How to launch an ecommerce business in 30 days

Kyles note: Allen Burt has been working with ecommerce for years. We invited him to share some advice on how to launch an ecommerce business quickly. He has create a nice playbook with the essential steps to get momentum in your first month. Over to Allen:

Getting started in ecommerce is easier than it used to be. Today, you can successfully launch an online retail company by utilizing open source platforms and some smart marketing in the same time it takes to complete a season of House of Cards. (If you’re an extreme binge-watcher, you ruin our metaphor.) Compare this to 10 years ago, when launching an ecommerce “dot com” required millions in funding and 10-24 months to simply build a webstore.

However, while the availability of technology has made it easier than ever, your success depends highly on your strategy before launching.

“A 30 day guide to launching an ecommerce business with momentum – via @allenburt @WPCurve goo.gl/Y5ogbi” (click to tweet).

In a prior life, I was the founder and CEO of an ecommerce startup in the travel industry. This post details my strategy for gaining early traction, and how I converted early traffic to my first paying customers.

ecommerce launch

Before we dive into the strategic plan, let me provide a little background. My company, Offmap.com, was an online adventure travel company that sold independent dream vacations. We were able to price our vacations at 70% less than the major travel companies by using mobile e-guides instead of human, megaphone-carrying tour guides. We partnered with guide book writers and local tour companies to build the products, and then sold them our our ecommerce site.

The strategy outlined below, for launching an ecommerce business in 30 days, assumes you already have a product ready to sell and have your suppliers locked up and ready to go on launch day.

Weeks 1 & 2

The first two weeks of your 30-day build hold very important decisions, and are the most crucial days of this process. Below, we’ll look at 5 steps to make the best platform choice and lay out a strong marketing foundation.

Choosing an ecommerce platform

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The heart and soul of your business is your technology platform. It is the cornerstone of your user experience, business operations, and ability to sell a product. You MUST get this decision right.

The good news? There are a number of fantastic platform options available for all business models and levels of technical skill.

For Offmap, we decided to build our business on the Magento platform, which is an open source ecommerce platform built in PHP. However, if I had to make the decision all over again I would choose WooCommerce [a WordPress plugin] or Spree Commerce – both are open source platforms, and far less complex than Magento.

As you begin to compare platforms, here are the critical questions you want to ask yourself:

  • How complex is my business model? Do we require large customizations to a platform, or will an “out of the box” solution cover our needs?
  • What technical and design resources do I have that I can use to customize my site?
  • Do I have an internal team complete the work, or do I have the funding to hire an expert firm?

Options like WooCommerce provide great templates that beginners or non-techies can start to customize. More robust solutions like Spree Commerce offer more power, but require a developer’s touch to implement. Being a startup, Offmap had no internal development team and a limited budget when it came time to pay for engineering talent. We dedicated too many of our resources to Magento, and in hindsight we should have implemented a simpler solution like WooCommerce.

TIP: Think “Minimum Viable Product”. Don’t aim for the moon with your first product launch. You need the simplest solution that will get your products into the hands of customers fast. There is always room to improve and build a more complex site.

Spend as many hours as humanly possible during this first week to research and compare ecommerce platforms. Compare your research with your business:

  • Will it work with your budget?
  • Will scaling the platform be expensive due to its complexity?
  • What happens if you need to customize a feature?
  • Can you find available programmers easily? Affordably?

The first few days should be spent in intense research mode. This decision can make or break your ecommerce success. Once you’ve made a decision, you’re ready to begin strategizing.

Define your target market and your marketing channels

If your platform is the heart and soul of your business, then think of your marketing channels as the breath of air you need to stay alive. An ecommerce business can’t exist without customers, and the only way to obtain customers is to begin to acquire traffic.

Before you can decide how to attract your early customers, you must clearly define who those customers are. You may have heard the marketing term “customer profiles” or “personas”. This is a practice which helps you clarify your target market. Write out a description describing an actual customer you would expect to purchase your product. For Offmap, we defined our target customer as Steve:

“Steve is a 27 year old, young professional who is considers himself an ‘adventure traveler’. He makes over $50,000 a year and takes at least one vacation per year. He typically travels with 1 or 2 good friends, but will also go solo. When asked to choose his top destinations, his answers include places such as Peru, Costa Rica and Argentina (not Florida, Disneyland, or New York City). Steve hates traveling with “tour groups”, and prides himself on discovering hidden gems. While he would love to travel for weeks at a time, Steve typically can only travel for 10 days or less.”

