Episode 1: Launch Your Ecommerce Store Affordably

July 18, 2018 / Chris Lema
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An Introduction to Chris and Liquid Web

Chris tells us a little bit about his work at Liquid Web and how we plan to serve ecommerce store owners and consultants through The Store Builders Podcast.

What Makes Ecommerce and Attractive Business Model

In today’s market, more and more people are selling online. Whether they are selling their knowledge, their skills, access to a membership site, or physical goods, the overarching industry of ecommerce is growing like a weed.

Now that tools like Shopify and WooCommerce are available, it has never been easier to tap into this world of abundance. The sky is the limit, and the effort and resources required to get started are lower than they’ve ever been.

Maybe the better question is, “Why wouldn’t you try out ecommerce as a business venture?”

It’s never been easier (or cheaper) to start an eCommerce shop than it is right now. Here’s our advice on how to launch your first store TODAY." Click to Tweet

Different Ecommerce Models and Their Pros/Cons

Gone are the days when you had to store inventory in your home, storefront, or warehouse in order to sell products to your customers.

While that is certainly still an option, most people are choosing to outsource inventory management and fulfillment by using alternative models like dropshipping or fulfillment by Amazon (FBA). We talk about the merits of each ecommerce business model so that you can make an informed decision about which one is right for you.

You Can Build Your First Store From Scratch TODAY

As we mentioned before, the barrier to entry has never been lower. You can start your first ecommerce store today with just a few hours and a few dollars.

Modern ecommerce platforms usually have pre-built themes and drag-and-drop interfaces that make designing your store a breeze. From there, you can pull your first products from pre-existing inventories and start promoting the first version of your storefront the same day.

Whether you’re worried about start-up costs, time requirements, not having a large audience, or lacking the business acumen to run a digital business, we’re here to help you work through each concern.

You Don’t Have to Have It All Figured Out From the Start

A lot of aspiring store builders fail to take action because they are overwhelmed by the assumed requirements for starting an ecommerce shop. It’s important to note that you don’t have to launch with a robust offering on Day 1.

We share ways to get started with a “minimum viable storefront” so that you can validate things like you target audience, product selection and price points before investing too much time, money, or energy.

Show Transcript

Welcome to the Store Builders podcast episode, the place where we talk to industry experts and successful store owners about what it takes to build a thriving ecommerce business. Every episode we deliver the raw, unfiltered recommendations that will catapult your store to new heights. Ready to get serious about expanding your ecommerce empire?

Well, then let's get to work. This is the inaugural episode of the Store Builders podcast. My name is James Sowers and I'm your host. I'm super excited to be joined by Mr. Chris today. Chris, how are you doing?

I'm doing great. I'm so glad to have you here. I know the folks at home were excited to listen.

So maybe the best way to kick things off today would be to hear just a little bit about what you're up to these days and what the vision here is for the Store Builders podcast, what we're delivering to the folks at home.

Sure. So I think at the core of it, I spend my day building out a very dedicated platform for a specific kind of store.

So if you're building an online store using WooCommerce, when you do the comparisons between WooCommerce and Shopify feature for feature, they come pretty close to each other.

With Shopify, you don't have to worry about hosting it all. And with WooCommerce, you're going to have to figure out all this stuff. And so that's the stuff I spend time on. How do we build out a turnkey platform as is?

I spend my time doing that — figuring out how we build a dedicated WooCommerce platform for stores so that they can turn it up and get going as fast as possible.

And that's a perfect segue into what we're going to be talking about today, which is how can you finally launch that ecommerce shop that you've been dreaming of without breaking the bank.

So how can you get started? How can you get that experience? I think that the best place to start when we're talking about a topic like that is why is this an attractive option in the first place? Why is having an ecommerce store an attractive way to be an entrepreneur and build a business?

It's a great question. Remember back in the old days when no one had a blog? No one had a website, no one had a personal brand, none of that stuff. And then all of a sudden, everybody had one.

The same thing happened over the last couple of years. If I add the total number of eBay stores and the total number of Etsy stores and the total number of Amazon stores, I think I have more people than on the planet. How is it possible? Everybody has a store.

That's marketplace commerce, where essentially it's like a swap meet. You put a little stand in a big broad marketplace and you're like, here's my place. But more and more people are selling.

