How to Start Selling Online Part 4: Getting It All Together

This is Part 4 of a 4 Part blog series by Rick Wilson, President of Miva Merchant. Click here to jump to the other parts in the series:

Part 1: Understanding The World of Ecommerce, Part 2: Finding the Right Product to Sell, Part 3: Choosing the Best Ecommerce Platform

So you’re going to run an online business, you know what you’re going to sell and you’ve picked a platform to help grow your business. Now what?

One of the first things you need to decide is if this is going to be a hobby for you or if you’re a true entrepreneur. If you’re building a real business then you’re going to need some professional help.

The Design Phase:

In the world on online retailing, since the customer can’t feel or touch the product, they use other cues and clues when it comes to judging if they trust you enough to buy your product online.

The first place to begin establishing trust is with a professionally designed look and feel. That’s going to break down into 3 main parts:

  • Your Logo
  • Your Color Palette
  • Your Overall Site Design

You need a professional to help you with all 3 of these items, unless you are a trained graphic designer or a professional designer.

The first two items, your logo and color palette need to be developed in concert with the goal of conveying your brand identity. Don’t get scared off by this, this doesn’t need to be expensive, overwhelming or difficult. It does however need to be thought about so you can put your best foot forward with your customers.


1. Headblade 2. Lock-n-Load Java 3. Space Saver

When people see your logo, how should they feel? What thoughts should it elicit? How does it inspire them? The answers to these questions need to be in line with your “brand identity”. Make sure that the answers to these questions fall in line with your goal for your product and company.

There are great online resources for getting a professional logo developed in an affordable way such as: 99designs.com.

If you’re not going to go with one of the online resources, any professional graphic designer should be able to create a very high quality logo and provide you a color scheme to go with it for you for only a few hundred dollars at most, especially if you’re a new business.

Once you have your logo and color palette set, it’s time to get some professional assistance in building the layout of your online store. There are a number of best practices that you’ll want to follow when it comes to your layout. They’ll vary depending on what you’re selling, how many different SKUs you sell online and a number of other things.

Ultimately, it’s very important that you have someone help you design a highly functional site that is designed to maximize conversions for your new site. If you skip this step (which many entrepreneurs do), then for all intents and purposes instead of building a sales funnel for your new company you’ll be building a sales sieve and you’ll spill business all over the place.

Building out a modern website that’s designed to work across the multitude of devices we all use in our daily lives, specifically phones, tablets and “traditional” computers should be outsourced to a professional. The money spent at this stage (which can usually be kept to the low thousands for a professional site, but this always depends on scope of the work) of the process to ensure you launch your business with a professional grade website is well worth the investment. I can’t imagine you’d go build your own brick and mortar building yourself by hand, personally laying brick, running electrical and connecting the sewer. So if you wouldn’t do those things yourself without a licensed contractor, why would you imagine you can build the online version of this yourself properly?

Accepting Payments:

Another thing that can take a couple weeks to get set up properly and configured and tested before you get up and running online is your credit card processing merchant account.

Ultimately you’ll need two distinct items, first a Merchant Account and second a Payment Gateway. Often times these are bundled together in this day and age, but no matter what they are two different things.

The merchant account is loosely similar to a bank account. This is an account that’s created through a merchant bank and is connected to your payment gateway and it allows you to actually accept credit cards.

The payment gateway is the virtual equivalent of a swipe terminal you see in a traditional brick and mortar store. The gateway doesn’t actually process the cards, but it connects your merchant account to your online store software and allows you to manage authorizations, captures, refunds, voids, etc.

If you have any questions on where to setup your merchant account and payment gateway check with either your bank where you have your business checking account setup, or check with your ecommerce platform provider for recommendations to work with their system.

In addition to a traditional merchant account and payment gateway you may also want to look at accepting PayPal and/or Amazon Payments. These are what are known as “third party checkouts,” and they are generally speaking great compliments or add-ons to directly accepting credit cards.

The reason you need to put this on your list is the process can take a few days to a few weeks to get properly setup so you can start taking orders, and you don’t want to be caught unprepared and having to delay your opening day.

Setting Up Fulfillment:

Assuming you’re a North American based merchant, you’re likely going to ship via some combination of USPS, UPS, FedEx and/or CanadaPost.

However, before you decide whom you’re shipping carrier is going to be, you need to make some more basic and fundamental shipping decisions.

Ultimately, it comes down to using a fulfillment center like Shipwire or shipping your product on your own.

There is no right answer to whether or not you should outsource fulfillment to third party or not, since the answer is going to depend a lot on what you’re shipping, how you’re shipping it and even how you want the package to be received.

If you have a reasonably small number of SKUs and you’re going to be selling a lot of a few items, then starting out with a fulfillment center can be a great move. For example if you were selling The Pet Rock, its one SKU, comes in one variety and it’s always packaged the same way. This is generally speaking going to be more amicable to using a fulfillment center than if you have a large number of SKUs coming in a wide variety of packaging, like say a company like Restaurant Depot.

Another thing to consider when shipping yourself versus a fulfillment center, especially when starting out, is that by shipping yourself you can add that personal touch to each package. Then, you can use that unique experience to learn how to build up repeat clientele and help get word of mouth for your new business.

Product Descriptions and Images:

This is almost certainly the most time consuming and overlooked part of the process of getting online, and ironically, it’s also arguably the most important!

