I’ve been building, managing and helping e-commerce store owners for a long time now. Although I specialise in WordPress and WooCommerce, it’s not always the solution I recommend. I recently met with a new business who wanted a new ecommerce site. This is an overview of my line of thinking for them:

Minimalists approach to ECommerce

A growing business demands attention. You’ll have to wear many hats and have many responsibilities. You’ll want to learn from the ground up to understand the processes and keep costs low. However, the best will in the world can’t change the finite time you have to work with.

A bootstrapped business is often described as being cash poor and time rich. Be careful not to fall into the trap that you can resolve every aspect of the business by doing it yourself. Every moment in a bootstrapped business is important. It is unlikely that there is not another aspect of the business that requires your attention.

In particular I am thinking of the business essentials of driving sales and achieving product-market fit. These are the bedrock of business success. They can also be overlooked because the business infrastructure is too overwhelming, too much of a time hog.

A business that can achieve sales and product-market fit without a large overhead will grow better. The store can evolve from a tested business model.

The classic example is the Innocent juice company. They started with a single stall at a Festival with a few juices. They had a product, a shop and were very focused on their demographic. They used the product research here to determine their next steps: a London store. After that they rolled out more ranges, went nationwide, then internationally before being purchased by the Coca Cola Corporation.

If they had launched with a range of product and an international store they would have been hard pushed to get the traction required to make the business a success. Even more so for a bootstrapped company.

Start small and grow from there.

In practical terms this means:

  • What is the minimum inventory I can start with
  • How can I minimise my technical overheads
  • How can I minimise my geographic availability
  • How can I minimise my warehousing costs

When you start reaching the limits you can use that to inspire growth. If you are limiting your product to just London but find you are getting lots of requests for the product outside of the city, then use that pressure to inform the next phase of growth.

Technology for starting small

I met with a client who had a budget of around £5000. Now this is enough budget for a WooCommerce build. You can see a spreadsheet of our costs here.

However, once you take into account design costs, training, consultancy, hosting and other aspects of going live then we see that budget diminish quickly.

In my blog post about how much does an ecommerce site cost, I describe a number of different approaches to building a site. (Please read that post for a more comprehensive breakdown of the available options.)

My suggestions are in this order:

  • marketplace
  • hosted-solution
  • self-hosted solution

A marketplace is often not suitable for those stores who need to cultivate their own unique brand. It’s a low cost starting point, but not for all businesses.

The next step is a hosted-solution. This is what I would advise for this kind of store. Not WooCommerce. There are two options that really strike me as viable:

These two solutions are considerable easier than WooCommerce. That doesn’t not mean they are better. In fact, better is an unhelpful word here. It’s completely context dependent.

So, in the context of a small budget, a small team who are bootstrapping their ecommerce business, who do not have the technical skills (nor the time to learn them), then these self-hosted solutions are far more suitable.

There are monthly costs involved, but they are great value for what you receive.

When those costs become a concern then you can look at other, options such as a hosted WooCommerce solution.

Ways a hosted solution helps

There are lists of differences, but these items are the real clinchers for me:

  • One single interface to manage site, hosting, add extensions, manage theme
  • Hosting built-in
  • Payment built-in
  • Simple back-end
  • Support built-in (ie. hosted solutions require you to use a freelancer / agency for support)
  • easier to find reliable off-the-peg themes

The reasons I prefer WooCommerce (or other hosted solutions) comes down to:

  • more flexibility in site structure
  • better for custom built themes
  • more scalable
  • better marketing options (ie. WordPress blog more powerful)
  • larger range of development
  • better costs (no % Shopify fee)

Help getting started

The hosted options can let you build a custom theme for your site and there are developers out there who specialise in this.

However, most of the companies I recommend to use these options are using an off-the-peg theme. A theme is the style of the site and it will be built to work with big screens, tablets and mobiles.

After choosing a theme you will then have to configure the theme. One of the big surprises people have is that after buying a theme it doesn’t look anything like the demo site when added to theirs. That’s because you will need to configure the options, add copy and images.

After that you will need to configure the back-end to sort out your inventory, shipping, payments and other settings.

All of this can be overwhelming if you are not familiar with it. You may find that hiring a freelancer or agency is the most suitable option to get you going from the start.

I’d suggest budgeting £1000 for upfront help and another £2000 for more help over the coming year.

After that, you will find the platforms considerably easier to get going with.

How do you fare with your current ecommerce platform? Do you think I have been unduly harsh on the hosted solutions?

I’ve previously written an article about how WooCommerce is not simple which I know some people in our industry do not totally agree with. However, having dealt with many ecommerce clients with a range of budgets I would suggest that for those getting started it might not be the solution for you.