More and more people are selling online. And then of course, all you have to do is spend a little bit of time on Google to discover that people are also selling knowledge — information, education on membership sites online.

In fact, today the Supreme Court just announced sales tax could be collected right by the state, even if you don't have a physical presence in the state. In 1992, when the first rulings began, the notion was that this online sales thing was just not a big deal. Don't worry about it. Treat it like catalog sales today. The Supreme Court said ecommerce has transformed the landscape of our economy. And so we need to rethink things.

People are making money online. And if you want to, you can.

I think I saw that more than a billion people view makeup tutorials on YouTube in a given week. And you're like, what? It’s just makeup tutorials. But there are people who are building businesses where they're doing that kind of training — protected content that you pay for to have access.

And you may pay $9 a month or $19 a month, but you have access to protected content and that's ecommerce too.

And so you just go, Hey, today, there is no easier time, right? Without breaking the budget to spin up an online presence and generate revenue from it.

So if you can generate revenue off your knowledge or off products that you build or products you make or off other people's products or off designs you have, and you create a t-shirt store. I mean, the options are plentiful and the effort is low.

The core of the question isn't why would you do it? The core question is why wouldn't you do it?

And maybe the short answer is that it's easier than it's ever been before. I mean, if you think about 20 or 30 years ago, if you wanted to open up a store, you had to have a storefront, you had to have a lease. You had to have logistics and have trucks coming in every day. You had to manage inventory. I mean, all that stuff still happens, but it's a heck of a lot easier now than back then.

The first store I built in 1997 was an online ecommerce store. We spent a hundred thousand dollars. We had a team of three people. We worked for six months so that we could just integrate a shopping cart and transactional engine from an authorized net with an online code base. We did all that so we could collect money.

And I can do the same thing with WooCommerce and be authorized on that in less than 60 minute in one day with one person.

It's never been more affordable. I think we've definitely established that this is an attractive option. I mean, the folks that are interested, I don't think they need any more convincing as to whether or not they should get started.

But I think maybe the next question is, how should I structure my store? I mean, there are different types of stores you can have. You could have a dropshipping store with fulfillment by Amazon. We've got all different kinds of models. You can have direct inventory that you store in a warehouse or something you ship out yourself.

So I sat down with a person yesterday who has just started a blog. She's a couple of days into her blog. She's been writing articles each day. She's really excited and she's targeting science fiction. And she’s not just writing about science fiction, she's looking at TV and movies and reviews, but she's also trying to go towards educators.

So how do you write a guide for a teacher or a homeschool teacher?

And I say, it's great. Uh, do you have an online store? And she's like, uh, no, no. Why would I have an online store? I'm like, well, you're, you're aggregating an audience. They're reading your content. Would they want to wear a Sci-Fi t-shirt?

She said, oh, yeah, but I don't want a house full of t-shirts. So I bring her over, sit her down next to me, and I pull up Printful.com.

And I said, let me show you how this works. So we literally did this. It was about 15 minutes of sitting at my computer and I said, let's create a store on Printful, then let's connect it to a WooCommerce instance. So I spun up a site that had WooCommerce on it and I made the connection. And then I went and said, let's upload a logo.

We opened up a file and it just said All Sci-Fi All the Time. We uploaded the picture and then said, okay, what kind of products? We picked the tri-blend t-shirt. We want it in all these sizes and we want it in this one color and it automatically created everything and then said, okay, it's now on your site.

And we went to the WooCommerce store and the products were already there. And she's like, are you kidding me? Did we just build a store? This was a sample store. We can put it on your site, but it is a sample store. We just did it. It was super easy. It was super fast.

I went onto the sample store and I bought a shirt and she was like, did that really happen? And I'm like, yeah, I bought the shirt now. Here's what happens. Printful takes the cost of the shirt. So let's say I collect $20 and Printful says, okay, I'm taking $14 out. It's leaving $6 of profit in your bank.

And it's going to put it in a box and it's going to ship it to me, my address, and you don't do anything.

And she goes, are you kidding? So I don't have to have the t-shirts in my house? And I don't have to ship anything? Nope.

I don't have to do any fulfillment? Nope.

I don't have to create the product? Nope

You don't have to do anything. If you're just, you're writing, you have an audience for your podcast or you have an audience and you're like, Hey, uh, yeah, I think people would buy a shirt with my logo on it, or buy a shirt with my name on it, or buy a shirt with a pithy quote on it. Yeah, I can create a t-shirt. So that’s my favorite entry.

