The nature of work is evolving. To make a living and build a successful career for yourself, you no longer need to work a traditional 9-to-5 job, commute to a physical office or wait patiently for someone to finally hand you that promotion you’ve worked so hard to get.
You can create your own company, sell your own products and provide valuable services to your own customers -- from anywhere in the world. It’s never been a better time to start an ecommerce business. There are plenty of tools, blog posts, podcasts and other resources to help you build an ecommerce shop while you hold on to your day job.
The question is, how do you take that ecommerce side hustle and scale it into a profitable, sustainable full-time gig? It’s not easy, but it is possible. To get on the right track, consider implementing the following tips and ideas from leaders in the ecommerce space.
Find the balance.
To be a successful ecommerce entrepreneur, you must walk the line between being thoughtful and executing ideas before you feel completely ready.
“You often hear really smart and successful people say you need to be perfect with every action and intention -- be it brand, product, packaging, website, customer service, etc.," Guided CEO David Stober says. "I think many of those big-brained and successful people quickly forgot their actual path to success. Building a brand and business is about finding that perfect balance of just doing it at the risk of breaking stuff (workflows, technology, product, brand voice) and perfection. Neither extreme is ideal. One means you are going too fast; the other means you are going too slow. Each business has a perfect tempo.”
Striking this balance can be difficult, especially if you’re new to entrepreneurship. To get there, leverage advice and experience from seasoned entrepreneurs and mentors who've been in your shoes. Read their blog posts, engage with them on Twitter, join a group on Slack or reach out to someone on Clarity.
Scaling your ecommerce business so it can pay all your bills and allow you to live comfortably also requires an obsession with numbers.
“You need to have a detailed growth and profit plan in place," Blue Stout CEO Allen Burt says. “I always recommend that entrepreneurs outline the financial road map for their business so they know the exact levels of traffic, conversions, average order value and repeat purchases they need to hit their revenue and profit goals."
Burt recommends you start with an audit of your current website. Ask yourself questions such as, “What is my current conversion rate? What is my average order value? What is my profit margin on each order?” From there, work backward to map out how many monthly site visitors you need to generate enough profit to sustain you and your team.
Network and keep bridges intact.
“Maintain positive relationships and try to never burn bridges," says Kyle Eisenberg, a senior manager at Image Beauty. “You never know when someone that you've worked with in the past will be in a position to help you in the future.”
Friends, colleagues and family members can add huge value. They can help you raise money, give you much-needed advice and connect you with the right partners, vendors and industry influencers.
Lean heavy on your biggest fans. Make sure you keep relationships intact and be proactive about updating your network's members on your projects and progress. Sometimes, it takes just one person to take your business to the next level.
Identify your needs.
A successful, scalable ecommerce shop should run like a well-oiled machine even when you’re not the one moving the levers and steering the wheel.
“Figure out the seats you need filled to grow your company without your involvement,” GrocerKey CEO Jeremy Neren says. “If your business can’t function and grow without your involvement, you will have only created a more stressful job for yourself. Total up the cost associated with filling all necessary seats and put together a plan of how far you can scale with those seats filled."
You have to spend money to make money, and that money ultimately must come from somewhere. Be realistic about your needs upfront so you can gain a better understanding of how it actually will look to scale your business. Identify what you need to do (or whom you need to talk to) during the next few months.
“Determine investors interested in your ecommerce industry and approach them with your plan to scale your business to see if you are able to fund your growth via investment,” Neren says. “If you aren’t able to attract investors, you’ll need to determine how you can bootstrap your growth by increasing revenue with positive unit economics (meaning every time you make a sale you make money).”
Ecommerce is a great growth industry, but it’s also extremely saturated and competitive. To survive, you need to think ahead and prepare for the inevitable.
“There's no such thing as a sustainable competitive advantage anymore, as every successful and profitable niche or product will inevitably attract me-toos and competitors over time,” Edgacent Cofounder Linda Bustos says. “Ensure your plan and strategy can continually stay ahead of the curve, or plan for a quick exit strategy when your business is at its peak."
Bustos also recommends you approach with a certain degree of wariness any business that relies entirely on a third-party platform. Think eBay, Amazon or Etsy. You can't control these platforms, and that's a problem because they'll own your data.
"Build your own direct or alternative channels in conjunction," Bustos says, "as you never know when these platforms will change their rules of play, search and merchandising algorithms, pricing and commission structures or even start directly competing against you.”
The ecommerce industry has more players and competition than ever before. To successfully scale your ecommerce shop into a thriving, full-time gig, you must know the game, be willing and able to quickly pivot and be both proactive and innovative in your strategy.