How I launched my online business in one month
Ika Van Wyk
At the start of January this year I floated an idea by my husband one Saturday morning while having brunch: I’d been retrenched two weeks prior and it was my second retrenchment in one year. I didn’t want to subject myself to that trauma again and wanted to start a business where I could be the captain of my own ship.
My idea was to start a purely digital high-end jewellery company that gets rid of awkward and pretentious sales experiences in traditional high street stores. I wanted to offer a quality product that cuts out the costs, environmental factors and marketing BS of diamonds without compromising the beautiful aesthetic of fine diamond jewellery. I wanted to make locally and support the wonderful artistry of South African goldsmiths and jewellers. And the gemstone that would make all of this happen, you ask? Moissanite. Since this article shares my tips for getting started, you can head over to my website where I sing the praises of moissanite.
I had a vision, I had the time. I just needed to get going.
Here is what I did.
Money and admin
When it comes to admin – apps are your friend. I looked far and wide for solutions that seamlessly integrate with each and have mobile apps, because most of my admin is handled on the go when I have two minutes to spare.
You are able to start a business without registering one, but I highly recommend keeping your personal and your company entities apart. It keeps your accounting clean and it also gives you credibility as a business. You need a registered company to open accounts with payment providers and other service providers which are critical for ecommerce businesses.
- I registered a company with CIPC via FNB when I opened a business banking account in 2014. It was a convenient and fast way to get going.
- I applied for a PayFast account a few years ago so that my company could collect payment virtually. At present, PayFast has seen a massive increase in applications and the waiting time is long, so I’d consider shopping around for other trusted online payment providers such as Peach Mobile and DPO. Trust is really important – if your payment provider is not secure, if they don’t offer great client support, if it is not integrated with commerce platforms like Woocommerce and Shopify, move on until you find one that is. Your ability to collect money when you make sales will make or break your business.
- I opened an account with Xero which integrates with my bank feed for easier accounting, it offers payroll, it integrates with PayFast, and it has a mobile app for on the go admin that keeps me from falling behind. I’ve just appointed a professional accountant to take bookkeeping over from me and she uses Xero, so the process will be smooth. Doing my own set up and bookkeeping for the first few months has helped me understand my company finances from the beginning and I have total ownership of where and how my money is made and spent.
- I used LivePlan to draw up my business plan and financial forecasts. I plan to update my original forecast with real data each semester.
- I use SmartScanner to scan documents, receipts and random bits that I need to file away in my Google Drive or HubDoc for receipts that need to be reconciled in Xero.
- I called up a trusted designer, Evette from Idea.List, whom I’ve worked with before and briefed her on my plans. Time (= money) often gets wasted during a creative development phase because designers are given open ended briefs. Take the time to visualise what your brand must encompass – colour schemes, emotions, trust, appeal. To avoid wheel spinning, I gave her a clear brief of what my business will sell, where it will be sold, who I envision buying from me, what other brands I want her to reference and brands I don’t want her to reference. As a jewellery brand I needed to make sure my designer didn’t assume I wanted the traditional pink, floral, romantic or brown leather and mahogany look and feel, that many fine jewellery brands carry today.
- Canva is your best friend. I’m not a designer and I don’t want to waste time or energy learning how to be an averagely decent designer just so I can save money on outsourcing design work. I used my savings to pay a professional to do the higher-level design work and conceptualisation of my brand and it was worth every cent and hour saved. For all the other day to day design work like basic photo editing, creating social media posts etc Canva is mostly good enough. It’s worth paying for the premium version.
- WeVideo and VivaVideo are the two video editing apps and programmes I use for basic video editing. It’s easy and fun to use. WeVideo is a browser-based programme and VivaVideo is app based and integrates directly with your social media profiles. It’s perfect for bringing variety to your social media content.
Where you sell
- Shopify was a no brainer for me. As someone without coding experience, Shopify offers more than enough guidance and template driven options to build an online site in a matter of days. It offers a wealth of integrated and supported 3rd party apps for things like Google advertising, email marketing and accounting. As a one-woman company, Shopify got me up and running in no time and I didn’t need a team of people to help me. Their basic plans are perfectly good enough to get going with, but after a month I upgraded to a more professional looking premium template which elevated my brand. BONUS: Shopify has doubled down on SME-friendly training courses, explainer blogs and product features. If you’re willing to put in the time you can learn new skills just by following all their recommended reading and courses.
- Shopify Point Of Sale (POS) really excited me, because their Point Of Sale app means you can sell on the spot when you’re face to face with people. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to test it thanks to lockdown, but I’m excited to see how this can become part of my distribution mix in future.
- Social media isn’t just about connecting and running ads anymore – they’ve become integrated extensions of your online store and should be treated as such too. At the core of my consumer brand’s marketing efforts is Instagram followed by Facebook, because they are visual (my product is made for photo and video content) and they are integrated with each other and with Shopify. The bulk of my marketing time, energy and budget goes here. I treat my Shopify store as my HQ and my Instagram and Facebook stores as satellite stores I can sell through, so make sure to check that your products are listed there.
A no brainer, but remember that Google is not just good for advertising, you have to invest time in how you load and describe the products in your online shop if you want to benefit from search engine marketing.
I managed to register my company URL and Shopify store within minutes and set up a functioning store within a day. But it took me the best part of a month to painstakingly write product descriptions, tags, summaries and alt text for images for each product listing. This is a longtail investment – your SEO ranking and site performance will reward this effort down the line.
BONUS: I use Google’s G Suite for my cloud storage, email and domain management. It’s easy, affordable and well supported. I bought my domain from IONOS, but they’re a dime a dozen. Just make sure you buy your domain from a reputable and supported company that is recognised by Google and Shopfiy for easy integration.
Final tips and lessons learnt
- Don’t hold back before switching your site on – even if it’s not 100% ready yet, switch it on. Search engines start indexing your pages soon after and that takes time, so the sooner you publish your site the sooner Google can start doing its thing to help you get organic search results.
- Don’t skimp on product descriptions and the quality and variety of photos you put up. Your site will not only perform better from a search engine perspective, but also from a user experience perspective. Skimping on this is like having a brick and mortar shop without carpets and windows.
- Get feedback from friends who will be honest – it’s hard to spot all the things on your website that can hinder a customer’s experience or understanding of your product, so ask friends to poke around and watch their reactions. Interrogate them about what they felt when they went through your website and address the questions they had, through blog posts in your website, or by improving the user experience.
- Depending on what you sell, it will take time before you make your first sales. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see a sale on day one. My first “stranger sale” (a sale to a complete stranger) was exactly three months after I launched. Be patient and stay hungry and celebrate other small wins, like your first 100 Instagram followers.
- Build your email list from Day One. Make it easy and enticing for people to sign up for email communications when they visit your website. Don’t wait before you start – do it first.
- Invest whatever money you can into social media and advertising – my store’s activity is directly linked to the effort I put into my social media content, so be consistent, continuously try to improve it, engage with people, and try different ad formats until you find what works for you. I stopped all activity in the first few weeks of Covid-19 and my store lost all the traction it built up in its first month. Lesson learnt.
Find Ika on LinkedIn or Twitter @ikavanwyk. Her jewellery business is called Stella Johannesburg and is on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook or on www.stellajohannesburg.com