can be the weight loss industry. A sub-niche would be using DNA tests to determine a diet and workout plan for your clients.


Sub-niches have a lot of demand and a lot less competition than the main market.


Once you have decided on your niche (or sub-niche) you want to test if it will draw the right amount of traffic.


One way you can test your niche (before setting up an entire website dedicated to it) is to create a landing page that promotes free information as a product (called an “infoproduct”).


A tool we recommend to set up your landing page that will also help you to track user analytics is systeme.io’s new free plan Leadpages.


You essentially want to create a “niche-demo”.


After having set up a niche-demo page, you can direct traffic to the page by using Google AdWords.


Driving traffic to your demo page will show you how much interest there is in the field you want to market and sell in.


If your landing page is not drawing that much traffic, we recommend that you consider another niche and redo the testing process.


It might take a few tries to nail it, but once you have your niche decided upon, you can move on to the next stage.

1.2. Get to know your competitors

competitors

“Your friends will believe in your potential, your enemies will make you live up to it.” ― Tim Fargo


We’re not saying that you should go and make yourself some enemies, we just want you to have a look at what’s going on in the market.


Doing this can be a simple task if you know where to look.


In the research phase, you have identified keywords through a Google search to find your niche. 


Now we want you to have a look at those keywords that did come up.


Use what came up through keyword searching and see how you can use those keywords to create a profit.


Finding a product to sell might be difficult, especially if you have competitors.


So, how do you beat your competition? Simple, look for the following:

  • Low-quality content

It is a very simple task to outrank someone who does not cater to the audience as they should.


If you can produce content that users will love, then you have found yourself a business foothold.

  • Lack of transparency

Many online marketers use user trust to build their brand image. 


We want you to do the same — especially if your competition is overly corporate and cynical.

  • Look at those who are already doing it good

If you find a business that is top-dog in the market, try to find their weak points and improve them in your own marketing strategy.


Not only will this show that you have done your research, but it will also draw in the customers that were previously being funneled by the larger company.


The goal here is not to piggyback off your competition and do exactly what they are doing.


Instead, you want to take advantage of the work they’ve put in to build their businesses, and try integrating some of their good practices into your business.


If you can provide a better product and service than other companies can, then do it!


There is no point in holding back if you have a great idea.


Once you have an idea of your competition, found weak points in their marketing strategies, and know what’s happening in your niche, it’s time to get to know your audience!

1.3. Target your market

Target your market

Before we can get to the good part (designing and actualizing) you have to determine your specific target audience.


Inc. magazine gives some good advice on how to find your specific target audience, and it comes down to the following:

  • Choosing specific demographics to target

You want to figure out who needs your product as much as you want to find out which people are most likely to buy it.


Look into the following demographics to determine the specific demographics you want to target:

  • Age
  • Location
  • Gender
  • Income level
  • Education level
  • Marital or family status
  • Occupation
  • Ethnic background
  • Looking into their psychographics

A person’s psychographics relies on psychology.


Once you have determined the demographic of your target audience, start looking at the way their psychology works.


You can look at your target audience’s psychographics by considering the following:

  • Personality
  • Attitudes
  • Values
  • Interests/hobbies
  • Lifestyles
  • Behavior

Other than these two points, you also want to keep in mind that you don’t want to specialize your product to the extent where only a limited amount of people will buy it.


You want to adjust your product to fit the needs of your targeted client, while also remaining accessible to a larger target audience.


This brings us to the next section: creating your product.

2. Create

The first step to finally start building your eCommerce business is knowing what products you want to sell online, wholesale, or direct-to-consumer.


This is often the most challenging part of starting a new online business, and there are many things to consider when it comes to product design.


If you want to sell a product that you’ve developed, then you’re going to have to get involved in the design process one way or another.


Creating your product and finding sources to produce it may sometimes seem a bit daunting, but if you follow these steps you’ll be bound to have your product in the hands of customers in no time!


So let’s start by looking at how you can choose the perfect product.

2.1. Choose your product

Choose your product

Deciding what exactly it is that you’re going to sell might come more naturally once you have located your niche.


You have done all your market research, but you’re not done yet.


If you have a look at your competitors or other similar sellers to you, take a moment to note which products are selling very well, and which are not.


You can do this by browsing their top-rated products, or filtering products by lowest rating. 


You can also start your search by looking at related products.


Anything that can help you to identify what’s doing good, and what is not, will help you to specialize and improve your product.


You don’t need to sell 40 different items with mediocre quality if you can specialize 15 products to be the best that they can be.


Try working on improving a customer’s pain point and appeal to those enthusiastic hobbyists when you’re deciding on your product.


People are more likely to buy and convert when you specialize your product.


Another thing you want to be in the loop with is the specific trends in your niche.


If you can, capitalize on early trends.


Not only will it show your customers that you know what’s happening in the marketing world, but it will also generate a great income.


Not sure how to identify the trends? You can have a look at Entrepreneur’s article to see just how to do that.


When it comes to identifying which product it is that you want to sell, you also need to check in with yourself by asking these two questions:

  • Is this still a personal passion of mine?
  • Do I have any professional experience to sell this product?

