How To Start A Successful Online Shop: The Ultimate Checklist

Jun 7, 2016 | Online Shop

Do you want to launch an online shop and sell your products to the world? (Voices cheering, hands clapping…). So that’s a yes? Yay! That’s so exciting, right?! Yep, it sure is, but it can feel slightly overwhelming too: “Did I forget anything?” “What do I even need ?” You know the questions I mean, the ones that feel like they come from a monster that lives way down deep where things like insecurity, unsureness and negativity come from.

Well, we don’t like very much to feed that monster. And if we don’t want to feed it when we’re embarking on a consuming journey like starting a business, there’s a few basic things we need to make sure we do to make that monster starve! So to make things simple, Ive created a checklist for you.

Whether you’re just starting to think about it, or you’ve been working hard at getting everything ready for launch day, this checklist will help make sure you have everything you need. It covers anything from business and strategy essentials to more practical aspects of actually launching your store. It includes all the key elements you need to have in place to launch and build a successful and profitable online shop.

Let’s not beat around the bush any longer and start ticking these items off the list!

This list covers anything from business and strategy essentials to more practical aspects of actually launching your store. It includes all the key elements you need to have in place to launch and build a successful and profitable online shop.
Your Ideal Customer

Do you have a clear idea of who your ideal customer is?

You probably expected the first item to be something like “pick a website platform” or “figure out your shipping costs”. I am sorry to disappoint, but knowing WHO your ideal customer is, is actually far more important.

Your ideal customer is a representation of who your potential buyers are. It is a mix of demographics (are they women? men? 25 years old? 50+?, where do they live?, etc.) and psychographics (what they like, don’t like, are trying to accomplish, etc.).

It is crazy important because it will shape your products and collections, your pricing, your marketing strategy, the look of your online shop, and much more.
Most importantly, it will help you know exactly how to reach out to your customers, how to market your products to them and how to position yourself in the marketplace.

So if you don’t have a clear image of WHO your ideal customer is, I do not recommend you start building your online store just yet. You wouldn’t do it as efficiently as possible and would probably have to undo and redo a few things down the track.

Trust me, start with defining who your ideal customer is. That’s the number one thing to figure out.

To get started, download the Ideal Customer Workbook from the free resource library.

Powerful Mission Statement + Tagline

Do you have a powerful mission statement for your online store?

A mission statement is “a short proclamation of what your business does, and why people should buy from you. It helps you clarify your goals and tells your customers what makes your business unique.

Not only it helps you become clear on what your business is all about, but it also helps your customers identify your core values which is a must if you want to have raving fans and repeat customers that will work at promoting your shop for you.

So before moving on, make sure you have a powerful mission statement for your business, and a shorter version of it that you can use as a tagline for your shop.

If you need help crafting your mission statement, I wrote an article and created a free workbook to help you do just that.

Basic Visual Identity || Logo + Palette

Do you have a basic visual identity?

You can work at building a better, stronger brand identity once your shop is up and running, but you do need to have some basics covered when you launch. This is so your shop visitors can recognize and remember you, but also to create a consistent and visually appealing experience for people browsing your shop.

If you don’t have a professional logo at this stage, don’t panic! That’s perfectly fine. You can simply pick a pretty font and type your shop’s name with it. It will work just fine for now! You simply need something for the navigation bar (aka menu) of your online shop.

Quick  tip: Text-only logos are by far the best choice to keep things elegant and professional if you’re not a professional designer. They are also really quick and easy to create. Not mentioning free (or dirty cheap if you decide top pay for a font). So don’t think that you need to have a pro designing your logo right now or that you need to spend hours doing it yourself. It does matter, but it can also wait.

Same goes for your color palette. You can make adjustments to it later but you will need a few colors to start building your store/website.

Pick a few colors and decide which one will be your accent color: the one you will use for your buttons, titles, call to action, etc.

Eg. Logo + Colors using the free font “African” || Time: 10 mns || Cost: $0

logo+palette

To get started, read this article on how to build a brand for your biz on the cheap. In the resource library you will also find the Get Brand Clarity workbook, a free Brand Memo, and a list of the best resources to help you put together a nice branding without breaking the bank. 

Minimum Viable Collection

What products will be listed on your online store when it opens?

