How to build your own online store for free
We have been specialists in online stores for over 15 years and we thought we would help as many of you as we can to build your own online stores during these crazy times.
When building an online store there are some things you will typically have to buy; a domain name i.e. www.iSellChocolateTeapots.com and hosting.
We always recommend buying your domain name from a dedicated domain name reseller and then your hosting or services from another provider. That way if you want to move away from any provider, your domain name is independent and can be simply pointed to a new provider or location.
Hosting is the server that delivers your online store to all your customers around the world, think of it as the ‘home’ of your website and files. This is one area that is overlooked and very often DIY entrepreneurs that are a little tech savvy try to get away with cheap shared hosting packages that cost between £35 — £60 per year ($40 — $70 USD per year). If you are expecting over 40,000 hits per month, these will NOT serve you well. your site will be slow, Google will rank you low for bad UX (user experience) and your online store won’t be as visible as it needs to be for organic traffic.
You MUST pick the right hosting service for your online store. Think of it this way. Your hosting is like a shop, cheap hosting will have a very small door and a small shop space that is served by slow laggy staff. Good hosting is like an Apple store with ‘real’ Apple Genius rushing around to delivery shiny new iPhones (or whatever product or service you want to retail), its an all-round much better experience for customers.
You can sometimes find great deals and discounts for your first year of good hosting, but after that, it can cost between £100 a year up to £6,000 a year dependent on the traffic you attract. If your online store is getting 1 million hits a month, expect to pay approximately £500 / $600 per month on hosting.
ESTABLISH DEMAND FOR YOUR OFFERING
The first thing you need to figure out is that there is a demand for your product or services. talk to as many people as possible. a great place to get unadulterated, unfiltered feedback is actually Reddit.
Go and join the network if you haven’t already, get to know the platform and then join the relevant r/ or subreddit which relates most to your services.
Be bold, just put it out there ask;
- what people think of a store that sell XYZ,
- would they buy,
- how much would they pay,
- what would make them move from their favourite brands?
- is there an innovation in XYZ product or service they would love to see, and then see if you can make it happen.
Validating the need is very very important… So far no one has asked us here at TheOkelloGroup.com to make them a chocolate teapot, but we have our fingers crossed!
VALIDATE YOUR TARGET MARKET
If Reddit hasn’t offered this information for you already, get an idea of how big your market it, i.e. how many people would likely buy from you AND how often. There’s no point banking on selling 150 million diamond encrusted personalised knitting needles that have been blessed by a Buddhist monk for 12 days at sunset for £12 million. You have a tiny market that would be hard to find and they likely wouldn’t buy an item like that online for obvious reasons… If you think the above is a workable idea, I also have a bridge to sell you in London (wink wink).
Reddit subreddits are usually filled with thousands of likeminded people who love their little subcommunities and are happy to share their thoughts, albeit rather brutally sometimes, so its a good place to start.
If you live in a real-world community with your target demographic, create an online poll or questionnaire using google forms to build a little more market research. Get used to collecting data and using that data to make the best decisions… The success of your site depends on it, so get used to it from now!
Just in case this hasn’t sunk in, building an online store without data or a direction clearer that your imagination (take that how you like) is like driving down the motorway (that’s the Highway for you lovely Americans) while sitting in the boot (trunk). Put simply you are heading for an expensive crash, or at least will be paying out more on ads unnecessarily.
Selling products or services
Whether you are dropshipping, selling your hand carved wooden items or a piece of software, you need to understand the needs your store requires (or work with us to discover this).
It’s important that you can take payments from your customers in the right currency and payment methods, whether that is cash on delivery, credit or debit or even cryptocurrency.
How will you deliver products to your customers, for digital products this is relatively simple. We recommend that sizeable downloads are hosted elsewhere, not directly on your site because if 10,000 people are all downloading a 1GB file, your server will not be very happy and neither will your customers, whos downloads will keep crashing, ad then when they try to reconnect, they won’t be able to load the site to start it again. The last thing you want is your customer service lines/chats and emails bombarded by 9,965 angry customers in one hour!
It will damage your credibility, cause refunds and probably pee off everyone in the front line of the company.
Using a CDN or Content Delivery Network will mean the content will be available quickly all around the world and adds an extra layer of protection for your digital goods and they are often super secure and high download rates won’t affect your site stability. These services are offered by a number of cloud providers including Amazon’s AWS service, Microsoft’s Azure and few others. Note; there is a cost to these services, usually pay as you use but it can be chunky so be warned.
If its a posted item, also factor in;
- shipping packaging
- postage costs
- collection or drop off to your postage provider
- if food, consider its lifespan in transit.
e-commerce sites are typically larger than regular site due to functionality, as such, they may take longer to load. This is where the choice of platform you use becomes critical. You need to also have the option to perform standard SEO tasks and create content easily that is easily read by search engines.
Important store features
There are some features that are a must if you are running an online store or drop shipping store, they are;
- cart abandoned recovery
- auto invoice email to customers
- auto pick list generation for warehouse teams to complete
- shipping labels auto printed
- product reviews
- social sharing
- customer accounts
- security, firewall and Ddos protection
- blog space
- access to meta tags and page design/layout
There are a number of platforms out there to choose from, they vary in cost, your or your graphic designer’s technical ability and budget.
