“Open a dropshipping store” they said. “Start selling in minutes” they said. Blog post after blog post I read, detailing the seemingly effortless steps to creating and launching an online store. I soaked up the information like a Chux paper towel, thirsty for reassurance that the investment of time and money would be worth it. There were hundreds of blog articles offering step by step instructions on how to set up shop, claiming that if you were willing to put just a little bit of effort into it, you would be up and running and making thousands in no time. To a desperate single mum of 5, this was the inticing sugary treat I was looking for. See I was determined, to find a way to make an income working from home, something that I could do on my own time schedule, around the little ones that were still at home, causing beautiful chaos every minute they are awake. I was motivated and willing to work every spare second I could find and then some, but would it be enough?
Now I’m not going to pretend this is a “how-to” article as I don’t believe I’ve yet reached the entrepreneurial height of e-commerce expert, so I’ll leave the advice part to more seasoned professionals. This is more an adventure story of how one online store newbie set up a functioning shop to sell the things she loved.
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Setting Up Shop
So creating an account with Shopify was the simple part, they have such an easy to use interface and their tutorials and help centre are amazing at making it smooth sailing to create and launch a store. I started with the free 14-day trial to see exactly how easy it would be and to my delight, there were helpful steps and instructions all along the way. They have a good range of free templates which are more than adequate for a new store but I found some cool templates for a small fee that I’d love to apply at a later stage.
Now my plan had always been to dropship products, dropshipping is when you go through a manufacturer or wholesaler to add their products to your site and when a customer buys the product, the wholesaler or manufacturer sends the product to your customer directly so you have no need to keep inventory at your home or waste time on packaging and posting. You pay a lower amount to your supplier than you charge your customer and keep the profit. Sounds simple right? Well, it is, but there is a lot more to the process than all those blog posts lead you to believe. Here’s a good & realistic blog post I found on the topic of dropshipping.
Choosing a Niche
Now all the blog posts and articles I had read, all advised lots of research when it came to choosing the products to sell on my shop, and being selective, choosing a theme that would incorporate just a few products. For example, products that had pineapples on them were apparently very popular late last year. Choosing something that is popular but hadn’t yet been specialized is what they called a ‘Niche’. There were various keyword search engines and analytical tools they recommended to help me find my niche, which I took a look at, but my heart was already set on Bohemian and Vintage inspired clothing and home decor and for some reason, I could not deviate from this mindset.
So I searched up individual products and believed that my choice of ‘Niche’ was good enough to at least give a try. I decided that I didn’t want to spend all my time trying to sell something I didn’t have a passion for and I’d always loved the boho style of fashion and decor but in the past had not been financially blessed enough to be able to decorate the way I wanted to and my low self-esteem made me too self-conscious to be bold enough to wear whatever I wanted, so t-shirts and jeans became my mum uniform. I am pleased to say that I have recently turned over a new leaf. My circumstances have driven me to long for a fresh identity. I want to embrace all of who I am and find a style, even a lifestyle that is unique to me and full of inspiration and beauty. I feel the Bohemian theme represents who I want to be. Strong and bold and independent but beautiful and soft and natural at the same time. I want a store that represents all of this as well!
Filling my store with products
Once upon a time, no one knew what the heck dropshipping was, it could have been anything from the latest dance craze to some new youtube challenge where toy ships where dropped on unsuspecting pedestrians from some random buildings and balconies around the world. Today, there are hundreds of companies that provide dropshipping and choosing one is no easy task. After spending a day looking at the various companies and what they had to offer, plus reading about the process of choosing a supplier, I decided to take the easy road and go with the supplier recommended and affiliated with Shopify.
Oberlo has hundreds of thousands of products to choose from and they can be easily imported into your Shopify store. You can use their photo’s and titles and make changes to suit your store and then arrange them how you like into different collections. That’s the easy part. What most blog posts won’t tell you is how tedious and long the task of writing a description for each product can be, especially when you’ve never seen the products yourself. Keeping them short and simple was the only way I was able to list 200 products in 3 weeks (juggling it around the kids). Then those products have to be made available on different sales channels which is where things got tricky for me.
Connecting my store to Sales Channels
If having this blog has taught me anything, it’s that you cannot rely solely on one marketing platform if you want to get noticed and get people coming to your site. So to give myself as much exposure as possible I created a page on Facebook, a profile on Instagram and an account on Ebay. Setting up the accounts was a cinch, I mean how many of these had I opened in the past simply for personal use, but after trying to link them to my store, I came across a few hurdles.
It became apparent that to do business on these channels I would need to register for a business name and ABN. The ABN was no problem as I’d had one before and it was a no-brainer re-activation. The business name was a little trickier. I’d settled on the name BohoJo’s right from the onset, it fit perfectly with my theme, incorporating my name like it was just meant to be. I’d searched the web to see if there were any websites by that name and came up empty handed, reassuring myself that it was a perfect choice and would be available for my use. So, I’d gone right ahead and named my site BohoJo’s, registering a domain www.bohojos.com and using the name for all my social media accounts etc. When it came time to make the name legit, I discovered through the business name search on the ASIC website that my name was too close to another name (not the exact name) already registered and so I was not allowed to register BohoJo’s.
