Starting a business can feel like a daunting task, but it doesn't have to be. We've created this simple, 8-minute read to give you a practical guide to help you hit that start button for your ecommerce business venture, making it as exciting as any adventure.

Table of contents 

1. Choose your "right" niche
2. Find who your ideal customers are
3. Know your competition 
4. Pick an ecommerce medium to sell
5. Set up your online store 
6. Build a consistent online presence
7. Analyse and scale

Choose your "right" niche

The word "right" in the business world has so many layers to it. This word is almost too close to the word "perfect," which results in added pressure on new businesses. This can hold you back from even beginning your online selling journey. Choosing a niche is a creative, yet logical endeavor, and you can enjoy the process too.

Ultimately, there are only two products that sell: products you love and products people love.

You can easily sell products you know and love because, ideally, you are your own customer. You know why you love it, you know what needs to improve, and you know what to say to make the next person buy it. That's how Starbucks came to life. Howard Schultz, originally in sales, discovered Starbucks in 1981. At the time, Starbucks was a small coffee bean retailer in Seattle but Schultz was passionate about coffee and now his company is a household name for all coffee-lovers across the world.

On the flip side, say, you've spotted a need for a specific product that you know others will want and enjoy, even if it's something that you aren't personally invested in, this can be a good option for your ecommerce business. That's how Sara Bakley, who was nowhere near related to the fashion industry, identified the need for more effective shapewear from her own discomfort and dissatisfaction women had with existing products - and she came to invent and launch the infamous Spanx.

Find who your ideal customers are  

Know who your ideal customer inside out, from their purchasing behavior to their location, and to what kind of people you want to buy your product. List down all the qualities of the people you want to sell to; get as detailed as possible.

For example, if you know you want to be a part of the pet and grooming industry and have identified a great product that dog owner needs, you can create your ideal customer profile like the one listed below :

  • They're dog lovers and have a dog of their own. [There will be constant need. A subscription box model will work well]

  • They're willing to spend around $200 per month on their dog. [Your pricing can be accommodated to fit their budget]

  • They will attend play dates and love to talk about their dog. [Your customers can be used to spread the word and can be brand ambassadors]

  • They constantly post about their pets on social media and would love to share them with their friends. [Social media can be leveraged for this business]

  • They will click on a social ad post about pets. [Social ads will work really well]

  • They live in the USA. [All the offline and online marketing activity can be centered around this region]

Get to the very last detail. This is important because you want this person to buy your product. Your products need to speak to them. Give them what they want by understanding who they are and what they want.

Here are a few tools that can get you started with your customer profile identification :

1. Google Trends: Analyzes search trends to understand what your potential customers are interested in and how their interests change over time.

2. LinkedIn Sales Navigator: Identifies and connects with potential customers based on professional data and activity on LinkedIn.

3. SEMRush: Provides data on competitor's audience, keyword analysis, and traffic sources, helping identify target customer segments.

4. SurveyMonkey: Creates and distributes surveys to gather direct feedback from potential customers.

5. Facebook Audience Insights: Offers detailed information about your target audience on Facebook, including demographics, page likes, location, and activity.

6. BuzzSumo: Analyzes content engagement across social media to identify popular topics and the audience interested in them.

7.Qualtrics: Conducts detailed market research surveys to gain insights into your ideal customers’ preferences and needs.

Know your competition 

Identify your direct competition. It is always wise to do a competitor analysis on all your competitors. Study their business model (investments, sourcing, vendors, and the like), what they do (both paid and unpaid promotional activities), and how they do it (channel, spokespersons, collaborations). Take whatever inspiration you can from them and do it better.

This is also the stage where "keywords" come in. Keywords are nothing but words or phrases people use on the internet for relevancy.

Example of keywords in action   :

Imagine you have an online store that sells eco-friendly cleaning products. To attract potential customers, you need to identify the keywords they might use when searching for products like yours.

Search Scenario: A potential customer goes to a search engine and types in "natural cleaning products."

Results: The search engine returns a page filled with links to articles, product listings, and videos related to eco-friendly cleaning solutions.

Keyword Phrase: "Natural cleaning products" is the keyword phrase used in the search.

Here are a few competitor analysis tools that could be of use:

  • SEO Tools: Platforms like SEMrush, Ahrefs, or Moz can help you analyze competitor websites, keywords, and backlink profiles to understand their target audience and marketing strategies.

  • Social Media Monitoring Tools: Monitor your competitors' social media channels using tools like Sprout Social or Mention to gain insights into their audience demographics and engagement tactics.