Here are a few of the popular ones;
WordPress: Can get up and running easily enough for DIY’ers, very flexible. WordPress itself is free as a piece of software but needs a hosting space to live on and of course a domain name for an address. Functionality is increased by the use of free and paid plugins.
Shopify: This is one of the newer online store builders to join the ranks, it has a great drag and drop features and you can get up and running much quicker and easier than with WordPress. Shopify takes care of a lot of things for newbie online store builders. FOr a monthly subscription of between $29 and $299 you can have all the hosting and installation process as well as security, SSL and other ‘technical’ areas taken care of for you. Increasing functionality like abandoned cart, marketing features like newsletters and CRMs are going to cost you as most plugins come at a price. On average with all the features recommended to run a fluid automated online store, you will typically spend another £300-£500 or $350-$550 on additional plugins and themes, if they even exist. Annually Shopify will cost at least £350/$400 just to keep online.
Wix.com: Wix is another way you can build an online store yourself, its based on drag and drop options and additional functionality comes at a price with the purchase of features and plugins. You still have to buy email access on top of it and its recommended that you purchase standard shared hosting so you arent limited to the number of inboxes you can have.
Squarespace: Is a service I have heard of and played around with but haven’t taken a serious deep dive into. It seems like a good solid straight forward site builder with common drag and drops features to help non-techies build sites, but other than that it’s not a solution we have offered a client.
Magento: Is the premier league for online stores. Magento is one of the most flexible and robust e-commerce platforms and is used by almost all of the worlds leading brands. Magento online stores typically require full scale development to get the site built and branded correctly as well as key functionality built in. We offer this solution for our clients with larger budgets and more intensive requirements.
Webflow: Is the latest addition to the professional web design agency arsenal, we as a team are testing and pushing the limits of this new web design platform and we like what we see. We are waiting for more functionality to be built in some areas but on the whole, Webflow offers a super fast, super clean new way of designing websites and online stores in a very natural and intuitive way. Webflow also allows login in the back end from store owners so they can create content for the site without needing a developer. Expect to see more and more sites come out of the Webflow stables.
There are more platforms that time and space to talk about them all, these here are some of the more popular amateur and professional ones that our clients talk about the most.
It is possible to build a complete online store that is branded and fully customised with a little know-how and use of free themes and free graphic design resources like canva.com (this, of course, excludes buying a domain, and buying hosting).
All the DIY options are going to be time intensive, exponentially more if you are brand new to web development. We have websites that we as professionals took 6 months to complete, and we knew what we were doing!
Selling online courses
This is a particularly interesting one for us that depends on you the entrepreneur, one path very heavily relies on high aptitude for the techie stuff required to build and run an online store. The options below assume you have already created the entire course or courses and hosted them elsewhere on a CDN (content delivery network).
Option one: Clickfunnels
One way to run an online course is to use the landing page provider Clickfunnels, they have a platform that is ‘pretty’ straight forwards to use and upload the course content you no doubt have painstakingly developed, filmed, edited, branded and packaged.
Clickfunnels also give your the sales funnels you need to begin selling and an all-round online presence that is fit for purpose.
The cost is rather high though, you will typically pay £99 per month for all of these services and still need to pay for a domain name and possibly additional hosting anyway just for extra email addresses.
Option two: Build your own e-learning online course
You can use any of the platforms mentioned earlier in the article (WordPress, Wix, Shopify, Squarespace, Weebly) as long as you host your video content elsewhere.
Within WordPress there are education plugins designed specifically for online courses that offer features such as quizzes, marking, course tracking, pre-recorded or live video teaching sessions, student profiles with access to downloadable or online workbooks as well as management of other tutors).
WordPress is probably the recommended platform for this to minimise heavy custom development costs. Other drag and drop platforms may have functionality like this but we have not used them.
Option three: Have us build your online store for you
The option most sane people go for is to have us or a professional graphic design agency build the online store and class delivery system for them. It is a sizeable task and what you save in cash you will definitely spend in time… And more time.
Let’s not forget, as well as building your own website, you then have to create and input all your course content. My lovely wife decided to build an online learning resource for people interested in learning English as a second language with private tutors… The site build took 6 months and I am qualified graphic and web designer with a decade of experience and she also has a decade of experience creating learning content for students, specifically int eh ESOL space.
I’m not trying to put a damper on things but it’s almost like saying you want to build a brick and mortar house all on your own, it can be done but its a sizeable task. There is much to learn and we built the blog element of this site to give you all the information and skill you need to get you on your way.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of what goes into building an online store but we hope it gives you a good enough idea to run towards the gunfire and just pull the trigger. The rewards can be immense and the financial security that is achieved from an automated store that runs itself is wonderful, especially if it’s a digital product that needs no interaction from you to sell or deliver. We support many digital entrepreneurs who are time poor get their online stores designed, built, optimised and begin driving traffic to them as our ‘Web Starter Combo’ packages offer.
If you would like our help in getting your online store up and running, please do get in touch, we would love to support you on your journey