At times, starting an online business can feel like you’re climbing a mountain. It may be difficult, but you know it will be worthwhile when you reach the top and take in the view.
Find out if you have what it takes to start your own business by choosing your own e-commerce adventure!
The more you click, the more you’ll learn.
Where will your journey take you? Start here.
What kind of online business do you want to launch?
Do you have a name for your business?
What’s in a name? Well, quite a bit actually.
It’s a major part of defining your brand, standing out in a sea of competitors, and perhaps most importantly, it’s what makes you memorable.
I’ve got a name
Great! What about branding?
You’ve got a couple of options here:
- Hire a designer
- Come up with your own branding
Tips for naming your online business
Choosing a name for your company can be difficult.
The name you’ve had in mind for months, if not years, may already be taken, or you may be struggling to come up with one.
Beat the creative block and find the perfect brand name with these tips:
- Keep it simple and memorable
- Know what you want the name to convey
- Brainstorm ideas – do this alone or get friends and family involved
- Don’t be too literal
- Avoid anything time-specific or trendy
- Check out the competition for that name before committing.
Choose a name that will help your search engine optimisation, also known as SEO.
A well-optimised name makes it easier for Google to find your company and show it to people who are looking for it. Instead of just www.excalibur.co.za, try www.excalibur-swords.co.za.
E-commerce business models
The type of online business you run is largely determined by the product or service you sell.
And, to some extent, the e-commerce model you choose will shape your business plan, so it’s worth giving this part of your journey some thought before charging ahead with the fun stuff.
Choosing the best model for you will make your journey to entrepreneurship a little easier.
Here are four of the most popular methods for getting your small business started online.
Dropshipping is a low-risk approach to starting your own business.
This e-commerce model entails collaborating with a third-party supplier who stores all your inventory for you and fulfils orders placed on your site.
However, keep in mind that while it’s easier to get started as a dropshipper, you will have no control over things like stock levels, packing, and shipping delays, which could have a negative impact on the customer experience.
The margins on dropshipping are also lower when compared to other online selling methods.
In a subscription-based model, customers pay a monthly or annual fee in exchange for a product or service.
This can range from a streaming service (think Netflix) to print and digital publications, weekly meal kit delivery (FitChef, UCOOK), or a monthly subscription box like Ruby Box, which delivers a curated selection of beauty products.
The main advantage of running a subscription service is the ability to more accurately predict revenue and forecast sales than other approaches.
As a result, there will be more positive cash flow and one less thing to worry about as a start-up.
Wholesale and reselling
Another low-risk way to start an online business is to buy products in bulk from a wholesaler and resell them at a higher price.
Like dropshipping, this option allows you to quickly set up and sell a variety of different products and brands.
It can be difficult to determine how much stock to purchase at first, and most wholesalers require a minimum order of each product, which necessitates some forethought on the seller’s part. As a general rule, it’s better to sell out of your stock and buy more the next time than to over-purchase and end up with stock you can’t sell or must sell at a loss.
The margins for this e-commerce model are generally higher than those for dropshipping, but lower than those for manufacturing the product.
Direct to consumer (DTC)
Don’t be put off by the jargon.
Direct to consumer (DTC) refers to the practise of creating your own website and selling your product directly to customers, without the use of a middleman or a third-party retailer. You can stock up on supplies at home and package orders yourself.
This model enables you to own your customer relationship, which boosts brand loyalty and increases customer lifetime value. It also gives you greater control over every aspect of your product and brand.
Profits are typically higher because you’re not paying third-party distributors, but you’ll have to manage your own shipping and manufacturing costs.
With a direct line to your community, you’ll be able to get honest feedback faster and demonstrate to your customers that you’re listening and want to build your brand in collaboration with them.
Now you know what kind of business models are out there, it’s time to move on to the fun part.
Choose your e-commerce platform
It is now time to discuss e-commerce platforms. They enable the purchase and sale of goods and services over the internet.
The platforms include a search function to help customers find what they’re looking for, a shopping cart feature, and payment options.
Some e-commerce platforms now include a free domain name for the first year. Best practises recommend purchasing a .com or .co.za domain to increase customer trust, appear more professional, and make your website easier to remember.
But which platform are you going to use?
Let’s take a closer look at four popular e-commerce platforms…
Wix, a popular option among small businesses, is an easy-to-use platform with a drag-and-drop website builder and multi-channel sales capabilities.
