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A lot of us have the entrepreneurial spirit – a mindset of seeing a world full of possibilities and wanting to capitalize on those opportunities. I used to frequently contemplate, “I want to start my own business, but where do I even begin?” The task of opening a new business can seem daunting, especially without any prior experience. But, with the right tools and thorough research, creating a new business and making your first sale is not so far out of reach.
How I Started
Finding a Niche
For years I wanted to start my own business, but I wasn’t sure where to even begin. My most substantial question to myself was figuring out what products I should sell. I knew there were countless niches that had the potential for success, so am I supposed to pick just one? And, how do I make that decision?
I knew right off the bat I wanted to sell something I am personally passionate about because I recognized that this would help keep me motivated throughout this journey of a start-up business. So, this fueled my decision for wanting to sell outdoors products such as hunting, fishing and camping gear. However, being enthusiastic about a certain industry or niche of products doesn’t always mean other people will feel the same way.
Research is essential in this process in order to determine how in-demand these products actually are. There are many accessible and free tools that exist to help answer this question.
I decided to start my research with Google’s Keyword Planner tool. I plugged in the keywords “hunting gear” and up popped some impressive results:
“Hunting gear” and closely related searches that would also be relevant to my business averaged a monthly one million to 10 million total searches in Google. I then typed in “fishing gear” in the search, and even larger numbers appeared:
Ten million to 100 million average searches a month (including related keywords)! This was confirmation to me that there is a large demand for these types of products and that I was on the right track, but I still wanted more.
I headed to the Keyhole website, a hashtag tracking tool imperative to evaluating social trends for the products you’re looking to sell. Initially, I simply typed in a broad “#hunting”, and Keyhole provided me with a word cloud of related topics that would help me narrow down my search to the audience of my choice:
So, I decided to scale down to a specific audience group using “#duckhunting” and the below is the result from only a two-day period capturing both Twitter and Instagram posts using the hashtag:
Becoming a Legitimate Business
After concluding that I would be selling outdoors products, the next step in my journey was to become a real business, which of course starts with the name. I wanted something different, yet easy for consumers to remember. I also wanted the name to reflect what I was going to be selling. The brainstorming began, and “Auggie Outdoors” was born. The Auggie derived from the location of my business, Saint Augustine. It was simple, easy to remember and embodied our products with the subsequent “Outdoors”.
To be sure that no one else had a similar name, I ran a Google search, domain check with name.com and scanned the U.S. Trademark Database. I also made sure to comply with all my state’s regulations in regards to owning and operating an online business including becoming a Limited Liability Company (LLC) and acquiring an Employer Identification Number (EIN).
Following that, I went ahead and registered my word mark for “Auggie Outdoors” with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and began conceptualizing a logo. Again, I wanted something that would stand out to consumers, but I didn’t want it to be too complicated. I also desired to have a unique font, so I used DaFont.com to find a one-of-a-kind look to use for my logo. This was the end result:
How I Executed
Sourcing My Products
Dropshipping is a great option for those who want to launch their own ecommerce store at a low risk. It especially made sense for me when I began this journey of starting a new business because I didn’t have the resources to invest a lot of money up front for essentials like keeping inventory in stock. However, I wasn’t sure at the time if dropshipping was even possible for the outdoors products I was looking to incorporate into my store, yet alone from a source I could trust. So, as any other person would, I turned to Google. I searched “dropshipping hunting products” and the first site to populate the results was Inventory Source.
Curious, I signed up for a free account to secure access to the dropshipping supplier directory, allowing me to examine all my options. After viewing this expansive directory, I was sold. I signed up for a full account the same day, which ended up being the most pivotal part of my dropshipping journey.
Deciding on a Supplier
Inventory Source had multiple suppliers selling the niche of products I was looking to integrate into my ecommerce store, so I knew I was going to have to delve in deeper in order to make my selection. The first and most important factor I researched was the brands and quality of the products. Does this supplier have any brands I recognize? And, what does the product selection look like? Green Supply had the most extensive amount of diverse products out of the suppliers I was considering. There were major brands like Browning, Minn Kota, Penn and Leupold that I knew were high demand in the industry. Green Supply’s catalog alone has over 45,000 products.
Now that I was leaning towards one specific supplier, the next step was to understand how to become an approved reseller of their products. Every supplier is unique in the way they accept reseller applications including the documentation needed to sign up. Green Supply in particular required a legal business name and EIN number, but their online application process was very simple and didn’t take me long to complete. Within a couple days, I acquired an approved reseller account with Green Supply.
Choosing an Ecommerce Platform
Now that I have sourced my products with Green Supply, I needed to find an ecommerce platform to launch my store and start selling. Finding the right platform to launch your online store can seem overwhelming – there are literally hundreds of solutions to choose from. For myself, I started with one of the most popular ecommerce platforms:
I chose Shopify for that exact reason – I knew it was favorable among business owners. According to Shopify, the platform has over one million active users and over $55 billion worth of products sold, but I didn’t do much research into Shopify compared to other ecommerce platforms, and that was a massive mistake on my part. I eventually had to switch to BigCommerce, which I will get into later. But, at that moment in time, Shopify was where I was going to start my website.
