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Start-up Advice

Start Your Online Business For (Practically) Free

5 Simple steps to start your online store on a shoestring budget — no previous experience required.

Warrick Kernes

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If you’ve been wanting to release your inner entrepreneur but you’re constrained by a tight budget, an online store is a good place to start, particularly as you can get set up and start taking orders without spending the world up-front.

Your online store can be set up by you (yes, even with no prior experience) and you can get it up and running without needing to hire staff or rent offices. Hopefully you’ll need all of that as you grow, but for now you can set up your online store and start taking orders on a shoestring budget with these five, simple steps.

Step 1

Deciding what to sell

If you don’t have money to invest in buying products to sell on your site consider selling your services. Ask yourself what it is that you are really good at that other people would be willing to pay you to do? Create this as a service and use your site to promote your offer and to let clients book out your time. You can also consider improving your skill level (and how much you can charge) by doing some online courses on the topic.

If you prefer selling physical items, reach out to people you know in case your network has idle stock in their stock rooms. Negotiate to list their stock on your site and when a customer pays you for an item, buy it from your supplier and send it to your customer. This is essentially drop shipping in its most manual form and until the drop shipping infrastructure in South Africa is established, hustling for work-arounds is the best way to get your online store up and running without investing in inventory.

Related: What’s The Best Products To Sell Online?

Step 2

Decide what website platform to build your site on

Without going into too much detail I can narrow down your options to using WordPress or Shopify as your CMS (Content Management System). This is the skeleton of your site where you add all of your content on the back-end to be organised before you publish it to the front-end, which is what your customers see as your website.

You can establish a WordPress website for free whereas Shopify starts from $29 per month. If you are experienced with websites I’d suggest WordPress, but if your experience is limited setting up a Shopify site is an easier solution that will save you a lot of time when you get started. Either way, don’t be intimidated by the process as the set-up wizards will guide you step-by-step on how to build your website.

online-payments

Step 3

Taking online payments

Setting up your store to take online payments is much easier than you think. From day one you can enable manual EFT payments and let customers pay you by EFT (but only dispatch the order once the payment has cleared!). This allows you to start taking payments straight away.

Next, you can easily apply for an account with a South African payment gateway. The account can take up to a week to be approved and the service provider will guide you on how to set it up on your site. Once this is done your customers will be able to pay you by credit card, instant EFT, Bitcoin, Mobicred, Zapper and more.

If you don’t yet have a business bank account, don’t let this slow you down. You can start off by linking the payment gateway to your personal account and then change it later once you’ve set up a business account.

Related: Will Anyone Buy Your Product Online?

Step 4

Getting your first sales

Here are a few ‘low hanging fruit’ tips for getting easy traffic to your online store to help generate your first sales.

Share your new site with everyone you know. Use any social media networks you may have to announce your new website to your friends and family. Start by asking them for feedback (so they don’t feel that you’re pushing them for sales) then ask them to share your products with anyone they know who might be interested.

Offer launch specials. Now that you’ve got some eyes on your site generate urgency by, offering a ‘launch week 15% discount’. Apart from driving sales, this also lets you test your payment and delivery processes with people who won’t get angry if things don’t go perfectly. What’s more, you can reach out to these first buyers for product feedback, which will be super helpful before you start selling to unknown customers.

Validate your business on Google. Visit google.com/business to add your business details to Google Maps. Once this is approved your business details will show on the right side of the Google results when people search for your brand. This is a great way to build trust and traffic.

Build your newsletter subscriber list. Your exposure to your social media followers can be limited by changes in the rules of each platform. Your list of newsletter subscribers, however, is the only list that you own and control so it’s vital to build this list from day one. It’s a fantastic place to launch deals and subscriber specials and to engage with people who’ve signed up to hear more from you. A great way to grow this list is to offer a free ‘lead magnet’ which people can only access once they subscribe. The best ‘lead magnet’ is a content offering that is truly helpful and desired by your potential customers. Try to get creative and think of what you are willing to give away for ‘free’ to build your database.

Learn the basics of SEO. Don’t let yourself be intimidated by the big topic of Search Engine Optimisation. If you can learn a few key principles on YouTube and then build each part of your website with this in mind you’ll see a massive long-term benefit as each part of your site will climb higher in the rankings in the future. Don’t forget to submit your sitemap for indexing; skipping this step will delay your websites’ pages being properly ranked in Google.

“Building your own website on a shoestring budget is not only possible but it’s likely to be easier than you expected. Aim for progress instead of perfection, you’ll have plenty of time to fine-tune everything once your site is live.”

Step 5

Delivering your order fast and cheap

Trying to use the South African postal service to deliver to your customers may sound like a cheaper alternative than couriers but it’s really not an option as their service is often hit and miss. Customers will also abandon orders on your site if they see that you’re not using couriers to deliver to them.

