Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in February of 2020. As businesses continue to seek ways to adapt while the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis changes the small business landscape, we are re-sharing this article to give small business owners another option to start selling their wares online ASAP. For more assistance navigating this uncertain time, check out our small business support kits.

This post is the second of a two-part blog series on starting an online store. Read part one here: What You Need to Know Before Starting an Online Store.

Want to know how to set up an online store?

Keep running into information that’s geared towards big e-commerce stores, dropshipping, Etsy, or Amazon?

You’re not alone.

I’ve been wanting to open my own online shop but kept running into information that didn’t seem to pertain to me.

You see, this will be my first e-commerce store, and I want to start small. I don’t have a bunch of products to sell and I don’t want a lot of inventory to track. 

My online store is going to be my side-hustle. Maybe someday it will be my full-time job, but I want to take my time getting there. I expect to have a learning curve, of course. It’d just be nice if my mistakes cost me as little as possible. Anyone else not want a garage full of stuff they can’t sell?

For me, when it comes to setting up my store, cheap is good, and free is better. However, it doesn’t matter how much you pay for your e-commerce site if it’s not set up correctly, turns customers away, or has place-holder content or worse, no content at all.

That’s why I’m going to share with you what all needs to go into building your e-commerce website — from creating a free business logo to triumphantly clicking the publish button.

Before we get started

If you haven’t already, I recommend that you check out these tips for starting an online store. It will help you make some marketing plans for your business, pose six important questions that you need to ask and answer before you set up an online store, and let you know what you need to have completed, and handy, in order to make your online store creation go as smoothly as possible.

Once you’re ready, come back here and read on to learn about how to build your online store.

If you’ve already made your basic marketing plans for your business, and answered the six questions of:

  1. What am I going to sell?
  2. What/Who is my brand (and why)?
  3. What is my niche?
  4. What is my business name?
  5. How am I going to get my merchandise to my customers? (If shipping, which carrier am I going to use?)
  6. Where do I want to spend my time vs my money?

Then it’s time to get everything together so you’re ready to build your e-commerce store. You’ll need the following:

  • Hex codes for your brand colors – Hex codes are six-digit codes used to identify colors on the web. For example, #FFFFFF is white.
  • Imagery of products, and people using or interacting with the products – I’ll share more on imagery later, I promise.
  • Product descriptions and pricing.

As you’re building your online store, you may find that you’ll need additional information in order to write your copy (text). But as long as you have the items listed above, you’ll be off to a solid start.

Choosing an e-commerce platform

Before we talk about how to set up an online store, we need to discuss choosing an e-commerce platform.

If you only have a few items to sell or are just ‘dipping your toe’ into the world of e-commerce, you likely don’t want to spend a lot of money to set up an online store. In this case, a free online store might be a great option.

If you plan to sell a plethora of items, then you’ll want an e-commerce platform that can not only handle a great amount of inventory but can also handle what could potentially be a great deal of traffic.

If you fall someplace in between, then you might want a platform that will allow you to start small. Look for a platform with either free or low-cost options, as well as options to upgrade as you grow.

So, do your research and find the e-commerce platform that works for you. Shopify and WooCommerce for WordPress are both great storefront platforms. Both have various store levels and fees, depending on your setup needs. Personally, I don’t need things to be overly complicated. And I want to get the most out of my budget. So, I’m using Constant Contact’s website builder.

The website builder includes robust and built-in online store features to help you sell fast. And our ecomdash tool helps you to manage your inventory, listings, and sales across all the most popular e-commerce platforms, all in one place.

Constant Contact's website builder online store starting page
With Constant Contact’s Website Builder, you can create your own online store, and sell up to three products (with unlimited options).

Setting up an online store

Okay, you’ve read the article on what to do before you set up an online store. You’ve roughed out a plan. Decided on your brand. Picked out your brand colors. And gathered your imagery, color hex codes, item descriptions, and pricing. Now you’re ready to actually set up your online shop. 

Great!

Let’s get started by taking a look at some of the steps to getting your online storefront up and running:

  1. Create a logo
  2. Create an online store
  3. Customize your store
    1. Set up your main pages
    2. Remove the excess
  4. Revise and revisit
  5. Publish

1. Create a logo

If you’re not quite sure about your logo yet, I recommend you check out these logo design tips. Not only will you get five great tips, but also you’ll see some great examples of solid logo design. You want to choose a logo that resonates with your brand as well as something that people will remember.