Now to say this put a damper on my hopes and dreams for BohoJo’s was an understatement and visions of spending countless hours re-naming and configuring all my accounts were dancing through my head and making it spin out of control. It wasn’t long however before I picked my lip up off the floor and thought of a solution. Instead of changing the name completely, I simply added ‘Fashion & Decor’ to the end of ‘BohoJo’s’ since I’d already included it on my logo. Not wanting to add ‘re-design company logo’ to my list of to-do’s I prayed that this name would be available and to my absolute joy, it was.
So a simple tweaking of profile names was all that was needed so that my ABN details matched up with my profile information. I connected my shop to my facebook page and connected Instagram to facebook etc and then the real drama began. I’d seen other Instagram business accounts with shopping links on their product photo’s and wanted this option for my business. I looked for days at my settings and watched youtube videos and read blog posts about how to create shoppable posts but became increasingly frustrated when nothing would work. It literally took me over a week before I finally got some help through the Shopify help centre and felt an enormous depth of stupidity when it was easily solved with a simple toggling off and on of the Instagram ‘switch to a business account’ button. So lesson learned, ‘If all else fails, switch off and on again!’.
The night before my set launch date, I was feeling confident that I had enough products to get started and enough sales channels covered in order to get business and only one thing remained, setting shipping and tax information. Now, none of my products provided information about weight and dimensions from the supplier so there was no way I could determine what shipping prices to charge and I was opening the site up to all countries so I couldn’t possibly know how much delivery would be to every country, for every product without hundreds of hours of research. At this point, I felt a little overwhelmed and knew there was no way my site would be ready for launch the following morning. So, I postponed my launch for another week, assuring my followers on Facebook and Instagram that I was creating a better site in order for them to have a more amazing shopping experience.
I took the extra time to upload some more products and get all my settings and boring business stuff up to scratch. After a couple of hours of research into shipping methods and some more advice from the Shopify help centre, I settled on a universal shipping price for all products and countries, offering FREE shipping for purchases over $100. This may have been taking the easy way out, but I knew it was what worked best for me and my future customers.
I honestly freaked out a little when I looked at the Tax section of my settings and realized that tax and accounting were my least favorite part of doing business, mostly because I knew nothing about them. It scared me to think that I may do something wrong in this area and possibly end up with the tax department on my back and a bill that I’d have no hope in hades of paying. Another quick chat to the Shopify help centre put my mind at ease and gave me confidence that I was doing things right.
After a few more hiccups along the way (too many for one article) and more than a dozen late and sleepless nights, I finally got my store to a suitable place for launch. Suitable, because let’s face it if you are a creative person like me or happen to have an eye for detail, nothing is ever perfect and everything could always use just a bit more tweaking, am I right? So I eagerly anticipated my launch, posting messages and pics on my social media channels in the hopes of getting people as excited as I was about the opening of BohoJo’s Fashion & Decor. Whether their level of excitement even neared my own, remains to be seen but launch day was my highest viewing period to date.
So I obsessively checked my site every day to see if the magical ‘first sale’ had happened as promised by the numerous blog posts I’d read about opening an online store, getting increasingly despondent with each passing day, as no sales were made. I started to allow the negativity to creep in and undermine my determined resolve until I remembered that ‘persistence’ is always the key to success. Besides, I didn’t just start this shop to make money for me and my 5 glorious offspring. I had a vision that this store would serve a bigger purpose and contribute to society in helping others less fortunate. So, I have partnered with a ministry that I have been involved with for several years already, which houses and educates orphans in Uganda. You can read all about how the sales from this store will be making a difference to these children here.
It’s only been 6 weeks since I launched the store and since then I have heard a few stories about sites that started off incredibly slow and just ‘took off’ one day. My social following is increasing day by day and best of all my e-mail list is growing steadily. Focusing on these things, I know that success is just around the corner. For now, I have a shop filled with things that I love, that bring me inspiration and a hope that someday soon they will bring inspiration to many others.
What I’ve Learned
So what have I learned from this experience, you may ask? Well for one, things aren’t always as easy as people make them out to be, often more times than not, blog articles on the topic are designed to get you interested in the solutions that can be provided by the companies they are affiliated with and have provided numerous links to. Just so you know, I am not an affiliate of Shopify…Yet! Just kidding, don’t worry Amazon, we are still buddies. Secondly, Do and I repeat Do use the help centre provided on your store’s host site, whether it be Shopify, Amazon, WordPress, Etsy or some other store hosting site. They are there to help you with any issue you may be facing so utilize them and save yourself some time and a lot of headaches. Thirdly, do the research into sellable products but don’t sell yourself short and create a shop that you’re going to hate working on every day, nothing could be harder than writing 200 product descriptions for products that you don’t believe in. Fourthly, nothing is going to make you a millionaire overnight, but hard work and determination will hopefully afford you success in the future but it’s the journey that matters, I’ve learned so much about business and marketing already and I’ve really only just begun.
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Thank you for reading this blog. It’s all of you who give me the motivation to keep writing!