Some people think that all it takes is a launched business — and boom, you immediately find yourself on a seashore, sipping on a Pina Colada and lazily checking your emails while your employees back home do all the hard work.
Clearly, these people had too much Tony Robbins. In fact, business founders have to invest their all — both mentally and physically — to keep their project going. Especially if there is no budget or team to lean on.
Being a solo entrepreneur is tough. However, sometimes it’s the only available option, especially when you are at square one. In this article, we’ll share how you can start an ecommerce business alone.
Advantages and disadvantages of working alone
In the early stages of an online business, a founder may have to deal with processes alone. For example, there might be too few current tasks, so hiring employees is simply unprofitable — after all, they need to be provided with work every day so that they do not sit out their salary.
That’s why a founder’s responsibilities might include the full maintenance of an online business. You’ll have to work as a call center manager, a courier, and a programmer at the same time. Sure, there are ordinary days when your schedule is stress-free. But you should also expect a mini Armageddon each time you launch sales.
However, it isn’t as grim as it sounds. When you work solo, you communicate with your partners, customers, and suppliers directly, so you know what they want. It’s a decent advantage in a highly competitive environment.
Choosing a niche for a solo online business
Any online business starts with choosing a niche. Since you are launching a project alone, you need to come up with an idea that is favored by customers but also suits you specifically. After all, you’ll be the workforce behind your business, so it needs to be based on your skills and interests.
Step 1. Find what inspires you
Inspiration paves the way for motivation, self-improvement, and desire to keep going. Failures are inevitable, so you need to find some area or direction that brings you joy even when you have bad luck.
Try to think of activities that you’ve been fascinated by for a long time without losing interest. It’s okay if initial ideas seem unprofitable or unpromising. It’s not what matters right now — you’ll think of how to turn a hobby into a profitable business later. For now, find whatever you are passionate about, even if you can’t still make money on it.
Here are some examples:
- If you like board games, you might consider opening a board game club with paid campaigns or an online store.
- Are you a foody? Think about cooking courses, food delivery services, or a website that sells exquisite delicacies from other countries.
- Those passionate about skateboards might open an ecommerce store of boards with custom designs. Allowing users to upload design images directly to a website would be a neat feature.
Step 2. Think about your skills
In addition to hobbies and inspirations, you should analyze your own talents. For example, it might be a part of your education or a skill that you’ve acquired in your previous job. You might as well just happen to know some things thanks to your family background or your childhood hyperfixations.
It doesn’t matter — the important thing is, if you have unique expertise in some knowledge areas, it will give you a strong competitive advantage. Also, if you manage to connect your skills to whatever you’re passionate about, you will burn out slower. After all, launching in a niche that you know and love is not as demanding as learning new skills from scratch.
- You studied at the university to become a Spanish translator, so now you can work as a Spanish tutor or interpreter.
- In your student years, you worked as a waiter and learned the key challenges of managing a restaurant. Thanks to your talent for programming, you can develop a SaaS application that facilitates some restaurant processes.
- As a kid you stayed at your grandmother’s farm and helped her run it, so you know how to tell high-quality farmers from bad ones. If you open a dairy products store, you will be able to find the best suppliers.
Step 3. Assess potential demand
If you have competition in your niche, it means that these particular products or services are well-demanded by consumers. However, it would make no sense to open an ecommerce business in a field that has too many competitors.
If you want to leave your rivals behind, you need to evoke the interest of potential customers, make them doubt and choose the best offer. The analysis of your competition will enable you to improve the USP and meet your target audience with the most profitable option on the market.
Here’s a pro tip: don’t try to pick a niche overnight. This is the most responsible part of starting an online business, so it’s okay if it takes months.
One-man ecommerce business ideas
Online entrepreneurship is divided into two big categories: you can either offer services or goods. A service is a job that you offer to perform instead of a client, whereas selling goods means opening an online store.
- If you think of launching a business based on digital services, start by assessing competitors in the same niche that are used by your relatives, friends, and acquaintances.
- If you want to open an online store and sell actual products, think about what platform you will launch on. It can be your own website or some marketplace. The latter means you will be freed of promotional and technical aspects, but your store’s monthly costs will include marketplace fees.
For those who are interested in opening an online business, we have gathered entrepreneurship ideas that can be launched alone. You are free to use this list for inspiration and reference.
Idea 1: Online store
You can consider selling these product categories in your online store:
- Appliances — household appliances, mobile gadgets, accessories
- Grocery — a specific category or a wide range of products
- Cosmetics — vegan, hair, or face products for any types of care
- Gardening items — seeds, plants, tools, fertilizers, garden furniture
- Children’s goods — toys, clothes, food, books
- Clothing — shoes, jackets, underwear, hats, gloves, accessories.
- Art objects — antiques, handmade items, interior decor, gifts.
Idea 2: Online help desk
This is a great business concept for those who are experts in their field. Your task is to provide consulting services by phone or text messages, answering customer questions remotely.