There are over 500 templates to choose from, and it includes a great set of sales and marketing tools to get your business up and running.
Pricing plans range from Business Basic at $17 (about R262) per month to Business VIP ($35 or about R540) for larger, more mature businesses.
For new users, this all-in-one platform has a bit of a learning curve. However, once you’ve mastered the fundamentals, you’ll be able to take advantage of the fantastic range of features available across all pricing plans.
BigCommerce also lets you customise the customer experience by providing real-time shipping quotes, product ratings and reviews, support for multiple languages and currencies, and a streamlined checkout process.
The standard plan costs $29.95 (about R462) per month for up to $50,000 (R770,000) in sales.
It is simple to set up and feature-rich. Customer service is a priority, and it includes excellent integration and built-in abandoned cart recovery tools.
The basic tier is $29 per month, with a payment processing fee of 2.9% plus $0.30 per online transaction, 2.7% for in-person transactions, and a 2% fee on all other transactions, in addition to the fees charged by your chosen payment processor.
This WordPress plugin turns your website into an e-commerce store.
It’s free for personal and commercial use, but it doesn’t include a domain, hosting, themes, or support, which will all have their own costs.
WooCommerce, when used correctly, can be as powerful as Shopify while giving you more control over your hosting.
While this is the cheapest option, it is also the least user-friendly of the four. If you’re not sure about the technical side of things, it might be worth investing in one of the more comprehensive options available.
Build a business plan
Now that you’ve nailed down some of the most important aspects of your idea, it’s time to put it all together into a plan to turn your business dream into a reality.
Every entrepreneur requires a solid business plan, and e-commerce is no exception.
This is a living document that you can improve over time and refer to when you need to think about your strategy, goals, competitors, marketing, finances, and other issues.
Do you have a fear of the blank page?
Use a business plan template to calm your nerves and get advice on every aspect of your upcoming venture.
Register your online business
Let’s register my business
You can register your brand as a trademark at the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission. This means you can sell it, licence it, and take action against anyone who uses your brand without your permission.
If applicable, you must also register your business for tax purposes, so make sure you do so before you begin trading. If your company earns more than R1 million per year, you must register as a VAT vendor with SARS. You can also register for VAT voluntarily if your taxable supplies in the past 12 months exceeded R50,000.
As a VAT vendor, you will need to charge VAT (15%) on the products you sell and submit VAT returns to SARS every quarter. Once you have registered your business with the CIPC, SARS will automatically generate an Income Tax reference number.
Just start trading
Businesses that aren’t registered with SARS could be slapped with a non-compliance penalty, which can range from R250 to R16,000 a month for each month that non-compliance continues.
Save yourself the trouble and get your business registered before you begin trading.
OK, let’s register my business
Time to talk rands and cents. Say you need R30,000 to get things up and running. How will you fund your new venture?
Here are three of the most common ways people fund their e-commerce businesses:
Crowdfunding emerged in the late 2000s and entails raising funds with the help of backers – people who donate money to help you get your project off the ground.
Anyone can contribute, and you can thank your backers for their support by offering rewards such as early access, pre-order, exclusive deals, and physical gifts once you go live.
Donations can start as low as R1, and platforms like Kickstarter, Backabuddy, and Thundafund allow you to create different “reward tiers” based on how much your backers pledge, with the value increasing as the amount pledged increases.
This method, however, takes time to build capital and may not be the best option if you want to get started right away.
If you have some money saved up, this is the simplest option.
Don’t deplete your account; instead, make sure you have enough to fall back on if a rainy day does arrive.
Small business loan
A small business loan is designed specifically for smaller businesses that may not be eligible for a traditional bank loan.
That means you can borrow in smaller amounts if you need to get your business up and running quickly but don’t have the capital.
Show me the money
It’s still early days, but you’re seeing a steady flow of sales, and your customers adore everything about your brand. Great stuff!
Before you go out to celebrate, let’s run the numbers to see if your finances are more champagne or sparkling water.
I’ll just wing it.
Let’s crunch some numbers
Wing it or crunch the numbers?
When it comes to finances, you’ll need to consider things like domain costs, hosting, and payment processing.
Inventory is determined by the product you’re selling as well as your business model.
