So you’ve finally started your own small leather business, hitting all the markets, selling to your friends and family, and supplying local shops and boutiques. While selling on social media and in person events are a great way to reach your local clientele, what about folks across the country or even the sea that would love to buy what you’ve made?
Where do you go from here?
One of the best ways to reach those new customers is by launching your own website! And today, with the wide variety of e-commerce platforms, creating a website is easier than ever before.
“But Leather Guy, I can sell on eBay and Etsy and….”. we know, and we hear you. Why start your own website when there are so many places to sell your goods already?
Well, when The Leather Guy decided to start our own website, we were hoping to achieve three things:
- diversify our audience and expand our reach
- build on and duplicate our eBay success
- cut out the fees, surcharges, and lack of control that come with selling on third party sites
Selling on places like Etsy are great for getting your name out there, especially when you are just starting out. However, there are so many rules, restrictions, and fees that it can feel like you aren’t running your own business anymore and are just cranking out goods and handing over your hard earned cash to a big conglomerate.
If you want more control of your shop and to build your own devoted customer base, let’s take a look at what starting a website takes!
Create a domain name.
To start, you need to come up with a domain name ( ex: www.yournamehere.com). If you’ve picked a unique business name, you may be able to make that your domain with few issues.
Type your business name into a search engine, or this domain name generator, and check around. Hopefully you did this step back when you were deciding on a name for your company, but if you didn’t now is the time!
If your business name is long or spelled odd, think about ways to make your domain name easier to remember. Shorthand or initials may be the way to go. Try not to include numbers from your domain. Making your domain name too complicated can make it hard for potential customers to find your shop.
If your unique name is still available and you want to secure it, you can buy a domain name for around $15 a year. Then you don’t have to worry about losing it while you plan and research. However, many ecommerce platforms will register your domain for you as part of their service when you sign up.
Which brings us to what may be the most important part of starting your own website…
Finding the ecommerce platform that works for you.
As you start to shop around, you will want to keep a few questions in mind to help you find the platform that is best suited for your small business.
Is the platform user friendly?
If you aren’t a web developer or even a tech savvy person, picking a platform that is easy to use will take a lot of stress off maintenance, listing, promotions, and marketing.
Most services offer free trials. Take advantage of them and see what tools each one has at your disposal.
Check out their website builder design tools and see if they match your aesthetic. Is the design process as simple as drag and drop or is there more effort needed? See if the text and image options work for you. Set up a test of your homepage and get a feel for the process and what all the options look like.
Take a look at their inventory tools and see if it is easy to add or remove items as needed. As you are just starting out, you may only have 20 or so listings, meaning inventory management might not be something that matters at this time. Especially if you are making your items to order and not keeping a bunch in stock. But the ease with which you can create and add listings is important regardless.
Pull up their analytics to see what kind of reports you can pull and how useful they will be for your planning. Bear in mind the numbers and information that will be most important to you, and see if their reporting system is built for that.
Look at what they offer for marketing and see if they easily connect to Google, social media, or email marketing services. Being able to set up and run ads and emails on your website can save you an immense amount of time. From ad templates to customer segment information, you’ll have everything you need to start reaching out to new customers for your online store even if you aren’t a marketer.
Lastly, find out if they take care of all the updates and backups on their platform or if you will be in charge of staying on top of those. If you are going with a web hosting company, you will likely need to keep tabs on updates or pay someone else to do it for you. An ecommerce platform will typically take care of updates across the board.
Pick the one that makes you feel the most confident in building your website. One less stressor when kicking off a new business can be a life saver.
Are there apps & integrations?
Ready to build websites may not always have all the bells and whistles you are looking for in an online store. You may need to add additional tools and features, like countdowns or shipping insurance or special contact forms or military discounts...and so on.
There are a lot of app builders out there putting together great, and inexpensive, tools to help small websites stand out from the crowd. Check the platforms app and integration catalogs and see what’s available. Most apps may cost a little extra, but if you need a task done, they can be worth every penny.
What are your costs?
Ecommerce platforms can vary wildly in pricing, especially when it comes to packages that include more features and services. As we mentioned in our previous blog, budget is everything. Losing track of or going over your budget is the surest way to tank your business. So this may be some of the most important info you gather.
Check for monthly fees and what they include. Most hosted platforms will cover your domain name, SSL certificate (needed to keep your customers and their info safe), and your web hosting for one single monthly fee.
Check for transaction fees as well. These fees are much cheaper than what you’d pay on a third party marketplace (where fees get as high as 15%), but there are fees nonetheless. You’ll typically be looking at 1-3% per transaction, but that can vary depending on who your platform works with for payment options.
There are a lot of options out there. You may already be using a payment option provider (like Square, Clover, or PayPal) that you’re very happy with. You could check with them to see what platforms they integrate with for an even easier transition.
It may come down to picking the most important features to your business at this time and forgoing some items on your wish list in order to keep your site on budget. But know that as your business grows, you can always add some of those features you compromised on in the beginning.
Is there room for growth?
When you are just starting out, you don’t want to max out the abilities of your online shop right away.
Look at what tools and options are available, but do not fit your needs yet. They may not work for you now, but five years from now you might be really thankful that option is there!
You can always switch platforms or build your own site from scratch in the future, but take it from us, it can be really hard to change websites midstream. If you can find a platform that works for “now” you and “future” you, go with that one and save “future” you some headaches.
Begin your search with these questions in mind, and it should help narrow down the field of platforms pretty quickly.
Start with some of the most recognizable names and go from there:
Designing your website.
