If We Build It They Will Come
Lately I have been getting a lot of inquiries from friends and acquaintances that have seen the success we have had online and want to start their own E-Commerce business. Many come to me for advice on where to go for website hosting, how to design a site and most importantly what to sell. What’s funny is they all think that if they just build a website and throw a couple of items up the money will just start flowing in, like magic.
When they first come to me and they ask, “What do I need to do to get started?” it always makes me scratch my head and say…”well, that is a loading question!” I think many have seen the late night infomercials with people claiming to make $25,000 a month while on vacation. For all of us seasoned e-commerce merchants we all know real vacations away from the site are few and far between. I try to explain that there are many variables within E-Commerce. Just because you build a website and have a couple of items to sell it doesn’t guarantee that you will be successful. Maybe you will see success after a few years of hard work building up your business, but it won’t be instant. Sadly, they don’t want to wait that long. They want that instant gratification. Like many of us starting out we didn’t take a payroll until about three years into this venture. All of our cash flow was put back into building the business.
Most of these inquiries are from people that have no idea what they want to sell online; they just want an online business so they can be like the people on the infomercials. Many have told me that they want to copy my business model. They want to know everything from who my suppliers are to how we do our SEO. This is difficult when the person is your friend, or relative and you refuse to tell them. I have had very negative reactions from people when I refuse to give them this information. I want to help other people starting out, but I don’t feel it is right that I should help someone that will directly compete with my business.
Do any of you have this same issue? I would love to hear how you handle it.
I don't think anyone has actually asked me to help them set up their own website. My problem has been that when they hear that I sell online, my friends want me to sell things for them. They've heard these stories about items selling for big money on eBay, etc. I usually have to explain that I'm not a consignor, I only sell things for a specific market and I have no idea what their item is worth. I had a fellow ask me once to sell his boat online. He said "That's what you do, right? Sell things online?" Sure, but not boats!
Brent Laminack says:
What you could do is find an 'intro to e-commerce' continuing ed course at a local college that you like and refer your friends and family to them, as "I only know what works for my business, and I'm sure yours will be different, there's a really good course at xyz continuing ed that will probably be much more applicable to what you want to do. Here, let's sign you up for it..." If they're not willing to invest a day or two and some money into starting their business, then they're really not serious about it.
Tom Dupon says:
And it strikes me over and over again how the startup marketing budget is underestimated over and over again. Leading to e-commerce websites with all bells and whistles you can imagine without any budget left to promote it. Build it and they will come indeed.
Bret Williams says:
Pardon the self-promo, but after building successful e-commerce businesses, we created a complete soup-to-nuts program to help online entrepreneurs - especially startups - learn how to build a profitable business, step by step. So many people really are not well informed in things such as business organization, banking/merchant accounts, marketing, PPC, product management, product sourcing, etc., etc. We build our clients a custom Web site, of course, but the primary focus is on teaching them how to run a successful business.
For established retailers, we have a program where we actually manage their ecommerce for them. For similar reasons: most online stores do not achieve their goals because of a lack of knowledge and time.
And, Tom, you're entirely correct: most do underestimate the cost of start-up. Although starting up online is often much less than building a brick-and-mortar, there are costs involved.
As for us, we built our first e-commerce business (for us to own/operate) after building Web sites for almost 10 years. We felt it was time for us to find out if we really knew what we had been telling our clients.
Turned out we knew much less than we thought. However, we did know marketing and business management, and combined with a lot of hard work and mistakes, we built a very successful ecommerce business we later sold.
The short of it is, there are not a lot of great "one-stop" resources for online entrepreneurs, although I think PE does a fair job of collecting a good amount of good information. I read it regularly!
Hi Novusweb, How do I get in contact with you for help with my ecomerce site?
Mike Eckler says:
Great article! I get 3 or 4 requests for "help" each week. The first thing I do is listen carefully with respect. If the idea is good, why not help? Offer a partnership. If the person cannot fully articulate an idea, then I try a few of the following:
- Suggest that they look closely at their own hobbies and find a niche. What products are hard to find? How can you do better? Then I say, "let's talk when you come up with a business plan."
- Suggest blogging. There are zero barriers to entry. Good blogs can be monitized. Bad blogs will die a painless death. It seems to me that blogging is simpler than starting and operating an online retail site.
You have to be honest with friends and family. Tell them the truth: e-commerce is hard work and a huge time investment. Frankly, sometimes, even I wonder if it is worth it.