Starting an online store
I’m often asked what I do for living. My answer? “I’m an IT manager and internet entrepreneur.” IT manager doesn’t sound too exciting, but internet entrepreneur always grabs people’s attention. I used to answer the question with “blogger” instead of internet entrepreneur, but people really don’t understand what “blogger” means and my internet activities have expanded beyond just blogging. I now run a few different blogs and currently have 3 different online stores.
I’m a huge advocate of not only reducing expenses and living on less than I earn, but also of supplementing income. Personally I prefer the more passive income route as after working an 8-10 hour day in a fairly stressful IT environment, I just don’t feel like coming home only to turn around and head out to another side job. I also would rather work for myself doing what I like to do.
I know many of you are also looking for ways to not only reduce your expenses, but increase your income as well. I thought I would share some information on starting an online store quickly and easily. Don’t worry, it doesn’t involve shipping, managing product inventory or anything like that. Surprised? Let me explain.
Affiliate marketing is a term very common on the internet and refers to people who market and advertise a companies products in turn for a share of the revenue the company receives through sales. Numerous companies have affiliate programs and they provide a great way to earn some extra income. For example both Amazon.com and eBay have affiliate programs.
To begin affiliate marketing, you first register as an affiliate, and then use the companies affiliate interface to create special links to the companies site and/or products. Some companies like Amazon.com and eBay provide their own affiliate programs. Others work through affiliate marketing companies like Commission Junction or Linkshare. When visitors to your site click on your affiliate links, they are directed to the companies web-site or usually a product page on the companies website. If the visitor purchases the product or service, than you as the affiliate marketer earn a percentage of the sale.
The amount you earn is determined by the company and often scales upward when you make more sales (i.e. the more visitors that buy, the higher percentage of the sale you receive). For example, eBay starts at 50% and goes up to 70%.
Creating an online store
As I mentioned, creating an online store isn’t hard, but It will take you a bit of time. Personally I find it fun, especially once you start to make a few sales! The following sections will take you step by step through the process of getting a new store up and running.
Find your niche
The first step in starting a new store is determining the niche your store will fill. Finding a niche can be tricky as you have to find the right balance between a niche that currently has too many competitors and a niche that is too narrow and just doesn’t appeal to the majority.
For example, starting an online sports equipment store probably isn’t a good idea as there are just too many large competitors out there. You’ll want to find something more specific in that same niche. On the other hand, having a store that sells only specific types of tennis balls may be too specific. The right balance may be something like tennis rackets or tennis balls only. There really is no science or success formula I can provide and to be honest it takes some trial and error.
I like to find products that are fairly high priced, but not too high, with a niche isn’t currently filled by too many competitors. Generally, I look for products that sell for more than $100.00 each. The other most important part of finding a niche is making sure it’s something that you are interested in and know a great deal about. Knowing about what you sell will allow you to write related articles to supplement and promote your product offerings. This will help establish authority for your site and draw in search engine traffic.
Register a Domain name
Once you determine your niche, the next step is registering a domain name. A domain name is the HTTP address of your site (for example www.gatherlittlebylittle.com). For an online store, the domain name should consist of keywords specific to what you are selling. Keywords are the specific words people will use to find your site, particularly from search engines.
For example, continuing with our tennis equipment example, creating a store called “Gibbles Store” wouldn’t drive much traffic or at least not traffic looking for tennis equipment. It also doesn’t contain many of the keywords that search engine users would enter into a search engine to find the site. Instead using a name like “Discount tennis rackets” or “Discount tennis balls” would do far better. Let’s go with “Discount Tennis Rackets” so the URL we want would be www.discounttennisrackets.com.
To reserve that domain name, you’ll need to use a domain name registrar. Personally, I use NameCheap. When you register your domain name, try to get a .com extension. If you can’t, it’s not a big deal, but it certainly is preferred. In addition to reserving the .com extension, grab .net and .org at the same time to avoid others from grabbing these and potentially redirecting some of your intended traffic.
One lesson I’ve learned is to keep all of your domain names at one site. Many hosting companies offer free domain registration. While this seems like a good deal, in the long term it’s far easier to keep them in the same place. As you establish multiple sites it’s nice to be able to go one place to manage and see all of your registrations. Additionally, you may want to switch hosting companies down the road and having your domain name registration tied with your hosting providing can make things difficult when moving.
Sign-up with a hosting company
Once you have your domain name or names registered, you’ll next want to sign up with a hosting company to actually house and run your website. There are many options and people are as loyal to their hosting companies as they are to their sports teams! As a result, you’ll get lots of different recommendations depending on who you ask.
I have all of my sites hosted at Dreamhost Media Temple (Read why here). They certainly aren’t perfect, but overall provide great service for the money. If you sign-up, use discount code “Gibble” and get $50.00 off any plan.
