Small Business & Startups

Start An Online Store For Less Than $200

So many people I speak with have that great idea for an online store spinning around inside their head, but it never gets realised because of the perceived roadblocks to getting up and running. The tools for aspiring entrepreneurs that have evolved over the past few years have made it possible for anyone to start an online business with just a few hundred dollars in initial investment. The information below is based on my experience over the last four months taking the online store for men Details by Sven from an idea in my head to a profitable online business.

Picture by Keystone/Getty Images

What Are You Going To Sell?

The safest way to make money is to have something to sell. This why ecommerce is a great starting point for someone who wants to take that first step towards building their own business; you don’t have to grow to a million users before being able to monetise. If you can sell something from day 1, you have a good chance of being profitable.

Some things to consider when choosing what to sell:

  • Will you manufacture your own product or retail other’s products? Whilst you can find cheap manufacturers through a service like Alibaba.com, we decided that we would prefer to handpick a collection of unique and well-designed Australian gifts and accessories for men and offer these products as an online retailer.
  • Digital or physical products? The larger the product you wish to sell, the harder it will be to ship. If you can create a digital product, such as an ebook, your costs will remain close to zero.
  • Dropship or warehouse? If you choose a physical product, you don’t necessarily have to touch the product. If you are retailing other people’s products they may allow you to work a dropship model, whereby you generate orders on your store’s website but the product manufacturers/designers take care of fulfilment to the customer. This model has worked best for me, and allowed Details by Sven to begin selling with no upfront purchasing costs.

Build Your Online Store

Gone are the days of having to pay thousands of dollars to a web design company to put together your online store. With a platform like Shopify you can be up and running with a professional looking online store within hours, and all for a basic cost of $29 per month. Other great aspects of using Shopify include that you get the first month free, you don’t need any coding skills, it’s easy to scale ($29 a month gets you 100 products), and there are beautifully-designed templates on offer. (Details by Sven uses the $140 Reign theme.)

There are also lots of handy third party integrations you can take advantage of with Shopify to ensure your store is running smoothly, including PayPal (which handles payments easily, though you’ll pay a small cut of your transactions) and Shipwire (which will stock and ship your products if you choose to manufacture your own.)

Shopify has worked well for us, but there are other services out there with similar features. The key point is that building your own system from scratch makes no sense.

Get Ready To Trade

The most basic requirements required to start trading also cost very little:

  • Register your business: This can all be done online in under 15 minutes, and cost us $30.
  • Register a domain and open some email accounts: We used GoDaddy, with a first year expense of $14
  • Hosting: came free as part of a Shopify account

Acquiring Customers

There are several ways to start building a passionate community around your store, and all of them require nothing but some hard work and persistence. Here is what has worked well for Details by Sven so far:

  • Start a Facebook page: Start attracting likes by promoting your store to friends and family and actively engaging with other pages and your own fans as you grow.
  • Open a Twitter account: Start following others and build your own following to promote your products.
  • Mailchimp: You can start with a free account to begin a simple email newsletter to your store’s subscribers. Keep customers informed of new product offers and other promotions.
  • Connect with bloggers: Try to identify where your ideal customers spend time online and reach out to those blogs/sites and offer to help them in some way. More often than not they’ll be happy to plug your site in return.
  • Google Analytics is a great tool to measure your site’s traffic and the percentage of people who are making purchases — and it’s entirely free
  • .

What Are You Waiting For?

Whilst it certainly isn’t easy to generate a perfect idea that finds a profitable niche and solves a problem for the market, it has never been easier to take your idea and test it in the marketplace by taking advantage of the amazing tools now available. Details by Sven was live and generating revenue after four weeks and less than $200 upfront costs. Whilst there is a long road ahead to become an established business that generates six figures, we can continue to experiment and grow into a perfectly viable lifestyle business. For a $200 investment, that’s not a bad outcome.

Entrepeneur Luke Ryan is the co-founder of Details by Sven.