You need to engage with the courier companies in your area to see which ones offer the best service at the fairest prices. If you’re in a big city you should be able to deliver within the city for around R32 and to other major cities for R45 on an overnight delivery service. Delivering to customers in outlying areas does become more expensive but you can investigate couriers that offer drop-box options so that your rural deliveries don’t cost more than R99.

Of course, the larger the item the higher the delivery cost can be, but if you’re shipping bulky items like fridges or couches shop around for the best prices as you should be able to offer nationwide road-freight deliveries at no more than R250.

Some companies in South Africa offer aggregated courier quotes where you can book through their service and benefit from their mass negotiation with the respective couriers. They can get as much as 35% discounted off the normal rates and this is passed onto you. These systems can also be integrated into your website so that everything runs seamlessly — like true eCommerce should.

South African customers are generally willing to pay for courier fees on their orders up to a certain shopping cart value. The general rule of thumb is that you ought to offer free delivery on orders over R500; however, you need to know your numbers to ensure that the average shipping fee can be absorbed by your gross profit margins once the order value reaches over R500.

Related: How to Start A Business When You’re Flat Broke

Getting started

Building your own website on a shoestring budget is not only possible but it’s likely to be easier than you expected. Aim for progress instead of perfection, you’ll have plenty of time to fine-tune everything once your site is live. Getting your website live sooner rather than later helps you to recoup some cash from kick-starting your sales, it allows you to get feedback from your first customers which you can use to improve the final site, and, getting your first sales will validate that people are willing to buy what you’re selling.

Warrick Kernes is a serial eCommerce entrepreneur. Having won London's Young Businessman of 2009 Award he returned home to SA and started the award winning online store Action Gear. As a recognised eCommerce Expert in SA Warrick has spoken at JP Morgan, to the MBA class at WITS Business School and more. He sits on the Education Committee for the eCommerce Forum of Africa and is now dedicated to growing the eCommerce industry through the Insaka eCommerce Academy.

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Start-up Advice

Put On Your Wellies: It’s Time To Wade Into Risk

Entrepreneurs aren’t all leaping into the unknown like lemmings off a cliff, but they do need to consider it…

Chris Ogden

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You’ve had a great idea. You’ve looked into its development. You’ve recognised that it has potential beyond just what Auntie Mabel and Mike From The Grocer think. And you’ve clearly nailed a pain point that can make money. Now it is time to take the risk of running with it.

Every big idea comes with risk. You can’t step out into the world of entrepreneurial thinking and business development without it. Your idea may fail. It will also be time consuming, demanding, hungry for money, and hard work. It is unrealistic to expect that your project will leap out into the world and be an unmitigated success.

It is also unrealistic to assume that it isn’t worth taking this risk.

There are steps that you can follow to ensure that your risk is managed so you aren’t blindly leaping off that cliff…

Step 01: Do your research

No, canvassing your neighbours, friends and family is not doing research. You need to know that your idea will appeal to a broad market and that it will have significant legs. This may sound like daft advice, but you would be surprised how many people think an idea will take off just because Susan in Accounting said so.

Step 02: Understand the costs

Projects are hungry for money and investment. Realistically work out your budgets and how much it will cost to take your project off the ground and then stick to it.

A calculated risk is a far better bet than one that shoots from the hip and hopes for the best. You can also use this as an opportunity to draw a clear line under where you will stop investing and end the project. If it keeps eating money and isn’t getting anywhere with results you need to be able to walk away.

Step 03: Know when to walk away

As mentioned before, this can be defined by a line you’ve drawn in the proverbial sand (and budget) but no matter where you draw this line, you have to stick to it. Often, when time, money and energy have been poured into a project it can be incredibly hard to walk away.

You think ‘but I have put so much into this, just one more’ and then it gets to a point where the ‘just one more’ has taken you so far down the line that walking away feels impossible. Leave. Learn the lessons. Apply them to your next project.

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Start-up Advice

Mind The Gap

The entrepreneur’s guide to finding the gaps and building the right solutions.

Chris Ogden

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Innovation may very well be the key to business success but finding the gap into which your innovative thinking can fit is often a lot harder than people realise. Some may be struck by inspiration in the shower, others by that moment of blinding insight in a meeting, however, for most people finding that big idea isn’t that simple. They want to be an entrepreneur and start their own high-growth business, but they need some ideas on how to find that big idea.

Here are five…

1. Network

It sounds trite but networking is actually an excellent way of picking up on patterns and trends in conversation and business problems. The trick is to note them down and pay attention. Soon, you will find patterns emerging and ideas forming.