Once your hosting plan is established, you’ll need to add your various domain names. One of the great things about Dreamhost Media Temple is that you can host an unlimited number of websites on your hosting plan at no extra cost.
Media Temple plans start at $50 and go up depending on your needs. If that’s a little step for you, my next recommendation would be Lunar pages. They are currently have plans for $4.95 per month and my experience with them has been outstanding for the price.
If you need assistance setting up a site or hosting, contact me over at Empty Cabin Media, and I’ll be more than glad to assist.
Use WordPress, Build a Niche Store or both
There are two options I’ve used to create my various online stores. I am sure there are many other options, but these are the two I’ve found that work for me: WordPress and/or Build a Niche Store.
I’ll start with WordPress. WordPress is a very powerful content management system and also the top most used blogging software. Gather Little by Little runs on WordPress. WordPress can be extended and modified significantly through the use of themes and plugins. Themes allow you to change the look and feel of a wordpress site and plugins allow you extend the functionality of WordPress by installing often free plugins.
WordPress is a flexible platform that will not only allow you to market and sell affiliate products but even sell your own products if you so desire. A couple of theme creators and plugin developers have created specialized plugins designed for making WordPress into an online store platform.
The most attractive feature of WordPress is that it’s free. Now as you know, few things in this world are truly free, so while WordPress doesn’t require any money it does require some extra work. But I find the rewards and flexibility well worth it.
Build a Niche Store
Build a Niche Store or BANS for short is a platform that you can install to your hosted server to make eBay affiliate websites. BANs provides a very simple way to get an eBay affiliate store up and running quickly. It supports customized themes and other advertising beyond just eBay affiliates.
The major downside with Build a Niche Store is that it costs $97 dollars. The benefits though are that you can install it on unlimited sites and it provides you with free upgrades for life. So the $97 is a one time upfront cost. The big benefit is that BANs makes setting up an online store trivial.
From my experience and the experience of others BANs does rather quickly pay for itself.
WordPress and Build a Niche Store
I can definitely see how the two greatly complement each other. I will most likely use this approach for any future stores I build.
Get your store up and running
Once you’ve decided which of the 3 options you would like to use, you’ll need to install and get your store set-up. Since the majority of my affiliate stores are WordPress, that is the option I’ll focus on in this article. If there is enough interest on how to install a Build a Niche Store site, I’ll be more than glad to write that up in a future article.
Most hosting companies, including Media Temple now offer something called one-click installs. One-click installs make the process of installing popular web software to your server incredibly simple.
For information on setting up and maintaining WordPress, please visit the WordPress site. There is lots of helpful information. If you aren’t comfortable installing WordPress, contact me at Empty Cabin Media. I can do it for you.
Making WordPress into a affiliate store
At this point, all of the basics are in place, now we just need to get your site product enabled.
All of the default themes that come installed with WordPress are designed for blogging. To make your WordPress site more online store friendly, you’ll need to use a specialized theme. There are a number of themes available both free and and for a fee. I’ve become very fond of iThemes eCommerce Themes. Ecommerce themes are very professional and come with great documentation and how to videos. The themes do run $49.00, but I recovered that investment pretty quickly. The themes really are worth the money spent.
Another awesome theme I am using for all of my new sites is Thesis. Thesis is highly customizable and comes with some outstanding out of the box features. Highly recommended and I prefer it over and above the iThemes themes. Gather Little by Little will be running on Thesis shortly.
Once the theme is installed, I would recommend customizing it some by including a logo for your site. Try to give it a professional and clean appearance. Once that’s complete, begin adding pages for the products you’ll be marketing. Pages should provide basic product information about the product and maybe even a mini-review.
I place affiliate links directly in the product pages, and then add a section at the very bottom called “Buy now” that provides links to both Amazon.com and eBay.com products for sale.
For Amazon.com, I use the Amazon Simple Admin plugin. This is a great plugin that easily adds Amazon.com product links to your pages and site. For eBay, I use the TWP Auctions script. Note this is not a WordPress plugin, but an easy to install php script. In order to run the script you will need to install the Exec-PHP plugin which allows you to add PHP code to your articles and display eBay items.
I’m sure there are probably many other (and maybe even easier) options available, but the above are the basic extensions I use.
At this point your store is up and running and very soon you’ll begin receiving some traffic from Google, especially if you’ve practiced some basic Search Engine Optimization techniques. Hopefully you’ll receive your first affiliate commission too.
Don’t be fooled though, the work isn’t over. You need to continually look for new product opportunities and tweak your product set based on what is working and what isn’t. You’ll also want to market your site and get it visible. Getting the site up and running is easy, making it successful is a job by itself. But we’ll get into that another time.
Have you considered starting an online store? Do you already have one? Share your experience, stories and even recommendations for other options. Add a comment!
Photo by: eschipul
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