Seven must-know tips for starting an e-commerce business

While getting started in e-commerce might seem simple – Shopify, Big Commerce and Squarespace allow anyone to easily set up an e-commerce store – there are plenty of risks involved, and numerous things to consider before diving into your online empire, advises long-time entrepreneur and e-commerce guru, Nathan Huppatz.

And he should know. As one of the early pioneers of e-commerce in Australia, Nathan authored the Australian version of 'Making Money on eBay for Dummies', as well as founding and selling a couple of e-commerce stores before co-founding Costumes.com.au and Readytoship.com.au.

We spoke to Nathan about everything budding entrepreneurs should know before starting an e-commerce store.

1. Don’t underestimate the importance of planning. The most important first step is to nut out a plan. That plan should detail what technology you need to sell and what marketing you need to apply. It should be detailed and broad, and try to take into account all the things you will need to consider when running an online business.

2. Make sure your domain name and business name are not in breach of anyone else's trademark. Ideally, you would register your own Trademark for protection. You can search online at ipaustralia.gov.au for existing Trademarks and Trademark Applications, but it is often easier to find a local IP Lawyer that can assist you in registering and filing on your behalf.

3. Have systems in place for all the things you need to do after you make a sale. This is often forgotten about or left till after you launch. But if you start selling product you pretty quickly realise that you need to store and locate it efficiently (either on your own premises or in a 3rd party warehouse). You need a freight arrangement with a carrier or carriers of your choice, perhaps software to print labels efficiently and quickly, and a good process to handle returns. Managing inventory and shipping product is the core of your business, so make sure you have a plan to handle how you will do that.

4. Expect and plan for growth. We have had a few businesses over the last 10 years that have grown very quickly, and this growth can put a huge strain on administration if you don't have good operational and accounting systems to handle the growing volume of inventory, cash flow management, payments and reconciliation etc

5. Never stand still. Always keep learning. Spend time reading, and don't stop innovating! Complacency in any business can hurt, but this is especially important in the commerce or digital world. The pace of change is so rapid. There are so many moving parts to e-commerce, with new and changing marketplaces, social platforms that your customers will be using, and new tools and technology that can help you find more efficiency.

6. Don’t spread yourself too thin. At one point we simply had too many brands and business units. We used a common back end to run the business, but we didn't have enough resources to really focus on each brand that we had started. 

7. Be proud of your business. When someone at a party asks you what you do for a living, do you want to tell them about a website/e-commerce business that you have that you aren't proud of? God no, it's horrible to be in that situation. So focus on what you are best at. Make sure you have enough resources to build something you are proud of. You (and your team if you have one) will be better for it.

And lastly, the next big things in e-commerce:  This could be in the form of an accessory or item that has been personalised in some way by applying customisation to a base product, or perhaps your product is made for you on spec. 3D printing and its use in manufacturing product will create a lot of opportunity.customised product and service businesses that disrupt a category.

Service based businesses that can be disruptive will also continue to have opportunity. I am thinking about Uber, AirBNB etc. They are digital businesses, using technology to add value and provide a better service than incumbent providers.

Learn from other's mistakes, rather than make your own by chatting to Nathan Huppatz about how to start or grow your e-commerce business.

 

Get involved

Expert advice delivered to your inbox