In short, you need to find out if people are searching for your products, how many of them are actively looking, what words they use in the search bar, and what your competitors are using to stay relevant in that industry. You might want to read a little about SEO or hire an SEO expert to make your business discoverable online.

If you follow along, you should have some idea of what industry you want to work in and what products you want to sell. With that, you now have an idea that can be made into a niche.

Pick an ecommerce medium to sell

Most of today's ecommerce platforms come with an integrated setup of inventory management, shipping carriers, multiple payment gateways, built-in marketing tools, and more. So, all you have to do is identify what kind of platform you're looking to sell on. While this hugely depends on where your ideal customer is likely to shop, you're free to experiment, and you should experiment. There are several available ecommerce platform models in the market today.

  • Hosted ecommerce platforms: These are cloud-based platforms where you pay a subscription fee to use the software. Examples include Zoho Commerce, Shopify, BigCommerce, and Wix. They handle hosting, and security, and provide a user-friendly interface for you to list your products and let you build and customize an online store.
  • Online marketplaces: These are platforms like Amazon, eBay, and Etsy that allow you to list your products on existing marketplaces, leveraging their large customer bases. You will have to pay fees or commissions on sales.
  • Multi-vendor marketplaces: These are platforms like Magento Marketplace and Dokan for WordPress. They enable multiple vendors to sell their products on a single website. The marketplace owner takes a commission from vendor sales.
  • Dropshipping platforms: These platforms, like Oberlo (for Shopify) and SaleHoo, are tailored for dropshipping businesses. They integrate with suppliers and automate product sourcing, order fulfillment, and inventory management.
  • Subscription box platforms: Platforms like Cratejoy are designed for subscription box businesses. They provide tools to manage subscriptions, billing, and customizable storefronts.
  • Print-on-demand platforms: Businesses looking to sell custom merchandise or printed products can use platforms like Printful or Printify, which integrate with ecommerce stores to fulfill orders with custom designs.
  • Social commerce platforms: These platforms, like Facebook Shops and Instagram Shopping, allow businesses to sell products directly on social media platforms, simplifying the shopping process for users.
  • Mobile commerce platforms: Mobile commerce platforms, like Moltin and Tapcart, focus on creating mobile-optimized shopping experiences and apps.

Do thorough research and consider important factors from the pricing plan of the platform to the value it adds to your business, in terms of features, before committing to one.

Set up your online store 

Here comes the brand-building side of building an online business. Once you've identified the ecommerce platform, there comes a certain level of groundwork you need to do, including:

  • Product photography

  • Logo design

  • SEO research

  • Product description writing

  • Website templates (if you're going with your own online store)

  • Rich and informative content creation and more.

Every single element you incorporate into your online store should best reflect what your business stands for. Today, most ecommerce platforms will provide you with tools to help you generate these elements. Work with your ecommerce platform to build and customize the online store of your vision.

Build a consistent online presence

Once you have launched your online store, your customers can purchase your product online, but how will they know where to look for you? Help them find you. There are so many ways to go about it, and all the ways require your dedicated time and effort.

One way is to rank organically. When an online consumer searches for your product, they can find your business via search engine results. For this, you need to create a lot of content (like articles, guides, webpages, videos, images, and more) optimized for search engines using proper SEO techniques.

You can also invest in ads like social ads or Google ads to increase visitors to your online store. While this costs some money, it is also an effective way to increase brand awareness and traffic.

Another way to market your online store is to give your business a voice. Make a social page for your business on platforms like X, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest to capture the attention of consumers using those channels. Participate in community meetups to help the industry your business is in and connect with like-minded folks to increase your visibility. Here's a list of all the marketing tools you need to have a louder voice.

Please remember this is not a one-step process; this is a continual task. You might even want to consider setting up a team to help with this. The whole process is the lifeline of your business, and you should nurture it as such.

Analyse and scale

An analysis is nothing but continuous learning. You learn to work with analytical and business tools along the way and learn the right way to measure your business success. Once you understand words like "breakeven," "gross profit," "net profit," "and overhead costs," you're good to go. Remember, nobody starts off as a business expert; they do it until they just become one.

Three to six months after launching your business and making your first sale and then some more, it is best to revisit your selling strategy and reconnect with your customers to learn what they like and what they don't. See where your business performance can improve, and into which area you need to reinvest, then implement everything for your now successful online business.

A word from Zoho Commerce   

To the businesses who are trying to get into the world of ecommerce, we understand how a single step can seem like a mile. We're here to cheer you on and help you turn your ecommerce idea into a successful business venture. Consider taking your first step with Zoho Commerce, a user-friendly ecommerce platform. With a 14-day free trial and experts just an email away (, your ecommerce adventure might be simply one sign-up away.

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