No Cash, No Ideas. Just Fire in the Belly: Can Online Retail Work For You?


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There are just way too many people looking for ideas, inspiration, and ways to start an ecommerce store.

Ecommerce has passed the multi-billion dollar mark over and over again. There’s just something really enchanting about ecommerce – the way it makes you believe that you could put up a store, upload product images, and start selling right away. Imagine this: no physical retail stores, no overheads, no employees, and no utility bills – just getting a website and selling.

But all that’s good for Amazon, eBay and other big brand retailers who decide to go online. What about the little guy? What’s that 9-5 job hugging, part-time entrepreneurial enthusiast to do if he or she wants to start an ecommerce store? What does it take? Assuming no cash, no ideas, and nothing else but a dream, can online retail work for you?

You don’t know much. You’ve never been in business before. You don’t know how to write a business plan, and when it comes to stuff like financial projections, even filling out templates can make you numb. Or maybe you were in business at one point of time, but a website (let alone an ecommerce store) wasn’t even required then. You are thrilled to bits about the potential ecommerce has to offer but you shrink in agonizing fear just thinking about the sheer lunacy of it all.

No cash? I’m sure you know how many businesses (and people) made it to the top with exactly zero cash on them.

No ideas? Ever since the wheel and fire, there have really been no great ideas. All ideas are a reiteration or derivation of another idea.

Fire in the belly is all you need.

Hustle Like You Never Did

Entrepreneurship – at least the successful variety of it – has a tinge of craziness attached to it. Normal people don’t go on to become successful entrepreneurs. The crazy ones do. Is it any surprise that some of the wealthiest, self-made people are also outliers?

Since you have no cash, you can’t throw your weight around and buy your way to success. It’s just a derived idea (like you decide to sell diapers since pillows seem to be doing well or maybe you decide to sell fitness products for travel enthusiasts who don’t have access to a gym).

It’s easy enough to source products to sell compared to what it takes to get your fledgling online store to a profitable momentum. Stop fooling yourself with just the MBA-style business basics like SWOT analyses and business plans. Of course, they are important but they won’t be the sole reason for you to succeed.

What you need to do, however, is to insert “hustle,” “deal making,” “carpet bombing,” and “raw fire and energy” into your marketing plan.

Online Retail isn’t Just about Retail Anymore

Consider this: a traditional retailer finds sources for goods, sets up shop at a busy location, opens doors for business, and it’s business as usual. What might work in favor of retailers are things like location and the prices at which they source their products.

For online retailers, there’s no location (the web is the location). You can, of course, gain a teeny-weeny advantage over competition if you source products at a great price. But that’s where tradition ends and contemporary pain begins.

For online retailers, the Holy Grail is in marketing. Apart from setting up the store and getting it ready for taking orders, you’d have a ton of marketing and promotion to do. Did I forget to mention positioning and branding? As if that wasn’t enough, you’d have to work on traffic, lead generation, brand management, and conversions.

Meanwhile, you have to ensure that your customers’ financial details are secure, configure safety aspects to your ecommerce store, invest in dedicated or secured servers, hire staff to manage customers, provide support, and a lot more.

Can you do it? Oh yes, you can.

Is it easy? Were you looking for easy?

Get Along with Technology

Since it’s an ecommerce store, it’ll live on the web. It’ll also demand that you come to live with it. Running an ecommerce store well has a lot to do with how well equipped you are with rapidly changing trends online, as Annie Jie Xu lists out on HuffPo.

So, SEO was hot until yesterday and still is, except that a lot has changed already. Pay Per click advertising is abortive if you don’t use landing pages. Your presence on social media is mandatory along with keeping your eyes and ears peeled for brand mentions, relationships, and social updates relevant to your brand.

You now have tools to help you with inbound marketing. You also have tools to manage your inventory, take orders, support or manage customers, and other web apps that integrate your store with your financial accounts. Oh, and I forgot to mention that there are tools to manage tools or apps that help you integrate one app with another.

Along with running your ecommerce store, you also have to jog along just to keep up with these changes, all the time, every single day.

Take Action, Complete 50% of the Journey

Instead of thinking whether you can do it or not, just launch a store and do what you have to. It’s never been easier to launch and start an ecommerce store (at least this part is relatively easier than being profitable). Taking action is a huge beginning to your entrepreneurial journey and like most people; you’ll eventually figure things out as you go.

Entrepreneurship has always been a leap of faith – not just once, but almost every waking moment of your life. It calls for jumping over the cliff, running into dark tunnels, climbing rocks, taking risks, and putting your hand into a lion’s mouth every time.

Entrepreneurship is also a great teacher. You’ll make mistakes. You’ll rise and fall. You’ll go through doom, gloom, and bloom. Yet, you’ll come out better. You’ll make it, fake it, and make it again.

Lori Wagoner
Lori Wagoner is a marketing researcher and strategist who works with small businesses and organizations to help them gain online visibility. Feel free to strike up a conversation on Twitter @loridwagoner.