Detailed customer stories, like the above, help you and your team better define the channels you should be targeting. For example, we chose outlets like Outside Magazine, instead of Travel & Leisure, to focus our PR efforts. Steve would read Outside Magazine. He wouldn’t be caught dead flipping through Travel & Leisure.

Once you are able to define your target customer, then it’s time to determine your precise marketing channels. Choose a few specific channels, and then develop a checklist to make sure you have everything you need in order to support these channels. Here are the marketing channels I developed for Offmap at launch, and the ones I recommend you begin with as well:

Get started with content marketing

Today, content marketing is on the lips of (what seems like) every business owner. With Offmap, generating unique, valuable content was a part of our strategy. It’s important for your audience to find all of your content worthwhile, distinctive, and contextual. Content marketing is undoubtedly the best way for you to get your business in front of new eyes, and the channels that are available to you are numerous: blogs, Instagram, email marketing, Periscope, Meerkat, LinkedIn, and many more.

Once you’ve identified your “Steve” (target customer), it should be easy for you to tailor your content to the channels you’ve identified for your content marketing strategy. Just remember, context is key. Create content appropriate for each channel.

At Offmap, I used a “homegrown” spreadsheet in which I identified:

  • Each content channel I intended on using
  • What the goal of each channel was
  • What was needed in order to activate this channel

Content marketing can be the most powerful channel in your arsenal, if it is well-executed. By building a content creation strategy, you begin thinking about who will view your content and how they will access it.

Related: The WP Curve content strategy, and how to build your own.

Land early PR

The strongest channel for Offmap ended up being off-page content in the form of PR. Though nobody had heard of my company before, I was able to land some great startup press and leveraged it to accelerate early traffic. You can read more about how I got my company featured in WIRED and the LA Times here.

Of course, social media has changed the game since I created my first content strategy for Offmap, but many of my initiatives still hold true. For a good example of a strategy spreadsheet, check out this one by Neil Patel and the Quicksprout team.

Identify one element with viral-potential

Building viral plugs into your business is an excellent source of traffic generation, although it can get very tricky if not executed correctly. Identify something about your company that has a “viral” element. If you can nail this element, you can see outrageous growth in a very short period of time.

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At Offmap, I decided to allow limited access to our travel packages at launch. By doing this, I was able to incentivize early registrants to get instant access by sharing Offmap. If the user was able to share Offmap via social media and get two people to also sign up, they could access our travel packages. Once two of the user’s social connections signed up, I also built some sharing milestones to further incentivize them:

  • Signup 5 friends, get 25% off
  • Signup 10 friends, get 50% off
  • Signup 15 friends, you’re entered to win a free trip. The Winner was pulled from a hat each month.

Furthermore, I focused on generating these signups through unique links from our early PR. This accomplished two things for Offmap: first, we were able to receive more press because we were offering something totally unique to that publisher. Second, the user who signed up via those publications gained immediate access. The users who signed up on their own were placed on the waiting list and could only unlock via sharing.

This strategy may not be applicable for your business, but you can identify some element of your ecommerce that has sharing-potential. Think of ways to put this sharing into action. What helped me decide on this strategy was my brainstorming with travelers and people who were avid social media users. Gaining insight into the process behind a person’s choice to share something via social media was very influential in the way Offmap functioned upon launch.

Weeks 3 & 4

By the end of week 2, you should feel confident that you have your foundation ready for launch. In weeks 3 and 4 you should begin talking about your business, double-checking that everything works, and implementing efficiency tools. Let’s look at 5 steps for finishing up your site and solidifying your strategy:

Begin outreach

If you have identified off-page content efforts in your content creation strategy, now is the time to start reaching out to those influencers or publishers. These relationships take some time to nurture, so you should start on them as soon as you have your strategy complete.

Many new business owners feel intimidated in reaching out to publishers or influential people. I did my research and developed a strategy for getting early PR. My best advice for beginning outreach is to remember your “Steve” (customer profile), and be well-prepared with your pitch. You’ll be surprised at the opportunities you can land.

Refine your website functionality

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Within the third week of this 30-day process, you should make sure that your website functions well. Are your blog posts easily shareable? Does your site look OK on mobile (57% of users say they won’t recommend a business with a poorly-designed mobile site)? Clean up and refine your site as best you can before you begin driving traffic to it.

