Can I start an eCommerce business with little to no money? Bootstrapping in eCommerce
Running a successful eCommerce business is a dream come true for many people. However, most of them will most likely never even attempt to actually start one. One of the reasons is the perceived difficulty of getting into this billion-dollar industry. But the truth is that starting up in eCommerce has never been as easy as it is now. You can even get by with little to no money. Heck, it may even be an advantage early on! How? Let’s find out.
Did you know that in 2015 retail eCommerce sales worldwide totaled $1.5 trillion? Seems like a lot, huh? But luckily for small time entrepreneurs, the industry isn’t only growing in size. It’s also getting more and more varied, constantly spawning new niches and ways to make the entire endeavor easier for both the seller and the buyer. It’s come to the point that a substantial amount of money is not required to take the first step in this world. Before we explain how you can bootstrap your way into eCommerce, you have to answer another important question for yourself.
Should I start an eCommerce business?
Make no mistake. Just about anyone who comes up with an eCommerce startup idea thinks they have just hit the jackpot – “if only I could get this to work, I would be very well on my way to becoming a millionaire.” But is there really a demand for whatever you’re planning to sell? The best way to find that out is through pre-selling. Are you able to find at least a dozen people ready to buy your product before it’s even made? If you can, there is a good chance that people truly want your stuff. If you can’t, perhaps you should change something about your idea. Few know that budding entrepreneurs that don’t have substantial funds are less likely to fail precisely thanks to pre-selling. Since they can’t go on a spending spree from the get-go, they don’t miss any steps and test their idea slowly.
If you have already passed the test with flying colors, you can get busy mastering bootstrapping, that is, the art of getting things done with next to no money. And here comes another crucial question for you to ask yourself.
Kickstarter and other crowdfunding sites are a great way to test your product through pre-selling
Do I need a website at all?
If you don’t know much about eCommerce, especially about promoting your store online, it might be a good idea to consider platforms such as eBay (eBay Seller Centre), Amazon (Fulfilment By Amazon), Etsy or Snapdeal instead. This way, you can easily list your products online and tap into the invaluable customer base of those popular marketplaces. On the other hand, you will have to pay various fees and commissions. Your flexibility in terms of branding and functionality will also be extremely limited. Still, it is a great deal for an individual who doesn’t have any plans to grow their eCommerce activity or as an extension of an actual eCommerce website. Speaking of which,…
… what constitutes an eCommerce website?
The one thing that sets eCommerce websites apart is the fact that they allow their visitors to view products and buy them. It usually involves a shopping cart solution, complete with payment and delivery options. This apparent truism teaches one very important lesson – it really doesn’t take much to get an eCommerce website. It may not be necessarily perfect UX-wise or particularly appealing, but it may still work. Popular choices include the WooCommerce plugin, which allows you to turn a self-hosted WordPress website into a simple eCommerce store.
Now, let’s assume that you do have basic coding skills and the will to build a simple eCommerce solution yourself. The goal is to make a working eCommerce solution – slowly, over time and without any sort of scalability in consideration. Also, let’s try to minimize the costs as much as it’s virtually possible.
WooCommerce is the most popular way to create a WordPress-based online store
Bootstrapping the extreme way… manual automation
To achieve that, you will need to complete several tasks:
- Build a simple website armed in an eCommerce capability (some WooCommerce themes may even be available completely free of charge). It should be able to handle several dozen visitors a day.
- Get your products ready and list them appropriately, keeping SKUs and other information up to date.
- Run a database that stores all of your orders.
- If you get your products from external sellers, you need to account for the time it will take you to contact them manually to place each order and ask them to ship it (if you dropship).
- Ensure payment delivery (there are many possible integrations for all eCommerce platforms).
- Account for things such as returns, customer complaints etc.
If you successfully deal with all of those tasks, you might be able to run a small online store by yourself. But prepare for not having much time for anything else. Now, if you want to do most of the things yourself, but value your time a bit more, you can go for SaaS solutions.
SaaS eCommerce platforms – advantages and disadvantages
SaaS (software as a service) eCommerce platforms such as Shopify or BigCommerce are yet another way forward for those on a budget. Setting up a simple store is straightforward and requires no coding skills. The big disadvantage is the presence of fees that usually persist regardless of how well your store is doing. Furthermore, the customization of a SaaS-based store is limited. Remember that if you choose an eCommerce platform like this over, say, eBay, you need to have a plan of how you will get customers to visit your website. Without substantial funds, it may a daunting task. For standalone shops, it is proper marketing that will often make or break your business. The less comfortable you are with it and the less interested in ever scaling your business, the more you should consider big marketplaces with an already established online presence and audience.
A fully dedicated eCommerce solution
The above are some of the most typical options for budding online entrepreneurs who want to start their eCommerce journey. They are suitable for testing your solution. They may also be perfect for small time owners who don’t plan to expand their business and are content with selling a limited number of products part-time. However, if you do plan to scale, it is highly recommended that you choose a fully dedicated eCommerce solution such as a self-hosted Magento-based website. A solution like this:
- gives you infinite customization possibilities;
- can run effectively no matter how big your store is – you won’t ever need to migrate your entire store just because you’re doing too well;
- makes you much more independent – there is no one that can change your fees or the way your store works without your permission.
Of course, since it’s a solution that requires more money, you should definitely exhaust other methods beforehand, at least to the extent it’s necessary to confirm that your business idea is worth spending money on.
With Magento, developers can create for you a fully dedicated, scalable and endlessly extendable solution
Polcode is a Polish software house that develops dedicated eCommerce solutions. If you are ready to turn your idea into an efficient and fully scalable Magento store, don’t hesitate to contact us.