It doesn’t matter how many products you will have when you first open your shop. You read and hear people saying “you need at least 10!” “You need like 50!”. But let me be clear: That’s horsepoop. It doesn’t matter how many products you have when you open your shop. Done is better than perfect, you can add some later. Also, I find this would be a very different number for someone selling jewelry than for someone selling say… handmade dog beds! So let’s not care too much about the number of products you have listed, but rather make sure that:

– There is a consistency among your products so your shop visitors get a clear idea of what your online shop is all about;
– You have your suppliers and sourcing sorted and your products are reproducible so that you know how much making one more unit will cost you (in time + in $)
– You products are marketable (you know who your ideal customer is and what you create is at the intersection of what people want to buy and what you can make)

Pricing

What is your pricing strategy?

Haaaaa, this is a big one. Sooo very important.
If you want to launch and grow a profitable online store… you need to price for profit.

Make sure you didn’t just throw a number down on paper because your competition is selling at that price, or because you’ve heard people say that’s what they would pay.

Make sure you got your costs calculation right and that you included:

– you raw materials costs (what it costs to buy your supplies)
– your labor costs (what it costs in hourly rates to make each product)
– your overhead (Often forgotten and so important -> they are all costs not directly related to labor or materials but necessary to run your business. This could be your insurance, your studio rent, etc.)

You also need to decide on a profit rate that is fair for your customers and for yourself and a good reflection of your product’s value.

You need to pay yourself for your work. Handmade does not mean cheap.  It seriously doesn’t. You’re opening an online store, you’re awesome, you work hard, your products are killers, please make sure you price for profit.

To get started read this article and access the free Handmade Pricing Calculator

Packaging

Do you have a professional and appealing packaging?

I am not saying that people judge a book by its cover but… everyone judges a book by its cover.

Your product packaging is the first thing your customer will see, touch, and experience. It is part of the product value, even if it goes straight to the bin once opened. It is the difference between an happy customer and a delighted customer, and therefore crucial to make sure your customers will buy again from you and tell their friends about your beautiful brand.

You don’t have to go crazy with it at first and invest in a designer if you’re just getting started, but you can do a lot with little effort and cost and show your customers that you’ve put some thoughts into it and that you care about the finishing touches.

To get started: A guide to handmade packaging and a free Workbook to create a unforgettable unboxing experience for your customers

Product Photography

Do you have professional product images to display on your online store?

Before you start your online store, you want to make sure that all your product images are bang on. They need to look professional. No colored backgrounds, no shadows, no light reflection, no weird angles.

When shopping online, people are – in a way – buying a picture. So make sure that it looks damn good and that it is an accurate representation of your product.

Product Descriptions + Titles

Do you have clear product descriptions and product titles?

For each of the products you will have listed on your website after you opened your online shop, do you have a clear product description and title?

In your description, try to talk about the end-benefits rather the features.
Eg. Don’t say “Adjustable ring” but say “This ring adjust to fit comfortably on any finger. “

For your product titles, it’s OK to have a name for each product of course, but also add in a few keywords to make browsing your online shop easier.
Eg. “Snowy Princess Pure Wool Baby Blanket” rather than just “Snowy Princess Blanket”. 

Website Copy || Content

Is the content for your homepage + about page ready?

To launch your online shop, you will need a bit of written copy for the key pages of your site that are your homepage and your about page. Write it up in advance so it’s easier to put your website/online shop together when it comes to it.

Having a powerful mission statement and a clear vision of what your business does and stand for will make this easier. If you don’t, grab your Get Brand Clarity Workbook right here. It will help you come up with a vision and story for your brand and will make writing content for your shop much easier.

Do you have a privacy policy, terms and conditions and return policy written up?

Each country has different laws, so you want to check to make sure that you have at least the legal pages required by law on your site.

Shopify has a great return policy, privacy policy and terms and conditions generator that you can use on their site! It’s worth checking out.

Contact Information

How can your customers contact you?

This one is easy! Phew 😅

How can your customers contact you if needed? Will you have a phone number for customer service ? Or a simple email address? A form on your website? What about retailers (if you have any)? What’s the best way for them to contact you?

Platform || Software

What platform will you use to sell your handmade products and build your store?

To start an online shop, you will need a shop software.

This is what will turn your website into an e-commerce site. There is plenty of options out there that you can go for. I won’t go into the specifics of each platform in this post but here are the two main options I would consider: Shopify, or Wordpress + WooCommerce.

Do some research and make sure that they have the features you need. Woocommerce generally has a plugin for anything you might need customization for, but it’s worth checking before diving in. And for Shopify, you can always talk to a advisor before signing up if you have any question.

After that, pick one and don’t look back. They’re both solid choices.

{I am currently working on a monster post to help you pick between the two. I will update this post with a link to it as soon as I publish it.}

Domain Name || Hosting || Email Address

Do you have a professional url and email address for your online store, along with an hosting plan?

