Jennifer Varner started her first online business with $7,000 on a credit card. Within two years, her maternity clothing website was doing over a million dollars a year in sales. Varner isn’t the only one who has had great success selling online. Total e-commerce sales were estimated to be $263.3 billion last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s a 16.9% increase from 2012 sales.
For people who want to own their own business, there are advantages to starting an e-commerce business: flexible hours, the ability to work from home, minimal overhead and for some, money to be made. But if you think owning an e-commerce business means shifting to cruise control and watching the money roll in, think again.
“You can’t work the site for a few days then not work for a few weeks and come back to it. In terms of hard work and dedication, this type of business is no different than owning a typical brick- and-mortar store,” Varner said.
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Varner ran into many obstacles before she reached her million dollars in sales. She overspent on marketing, didn’t take full advantage of online search strategies, and purchased too much inventory.
But she saw all of these mistakes as valuable lessons that she could pass on to others. So after four years, she decided to sell her site and start Pure-Ecommerce.com. which sells and promotes turnkey online businesses. Additionally, Varner offers e-commerce consulting and mentors those who purchase sites.
Pure-Ecommerce handles the initial steps to building these e-commerce sites. From picking a domain name and site design to meeting vendors and much more. The final step is search engine optimization. After a purchase, 40 hours of mentoring and training is provided.
The Internet is a vast space full of sites vying for business. In fact, Varner
said, owning an e-commerce business can be like trying to build a business in the middle of a dessert. The key to standing out is search engine marketing, and Varner said, one of the biggest mistakes people make is not spending enough time cultivating their online search, marketing and social media strategies.
Nonprofits and other charitable organizations also turn to e-commerce sites to help their cause raise funds. Sarah Symons started the international charity Made By Survivors with the goal of empowering women with jobs, to help combat the serious problem of human trafficking. Their e-commerce site, Relevee.com sells handmade artisan jewelry made by survivors of slavery and other serious human rights abuses. All of the proceeds support these women, human rights and women’s rights charities. “For social enterprises and charities like ours, the cost of setting up an e-commerce site is quite low. It allows you to know and understand the marketplace, so your programs can be targeted to what customers really want, leading to long-term sustainability” Symons said.
For nonprofits such as Made By Survivors, an additional goal is to find a balance in the messaging of the cause and the products being sold. “Relevee.com is also a research platform that allows us to experiment using A/B testing, to optimize the balance between cause-related and fashion-related messaging, with the goal of finding the message for each type of consumer that results in the highest sales,” Symons said. The goal is to hire more vulnerable women and maximize the wages to help provide a more secure life for them.
Whether nonprofit or for-profit, the Federal Trade Commission recommends always having a solid business plan and cautions entrepreneurs, when buying an e-commerce business, to get all the details ahead of time. Buyers should be sure they understand what they are selling or what service is being provided; how and why shoppers would find and use the site; how income is generated and what the expenses are going to be.
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