When you’re ready, you can create your own business logo right inside your Constant Contact account. I absolutely love Constant Contact’s logo maker. I use it all the time when I’m creating examples and imagery for my articles. Not to mention creating one for my own, soon to open, online store.

slimriver.co - an example of a logo made with Constant Contact's logo maker
The LogoMaker creates a logo with a clear inner background, that way it can be placed over any color or background image that you like.

TIP: When creating your logo, Have fun. Create multiple versions so you can test them out directly on your website. Personally, I created 24 different versions to run past my partner. Then he created some of his own logo options for us to think about.

2. Create an online store

No matter what e-commerce platform you chose, there is some basic information that you start out with. Be prepared to supply the following information:

  • Store category – i.e. watches, bikes, home decor, etc.
  • Store Name
  • Payment information – how you’re going to receive payments from your sales
  • Choose your store’s theme
  • Add your products
  • Add integrations (if you need them)
  • Add a custom domain (if you want one)

3. Customize your store

Once you have the foundation of your store built, it’s time to make it your own.

While most e-commerce platforms will create a basic store that will function properly, they usually have placeholder images and copy. Be sure to replace any stock images that don’t align with your brand. And remove any place-holder copy to avoid having a site that looks unfinished and unprofessional.

Think about it: Do you trust a website that still says, “Tell us a little about your store” on its about page? Or has an image of a beach next to a description of a pair of snowshoes?

The point is: The moment the basic foundation of your store is created, get in there make it your own. Add your own imagery, products, and descriptions (using keywords for search engine optimization). Change fonts and colors to match your brand. Set up your discount codes (if you plan to use them). And remove any pages that you aren’t ready to use yet.

Set up your main pages

With any website, no matter the purpose, there are three main web pages that you need to publish with confidence; your homepage, your about page, and your contact page. 

When you have an e-commerce website, you have to add the store page to that list because, well — your store page is where visitors actually shop your online store. 

This is where you need to be sure that your product images look professional. If you take your product photos yourself, be sure that your background isn’t distracting from the product. Most products show best with a black or white background. Take photos with the product at several different angles, so your customers don’t have any surprises when their item arrives. If you can, take photos of your products being used by real people in real situations — make it relatable. For more tips, check out this article on How to Take Gorgeous Product Photos. It’s an older article, but the information is spot-on.

Throughout your website, you should use images that reflect your target customers, either in style, activities, or overall feel. Your copy will let visitors know that they’re in the right place. Your images should reinforce your copy and lend to a feeling that they belong and want to shop there.

Remove the excess

Don’t leave pages on your site just because the e-commerce platform automatically made them part of your site. Delete any pages that you don’t want, or need, to use.

For instance, I’m only selling three products in my online store. I don’t need a product feature page that’s set up to highlight three of my products. If I had a dozen products, and/or planned to add or rotate products on a regular basis, I might want to use that product feature page to highlight items that are new, on sale, or on closeout.

As I mentioned above, to have a good online store site, you have to have four pages: a homepage, a store page, an about page, and a contact page. However, I also recommend a blog page and an email sign-up page (or pop-up). 

A blog page is where you can regularly blog about store activities, new products, tips, or uses for your products. An email sign-up page allows you to reach out to your customers directly. And then you can keep them up to date with newsletters, sales announcements, event invitations, special discounts, or even coupons.

TIP: Regularly posting to a blog page and changing items on a feature page are both great for SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Regular updates help to move a website up in organic searches.

4. Review, revisit, revise

Every part of setting up your online store requires careful consideration and attention to detail. However, this part of the process is the most important.

When you think your online store is ready to go, and you’re about to hit that publish button — don’t. Instead, step away from the computer for a day or so. Then, take another look at your online storefront with fresh eyes.

When I’ve been diligently working on something for a long period of time, I find it best to step away from it for a while and do something completely different. When it’s no longer top-of-mind, I come back to it and take another look. This allows me to see things that I missed, messed up, or flat out forgot. 

Once I’ve looked it over and corrected any errors that I might have found, I get a trusted friend or colleague to take a look at it. After they’ve gone through it and hopefully given me some good feedback, I go through it once again and make corrections, additions, or subtractions as necessary. Then I repeat the process. Sometimes with the same trusted individual, and often with someone different. Two or three sets of eyes are always better than one. Especially when those extra sets of eyes aren’t up to their lashes in the design process already.

5. Publish

Now that you’ve gone through your online store with a fine-toothed comb, and your trusted friends and colleagues agree that it looks great, you know that you’ve created an online store that you can be proud of. So, go ahead. Smash that publish button. Bask in the sense of accomplishment that comes with publishing your first online store. And know that you are triumphant!

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