Starting an Ecommerce Store: Branding and Beyond

Welcome to the final installment of my three part series on starting your own ecommerce store from scratch. In case you missed them, you can go back and learn about preparing your products to go online in Part One, or figure out the important business details in Part Two: Logistics & Legalities. Or simply read on for the final piece of the puzzle...

Part Three: Branding & Beyond

Now as you will see, my points to consider when setting up shop have not been presented chronologically! Instead I’ve  grouped tasks and considerations by themes to give each point more context, but it does mean I should point out that your branding will naturally have been considered by the time you are working on your packaging, since that packaging should probably display your logo!

But your brand is much more than your logo.

09. Decide on your branding

So we’re assuming at this stage you probably already have a logo of some kind. And if you went with a $50 “placeholder” logo (hey, no judgement here, I get that not everyone has big bucks to spend on design!) that’s probably as much thought as you’ve given to your branding.

One of the benefits of going to a professional designer and paying $1000+ for the privilege is that your designer will force you to think about your brand in ways you might not have considered before. It’s why, so long as the branding exercises have actually been completed, you can totally spot the difference between a professionally designed brand and an amateur job.

Because it’s not just about the design.

Your $50 logo may look really good – I’ve been surprised myself at how high the standard can be from places like Envato Studio or Fiverrr. (It can also be terrible, so do keep an eye out!)

But like I said, your brand is much more than your logo. It’s the personality at the core of your business. Your logo, is merely one element of a brand design that should encompass things like your website, email layouts, social media banners, product packaging, and so on – basically any visual element that your customers will be coming into contact with.

And your brand design, is still only one element of your brand. We don’t judge someone’s personality based solely on their appearance. Their looks will totally feed into our impressions of them, but so will the way they speak and act.

The same goes for your brand. Things like your language will definitely feed into your customer’s perception of your overall brand – we touched on this point briefly when discussing your product descriptions, but I want to emphasise that your language should be consistent with everything else about your business.

And naturally, so should your actions. If your point of difference is that you truly care about your customers – show them that. Make customer care the focus of your business, or your “branding” will be entirely wasted. If reliability is one of your core characteristics, then everything you do needs to reflect that – no commitments to crazy shipping deadlines you can’t keep, and ensure customers are kept informed about every stage of their purchase.

10. Decide on your marketing strategies

I cannot tell you how thrown I am, every time I’m talking with a client about their new website, and they tell me they haven’t really given much thought to marketing yet. I shouldn’t be at this stage, since it’s actually really common amongst first time store owners, but trust me – your new online store has a much higher chance of success if you take the time to figure out marketing first.

You don’t need to get into the minutiae just yet, like figuring the exact copy of your ads or all the details of your launch campaign, but a broad idea is definitely helpful. Here’s why:

You’ve already figured out your brand at this stage, so you know your point of difference. And here’s where if you’re struggling to decide on marketing channels that would be perfect for your brand, I highly recommend you speak to a consultant. This isn’t a plug for my services, it’s just common sense.

Not everyone is a natural marketer, and even if you are, there are a lot of options to choose from. “Social Media” is often described as one channel, but there’s an almost infinite number of options to choose from even if you think the social element is going to be a big part of your brand.

Even if you’ve narrowed it down to just “Facebook” that still leaves plenty of options – how important will paid ads be? Do you plan to market via your page, or will you set up a group to talk more intimately with your followers? Or will Facebook be more of an “event hub” for your business, with the real “behind the scenes” stuff shared on Instagram instead?

And I’m barely getting started – there’s also options like organic search (i.e. SEO), paid search (those sponsored ads at the top of search results), display (banner ads on other websites), retargeting (really clever banner ads that will only display for  your customers on other websites they visit), email marketing (that for some reason everyone keeps thinking is dead, when actually done right it’s one of the more effective options) referrals and affiliate programs, and so on.

So seriously, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, spend the $100 or whatever and ask someone’s advice on this. It is far more sensible than spending $1000’s on the wrong channel.

11. Pick a platform

I’ve gone into detail about this topic before, so I won’t start repeating myself now. I’ll just summarise what you need to think about, and first and foremost, that’s your budget for ongoing maintenance, updates, and (hopefully!) adding new content and features, and growing your website.

Do not pretend that no budget is required. DIY is an option of course, but then you need to budget time. A lot of it, depending on the platform on you’ve chosen, and time will be at a premium for you if you are running this by yourself. And there are still likely to be costs involved – paid add-ons, hosting, your domain names, your email accounts, etc. all without getting into things like your checkout fees and other sales-related costs.

There’ll be other considerations of course, like how easy you find a particular platform to work with (that’s why I offer everyone a free look at Shopify, because I’ve not come across an easier platform to use yet), and how flexible it is regarding features like the marketing strategies you plan on implementing.

12. Pick a team

This is one thing I have to remind a lot of the entrepreneurs I work with: no matter how broad your skill set, you still can’t do everything yourself. Frankly, you’ll run yourself ragged if you’re not only making or sourcing products, but also photographing them, writing website and marketing copy, promoting your store on social media, handling the website admin and updates, plus dealing with all the general business administration, like accounts, billing and emails.

You can totally do this for a little while, but keep in mind, this is not sustainable.

And don’t underestimate the time it takes to find a good team of people to work with. This one threw me too; in the agencies and brands I’d worked for previously, I’d always been surrounded by talented, hard-working men and women who loved their jobs and put all of their creative energy into it. I’d sort of taken it for granted that anyone who works for  themselves or in a creative field would be that type of person.

I was wrong – and had probably underestimated a boss or two along the way (although some I firmly maintain were just really, really lucky.). Finding the right people to work with you takes time, and you’ll almost certainly make a few mistakes when hiring before you find the perfect fit – I did!

That’s time that you just might not have when you suddenly find yourself swamped with orders and struggling under a mountain of urgent tasks. So even if you’re planning on keeping costs low and doing as much as you can yourself to start with, you should still be thinking about (and budgeting for!) a team of your own eventually.

What you outsource (admin tasks, marketing, website updates) as well as how (hiring a remote freelancer as needed, hiring someone to work in house, outsourcing things like shipping) will really depend on you and your needs. Looking at yourself objectively and assessing your own skills and weaknesses is not easy, and nor is giving up tasks you may actually enjoy doing: making those social media graphics for example can be fun, but is it a valuable use of your time?

Or would you be better off making business connections and going to events to promote your products, and just hiring a designer to churn out graphics in half the time? These are kinds of questions you’re going to have to ask yourself time and time again.

The Final Wrap Up

If these articles have inspired you, and you’re ready to crack on and start making your business idea a reality, then congratulations! Running your own business is very hard, but it’s also fantastically rewarding.

With all these points to consider, don’t forget about the most important part of your business, which is you. Entrepreneurs, particularly solo business owners or freelancers, are a high risk group for things like burnout, depression, loneliness and anxiety. I’ve experienced all those things personally, and so have most business owners I know.

That’s why taking care of yourself is important. Your business will survive a few mistakes, but it won’t go on without you!