It’s every aspiring ecommerce entrepreneur’s dream: to go from 9-5 with a side hustle to full-time business owner. The question is, how do you get there? The road to becoming a successful, sustainable business owner is not a simple one. There are hundreds of turns, forks, and detours you could take on your journey, and each could lead you on the right path and closer to your goal. There is no true blueprint that can be followed that will absolutely ensure your success. There are, however, a number of tips and best practices that you can implement along the way that can help push you in the right direction.
These are the 18 tips you can use to go from part-time selling hobbyist to full-time ecommerce business owner:
1. Test Your Idea
If you’re just starting out in ecommerce—that is to say, you have an idea that could potentially help you take you from working a 9-5 job to owning your own business but you haven’t really gotten started yet—the first thing you need to do is test your idea. Before investing too many resources into your endeavor, you need to validate it and find out if it has any legs.
There are a number of ways to approach this. You can always start by informally surveying your friends and family. Put together a 30-second elevator pitch that describes your ecommerce business and the products you intend to sell, and see what kind of reaction you get from people. If you already have a pretty good idea of who your target audience will be (ex. new moms), focus on talking to your friends and family members who fall into that specific audience.
Be warned: you’ll likely get a lot of skeptical reactions and negative comments from people. Don’t let it discourage you. Instead, build confidence by combining this qualitative feedback with actual data that can support your business idea. Use tools like Google Keyword Planner and SimilarWeb to get a better idea of actual audience size and competition.
You can even go so far as to build a test to see how interested prospective customers are in your business and products.
“To test if people are willing to pay for your product BEFORE figuring out fulfillment, just set up a landing page with the payment to your paypal account,” says Justin Mares, Founder of Kettle & Fire. “Drive traffic to it with bing ads (cheaper than adwords & effective depending on your demographic) and see how many people convert. For people who pay, just give them a full refund, the main thing is to validate people are willing to pay.”
Running a quick and lean test like this is a great way to gauge interest and find out how much people would be willing to pay for your products.
2. Get Motivation from Others Who Have Done It Before
Another way to get closer to becoming a full-time business owner in the ecommerce space is by spending all your free time learning from those who have already done it. There are hundreds of case studies, blog posts, and podcasts you can subscribe to that will provide you with the stories, tips, and motivation you need to get moving on your own business idea. Here are a few worth checking out:
Blog Posts & Case Studies:
- How To Build a $120K per Month Ecommerce Brand in Less Than A Year
- The Results of the 24-Hour Business Challenge
- How We Built an Ecommerce Business from Scratch and Generated $922.16 in Revenue in 3 Days
Spending time digging into resources will help you learn from the successes and failures of other ecommerce entrepreneurs. In addition, it can also help you start building out a list of potential mentors and supporters who you can turn to when you need help (more on that later).
3. Get Valuable Experience From Your Day Job
If you’re not yet ready to go out on your own, your short-term goal should be to get a job that helps you practice and excel at the skills you’ll need once you do start your own business. In most cases, this will mean getting some sort of marketing job that will give you the opportunity to work on tasks related like branding, social media marketing, content marketing, PR, conversion rate optimization (CRO), and sales.
If you work for a small business or a startup, you’ll likely also have the opportunity to learn from a CEO or founder of a company, which can also help when it comes time to start your own business.
“Use your day job to build your business. I took on projects that would give me valuable skills for my business,” says Jason Quey, founder of CofoundersWithClass.com. “Additionally, as a fellow marketer who helps other marketers and entrepreneurs feel confident, impress clients, and close more deals, this also gave me valuable insight into how they think.”
Don’t feel stuck just because you don’t have the means to leave your day job yet. Use it as an opportunity to gain the knowledge and expertise you’ll need once you finally are ready. In a lot of cases, businesses will pay for you as an employee to attend conferences, take online classes, or learn from a mentor. Take advantage of every opportunity that you can to learn while you’re still working for someone else.
4. Create a Budget for Tools That Help Increase Productivity
If you’re further along in the ecommerce game but you still haven’t scaled to the point where you can leave your day job, chances are you’re spending way too much time on tedious tasks, and not enough time thinking about how to fuel growth. In order to combat this, you should work on creating a budget for automation tools that help increase your productivity.
To start, make a list of the tools that you think could help save you time or make your business more successful. Some examples include:
- A project management tool like Asana
- A social media curation and publishing tool like Quuu
- A multichannel inventory management tool like Sellbrite
- A conversion optimization tool like Spently
- A virtual assistant tool like Zirtual
Think about all the tasks you do each day and how long each takes you. Are there ones you can automate by paying for a subscription-based tool or outsource to someone else? If the answer is yes, find out which tools you need first, how much they cost, and start putting money away to afford them. Implement the most important tools first, then the rest over time as your business and revenue continues to grow.
