Hugo Elliott

| business | online | Est reading time: 11 mins

Set up an e-commerce business online

This series of blog posts is about setting up an e-commerce business online as quickly and cheaply as possible. ‘Cheap’ is a relative term. Where possible it should include the future (or lifetime) costs to the business. There can be considerable costs in replacing software in the future.

1. My Background and Approach

I want to explain who I am and what I’m trying to achieve, and how I will go about it. If you read this blog in the future, this is relevant because it will explain why I’ve taken the approaches I have. I want to sell things online. Candles & soaps, but that’s a story for later. I could just as easily be selling widgets.

I enjoy reading about technology, but I don’t have a technology or IT background. I’ve read enough to understand that it is easy to experiment. You can change the way you do run a business, you market to customers, the design of your website. I understand in theory what a Minimum Viable Product is, what a marketing funnel is, how a website works. But I’ve never built any of this in practice.

I am going to attempt to build and document a business online, warts and all. I’ll be open and honest about what I’ve done, why I’m doing it, and what resources I have used helped me. I’ll also build (and hopefully keep up to date) a series of detailed ‘how-to’ guides. These posts are not aimed at professionals. Those who do internet marketing or who build websites for a living. They are for everyone else.

Finally, I’m going to do this as cheaply as possible.

Partly because I don’t have a lot of cash to pay people with, and partly because I want to learn. I’ll keep a running tab.

2. Choose a Name or SEO Out of the Box

Finding the right name can be tricky. Do you go for a made-up word or something that makes sense? Names that describe the business are best. After all, it’s obvious what “London Plumbers” does. It has a geographic and descriptive component to the name.

Your business’s name should what people are searching for.

The Google Keyword Planner tool shows you what people are searching for. Here is a tutorial How To Use Google Keyword Planner

Google keyword planner

You can then use the Nameapp to check if the social media handles are available.

the name app

Then go to any domain name seller to check if the domain is available. I use Namecheap.

name cheap

What we’re starting to do is think about SEO or Search Engine Optimization. It’s a way of writing or adding content to your site that is relevant to people. Relevant means what people are searching for. It doesn’t have to be complex, and there are lots of guides such as this one by Neil Patel.

I’m building an online candle business.

Yes I know there are lots of them online, but I’m doing this for a couple of reasons

  • I want to learn how to do it all i.e. building websites, marketing, sales, logistics. I mean everything,
  • I like candles and
  • candles don’t have a shelf life,

I read somewhere that one of the reasons Jeff Bezos started with books because they don’t go off. At the start of my adventure, I don’t want to have to think about inventory management (other than having to sell it).

I like the name candles. Unfortunately, the dot com, the dot co.uk and many other ‘logical’ domains were already taken.

The Google keywords tool is saying there are 100k-1M searches per month in the UK for “Candles”. I’m lead to believe that it’s not perfect having a dot ltd domain from an SEO perspective. But maybe the average number of searches per month is going to help over-come this…? I guess I’ll find out.

key words

One thing that I need to check is this is a seasonal product?

Checking Google Trends for keywords for Candles, shows there are a large number of searches per month. There is a significant uptick at Christmas time. You can see seasonality in the search trends for the keywords ‘Citronella Candles’ (used for keeping mosquitos and biting bugs away), and ‘Christmas Candles’ (no explanation needed) below.

google trends

Note Google Trends re-bases the search volumes for each keyword (or phrase) to a range from 0-100.

This means you see the volume of weekly searches for each keyword compared to the others. You can download the data and analyse it. This gives you an idea of which keyword is most searched for over the year, as well as the variability in search volumes.

The Google Keyword Planner only shows you the ranges of monthly searches. When you compare it to the Google Trends data it allows you to rank the keyword searches.

3. Buy the Domain

There are many places to buy a web domain such as GoDaddy, Domain.com, or Namecheap.

Many of these providers will also provide a bundled service and you can also buy web hosting, SSL certificates and more. I use separate providers for a couple of reasons

  1. I want to minimise my dependence on any particular service provider, and
  2. It is easy enough to link all the services together

I use Namecheap. I’ve generally found it to be the most cost effective.

namecheap cart

Cost £5.08 (or US$6.86) per year

4. Business Email & Office Software

A professional or business email address is vital, period.

There are two viable alternatives Google Workspace

google work space

and Microsoft Office 365

microsoft 365

The cost of Google Workspace is £4.97 (US$6.00) / month for the Business Starter package. The cost of Microsoft 365 is £4.56 (US$5.00) / month for their Business Basic package.

They both have their pros and cons. I’ve used both and (to be honest) I prefer to use Microsoft’s Word and Excel programmes over Google’s Docs and Sheets.

Cost for Microsoft 365 £54.72 (US$60.00) per year.

Running cost £59.80 (US$66.86) per year.

Security

Do not forget to setup two factor authentication for your business email.

Here are links to tutorials for Google Workspace and Microsoft 365

5. To Host or Not to Host?

It is a pretty fundamental question.

Do I want to spend a bit more and have a drag and drop website? They can be quite complex and include full e-commerce functionality. Or do I want a cheaper, more involved WordPress based website? This means it’s a bit more complex and requires me to have to get my own webserver.