Then there are your overheads, which are the expenses that help you run your business on a daily basis, such as raw materials, labour, production, packaging, shipping, and marketing.
And don’t forget about cash flow. This is the amount of money that flows into and out of your company.
Then there’s the crucial question of how much you can pay yourself.
With all of that in mind, we crunched the numbers and discovered that you can indeed afford that new coffee machine you’ve been eyeing. Enjoy.
How will you manage your tax obligations?
Fly solo or hire an accountant? Either option works
Working with an accountant makes sense, but it is not required in the early stages.
Later on, as your business expands and more money flows in and out of it—or perhaps you start employing people or renting out space—having an accountant will pay for itself.
They will know what you can claim to reduce your total tax bill, saving you a lot of time and effort when filling out tax returns.
And that’s just to get started.
How will you market your business?
Great. Time to let the world know about your business. But how will you do that?
Use social media
Social media is the cheapest and quickest way to spread the word about your online store. The most popular platforms for small businesses to build a community are Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok.
Display your product using clear, vibrant images and videos, and don’t be afraid to interact with your followers in the comments.
Share ‘Stories’ to show your followers what goes on behind the scenes, from product packaging to ‘a day in the life of’ a small business owner.
Run a print advert
When starting a new business, it’s critical to keep costs low.
Running a print ad can be costly. Depending on the publication, a quarter-page ad in a local newspaper can cost up to R2,000.
You also can’t track the success of your ad in print, unless you offer a discount code.
Spending R2,000 on paid social ads would be more effective, especially if you’re just getting started.
Jo Malone, whose name has become synonymous with luxury fragrances and candles, began her business by printing her logo on empty shopping bags and paying people the equivalent of R200 each to carry them around Knightsbridge in central London alongside their other shopping bags.
The moral of the story?
To get your brand out there, think outside the box.
It could be anything from creating exclusive, invite-only access to your product to sponsoring a podcast episode for a shoutout to a captive audience. You might want to use your brand to help local artists create a mural promoting your company.
It all depends on you and your available resources.
Let’s talk about shopping cart strategy
You must consider more than just the orders that come in. You should also keep an eye on orders that are abandoned at checkout.
Your ‘cart abandonment rate’ calculates the percentage of visitors to your website who expressed an interest in your products but either did not complete their purchase or were turned off by something on the checkout page.
This could be anything from shipping costs to a problem with the page itself, so keep an eye on this aspect of your e-commerce business.
Assume it’s a few months later and you’ve noticed a slight increase in your cart abandonment rate, all from new customers who haven’t made their first purchase yet.
What are you going to do?
Free shipping or email reminder
It’s critical to keep an eye on your analytics, especially in the early stages of your e-commerce journey.
These metrics provide a clear picture of what you need to do to keep visitors on your site engaged and guide them through the sales funnel to conversion.
In a nutshell, conversion occurs when a user completes a purchase and becomes a customer (converts).
In this case, you’ve tweaked your marketing strategy based on data, specifically the cart abandonment rate.
Email marketing is an excellent way to re-engage with both new and existing customers, whether through discounts, free shipping offers, or a gentle reminder to treat themselves to whatever is in their cart.
Because you’ll be working with a limited amount of data at first, measuring performance may be difficult. However, use the data you do have to generate actionable insights about your customer.
It’s critical to collect as much information as possible from website visitors—your most valuable resource.
Three of the most important questions you can ask are how long they spend on your site, how likely they are to buy your product, and how likely they are to become repeat customers.
Responding to them will improve your selling strategy and product offering.
Wait it out, they’ll come back
OK, if you’re sure.
Just a heads up: if your abandoned cart rate is high, it means your products are appealing, but something is going wrong at the end.
For example, it could be a high shipping fee, a lack of payment options, or a general bug on the page.
Determine what is preventing visitors from closing the deal and remove or fix it.
You’ll amass more customer data over time, allowing you to make more informed decisions about your e-commerce strategy and ensure a steady stream of returning customers.
Want to rethink your options? How about…
Congratulations, you made it
You are your own boss. Your e-commerce business is thriving, your customers are satisfied, and you’re on top of everything tax-related. What’s more, you are earning enough money each month to pay yourself a regular salary.
But now is not the time to take it easy.
Continue to delight your customers by providing the best possible experience, continue to offer great products, and stay on top of your numbers to ensure your business’s success.
You’ve got this!