Other than having a professional looking website design, in fact as important if not more important than that, is having high quality product descriptions and images (and having this information saved in a database or spreadsheet).

This is likely going to be the single most time consuming part of this process and it should be taken very seriously. Your customers can’t feel, touch, smell, test, and use your product before buying it online, so this is the next best thing.

Make sure you write compelling descriptions that are both unique to your website (don’t use the stock descriptions if you’re getting your products from another manufacturer, they don’t sell well, and it’ll harm your search engine rankings) and provide a visceral description of what the product is like to feel, touch, hold and use.

In addition, make sure you take vibrant photography of your products (in all of their unique colors and designs). This is another place where you’ll want to strongly consider getting some professional assistance for your photography. Any local professional or even semi-professional photographer should be able to get you high quality photos (that are web-optimized for disk space and page speed).

Here are the basics of what you need to make sure you do with your Product and Site photography:

  • Consistent background color
  • Consistent cropping
  • High quality photos matter
  • Show all your product colors
  • Show as many product angles as possible (front, back, sides, etc….)

Little things like not using a consistent background color or not cropping all of your images the same way can take a very professional look and feel and make your site look amateurish and unsecure.

“I can get you to the top of Google” – Beware the online marketing person who promises you the moon, they’re really just trying to sell you a bridge.

Google (and all the Search Engines) have an interesting data problem they need to try and solve. There are more than 4 Billion pages online today according to World Wide Web Size and the “Googles” of the world have to try and index them all, figure out what they say and then correlate that to their search results.

In order to accomplish this herculean feat, Google uses an algorithm to try and match relevant content from all of those pages to the search terms you type into the search box on their site.

Historically many online marketing and SEO firms built their business around trying to “game” the Google algorithm. The tricks and techniques have varied over the years as the SEO’s try and stay ahead of Google’s changes, but in the long run this is always going to be a short sighted approach to marketing.

Fundamentally speaking if your business requires high rankings on Google to exist and or succeed and you choose to “game” their system for those rankings, you’re by definition playing with a ticking time bomb.

Google has a simple goal that’s incredibly complex to achieve.  They need to understand if the content on your website is suitable to answer the search query they’ve been presented with and on top of that is it the best and most relevant answer.

The best long term structurally sound way to build your online business and your website is to do everything in your power to assist Google in achieving their goal.

How do you do such a thing?

There’s no single right answer, or magic bullet when it comes to building content that will be well ranked by Google (and beware of anyone who tells you otherwise, especially if they’re trying to sell you something).

However there are a number of rules or axioms to live by, which will serve you well over the long term both in your online and offline marketing.

Start with having high quality photos and unique product descriptions that provide a vivid and meaningful experience of your product.

Make sure you take the time to do the little things like name your product images something meaningful.  (Google can likely figure out that iPhone.jpg is likely a picture of an iPhone, especially if it correlates to other data on the page. You’ve made their job much harder if the picture is named 567ABCDF.jpg, but beyond that you’ve also made it harder for any human reading that name to figure out what it is as well).

Do something similar with your product codes and/or SKUs when you’re putting them in your online store. Be as descriptive as possible, always try and filter through the lens of would a human know what this code or name means? If the answer is no, it’s likely not ideal for humans or Google.

There are some other “on page” things you can do to make sure your site is built to be Google friendly (a great resource for this kind of thing and online marketing in general is www.moz.com), but these things while important are really housekeeping items. You wouldn’t open your brick and mortar store with trash strewn all about and you shouldn’t open your website with digital trash everywhere. However having a clean store either physical or virtual is not enough in and of itself to succeed at marketing.

You also need fresh, unique and relevant content, as much as you can create. The best way to do this is maintain an integrated blog that’s seamlessly built within your overall website.

At this point most people I talk to, think “I have nothing to write about,” and I can assure you that’s simply not true.

Imagine you’re at a cocktail party or dinner and someone is asking you about your business. Imagine if they were truly interested in you and your business and had lots of questions for you about your product, what it does, how and where you use it, etc. How long could you talk to them about what you do? You could likely talk to them for hours and hours if not days and days if circumstances permitted. That’s exactly what you want to write about in your blog.

Other things to consider adding to your blog:

  • Leverage your customers’ stories, pictures and experiences with your products
  • Keep in mind your customers will never know as much as you do about your product, anything someone calls on the phone or emails you to ask about is likely good blog content
  • The key is your unique offering combined with your ability to share it with people

In addition to high quality product content and new and unique blog posts, the other “big secret” to online marketing is go to where your customers hang out online.

Do your customers all belong to a specific Facebook group, or email list or other website? One of the single best pieces of advice I can give anyone about marketing online is to go and get involved with those groups.

Specifically when I say get involved, I mean participate and be helpful. Become a true member of the group. You’ll be amazed at how much participation and being helpful will do when it comes to building you a solid niche following online that will allow your business to grow and succeed.

So all in all:

  • Use professional help when it comes to your website design and coding (and product photography)
  • Take the time and effort to write great product descriptions
  • Organize all of your products, names, SKUs, prices, etc. into a spreadsheet so your data is portable and easily used online
  • Go ahead and get your merchant account setup and figure out how you’re going to ship
  • Remember there is no shortcut to online (or any) marketing and beware of people “selling” you otherwise
  • You possess an almost limitless amount of information that’s unique to you and your business, so share it on your blog, on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and anywhere else your customers gather