I can hear you: “Booooring”. Ok, yeah, it’s not the most fun but you also can’t start an online store without it.

Grab a domain name + a hosting plan for your website, and make sure you set up a professional email address too.

Eg. You want yourname@yourdomainname.com rather than just using your myshopname@gmail.com address. It’s 100x more professional.

If you are going with WordPress, you need to buy your own hosting. Most hosting providers will give you a domain name for free, and have email hosting included in their plans. My personal favorite: Siteground (this is not an affiliate link). They offer great value and great customer service at a very affordable price point. That’s what I use for all my websites. Never regretted it.

If you go with Shopify, then the hosting is included in your plan and you can grab your domain name directly with them too. They don’t offer email hosting but you can still set up your email address to redirect to a gmail account for example.

Getting Paid

How will you accept payments on your online shop?

You need a way to accept payments on your website. In other words: a payment gateway.
Here again, I won’t go into the details of all the different options available but here are a few key points:

– Check with the platform you chose to build your store with what payment gateways they offer. Most of them will have paypal, authorize.net, or their own gateway (eg.: Shopify Payments) on offer;
– Compare the fees and charges and pick what seems to work the best for you while still offering an easy checkout experience for your customers.

Shipping

There are 3 things you need to decide on regarding shipping before opening your online store:

How much will you charge for shipping?

Will you use flat rate shipping? Table rate shipping? Is the shipping cost applied for each item? On the order total?

What shipping options will you offer to your customers?

Do you offer only local shipping or do you have international shipping options? Do you have an express shipping method and express rates?

What shipping provider will you use?

Your country’s post office system? Another private company?

Customer Service

How will you assist your customers with their purchase or order? What guarantees do you offer? You need to make sure you are doing everything you can to help and assist your customers from the beginning to the end of their shopping experience. How can they ask for assistance? Email? Phone number? Live Chat? You also want to think about the guarantees you offer: free return? free shipping over a certain amount? Delighting your customers and going out of your way to make them feel special is the best way to build loyalty and trust.

Site Design

Will you use a pre-made theme? Or hire a designer?

If you’re just starting out, I honestly recommend you use a pre-made theme. Both Shopify and Woocommerce have really pretty, well designed templates that you can set up quickly.

Some are free and some are paid but it still is much cheaper than hiring a professional designer.  You can customize these templates to suit your brand so don’t worry about looking like another store, you won’t!

Pick one, and start with that. You can always adjust your design later on. Remember, once again: done is better than perfect.

Help + Maintenance

Who will keep the website up to date? Who will you ask if you need help?

No one talks about this bit, but having an online store requires some maintenance. If you’re not comfortable updating your website, adding and removing products, changing images when a new collection comes out, etc.. You might need to consider hiring some help.

Tax + Accounting

What shipping options will you offer to your customers?

You need to check out your country’s laws to see what type of tax needs to be applied to your products (or if your products are exempt of tax), how much should your customer be charged in sales tax, etc.

You should also know what system you will use for keeping on top of your accounting.

At first, if you’re the organized type and know how to do it yourself, you might be able to keep track of sales and record everything yourself. But as you grow – or if you really don’t know how to do it yourself – you can also look at options such as Freshbooks or even StitchLabs to track your inventory, sales, profit… and save a ton of time when tax time arrives!

The next step: Your marketing plan

How will you bring traffic to your site and turn your visitors into customers?

Congrats! You made it! You’re probably tired and so happy that you finally reached the end of this checklist. You are about to start your online shop and you’ve got everything you need for it to be a successful one. That’s awesome!

I don’t want to kill the good vibes, so I’ll keep this last item for another post but just remember that this is just the beginning. Sadly there is no “build it and they will come”. All the efforts you’ve put into creating your beautiful handmade products and setting up your shop are worth nothing if you don’t get traffic to your site, and if you don’t turn these visitors into buyers.

Your next step: crafting a kickass marketing plan to promote your handmade products to your target market and get some sales in!

I hope this checklist helped you see a bit more clearly what key elements you need to have in place and/or figured out if you are about to start an online shop!

Don’t forget that you can download this checklist in the resource library right here, and if you need any help at all, feel free to ask me anything in the comments!

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3 Comments

  1. assessoria digital

    It’s a pity you don’t have a donate button! I’d most certainly
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    Reply
  2. Shaun

    Thanks for the great article, really helpful.

    In the tax+accounting section I think that you’ve got a copy/paste error in the title question

    Reply

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