If you've collected an audience, but you're doing nothing and you're like, you're telling me I could spin up a store in an afternoon? And I'm going, yeah, no question. And you know, a WordPress website is free. WooCommerce. The plugin is free.

Printful charges you. Basically, the plugin is free and you get charged only on the shirts. So you only pay as you go.

When we talk about doing it without breaking the bank, I could spin up a t-shirt store without breaking the bank easily. It's not the only model. But it is a fantastic early model.

I know designer friends who designed t-shirts that way and Printful does more than fulfillment for just t-shirts. They have a couple of other products too. And they are not the only player that plays in that space.

Right. It's the one that I enjoy the most.

If you're in the physical goods world, like if you create something or if you've bought stuff and you do happen to have, you know, I have a buddy of mine that has a mini warehouse in one of the rooms of his house. And he has a whole bunch of stuff.

Then you could definitely ask yourself, what about fulfillment by Amazon? What if I just take this whole room of stuff, ship it to Amazon, build up the store, make the connection to FBA, and then have Amazon deliver it?

Right. And I don't have to store it and manage it. That's another model.

I'm going to create the product. I'm going to store the product. I'm going to ship them. I have a buddy of mine that runs a cigar store that way. And he has a whole mini warehouse for it with a section that's just for online orders.

And so he's doing it all right. The orders come in and then he gets a guy that packages it and ships it out. You can totally do that too. That's normally what we think of as ecommerce.

And that may be the third option, right? Not necessarily the first one, because there are easier ways to get it.

Yeah, for sure. And I think some of that decision might depend on what your current situation is. So like you said, if you're a blogger and you have an established brand and established audience, maybe the easiest first step to take is the t-shirt model or stickers or something like that and have your brand on them or some kind of slogan.

And frankly, you said you can spin it up in the afternoon. It sounds like you could do it over lunch. And then in the afternoon you send the email to your mailing list and you convert a thousand people. And you're making some money today, theoretically, but then like maybe if you already have a physical storefront in your hometown and you're okay with storing inventory, you just want to go online.

There are options to do that too. And then maybe the fulfillment by Amazon is somewhere in between where it's like, I got a warehouse. Amazon takes care of everything. But there is physical storage, so I think maybe that decision point is about where you're at today and where you want to be and what the next best step is for you.

But the point there is that there's a spectrum and there are options available to you. And, ecommerce as an industry is something that can accommodate any kind of existing business types. So I think that's incredibly interesting and somebody that's not super familiar with ecommerce as a platform or revenue channels would like to know that.

And that's probably a source of relief for them, I have to think.

So, you know, we're talking about the types of ecommerce stores you can start. But what does it take? I mean, we're talking about a certain level of financial capital. A lot of the tools you referenced already are free.

And of course, we're going to link those up in the show notes. I'm sure there are paid alternatives to have additional features, but then you're going to have to do accounting. You're going to have marketing and sales.

Just at a high level, what are the different components or business functions that are handled, that are going to be startup costs or startup considerations for rolling out a store?

It has never been cheaper to do this than today. You can't get around that. If you have already built an audience, you won’t have a lot of sales and marketing costs.

Right. I don't have to worry about that. If I'm building t-shirts for example, I don't have to have a lot of costs in terms of financial backing to spin this up because I literally pay as I go.

They let you create t-shirts and what have you. You collect all the money from the orders, and then they, at the end of the month, bill you for the supplies, whereas Printful does the detriment right away. So as they ship it out, these guys wait until the end, which means they're basically floating you, which is great if you're really tight on cash.

I can just go spin up a whole bunch of stuff and not worry about costs until I don't make the money. I get to keep the money, use the money, and then I pay you at the end of the month. Thinking about financial dynamics, the amount of money you need to start in ecommerce is next to nothing.

We haven't even talked about dropshipping. It's the notion of you selling other people's products. And so you can go to other people's catalogs. You can import those in. Suddenly your store has a whole bunch of products that you’re able to sell.

Right. And I'm able to sell to any customers without worrying about anything.

Then you don't have to spend time and money building up products. Right. So when you're looking at dropshipping, Aliexpress is one that does this. And Wu Ship is one that does this for WooCommerce specifically, where you take a plugin and you connect it into your WooCommerce store.

