The Nightmare of Creating an Ecomm Dream

by splork on March 12, 2013

Desk Trauma

I decided that it was time to try something different. I created my first real ecommerce site. I can say with all manner of candidness that the process sucked. I was lucky that I had a mentor of sorts to guide me through the roughest of patches and frankly keep me from giving up on the nightmare dream.

There is a reason why people choose to create a Squidoo page and link it to their blog and try to pimp out some affiliate nonsense to make a few bucks while replicating it a 100 times with the hopes that the more you sling the better chance for monetary glory. Oh yes, my bipedal minions. It is incredibly easy.

Creating an ecommerce site, in many ways, is vastly different. Unless you have something you already have a desire to sell you will have to determine what people will buy. Will it be something you care about? Maybe not. I conjured up numerous ideas only to determine that they would probably not be easily viable. How? Keyword research, natch.

Finding a niche via Google’s keyword tool is only a start as it’s important to take that idea and actually drop it into Adwords for added scrutiny. The real test is creating a simple ad and seeing what clicks you get in real time. After eliminating probably 200 niche ideas with the simple keyword tool I came to the conclusion that four might be valid to test in Adwords. Ultimately they all seemed viable based on proprietary metrics at a cost of $100.

Spending money to make money on the Internet grinds me the wrong way. Having been conditioned through years of stupidly cheap/free Internet marketing activities makes paying even the smallest amount for research most retching.

After all that research to determine what product might be acceptable to take into the marketplace, you then have to find a supplier. And not just any supplier. A drop shipper. And not just any drop shipper but one that will allow you to clear a decent profit. Can’t find a supplier, that drop ships, on good terms? Start over sucker.

This is where you delve into the professional world of sales. This is no BS, pull up your big boy pants and hope you sound like you know what you’re doing time. Suppliers want to do business with you but you have to put aside your anonymous Internet marketer tendencies. Frankly I didn’t find it exciting contacting distributors to see if they offered what I need.

I got lucky. I discovered my distributor via the web research of course but trying to find a contact was difficult. I found a name in LinkedIn by chance and discovered she was a former web site owner and moved over to web sales with this company when her last business was bought. She knew what I was trying to accomplish and she immediately got me in touch with the right people.

This was actually my second choice. My first choice was a school on frustration so I decided to move to the second idea. Never underestimate the probability that people don’t want to do business with you. It’s amazing how difficult some businesses make it when someone wants to sell their product to additional markets.

Of course once you figure out what you’re selling and how you’ll supply the market, you have to build the website. You are no longer in the world of simple blog installation. Oh no. You have to buy and build an ecommerce website. You have to add in the products. Price them. Figure out the shipping module. The tax module. You have to get business hosting. Credit card processor. Have the SSL cert installed. Re-write all those damn product descriptions.

If you are like me you would be about 1-2 months into this process. With a few hundred dollars “invested”, you are now a true risk taking entrepreneur with actual capital and expenses in the game. Indeed, who knows if you will make a single sale. But you definitely won’t if you can’t get traffic to your site. Unlike Lost Ball that could conceivably continue into perpetuity with the expected 6-7 visitors, that won’t work with the ecomm venture.

So how are you going to attract visitors to buy the goods you are offering? Adwords? SEO? Both? I am loath to spend $20-50/day and not sell anything. But I won’t sell anything if I don’t get traffic. And the SEO game is quite an ordeal. Of course, with a new website SEO could easily take 3-6 months before getting results, which is not exactly acceptable when you are paying $15/month for business hosting and another $15-20/month for credit card processing. Decisions, decisions.

What people that promote ecommerce site building fail to tell you is that it will take money. In this game you have to have money to make money. At least when you sling the typical niches for the glory of Adsense or affiliate payouts you can conceivably spend nothing and lose nothing but time. With ecomm you could lose time and money. And a whole lot of both and see nothing.

So what are my prospects? As good as can be expected. All the niche selection, backend BS and product sourcing is happily done. On and off-page SEO is obviously an ongoing concern, and I have a few tweaks to take care of, but mostly it’s just a matter of selling. A few early sales have been encouraging. I look forward to seeing what I can do with it. It would be nice to see basically a couple, a few thousand, maybe more, in residual income month after month. Then again selling out for a decent chunk is something I will be very open to do as well.

What now? I thought when I started this project I’d build 4-5 sites and kick back beachside while the sales came through and my assistant makes sure they were processed through the drop shipper. Reality is never as cool as fantasy. Now it’s one and done, for a while.

8lettersuk / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Seth" March 12, 2013 at 9:59 pm

I’m very surprised you did all this. You just outlined way more work than I am willing to do. Not that I would have ever considered doing it for more than two seconds anyway.