This idea works best with gadget repair support. The same scheme can also be used by lawyers, psychologists, and other professionals who can provide online advice.
As you grow from a one-man business to a full-fledged team, you can offer brands to outsource your online help desk. For example, you can provide customer support to an apparel online store or a food delivery platform.
Idea 3: SMM agency
Today, social media management is necessary for any company’s advertising. SMM online agency provides promotion services for brands on the Internet.
You can start searching for orders even if you have no team and budget. If you build up a client base and gain useful experience, then in some foreseeable future you might be able to open a full-fledged SMM agency with several people on your team.
Idea 4: SEO services
This type of business doesn’t require any financial startup capital. You can even open a SEO agency without spending a dime. Nevertheless, you’ll have to invest in your skills because SEO requires specific knowledge. Even if you do not plan to deal with technicalities yourself, you’ll have to study the topic.
In the beginning, you will communicate with customers yourself, so you need to clearly understand the specifics. And when you hire a professional, you won’t be able to check the quality of their work without SEO knowledge.
Idea 5: Game-based learning
Game-based learning (GBL) uses gamification to assist adults in acquiring new skills. If you want to become a game-based learning professional, you need to transform master classes, training sessions, or courses into games. It makes them more interactive and engaging.
GBL professionals are usually business representatives, coaches, psychologists, and marketers. However, there are no strict rules for having a specific education or diploma. If you are a Spanish tutor, you can come up with gamified Spanish lessons, and so on.
If you conduct game-based learning sessions online, the only investment you’ll have to make is time investment — after all, you need to come up with a decent training course.
Idea 6: Online copy center
Remember when you needed to print some documents, but you had no printer at home and there was no copy center nearby? Everyone who finds themself in this scenario will appreciate services of an online copy center.
Here’s how it works. Customers send files via messengers or email. These can be electronic tickets, photographs, pages of a student's thesis, etc. A copy center prints them, staples if necessary, and sends them to a customer via a delivery service.
It’s more than possible to manage this business alone. But remember that you will need to purchase an MFP, and the pricing must cover your delivery expenses.
Idea 7: App development
Mobile applications play a big role in the life of any smartphone or tablet user. Some apps get downloaded from App Store and Google Play millions of times, bringing their developers a decent profit.
If you have the necessary coding skills, you can start developing mobile apps. To do this, you will need to purchase licensed software to work with. License is a must, otherwise you risk running into serious trouble.
Idea 8: Internet promotion
Today, every brand that has an Internet presence wants to monetize it. Some hire Internet promotion specialists to attract a larger target audience.
Here’s the thing: there are too many offers on the market, but not all of them can boast quality. It’s not uncommon to find shady agencies that use outdated methods of promotion while charging big money. That’s why true professionals of Internet promotion are worth their weight in gold.
Idea 9: Blogging
Not so long ago, blogging was a harmless hobby for those looking for hype and clout. Today, it’s a profitable business opportunity, and some universities even opened programs that teach students to blog.
Remember: many people want to make money on blogs, but not everyone succeeds. After all, the results of your blogging efforts will solely depend on your personality and unique content.
Idea 10: Social media groups
Here’s another idea for making money. You create a community on a social media platform, post unique and appealing content, grow your number of followers, and then earn money by placing ads in your group.
It will take some time to expand your audience. So the sooner you launch your page, the better. By the way, if your group has lots of active followers, you can sell it to another entrepreneur.
Idea 11: Website building
You can start making money on building blogs and websites. However, remember that the market is saturated with such offers. To attract customers, you’ll need to be creative about your marketing. Find your competitive edge and highlight it in your selling proposition.
Start small by taking simple orders. As you gain experience and accumulate a loyal customer base, you can start gradually expanding your business. After a few months of practice, you can look for bigger clients and maybe even hire someone to join your team.
Idea 12: Webinars and online lessons
Personal growth is always relevant. If you have some specific knowledge and skills, you can set up a master class, a webinar, or a series of online lessons.
Such a business can be launched from scratch. All you need is a unique program of your learning course — i.e. your intellectual property. Remember: it’s crucial not only to create an interesting product but also to present it to the audience in an appealing way.
Idea 13: Copywriting
Brands need lots of professionally written texts:
- product descriptions
- company’s history
- website blog posts
- press releases
- promotion & advertising copies, etc.
The best specialist to write such texts is a copywriter. If you have strong writing skills, you might consider working in one of the following directions:
- SEO copywriting
- online media articles
- social network posts
- texts for landing pages, etc.
You can start a copywriting business on your own and expand it over time.
Idea 14: Tutoring
Online tutoring business does not require special investments. You only need to determine:
- What skills have you got that you can teach?
- What areas are you well-versed in?
- What experience are you ready to share?
School disciplines, music and drawing, acting and singing — these are all potential directions for your tutorship. You can launch programming courses for kids, give meditation master classes, teach Chinese calligraphy, and so on.
Idea 15: Logo design
If you are a creative person that has an eye for great design, you can make money on creating logos. However, you need to be working in special software (or learn how to use it if you have no such skills).