And then you're able to get to the Aliexpress catalog of products. Now, what I don't recommend is that you just straight up grab their whole catalog, because you're going to be competing with 70 trillion other people doing the same thing.

But let's say that you were someone who doesn’t have any products, but you have a blog or a set of friends you hang out with and have poker night, and you’re going to hand select five products from this AliExpress huge catalog.

You pick a wallet, a watch, or whatever. Like here are five products that I have custom selected and I put as an option to sell on my regular website or the site where I announced where we're going to meet for poker.

You can sell a watch that you don't make — sell a watch that you don't have inventory of. And it doesn't cost you anything. You can start and not worry about financial capital, software, and tools. Like we've talked about. I use WooCommerce for a lot, but you can do this with Shopify, right?

You can do dropshipping with Shopify with no problem. You can do it with no Shopify. You're going to have a little bit of cost for the product itself. But you can do it with BigCommerce. You can do it with Shopify. You can use many different ecommerce platforms. You can do dropshipping, auto fulfillment, and product creation that way.

Software tools are plentiful. Financial capital is low. Your time investment is minuscule. And you don't have to do a lot.

You remember in the old days, if I was saying, oh, I'm going to spin up an ecommerce store. You're like, I need people in marketing. I need people in sales. I need people in support. I need people in product development. I need people in inventory. I need a team of 10 people.

Right. And you're like, Nope, now I can do it myself. And depending on how I do it, I don't have a lot of costs or a lot of infrastructure that I need to get started.

So starting things today is a lot different than starting even five years ago. There's a lot of tools that make this a lot easier.

What you really need is a place where you can gather an audience. And if you say, I don't have that. I don't know how to even get that audience and bring them back. Well, today you can buy a Facebook ad.

And automatically you have an audience. You want to figure out where you go with that audience?

I have a friend of mine who does fitness. There are tons of people in fitness. But there are a lot of people making money on it. She sells supplements.

She sells videos as well of her and her husband working out. They created these sets of videos that are all about working out, but working out with regular stuff you have around the house, not working out at the gym.

She creates a Facebook ad about working out from anywhere. She brings in an audience and then she sells this stuff from there. So even though the most important thing you need is an audience today, you can buy that audience.

We basically dispelled a lot of the myths or assumptions or objections that somebody might have if they want to start an ecommerce store today. And they're saying, yeah, but I don't have a lot of money to start with. Okay. We took care of that.

The financial capital commitment is very low.

I'm not super tech savvy. A lot of the tools are drag and drop functionality. It's never been easier than it is today. And there are a lot of free tools to help you get started. If you're worried about not having the business acumen, again, it's kind of done for you there. You can pull from existing inventory directories. You don't have to get on a bunch of calls with suppliers or anything like that.

The time commitment we talked about, you don't have an audience. You can buy one effectively through pay-per-click ads and nurture that audience and grow a relationship with them. And then frankly, if you're worried about doing this alone, there are plenty of communities out there for ecommerce store owners.

And there are people that are 1, 2, 3, 10 steps ahead of you that are willing and able to reach out to you and help you grow your store from scratch.

That might lead into our next concern. If we have all these things, if we have the financial requirement, the software and tools and stuff, where can someone who's starting today afford to reserve their capital and where should they be doubling down? And then what can wait until on the backend, after they validated their audience, their product, and that kind of thing?

That's a great question. There's two kinds of audience that think about this question. It's if you're a store owner, how can you build this out? What if you're a store builder and you build this for hire? If you build this for other people, how do you manage this?

A lot of times a store builder feels the need to do everything. They think they need to load up all sorts of stuff and solve every problem long before the customer has made any money.

And you go, oh no. Don't do that. It's not about cutting corners or pinching pennies. It's really about being strategic. In multiple iterations circle back to that store and do successive launches.

Launch once. Watch again after that launch. Every new feature you roll out is another opportunity to tell your base, Hey, here's something else we added.

So, when you think about that, if you're a freelancer or an agency and you're looking at ecommerce thinking you have to invest a lot of money, buy a lot of tools, buy a lot of stuff before making a full store for customers, I would flip the script.

And I would challenge you when you're talking to that customer to be like, Hey, let's validate the product. Let's validate the audience. Let's validate the pricing. Let's start simple. Let's start by just adding one little section of your site that does this. Or let's bring some watches or bring some wallets or whatever it is that you want to add. Just add a little component, not so that you're building a full blown store, but how do we build just an ecommerce component to your site and see if we start generating revenue?