If you found a great product, but you aren’t passionate about it, then there is no point in marketing this product. You want to be all-in when you find a product to sell.


However, you also don’t want to be selling a product that you don’t know why or how it works, or that you don’t have the certification to sell.


Once you have an idea of what your product/product catalog should be, it’s time to start making the product yours!

2.2. Naming your masterpiece

Naming your masterpiece

This section entails naming two things; your brand and your product.

  • Naming your brand

The way your brand name sounds and the images it evokes both impacts the purchase decision.


Nowadays, brands do not only represent the company but also define the daily life of a person.


Products used by a person often reflect the person’s tastes, status, and economic background.


When customers buy your product, their choice is largely influenced by the brand name


Some customers will spend tons of money, just to have the brand name associated with them.


Here are some pointers when you start thinking about what to name your brand:

  • Gather ideas and brainstorm to form a list of possible names
  • Use clear, descriptive, easy-to-remember words
  • Make sure the name is unique
  • Don’t use trendy words to name your brand
  • Make sure the name can be carried over to your logo, slogans & taglines
  • Naming your product

Pause for a second and think about what would make your customers choose your product over your closest competitors.


In many ways, the product you want to sell might be exactly the same, but it’s all about how you choose to sell it.


Here is a list of questions you want to ask yourself when choosing the name of your product or service:

  • Brand synergy

How well does the product you have align with the identity that you want to set up for your brand?

  • Resonance

Does the name of the product resonate with the customer that you want to sell to?


Does it give the right impression, feeling, and perception?

  • Scalability

Do you see this product lasting long-term?


Could this product grow into a product line?

  • Distinctiveness

Is your product name worthy of being identified among the crowds?

  • Longevity

Will the name of this product make sense 3 years from now? How about 15 years from now?

  • Simplicity

Is the name of the product difficult to spell/pronounce?

  • Visibility

Will the name that you give this product show up on Google without “Did you mean ___” popping up?


This process might seem a bit intensive, but when you consider that this product will be on the market for years to come, then it justifies all the time spent on something as simple as the name.


Once you have decided on your brand name and your product name(s) then it’s time to make this product a reality.

2.3. Source and develop your product

develop your product

Congratulations! You’ve successfully found a niche product to sell that has great market viability, competitive advantage, and has an active target audience.


Now it’s time to source the perfect product for your eCommerce business.


This part of the design process is arguably one of the most involved processes and, depending on the route you choose to find your product, can be a lot of fun!


You have three options when it comes to finding your perfect product:

  • DIY products or services

The idea of crafting your own product may be something that appeals to you.


You get to be involved in every aspect of production, and with platforms like Etsy, it’s super easy to create your storefront.


This might especially appeal to you if you are creative and are looking to sell your art someplace.


Here are a few things to consider when creating your own product:

  • You have full control over your brand, so you will be able to introduce something new to the market if you make it yourself
  • Start-up costs are usually low, but you will need to put a lot of time and energy into running your business
  • You will have to make sure that you can scale and grow your product over time

If you are interested in creating your own product, then have a look at this article that will take you through the design process, step-by-step.

  • Work with a manufacturer or wholesaler

If you choose to work with a manufacturer or wholesaler, then you must be willing to hire a partner to help you develop your product.


This is a great option if you don’t have the time or creativity to create the product yourself, or are simply looking to scale your DIY product.


While this option does give you the possibility to pursue a unique idea or sell a popular product without having to make anything yourself, you may need to invest a lot more upfront.


What’s nice about this deal (other than the costs) is that you will still be able to be involved in the making of your product, as well as see an increase in production.


Here is a great article to read if you want to find the perfect wholesale distributor.


Keep in mind that finding the right partner can take some time, so don’t become too discouraged if you can’t find one right away.


It will all be worth the wait if it means that you get to create your dream product.

  • Hire a dropshipper

Dropshipping is a method of product sourcing that lets you purchase from a vendor and list their products on your online store.


This means that you won’t have to be involved in any of the design, packaging, or fulfillment processes.


The vendor you choose to buy from will directly charge the products as they are sold, and will usually ship the orders on your behalf.


This is a great option if you are starting your online business or are looking into expanding your catalog.


The only catch with dropshipping is that you will have a lot more competition.


What makes dropshipping nice, is that there is a variety of products that you can choose from, but this also means that the products they sell are readily available on the internet.


Another negative thing about dropshipping your products is that you will need to sell a lot before you make a good profit.


If you want to read more about dropshipping for new marketers, you can do so here.


By the end of choosing your method of production, you should know exactly what it is that you want to offer to your target audience.


Developing products can take you any amount of time (unless you dropship the items of course).


Whichever route you choose, you will know where to start, what your method of production is, and how you will get your product to your buyers.


But before you can do any of that, you need to sort out legalities.

3. Legalities

Legalities

If you want to build your business, you need to get into the nitty-gritty of setting up your brand.


Unlike the design process, the process of setting up all your documents might be a bit tedious.


But don’t stress, there’s actually not much you need to do to create your own business, and a lot of these permits are simple to obtain.


Below we listed some of the basic permits and licenses you need to start running your online business if you are a US resident.