5. Uncover Opportunities That Your Competitors Are Ignoring
Big businesses that have been around for a long time tend to move much slower than a new business when it comes to trying new things or implementing change. As an aspiring ecommerce business owner, you can use this truth to your advantage in order to grow your business.
“Find a unique opportunity with potential for moving mass units or mainstream notoriety that your largest competitors are ignoring or are blind to, then line up everything you can to knock that out of the park,” says Casey Armstrong, Director of Ecommerce at BigCommerce. “For example, I helped my good friend get his product placed on his industry’s largest newsletter with an affiliate deal. They sold 2,500 units with 2 emails in 1 week. At a single Whole Foods, their largest competitors might sell 10-20 units. This put them on the map and was their catalyst in company evolution.”
While all the big dogs in your industry are busy implementing the same strategy month-over-month, you should be spending your free time trying to uncover new channels and tactics that can help you take your ecommerce business to the next level.
6. Level-Up Your Branding Game
When you’re first starting out in ecommerce, stellar branding isn’t always your main priority. It’s usually sales. But the truth is, in order to build a legitimate ecommerce business that allows you to quit your day job, your business needs to actually look the part. For a lot of ecommerce hobbyists, that means spending some time and money updating your branding, packaging, and other marketing material.
Because your prospective customers don’t have the luxury of being able to walk in your store and pick up your products, your branding matters more than ever. You have to create an experience for online shoppers that they’ll never forget, and to do it, your branding needs to be stellar.
To get started, read this fantastic branding guide from A Better Lemonade Stand. It’ll teach you how to approach colors, logo, personas, brand promise, typography, voice, and more.
7. Stay Hyper-Focused
You might think that in order to grow your ecommerce business, all you need to do is create more products to sell—but you’d be wrong according to one entrepreneur:
“One of the biggest mistakes I see ecommerce owners make when trying to go full-time is expanding their product offerings,” says Ajay Paghdal, Founder at OutreachMama. “Instead, you should get as hyper-focused as possible. Going deeper into your niche means you can develop more targeted content for your ideal customer. The trickle down effect will be that Google gives a thematic-boost to your website and much better rankings with far less time and investment.”
Instead of trying to add more products to your shop, focus on targeting the right people and making your existing products irresistible to your target audience. Only add more products once you’re confident you have the resources (time and money) and the demand from your customers.
8. Be Obsessed About Data
To build a successful business, you have to be obsessed with data. There is simply no way around it. The numbers you measure and evaluate will help you make the decisions that need to be made in order to get you away from your 9-5 job and into the driver’s seat.
“Focus on the numbers — In ecommerce, everything can be reflected by a number,” says Nathan Resnick, CEO of Sourcify. “Whether it be your actual cost of production, cost per click to drive someone to your site, or conversion rate, each number reflects a different metric that will get you from part-time to full-time business owner.”
If you’re not a numbers person, become one. Take an online course or find a mentor who can help teach you the basics of business and ecommerce analytics.
9. Build an Army of Loyal Customers
You can’t scale your side hustle ecommerce business alone. To do it, you need to get help from your most loyal and active customers. You need to make it easy for them to spread the word about you, rave about your products, and get their friends and family members to buy your products. We have a number of blog posts that will help teach you how to leverage your customers and supporters. Here are the best three:
- Article #1: The Quick Guide to Boosting Customer Loyalty and Repeat Business (3-minute read)
- Article #2: How to Turn Your Customers Into Repeat Buyers: An Actionable Guide (5-minute read)
- Article #3: How to Turn Your Best Customers Into Your Best Salespeople (4-minute read)
If you have existing customers or people who have purchased products from you before, you have a pool of potential salespeople that could help you increase revenue and build a stronger business.
10. Don’t Spread Yourself Too Thin When It Comes to Marketing
When you’re a new business owner, it’s tempting to want to try every tactic and every channel all at once, but it’s a mistake that can cost you big time in time and money. Marketing is one area where this seems to happen most often for new entrepreneurs who are eager to make a splash and start driving results.
“Pick no more than 1-3 marketing channels (social, content, etc) to promote your business and do them well, rather than trying to maintain a presence on all of them,” says Aaron Agius, Managing Director and Co-Founder at Louder Online. “It’s tempting to want to be everywhere, or to think you’ll lose money by missing customers on the channels you skip. Really, though, you’ll serve your customers better by giving them 100% of your effort in a few places than you will dividing your effort across a dozen or more channels.”
If you want to build a successful, sustainable ecommerce business, you need to focus your efforts on the channels and tasks that will make the biggest and fastest impact. Anything else is just a distraction.
11. Go Lean with Everything Else
If you’re really serious about building an ecommerce business that will allow you to quit your day job, you have to be willing to put in the time and money. For a while, that might mean you spend less money and time doing other hobbies. Going out to eat, going out to movies, buying new clothes, buying a new new, spending time with friends—these are all things that may have to take a back seat temporarily until you’ve reached your goals.
