How to set up a fully functioning online store with no up front costs

How to setup an online store for no up front cost

We spend a lot of time expounding on the virtues of living a location independent lifestyle and setting up an entrepreneurial venture. Earlier this month I covered the concept of writing/blogging for a living, but that clearly isn’t for everyone. Selling products online is yet another option that can allow you to have your own business and live a location independent lifestyle, which I believe is really key in controlling your own destiny. Owning 100% of your own time is far more liberating than making lots money while working for somebody else. Even CEOs of publicly traded companies are owned by the board of directors and the shareholders in many ways.

This tutorial assumes that already have something in mind to sell and that you have product photos and descriptions, if not, you’re going to need to head back to the drawing board and figure that out first. It would likely be advantageous, although not mandatory, to have already set up some kind of legal entity such as an LLC in the US or whatever it’s foreign equivalent is where you have chosen to be based. There are a lot of people out there that have plenty of business sense but are intimidated by IT and are easily scammed by incompetent Indian outsourcing shops or outrageously over priced design firms: This guide is for those people! Sure, if you have a business that’s making millions per year online, you may want drop five or even six figures on IT pros and a unique, custom design, but none of that is necessary to get started.

Step 1: Setup a Shopify Account

There are other options out there of course, but Shopify is what I’m familiar with so that’s what I recommend for beginners. You can get a two week free trial, they support a plethora of payment processors, they have both free and paid themes to choose from; everything is basically turnkey. Their payment processing solution, Shopify Payments, works well and is a relatively low cost solution for US and Canada based businesses. If for whatever you reason you don’t want to use Shopify, other popular choices are Weebly, BigCommerce, Volusion and Miva Merchant as well as other many smaller players. I have no experience with these other options, but in the interests of being unbiased, I want you to know that they exist.

Step 2: Setup a Payment Processing Solution

If you’re based in the US or Canada go for Shopify Payments, it’s quick and easy to setup, it offers competitive rates if you aren’t doing tons of business and it’s totally turn key. If you’re international, setup a PayPal account. I really hate to recommend Paypal since they are such a bunch of price gouging scumbags, however, it is free and easy to setup. Later you will want to comparison shop to find the best, lowest total cost, payment processing solution you can find that covers the location where your business is based. Unfortunately, many payment processing solutions are extremely painful to setup requiring long, inefficient application processes as well as noisy and intrusive demands for documentation. You’ll want to make sure you find out what all the hidden fees are as merchant accounts are notorious for having setup fees, monthly fees, annual fees, minimum sales volumes and so on. Shopify Payments has none of that, thankfully. RBS WorldPay is good example of who not to use as evidenced by their Yelp ratings. Use PayPal or Shopify Payments only to cover you while you’re doing your homework, but make sure you do it, your payment processor takes percentage based bite out of your sales. You may find that as a small business you cannot beat the rates offered by Shopify Payments, but unless you are operating out of the back of pickup truck in Nigeria, it should be easy to beat PayPal.

Step 3 (Optional): Setup BitPay

Depending on what you’re selling, it may not be particularly likely that you will land any Bitcoin sales, but BitPay is extremely quick, easy and free to setup.

Step 4 (Optional): Register a Domain

This is the only thing on the list that will cost you any up front money front but it’s highly recommended. Without your own domain, you’ll be forced to operate from instead of Bite the bullet and spend the $11 or whatever it is and you’ll be glad you did later. I don’t have any particular affinity for any particular domain registrar, GoDaddy works fine but I don’t think any one company is any better than any other. You can also just buy your domain through Shopify. After registering your domain follow Shopify’s instructions on domain setup.

Step 5: Load your Products

Adding products to Shopify is pretty much as easy as adding a blog post to WordPress. Follow along with the video tutorial below.

Step 6 (Optional): Setup Shipwire

If you sell physical products and you don’t want to handle them yourself Shipwire is your goto company for warehousing and shipping of your products. You could also try drop shipping but margins are often much thinner on drop shipped products than those that you fulfill yourself. Shipwire also directly integrates with Shopify via a “Shopify App”. They have warehouses in multiple major cities and they ship internationally. Their customer service is not always the best but they are better than most large companies in my experience. Amazon also offers this service but I have had nightmare experiences that could fill volumes with them. Long story short, Amazon is a company that has outsourced all aspects of customer interaction and you can expect illiterate Indians that can’t or won’t help you with your problems; this is not a position you want to be in with a company that may be handling thousands of dollars of worth of your inventory. Webgistix is another player that I haven’t tried but does have Shopify integration.

Congratulations, you’re now the proud owner of a fully functional, e-commerce web store. That wasn’t so hard was it? Sure beats paying $10K+ to some “design firm” or a few hundred dollars to some Indian idiot that will leave you with nothing but wasted time and a completely useless, broken website.

Now it’s time to promote your products! Although mostly based on earning money by selling books, you may find that Matt Forney’s book, “Confessions of an Online Hustler,” also contains useful information about affiliate programs and product promotion that is relevant to physical products as well. For example, it never hurts to build bridges with bloggers that deal with the niche your products are in. Sending them a freebee in exchange for coverage of what you are offering is one of many popular tactics, along with establishing an affiliate program to encourage others to promote what you are selling. This is a topic that will be covered in more detail in future posts. Good luck in all your endeavors, online and otherwise!

Disclaimer: Yes we earn a commission if you sign up for one of the stores above, but no it doesn’t cost you any extra. We only recommend things that we have tried and tested ourselves.

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