Because here's what I know if you're a store. Your customer is going to be pleading for you to build more features for the store, because they're like, I'm flushed with cash, let's go do this. And you go, yeah, absolutely.

So if you're a store builder, and especially if you're doing it for someone, your best bet is to say, let's just get some baseline stuff and then let's start adding some features.

Everybody is trained by Amazon. They’re like, oh, on Amazon I have a wishlist feature. And you go, right. Let's not launch with a wishlist. Let's circle back because then if I add the wishlist, I can announce to the world, Hey, heads up now the store added the wishlist, so you can put it there and save it for later.

And they're like, Ooh, I should go check out your store. I forgot you had a store. You can bring people back with new features. And, and as you can imagine, that's my answer for store builders. It's the same answer that I have for the store owner.

If you're just getting started, building your own DIY store, start with the basics. Start by thinking about it as a test, as an experiment, as a way to generate validation data.

I started a t-shirt store, um, a couple years ago. I do it through Printful and I basically just, I made t-shirts that I was wearing when I went to speak at a conference. So I would stand on stage and I would give this talk and I would use the quote that was on my t-shirt and then people would come up afterwards and go, I love your t-shirt. How can I buy it?

I'm like, oh, just go to my store. You can buy the t-shirt. And I leave the stage. And then the next day I looked and I sold 60 shirts. And it didn't cost me anything. And it was next to no work. So figuring out ways to start and do things incrementally for store builders and store owners is the best advice.

Let's say you have a golf blog and that you write primarily about training exercises and training aids that somebody can use to lower their scores. Well, you wouldn't spin up a store with a t-shirt necessarily. You'd go find five training aids that are maybe out of an existing inventory and just start.

And there are tools today that will allow you to carve out tiny little segments of your audience. And so you can start just by promoting those five products to a thousand people on your 5,000 person list. And that's the first test. And if it resonates with them, then you announce it to the broader list.

Or you wait until you have two or three more products and you just. Iterate that way. And really it's an evolution and you can grow along the way. If you think you have to build a perfect solution today, that's not the case.

You can start small, you can start getting your sea legs and getting some experience with the platforms and the tools, and then grow from there. Just like any other business.

If you really want to test, right before you spin up your store, test it with affiliate links. If you're writing a golf blog, and you're like, this is my favorite golf bag, this is my favorite golf club and my putter and my window, and put links to stores, but where you're getting an affiliate link.

You'll get paid for that. But more importantly, you can even quantify how much you're getting paid.

So now let me flip from an affiliate and go into selling a problem. So you can test it with affiliate links, or even outbound links. You're not getting paid, but you can test it with the feelings to see, okay. How well is my recommendation or how well is my pitch going in terms of buying something?

When it starts going, well, you can go, okay, I should build something here. So it doesn't have to be a t-shirt or a mug. It can be anything.

And the exciting part about that is that it can accelerate the growth of your top line revenue. I mean, if you're using Amazon affiliate links, that's usually a single digit percentage that you're getting back on the cost of that product. But, depending on what kind of ecommerce structure you use, I mean, you can pocket 50% or more of the total cost of that item.

So if you're selling a hundred dollar golf bag and you sell it through your shop, you might make $50. Whereas with Amazon affiliate links if you sell 20 of each item in each scenario, it's a lot more money coming from your ecommerce shop, then sending business to.


We covered a lot of great stuff today. I know that we talked about a lot of the objections folks have, that are holding them back from starting their ecommerce store. And we talked about the most critical parts of getting started. I mean, I think the only thing left for our audience to do is to take that first step today.

And we said we could spin up a store this afternoon. So theoretically, you could get that done today and start launching it to your audience immediately.

So there you have it. The inaugural episode of the Store Builders podcast is in the books. And I had so much fun talking to Chris today about how you can finally launch that ecommerce store you've been thinking of without breaking the bank and without investing a whole lot of time and energy, just to get this idea off the ground and see if it's a good fit for you.

Today we talked about why ecommerce is even an attractive business venture to begin with, why it's something worth pursuing. We also talked about different models for ecommerce shops. Frankly, it's never been easier to start a store than it is today. So, we'll look forward to seeing you on the next episode. Take care.


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