WYSIWYG Websites

There are several great options if you want to have a beautiful, simple to build drag and drop website. They include

  1. Shopify
  2. Squarespace
  3. Weebly
  4. Wix

The annual subscription for a subscription with inventory management, multiple sales channels, tax & shipping is approximately US$300 per year.

But…

I want to learn and keep costs under control. So I’m going to build a WordPress website and add WooCommerce to build out the e-commerce facility.

WooCommerce is a little different. The basic cost is free, but you pay for additional functionality.

  • Stock management - US$49/year
  • Shipping - $79/year
  • Accounting integration - US$79/year
  • Total cost - US$207/year

Cost for WordPress + WooCommerce £151.85 (US$207) per year.

Running cost £211.65 (US$273.86).

Webhost

I’m going to have to host my own website.

There are lots of companies from whom you can buy web hosting. Not least, the company you buy your domain name through. But I prefer to separate all my suppliers. I’ve used two web hosting companies in the past – Digital Ocean and Linode. Both Companies have

  1. a simple $5.00 / month server price,
  2. a simple setup processes to set up a WordPress website, and
  3. useful tutorials.

I’m going to use Digital Ocean.

digital ocean

Cost £44.44 ($ 60.00) per year

Running cost £256.06 (US$ 333.86).

Add the Domain to Digital Ocean

Digital Ocean has a tutorial adding domain name to the Digital Ocean. The tutorial is here

Adjust the DNS Settings

Digital Ocean has a tutorial on how to point the domain name to the Digital Ocean server it will be hosted on. The tutorial is here

Security

Don’t forget to set up two-factor authentication for your account with your web host. Here are links to tutorials for Digital Ocean and Linode.

6. Setup Email

You need to update the MX records at your web host to make your email work. You will need to 1st verify that you own the domain with a text record. Google has instructions here, and Microsoft here on setting up MX records.

Digital Ocean has a tutorial on how to do that here. A point to note is that it has a 1 click button to add the Google MX records. Linode has a tutorial here.

You’ll need to wait for a few hours for the DNS records to propagate. You can check your site’s progress here

7. Sign in to your web browser

I want to be able to sign in to a web browser with my new businesses email. I will be able to add bookmarks, and store login details (website settings, social media etc). I can then switch between my personal and work accounts. If you prefer to use Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge, create an account with Google .

google account

and Microsoft

Open your web browser, and sign in using your new work email account.

8. Setup social media

Now you should sign up to these social media accounts. Don’t spend time updating social media accounts @ this stage. This is just to ensure you’ve got an account name and set up the password.

Don’t forget to update your LinkedIn profile.

Security

Don’t forget to set up two factor authentication for each account.

9. Market places

Depending on what you are going to sell, you may want to consider signing up to the following market places

10. Setup Google Tag Manager & Analytics

If you’ve used Microsoft Office 365, you’ll need to set up a Google Account.

You can set up a Google Account without Gmail, here are links to

Now set up an account with

If you have any issues, Google has lots of articles online such as this one

Cost £0.00 ($ 0.00) per year

Running cost £256.06 (US$ 347.73)

11. Accounting Software

You don’t need to sign up to accounting software and pay for it unless you

  1. Start to sell goods and need to keep account of revenue and expenses for tax purposes, or
  2. Start to employ people and need to keep account of taxes, social security, healthcare and pension contributions, or
  3. Raise investment and need to keep accounts, or
  4. Simply because you want to

There are lots of options for online accounting software

My criteria for choosing are

  1. Integration with my selected e-commerce platform, and
  2. It operations in the country I live in

I’ve used three options before

  1. Quickbooks
  2. Xero, and
  3. Kashflow

All are good and simple to use.

The first two integrate with lots of other software programs (or at least they tell me that they do on their market place programs). The third program, Kashflow, is a much more UK orientated program with fewer integrations. I’m going to use Xero and the Starter Plan in the UK, or Early Plan in the US.

Cost £120.00 ($ 132.00) per year

Running cost £376.00 (US$ 479.73)

12. What else do I need to do or sign up to?

Email Marketing

I will use email marketing on my website.

There are lots of options, of which I’ve used two before

  1. Mailchimp
  2. Mailerlite

I’m not going to sign up yet, as I need to have a functioning and operational website.

The cost depends on the number of subscribers to your email marketing lists. Generally, you start to pay once you’ve got more than 1,000 subscribers.

Enhanced Security & SSL

Cloudflare helps protect websites against malicious individuals and actors. It may be a bit overkill @ this point, but I will sign up once the website is online and I can update the DNS settings. One bonus is that Cloudflare secures all web traffic through an SSL certificate. But I still need to set up my own SSL certificate. I can do this through Digitalocean.

Inventory Management / Multichannel Marketing

If my online business works, I will get to the stage where it is too complex to manage many products on multiple channels (website, Amazon, Etsy etc). I will need to find some software to manage this, and also that integrates with Xero and Woocommerce.

I need to do more research but I’ve come across online (but not yet used) Nembol, OneSass and Zaperp.

13. Summary

If I exclude the costs of accounting software (I’ll subscribe when I need it), the annual cost of setting up and running an e-commerce website is £256.06 (US$ 347.73) per year, or £21.33 (US$ 28.98) per month. Adding accounting software increases the total cost to £376.00 (US$ 479.73) per year or £31.33 (US$ 39.97) per month.

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