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Lars Koudal March 12, 2013 at 10:40 pm

“Now it’s one and done, for a while.” … I think that is a mistake. You have done a lot of research and energy in setting up one.

Now you move on and build the second while the first builds up. Once the second is launched, you revisit the first and do optimization and try new things if necessary. Before you move on to the third.

If you just build one, you have to be really lucky to have it be the right one. As you say, it will take time to kick into gear.

If you want to stop now after this, okay. But you are not done then. Then start engaging with the users, make interesting content, engage with the users on social media, etc. There are tons of things to do which can push the single site forward.

If you just sit down and wait for something to happen, I doubt something will. (I really hope I am wrong, I am impressed by the hard work you have done for setting up this).

I think your first idea about setting up 4-5 is a realistic goal, because it will be impossible to maintain more at a single time.

You also secure yourself by having 4-5 retail sites in different niches, so if a problem outside of your control (people completely loose interest in what you are selling, or…) you still have 3-4.

Great work, but your final sentence made me actually go to your website and comment. Job well done. One down, now go make the other 3-4.

I wish you well

And about PPC: You have the wrong mindset on this. You are not spending money to make money. You have a business. You need customers. You can set up a campaign and have customers within the hour. And you even already use Adwords for the tools.

I wish you well in your life whatever you choose, but I for one disagree that now is the time for you to sit down and just wait.

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Eric @ ShuckaBuck.com March 14, 2013 at 3:25 pm

I have to disagree with you there about creating 4 or 5 sites. As a new player in this ecommerce game, I think splork should master one site and then move on to another – but there is no reason one site couldn’t do really well for him.

Over the years I’ve been spread too thin – too many things to work on which most of time ends up as nothing getting finished.

Focus on one business, and keep working hard to get that business making as much money as possible…then sell out.

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Mark Spearman March 12, 2013 at 11:33 pm

A few years back I used Drupal with the Ubercart module. I volunteered to do a website for a friend that had products to complicated for any free Wordpress plugins. I got it all working and she made a few sales, lost interest when she found out that simply having a website will not catapult you into success.

I didn’t make any money, but I learned Ubercart was the way to go if you have any complexity and you want it for free. They even had some seriously complex shipping modules.

I’ve thought of doing another because the site got plenty of traffic without doing a thing. I’ve heard that e-commerce sites tend to rank well if you do just standard SEO practices and found that to be true.

My problem has always been the drop shipper. That’s a venture I have no experience or knowledge in and I haven’t found one yet that didn’t seem seedy. I’m sure that good ones are out there, I can’t figure out how to be sure I’ve found a good one.

The only big “secret” I’ve found is that people don’t price compare that much when buying fun and luxury items. They’re just excited to find and are happy to point, click, and buy.

Good luck on your venture and I look forward to hearing more about it.

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splork March 13, 2013 at 1:09 am

@Seth – it wasn’t remotely fun.

@Lars – No, I’ll be pressing forward with the site. I’m just taking a break before I consider another one. I have a ton of SEO both on and off-site that I have to do. That will be an ongoing concern. I’ve been dipping into the PPC, it’s how I got my first couple of sales, but it’s not what I really enjoy doing. It can be a drag to blow through $20-30 in a few hours, which is pretty good actually, and not make a sale. So you have to figure out why. Split test…again. Load it up for the next day. Blow through more money. I can’t drop $200 a week and not have a sale so I have to figure out what is going on.

@mark – I hear the same thing about ecomm sites, that they are regarded by G quite well. We’ll see. PPC is not my strength but I can collect traffic, so we’ll see how it goes.

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RT Cunningham March 13, 2013 at 5:30 am

Correction to paragraph two: It *was* extremely easy. If it was still easy, you wouldn’t have made to the leap to ecommerce.

Anyway, more power to you. I can’t do any more than what I’m doing now because I don’t have the wherewithal to do so since it isn’t my primary source of income.

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Hamish March 13, 2013 at 11:00 am

Splork – that’s a nice looking site. I’m guessing that you have put a lot of work into that – way more than most (me included) are ready to invest.

“one and done – for a while” sounds reasonable to me. Take a well earned rest and get back on it when you’re refreshed I guess.

Wish you luck with that one chum – and I’ll be interested to hear how it works out.

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Brawnydt March 13, 2013 at 2:30 pm

Alternatively, or additionally, you could use Amazon as your drop shipper and marketplace (largest in the world after all…). Use Fulfill By Amazon, store your items with them, let them handle the taxes and shipping… and pay through the nose in fees.

However. It will make your life easier. It’s nice to let someone else handle the nitty gritty, while you continue your blogging ways. Plus, you get a substantial amount of exposure just being on Amazon too if you know a little keyword seo.