A word of caution: burnout is a serious problem for new entrepreneurs, so I highly recommend you don’t go overboard with this one. Although you need to put the focus on your business, you should still take time to unplug, be with family, have a meal with friends, and do something fun for yourself. The point is, you just might have to do less of it for a while. But you should never eliminate work life balance altogether for the sake of growing your business. It will never work, and you’ll kick yourself for trying to manage your business in this way down the road.
12. Set Big Goals, Then Work Backwards
Like anything you try to accomplish in life, the best thing you can do is to keep your eye on the prize, and work backwards from there. In order to build a business that allows you to leave your day job, you need to set specific goals with specific timelines and numbers attached.
“Setting clear goals for your companies revenue growth and working backwards breaking that goal down into small chunks,” says Nathan Chan, CEO of Foundr Magazine. Even going as deep as breaking it down by the week and checking in every week to make sure you’re on track.”
If it helps, share your goals with other people to keep yourself as accountable and effective as possible (more on that later).
13. Penetrate a Niche Audience
If you’re still in the idea generation phase of building an ecommerce business, try not to go to broad. The best thing you can do is zero in on a specific audience and identify a specific need:
“Find your niche when starting a full-time business,” says Martin Sawinski, CEO, 3five. Having dreams of owning and running a huge multi-million dollar business is good, but don’t get ahead of yourself. Start small and build your business up by gaining the trust of a niche audience. Your audience can help get you to the next level by spreading the positive word to others.”
It’s unrealistic to think that you’re going to be able to go after the Nike’s and Apple’s of the world and win right away, so try instead to think smaller—the ecommerce opportunities with niche audiences are immense.
14. Find Your Support System
I’ve alluded to it a few times in this post already: in order to be a successful full-time ecommerce entrepreneur, you have to surround yourself with supportive people. These are friends, family members, and experienced mentors who can give you advice and keep you motivated along the way. They also should be there to keep you accountable to the goals you set for yourself and your business.
Above all, your support system should be helpful. Finding friends and family members is easy for most, but mentors is a little more challenging. If you need help, start by joining Slack groups, participating on public forums like Product Hunt and GrowthHackers, and using services like Clarity.
15. Limit Your Morning Priorities
If you’re still working your day job while building or running your side hustle ecommerce business, think about waking up early to dedicate more time to big picture strategy.
“Set aside the first 2 hours of your day, every day to focus your full attention on JUST these two activities: (1) Product – Understanding exactly what it is that your ideal customer really wants, and working out how to give it to them. (2) Marketing – Understanding exactly what it is that your customer wants and then helping them on their journey to getting it through content (and product of course),” says Tom Hunt, Cofounder, Sneez.io. “If you manage this EVERYDAY for an extended period of time, you will find that you will transition to part time wanna-be to full time player sooner than you think possible.”
If you find that you’re more productive at night, shift the recommendation above to the last two hours of your day instead. Do whatever works best for you and your schedule.
16. Make Sure You Have a Strong Competitive Advantage
The best and most successful ecommerce businesses are the ones with the strongest competitive advantage. To take your ecommerce business to the next level, you need to find the right opportunity that will allow you to differentiate and scale quickly.
“Find products where you can be the exclusive distributor,” says Benjamin Cahen, CEO of WisePops, and ex Amazon, Head of Project Management – Marketplace. “Then you can promote and sell your product without having to deal with the competition (small or big) on price etc. If you are exclusive you have a lot of potential: you can promote your product on social networks, on marketplaces (Amazon), and internationally too. Going full-time in ecommerce requires you to have a strong and unique competitive advantage vs. big players such as Amazon. That’s exclusivity, or a big added value in service (delivery, set up, etc.).”
When you uncover your differentiation and competitive advantage, start throwing gas on the fire and do whatever you can to double-down.
17. Make the Leap
Making the switch from 9-5 employee to full-time business owner is not an easy one for most. It’s very likely that you’re going to experience a bit of discomfort, uncertainty, and stress, but if you really believe in your business, you just have to make the leap and hold on. No one is going to be able to tell you when the time is right, and if you wait too long, you risk missing the opportunity that you’ve uncovered. Be confident when you make the switch, and do whatever you can to be prepared. For some, that means saving up money. For others, it means downsizing to a different apartment across town. Be willing to make the sacrifice, go all in, and don’t look back.
18. Embrace Fear, Fail Often, Trust Your Gut
When you finally do make the initial leap, don’t worry about fear. Use fear to fuel your success. Don’t worry about failing, don’t worry about what other people think, just trust your gut. If you’re committed, if you’re passionate, if you’re hungry, you will build a sustainable business for yourself.
Over to You
What other tips would you give to aspiring ecommerce entrepreneurs? Leave your ideas and tips in the comments below.