Leverage your personal network

With any startup, leveraging your personal network is a no-brainer. Though you haven’t launched yet, you should absolutely be drawing attention to your business through your personal connections. Is your business B2B? Publish a teaser-post on LinkedIn. Is your company B2C? Look to your personal platforms: decide which gets the most attention, and start prepping it for your launch.

Because social shareability was an important part of our growth strategy at Offmap, I used my personal Facebook platform to begin generating buzz before we “officially” launched. I offered my network early access to the platform, which encouraged early traction from my personal network and in turn was a catalyst for Offmap’s first customers.

Leverage available tools

You’ll need all the help you can get to achieve this in a 30-day window, but it can be done. The key is developing a strategy and being smart about how you utilize your time. To make sure you are being the most efficient with your efforts, here are a few tools I recommend:

  • Trello: Project management and product management. We use Trello internally for all of our client ecommerce projects to track new feature builds. Here’s a great article by WP Curve on how to better utilize Trello.
  • Slack: Internal communication and chat tool. Perfect if building with a remote team.
  • Evernote: Great notebooks with lists of publications to pitch for PR, guest blog posts, or partnerships. I use Evernote as my external brain!

Seek Advice

This is by far the most important step of the entire 30-day process: seek the advice of someone who has attempted what you’re trying to do. Find this person. Ask them questions. Ask them for help.

Remember, seeking advice is important, but also remember to never lose sight of your vision.

I hope this post offers some tangible advice to guide you in your ecommerce launch. To read more about the ecommerce company I launched, check out this blog post on what happened when Offmap was set to be acquired.

Good luck! You can reach out to me with questions about your ecommerce via Twitter @allenburt.

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About

Allen is the CEO at Bluestout.com, a digital product agency that creates stunning websites and apps for e-commerce, start-ups, and growing brands.

11 responses to “How to launch an ecommerce business in 30 days”

  1. Hi Allen Burt,

    Now a days, everyone are looking for an alternative to make money online. You have shared complete guide to lauch an eCommerce business website successfully.

    It is very helpful for many people.

    Regards,
    Jyoti

  2. Allen Burt says:

    Jyoti,

    Thanks you for the comment and I’m glad that you found this guide to be helpful. Hopefully you can apply some of these tactics to your own business.

    Allen

  3. Chiazor Ezenna says:

    Hi Allen,
    Nice and informative. I really liked how you broke the whole process down. It made it easy to understand and will make for good implementation.
    I have a couple of questions I want to ask.
    How can these strategies work when trying to start on little or no budget at all?
    What else does one need to know when using an online marketplace (like konga – a nigerian online marketplace),instead of ones own platform, and when one wants to sell inventories online on a kind of consignment basis?

  4. Guest says:

    They’re ordinary pyramid schemes, aren’t they? OffMap was an EpicFailure, otherwise it would still be in business. Why then would you follow this advice?

  5. Guest says:

    OffMap was an EpicFailure, otherwise it would still be in business. Why then would you follow this advice?

  6. Allen Burt says:

    Chiazor,

    Thanks the comment. Great questions.

    All the the marketing strategies are relevant regardless of budget, as they just require a little hustle and dedicated time committed by yourself. The platform development can be a costly endeavor, however with pre-built ecommerce templates from WooCommerce, the cost be brought way down.

    I think consignment can be a great business, but it all depends on your ability to negotiate the supplier contracts. The marketing plan outlined above works for any online ecommerce business. Same goes for building a site on a marketplace.

    Thanks!

  7. Scott Walsh says:

    This is such a helpful guide for web developer to develop a valuable eCommerce website within a month. Generally, client is very much curious about their website and that is why developers should take some fast and smart steps to complete the task within a time period.

  8. Glen Michael says:

    Hi Allen

    Very interesting read and helpful advice I can pass on to my clients by sharing this with them. I have a question though, how did you setup the incentives with Offmap? What this custom development or an available tool?

    Thanks
    Glen

  9. Allen Burt says:

    Hey Glen,

    We did it through custom development. However, I do know there there are some 3rd party companies and scripts that do that work for you now. When we lauched a few years ago, those were not options.

  10. Webnexs says:

    Hello Allen Burt,
    Such a wonderful article, Today ecommerce builder are trying to provider instantly in almost no time. developers are hard in makeing the delivery of ecommerce within just few minutes that too automatically. In my view developing eCommerce stores within 30days is not a big deal.
    Thanks
    webnexs

  11. Annie Smith says:

    Get your eCommerce website ready within just 7 days. View more details here: goo.gl/jAanlM

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