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Ray March 13, 2013 at 5:35 pm

When I saw your title in my RSS reader, I first thought you were going to bash the newest product being promoted, Amazing Selling Machine, which teaches you how to use Amazon fulfillment service and private label your own products. It seems interesting but the price tag is steep, $4,000

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Eric @ ShuckaBuck.com March 14, 2013 at 3:22 pm

@Ray – Yeah I saw that too. I’m actually emailing Matt back and forth on the pricing right now. Who has $4,000 to LEARN this business? I mean, yeah I would invest $4,000 in inventory if I had a product that was selling – but $4,000 just to LEARN the “secrets of the system”…no thanks.

I have been doing a little bit of research on Amazon on what product line I would like to start selling. I’ve contacted a couple suppliers in China, but I’m hoping to find a manufacturer in the U.S. (which will be hard).

I would like to start small with Amazon and see what happens.

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splork March 14, 2013 at 3:51 pm

@RT – yea my wherewithal is waning as well. But I feel rumblings in my current employment situation and think maybe I need a viable backup. I have a number of things in mind to collect additional coin. Just wanted to see if I could do anything in this arena.

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splork March 14, 2013 at 3:52 pm

@Hamish – Thanks. We’ll see how it goes.

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splork March 14, 2013 at 3:54 pm

@Ray – I might have considered it if I had my own products, but right now I’m doing the dropship deal with a distributor.

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Robert C - The Wholesale Guy March 18, 2013 at 12:40 am

Well, this is timely..

Since you have taken the e-commerce plunge, I was reading this “gi-normous” article about that very subject (well, how to set up a site to convert properly anyway).

Knowing little about setting up an E-Commerce site, let me say this- about that..

It is probably one of the most comprehensive blueprints I have seen on the subject – brought to you by the folks of SEO Moz.org.

The author really put some time into this one. Complete with the SEO dejour – “infographics”…

Read – and prosper…

Stay excellent – Robert…

http://www.seomoz.org/blog/holygrail-of-ecommerce-conversion-optimization-91-points-checklist

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splork March 18, 2013 at 12:56 am

@Robert – Thanks for sharing.

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Jack Folsgood March 24, 2013 at 2:36 am

Looks like I might be coming a little bit late to this party, but first off – let me say… Splork…. – Congratulations!

Nothing like a little bit of fear [" But I feel rumblings in my current employment situation and think maybe I need a viable backup."] to spur one on to bigger and better things – ay?

Keep on Keeping on…

Jack

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Sunshine April 11, 2013 at 2:35 am

Wow Splork,

It’s been awhile since I’ve visited but see you’ve begun to steer you floatila into different waters. I actually saw an article featuring 45 websites that pay you to write and thought you might be interested since you’re one hella awesome writer.

It seems you might not be needing this resource but just in case, definitely check out #37 on the list. You’d definitely be in your element there. http://www.writersincharge.com/more-websites-that-pay/

Enjoy!

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Fancy April 14, 2013 at 2:51 am

Hey Splork, I really like the clean design and how simply it is to navigate.

Which ecommerce software are you using to run that site?

Did you have trouble deciding between all the different ecommerce solutions and their prices? I see some charge $30/month while others are $50+. Not sure which would be best to go with depending on SEO, easy of product adding, shipping solutions..etc..

Thanks!

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splork April 15, 2013 at 12:36 am

@Fancy – Bluecart
My Ecommerce price is $15 for business hosting. Need SSL…
A of course you have to pay for a merchant service unless you are going to use Bitcoin. That’ll cost you around $30 a month.
Then you have to get a business license for the year. Depending on your tax mule status it could be cheap or costly.

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GForces April 23, 2013 at 6:02 am

Nice work on the ecomm site. It is definitely something we all need to consider…. going the ecomm way. Like most online business models it does have it’s weak points so I will be interested to follow along and see how it pans out longer term. You will obviously be making a better percentage on each sale than pushing Amazon product, that’s a plus, but I wonder if the supplier can match Amazon in terms of reliability, customer service, low to no shipping costs, up-sells, cross-sells etc. Keep us posted… you are doing an awesome job.

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splork April 24, 2013 at 3:28 am

@GForces – I effing hate ecomm. Customer hassles. Local taxes. Business licenses. Fees to state and local governments. Fees to credit card processor. Dropshippers. Hosting fees. PPC. SEO. Unless you are lucky you will lose money the first 3-6 months. Of course it’s much better than bricks and mortar as far as start-up costs but you better prepare to lose money while you are getting yourself going.

Like most MMO options it’s best to find something you love because it won’t sting as much when you keep losing money. And you will be more motivated to stick with it through the pain.

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