Remember that some programs require a paid license. It might bring your needed startup capital from zero to a couple hundred dollars.
In addition to logos, you can help your customers develop a corporate identity: business cards, letterheads, fonts, color schemes, and much more.
In search for suppliers
It’s better to look for and negotiate with suppliers before you start a business. To avoid interruptions in supply, you should find several partners.
You can work with wholesalers and manufacturers:
- Wholesalers can be found on the Internet through a search engine query.
- To find direct manufacturers, it’s best that you visit local expos, festivals, and other industry events to get acquaintances.
Read customer reviews to evaluate the quality of each supplier. Purchase some products to take a closer look. When you find suitable partners, compare their products and cooperation conditions and choose one that fits you the most.
Even though it’s tempting, don’t choose a supplier with the lowest price tag. After all, you are the one who will end up responsible for every customer claim. For the same reason, avoid compromising your principles. As a rule, this demoralizes suppliers, and they will be more likely to send products of poor quality.
Building the website
Every entrepreneur knows that to start an ecommerce business, you need a website. Since you need to hire a programmer, developer, layout designer, etc., it usually turns out to be quite a costly expenditure.
However, your site does not have to be expensive. There are two life hacks we would like to share:
- You can start selling your goods or services through social media.
- You can use website builders to make landing pages alone or at minimal cost.
If you decide to make a website (instead of selling through social media), you’ll need to register a domain and buy hosting. Then your website must be filled with images, articles, product descriptions, your credentials, and so on — depending on what business you launch.
Pro tip. Do not forget about copyright. It protects both photos and texts, so you can’t take other people’s materials. It’s a violation that can lead to a fine.
It is important that your website content is 100% true. You can’t lie to your customers — when they find out, they will lose all respect and trust for you. Also, all content must be unique — therefore, you’ll be the one who creates it.
Alternatively, you can resort to freelance platforms to hire/outsource professionals to generate content for you. On such platforms, you can post a request for freelancers to design a logo, write product descriptions or blog articles, optimize your website for search engines, and so on.
Setting up payment systems
Any online business should be able to accept payments by card, as well as through other payment systems (such as PayPal). You should consider this carefully before launching the site.
To do this, you will need to
- open a bank account,
- embed an online checkout into your website,
- add the option to pay for purchases directly on your website.
This step is extremely important because you have to start selling as soon as you can. Forget the idea of launching a perfect website and setting up an unimprovable supply chain or payment system. A test run will help you find out whether your website works efficiently enough. This way, you’ll receive your customers’ feedback and do your best to improve their buying experience.
Delivering orders to customers
Even though this step is only relevant for online stores, it’s important nonetheless. Another process that should be well-organized is delivery of purchased goods to buyers. Since you are in the initial stage of business development, it would be unwise (especially so for solo entrepreneurs!) to deliver orders personally.
But why is that so? If you try to deliver orders yourself, it would eat up your working time that you could have spent on more important things. Additionally, it would contribute to your burnout since it’s a stressful task with no clear reward.
So we recommend that you use a local post or delivery service to get your orders to clients. To recoup the cost of shipping, you can set a free shipping threshold, thus motivating customers to buy more products.
Typically, advertising is the main item of expenditure. It’s easy to see why: if no one knows about your goods, then no one will visit your website and buy them.
That’s why you need to get yourself out there. For ecommerce businesses, digital marketing works best for advertising. For example, you can use context ads in Google and other social networks. If you want to learn more about online marketing, read our article — 21 Marketing Tactics for Ecommerce Projects.
Do not save on advertising, but also beware of draining the entire budget on it — especially if you don’t see decent returns.
Tips for solo ecommerce business owners
Here are a few more tips for entrepreneurs who want to implement their business ideas online.
- Assess your offer objectively. Think of costs, profits, customer demand, terms of delivery, reputation, product selection, and so on.
- You can’t start an ecommerce business in your head. Test your idea immediately after developing a business plan. If you can’t do it alone, outsource freelancers to get your advertising and website going.
- If you are new to the ecommerce business, you might want to save money on building a website. Instead, consider using a social media platform or a marketplace. Online stores and/or personal brand pages are easier to set up this way, so it will get you off to a good start and introduce you to the world of digital commerce.
Here are the key principles a retailer needs to stick to if they start an ecommerce business.
- Work with trusted suppliers. The worst thing you can do is to sell products that you feel unsure about.
- Don’t compromise. If you constantly make concessions, the quality standards will drop and suppliers will start saving on everything, fuelled by impunity.
- Do not deceive the buyer. For example, now there are a lot of products in stores that are advertised as “bio”, but the list of ingredients leaves much to be desired. A retailer that wants to stay in the market for good will not lie to consumers, but rather make sure that they have a perfect buying experience.
You can launch such projects alone, only sometimes turning to freelancers (for example, to set up search engine ads or design a landing page). As they say in any book on launching a startup, the main thing is to start a business quickly. Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect; it just needs to be done.