When setting up an ecommerce store, a professional theme is crucial. A lot of the free themes that Shopify advertises on its own marketplace are great professional themes, but are highly used. It builds credibility when customers navigate to your store and see a fully customized website, but this normally comes at a cost. My favorite theme marketplace is Themeforest, which houses over 550 diverse Shopify themes to choose from. These themes start at $16, so there is one for every budget, and most of them can be modified to a great extent to make it completely unique to your business. To me, this is worth the price.
Having a professional domain name is a central part of building validity with potential customers. When signing up for Shopify, I went ahead and purchased my “.com” domain name for my store. Once I configured my account, domain name and customized theme with Shopify, I downloaded the Inventory Source application to begin my integration and product syncing.
About one day after I uploaded all of my products to Shopify, I received this email:
Uh oh. This was going to be a problem. I attempted to delete all of the banned products, but if I accidentally missed one, Shopify would delete my whole store. This was going to be a huge setback for me on my journey. I began weighing my options – should I move my whole store? I didn’t want to take any chances, so I followed through with it. I began searching yet again for another ecommerce store platform.
I came upon BigCommerce, and the site immediately grabbed my attention because of how similar it seemed to Shopify. So, I decided to give it a go, and I was impressed! The interface is very user-friendly, and I was able to switch integrations on Inventory Source with ease. I also recreated my store’s look with another theme from Themeforest. Within a week, my store seemed ready to go again, but I still had one more problem.
My domain name was still registered with Shopify, so I began my research on how to transfer it to my new BigCommerce store. I decided to move my domain’s registration to GoDaddy, but I was still lost when it came to figuring out how to transfer it there. I picked up the phone and called GoDaddy. Their amazing team made the whole process seamless, guiding me through the process step-by-step over the phone. In less than 30 minutes, I had transferred my domain name and pointed the name servers towards BigCommerce. My store was finally ready to open!
How I Made My First Sale
Knowing My Audience
Now that I had an open store, the next step was to sell my first product. In order to do that, I had to realize who I was going to market my products to. An easy way to figure out what audience to target your new store towards is researching Instagram hashtags. By entering a hashtag relevant to what you’re trying to sell, you can begin looking at your results and noticing correlations among the people. For example, if I entered “#bowhunting”, a whole grid of users would populate on Instagram with a lot of similarities. Go through their pages, see what they’re posting about, learn what equipment their using and use that information to steer your marketing campaigns.
Creating A Social Media Presence
Social media is quickly taking over traditional media outlets, and the marketing world is shifting with it. Social media marketing is incredibly important to the success of your business. If you’re not on social media, you’re not relevant (or at least with the times). Developing a plan on how to market your items to your social platforms should be top priority after opening a store. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are all ecommerce friendly in that they each offer tools store owners can use to push traffic to their website, such as product listings within a picture.
You can also boost your posts with social ad campaigns where you can narrow down your audience and expand your reach to thousands of potential customers. Sprout Social published a valuable article about social media ad strategy that I definitely recommend when getting started: 7-Step Social Media Advertising Strategy to Better Performing Ads
Developing a User-Friendly Site
Once you gain traffic from your different marketing strategies, how do you convert your visitor into a customer? Having an easy navigable site with an organized category structure is key to making your site user-friendly to help with this conversion. No one wants to visit a website and not know where to find what they are looking to buy. Or, even if they’re just browsing, getting frustrated on how the products are mapped out. This seems simple, but can often be overlooked out of anxiousness to open. Take your time and try to look at your site from an outsider’s perspective. If you were searching for a fly fishing reel, could you easily navigate to it? Your site’s navigation and categories should be logically tiered in such a way that visitors can find what they’re looking for quickly and in a way that makes sense. And, on your category and search pages, there should always be a filtering or sorting option at the top where customers can arrange or filter the product listings by price, reviews, brands, etc. The easier you make it for visitors, the better the chance they will convert to customers. Another part often discounted is your website’s search box. You should always ensure a search box is easily accessible for your visitors, and you can even track top queries to better improve or add to your store’s navigation structure in the future. Small adjustments can make a big difference.
How You Can Learn From My Mistakes
I made my first sale within a couple days of opening from a total stranger due to implementing the above tactics. But, my journey did not come without mistakes, and you can learn from mine!
Whether it’s deciding on a niche, choosing between ecommerce platforms or developing a marketing plan, research really is the key to a successful ecommerce business, and can save you time and money in the process.
Although I am now an employee of Inventory Source, this was a story of my journey beforehand when I was simply someone who wanted to start her own business and just so happened to be an Inventory Source customer.