You do not have to be a designer to make an attractive website. Choosing a platform with a website builder can streamline the whole process. When you start building, you want to ensure that every aspect of your website feels cohesive.
Your homepage should express what you do, who you are, and what your customer can expect to find as they look through your shop.
Use your logo or your product for inspiration. Pull colors from either to create a color palette, and use that palette exclusively across your website, ads, emails, and more.
Not sure how to create a color palette? Check out Coolors. We’re big fans of the pre-made color palettes and the fact that you can easily customize your own. Having a palette for your brand makes it easier to make decisions and not overwhelm yourself when making banners or posts for your site.
Once you’ve picked a color theme, you’re going to need some “hero” images to lead your site. No, we’re not talking Superman. You want to have some beautiful pictures/videos of your products, or your process, to introduce visitors to your website via the banner.
Be aware that taking great shots doesn’t require expensive camera equipment. You can take quality pictures right on your cell phone, with much of the editing software built right in.
Practice and research is key here. Look at what your competitors are doing. Check Instagram for photo composition inspiration. Make what you see unique to you and your brand.
If you’re just not a photographer, ask someone else to get some great pictures for you. Hire a pro or ask a talented friend.
Poorly lit photos at odd angles can make your website look questionable and won’t show the quality of your leather goods. Do what you need to do to ensure you put your best foot forward with quality images. You worked hard on your leather goods; Show them off in a way that displays your talent as well.
If you plan on continuing to sell on third party marketplaces, consider updating your listing photos to match the website. Again, this reinforces your branding and your customers will be sure they are in the right place when they jump from eBay to shopping with you directly. Not to mention, beautiful listing photos are super effective on places like Etsy.
As a bonus, the more great photos you take (or get) for your website, the more great photos you have to share on your social media or use in your ads. These photos can serve as your content library and always be ready to use in a pinch.
With visuals set, you’ve now got some writing ahead of you. Your pictures caught their eye, now what do you have to say?
Consider your introduction. What sets your work apart? What benefits does your product provide? What’s your mission? What’s new in your shop?
Answering any of those questions simply and concisely can give you a great opener for your banner. Decide if your brand’s vibe is straightforward or fun and answer your question seriously or a little more tongue in cheek. Whatever tone you take, try to stick with it throughout your website.
Take the opportunity to build an “About You” page. This is your chance for a full introduction to folks who aren’t sure if they’re ready to do business with you.
Don’t be afraid to get a bit more personal. People love to know who they are shopping with. Tell them who you are, where you’re from, why you’re making what you make, what you do in your free time, what your values are.
Keep it short and sweet, you don’t want to have your entire memoir here, but make it earnest and honest. Make it you and your brand.
Get your legal jargon in order.
You’ve brought your customer in with your style, but now you need to assure them everything is on the up and up.
If you plan to sell outside of the US, there are different privacy laws you must adhere to. On the bright side, if you’ve decided to go with an all inclusive ecommerce platform, they have a lot of these tools available to help you to create your basic policies and terms.
However, we will always suggest that anything having to do with legal terms should include a visit with a lawyer to ensure all your boxes are checked. As you are starting a business, you should have a lawyer you are able to contact for any number of things that can arise with small business ownership.
This has been a broad overview of the key things to tackle when building a website. But there’s so much more under the surface. Think about the details.
Do you want to create a blog? Blogs can help bring a lot of traffic to your site. They also give you great content to share on social media or emails.
Take your time and make sure they pack some value for your reader. Tackle frequently asked questions, or show off your favorite techniques.
Do you offer free shipping? Make sure you’ve factored in shipping materials and cost into your product prices before crossing that bridge. If you are going to charge for shipping, you’ll need to set up shipping variations on your website that will calculate your shipping charges based on weight and size of the order. This can be a little finicky, but ultimately it will help keep your profit from taking a hit from sneaky shipping costs.
What’s your return policy? Make sure you state this clearly on its own page on your site so there is no confusion the first time you have a customer reach out to you.
How can customers contact you? Make sure your email and/or phone number are available for potential customers to reach out to you.
Not everyone feels totally comfortable ordering online outright, so they may have a few questions or requests. If you have a physical store, be sure to include the address. Add your social media accounts as well.
What products or services do you provide? Create menus that make it easy for your customers to find just what they are looking for.
Let’s wrap this up!
Our first website was set up back in the ancient times of 2008. We weren’t tech savvy, and choices were slim for user friendly ecommerce site builders. So we needed help.
We had to reach out to our contractor that handled our technology systems. They directed us to a local website builder who set up our site and our much needed inventory system. They set it up, we added products as they came in, and we didn’t really think of it much after that. It was pretty standard at the time to set up a website and just not think about again.
It should come as no surprise that the website didn’t grow for several years. It brought in some income, but stayed pretty flat. As a matter of fact, the website didn’t really come into its own until 2015. That’s about the time we really started focusing on marketing, website only offers, and improving the look and usability of our website.
We tell you this because you should know a website isn’t just going to be passive income. It takes time and effort to maintain, but it sure is worth it. At the end of the day having your own shop, that highlights you and your work, is an investment in your business and shows you believe in it and others should too.
In terms of your website, always remember that change is good.
If a customer comes to you with an issue they had while checking out, follow up on it. That issue could be turning away a ton of customers you didn’t even know about.
If you outgrow your original designs and color palettes, update them. Very few businesses go more than a few years without changing their logos, websites, or their décor once or twice. If your personal tastes and style change, let your business and website reflect that.
As a small business owner opening your own online shop can seem really intimidating, but there are so many resources out there to help you succeed and grow. Don’t be afraid to use them and see where your leather goods business can go. You got this!