If you are running your business from elsewhere, you should check with your local state government which permits and licenses you will need to sell products.


Here are the licenses and permits you need to run an eCommerce store in the US:

  • Business Operation License
  • Employer Identification Number (EIN)
  • Doing Business As (DBA) License
  • Seller’s Permit
  • Sales Tax License
  • Home Occupation Permit
  • Occupational License

If you want to read more about each of these licenses and permits, and why you need them then you can do that here.

4. Platform

At this point, you have completed all the necessary paperwork, given a name to your business and product, and identified production sources.


Now it’s time to start finding the perfect location to set up shop.


This step would usually involve finding a store, but when you’re working online, this is the time you want to start setting up your website — the face of your business.


Creating and upkeeping your website is the most important part of running an online store.


You will want to think about which platform you will use to set up your eCommerce platform.

4.1. Find your new home

new home

There are a lot of options available when looking into which platform to use to set up your business.


Finding the right platform for your specific business can be daunting, so to save you time, here is a list of the top 5 eCommerce platforms you should consider using to set up your online store:

  • What works

Although systeme is not the traditional tool you would consider using when setting up your eCommerce store, it definitely is one that will be of great aid.


Systeme offers business tools that will help you create a sales funnel — a practice that is best when used from the start of your business — email marketing, assistance with building your eCommerce store, dropshipping, a blog platform, the ability to automate your business, and run evergreen webinars.


Systeme offers everything you need to start and run your business with ease.


What’s even better, is that we offer a freemium membership that gives you nearly complete access to the entire platform.


And if you like what you see, or make a great success of your business, you can always look towards our monthly memberships that start from as low as $27 per month.

WooCommerce is one of the most popular eCommerce platforms worldwide.


It’s a plugin for WordPress that will turn your website into a very powerful online store.


What makes WooCommerce special, is that much like it’s main platform, WordPress, it is an open-source solution.


This means that you can install and start using them immediately.

Squarespace is ideal for creating professional websites.


It has the best quality designs and features on the market, and while it can take a little getting used to, the final results will definitely be worth your patience.


We would definitely recommend it to those who are looking to show some creativity in their website designs.

Shopify is an online application that allows you to create your own online store.


What makes it unique is that you have access to a variety of “themes” that you can customize to suit your brand requirements.


The aim of Shopify is to allow people who don’t have the time to learn how to code, or feel like they don’t have design skills, to create a fuss-free online storefront.

Magento is an open-source e-commerce platform written in PHP, that allows you to customize every aspect of your online store.


With this ecommerce platform, you can manipulate every element and customize your site—but you also must have the technical skill (or pay for it) to do so.


Although this platform isn’t typically suited for beginners, it is easy to work with it if you have the skills (or the money to hire someone).


Magento is also free to download.

5. Promotion

Promotion

5.1. Marketing campaign

If you want your eCommerce platform to be a success, then you are going to have to promote it.


This is when things like Search Engine Optimization (SEO), user analytics, sales funnels, email campaigns, and general marketing will start to come into play.


The best eCommerce stores invest heavily in their online marketing campaigns, and for good reason.


To attract customers, resulting in a sale.


But what should you do if you don’t have the funds to invest yet? 


Well, you’ll want to gather a team that is willing to work pro bono and probably spend a lot of time doing it yourself too.


Something we recommend you do to keep with the trends, is subscribing to newsletters and listening to marketing podcasts to help you make the most of your one-man-marketing team.


Another thing you might want to consider is using social media to promote your content.


Here are some tips on how to use social media to grow your business.


Your website isn’t the only thing you want to drive traffic towards — you want the spotlight to be on your product.


So, the first thing we recommend you do, is add a pop-up that allows site visitors to sign-up for your email campaign.


Ways you can increase opt-ins is by offering a freebie, a promotion code, or a discount code. The only “fee” the visitor will have to pay with is their email addresses.


Something that will always drive traffic towards your site and your product is hosting a giveaway.


Giveaways allow an immediate increase of brand awareness, and will show your customers that they are a part of the reason why your brand is succeeding.


As mentioned before, introducing a sales funnel into your business from the moment it launches is one of the best things you can do.


Not only will it show you where you are losing customers, but it will also help you to create content that is relevant for each stage of the funnel.


If you are uncertain of what a sales funnel is, then you can read our post discussing how to build a high-converting funnel here.


Other thing you want to keep in mind when promoting your business includes:

  • Keeping any material you post simple and concise
  • Keeping your URLs short
  • Keeping your emails interesting and ask for input
  • Sharing blog posts that will interest your visitor
  • Making sure that you offer customer care

6. Conclusion

Building your own eCommerce business is as exciting as it is challenging.


You will have to adapt and adjust quite quickly once you get into the marketing world, but that’s half the fun.


The process of product testing, running an online store, sorting out legal documents, and ensuring that your customers are aware and satisfied with your product can seem like a very involved process, but it’s rewarding all the same.


Our hope is that you can use this resource to help you build the perfect product and store to set out on your journey as an entrepreneur and business owner.


As always, the best advice anyone can give is to just get started and to enjoy yourself along the way!

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