2. Look for pain

Just as networking can reveal trends in the market, so can spending time reading. The latter will also help you find common business pain points. These are the touchpoints that frustrate people, annoy business owners, affect productivity, or impact employee engagement.

Be the Panado that fixes these pains.

3. Luck

luck

This is probably the most annoying of the ideas, but it is unfortunately (or fortunately) very true. Luck does play a role in helping you capture that big idea. However, luck isn’t just standing around and random people offering you opportunities. Luck is found at networking events, it is found in research and it is found in conversations with other entrepreneurs.

4. Luck needs courage

You may have found the big idea through your network, a pain point or pure blind luck, but if you don’t have the courage to take it and run with it, you will lose it to someone else.

Being bold in business is highly underrated because most people assume that everyone is bold and prepared to take big leaps into the unknown. However, not all brilliant entrepreneurs were ready to throw their family funds to the wind and leap into an idea – they were courageous enough to figure out a way of harnessing their ideas realistically.

5. Pay attention

This is probably one of the most vital ways of finding a gap in the market. Often, people are so busy that they don’t really pay attention to that niggling issue that always bothers them on a commute, or in a mall, or at a meeting. This niggling issue could very well be the next big business opportunity. Pay attention to it and find out if that issue can be solved with your innovative thinking.

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Start-up Advice

5 Things To Know About Your “Toddler” Business

As you navigate this new toddler phase of your business, here are five things to bear in mind.

Catherine Black

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Ah, toddlers. Those irresistible bundles of joy bring a huge amount of energy, curiosity and fun to any family – but there’s also frustration and worry that comes with their unpredictability, as they grow and start to become more independent. If you own a business and it’s successfully past its “infancy” of the first year or so, it’s likely it will also go through a toddler stage of its lifecycle.

Pete Hammond, founder of luxury safari company SafariScapes, agrees with this. “Our business is now three and a half years old, and we’ve found that we’re not yet big enough to justify employing a large team of people to handle the day-to-day admin tasks, yet we still need to grow the business as well,” he says. “As a result, our main challenge is finding the time to step back and see the bigger picture. Kind of like when you are raising a busy toddler and you spend most of your time running after them!”

As you navigate this new toddler phase of your business, here are five things to bear in mind:

1. This too shall pass

Everything in life is temporary – and that goes for both the good and the bad. It’s as helpful to remember this when you’re facing the might of a toddler temper tantrum, as it is when you’re facing throws of uncertainty in your business. If your new(ish) venture is going through a rough patch in its first few years, it can be easy to think about giving up – but don’t. As long as you have an overall big idea that you believe can add value to your customers, keep pushing through the rough parts until you come out the other side.

2. Appreciate what this phase brings

The toddler years mean that the initial newborn joy is officially behind you. But these small humans also bring their own kinds of joy, as you watch them learn new skills, say funny things, and give affection back to you. While your two-year-old business may not hold the same exhilaration for you as it did during those first few months, there are now different things to appreciate about it: Maybe you’re expanding your product range, or employing new people who can take the workload off you.

3. Establish boundaries

Toddlers thrive on boundary and routine – and your toddler business will too. As it grows into a new phase, try and establish limits in terms of the type of clients you want to work with and the type of work you’ll do. It’s also a good idea to make a decision about the hours you’ll work and when you’ll switch off, which will help you establish a good work-life balance.

4. Take a break

Every parent with a toddler needs a break every now and then, even if that means a walk around the block (on your own!), a dinner out with friends, or even a few days away. The same is true for a demanding small business: every so often, remember to take time out to rest properly, where you switch off your laptop and completely unplug. You’ll return much more inspired and resilient to deal with the everyday uncertainty that it brings.

5. Give it space to make mistakes

While the unpredictability of a young business can be stressful and tiring, it’s also a time for trying new things without the risk of huge consequences if they don’t quite work. After all, it’s much simpler to change your USP if you’re a small business employing a few people, rather than a big company where 50 people are relying on you for their salary, or where you’ve received a huge amount of investment capital. While you may fail in some of the things you try with your business (in fact, this is almost guaranteed), see it as a toddler that’s resilient enough to pick itself up, dust its knees and keep moving forward.

During this phase of business growth it’s also essential to have the right type of medical aid cover. There are medical schemes such as Fedhealth which has a number of medical aid options and value-added benefits to ensure that your health and wellness is taken care of too. After all, the healthier you and your staff are, the more productive your business will be – during the toddler (business) stage and beyond.

While this phase can be frustrating, it’s a sign that your business is growing and adapting, rather than remaining in its infancy, and that can only be a good thing! So embrace the difficulties, learn from them, and watch as your business strides forward confidently into the next exciting phase.

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