Guide: How to Start an Online Boutique

Online Boutique intro

Check you out, being awesome and starting your own online boutique! Kudos to you for making the jump. But now what? Creating your own fashion empire from scratch is a tall order, and it can be tough knowing where to start. Which is why Volusion (and a few of our fabulous fashion influencer friends) wrote this guide to show you the ins and outs of building your own fashion brand.

"Fashioning Your Ecommerce Retail Empire" is your step-by-step guide for creating, designing and managing your online store. We’ve got experts in both worlds of fashion and ecommerce to walk you through the process of setting up shop. From figuring out what to sell, to marketing, to designing your storefront, we’ve got your back. Let us show you how to dominate even the most basic ecommerce tasks in faster, better and more efficient (and stylish) ways.

What You Need to Start Your Store

OK: so you want to open up your own online clothing boutique. Awesome! While we’re totally going to walk you through the ins and outs of doing your thing, there are a few bases to cover before you get started:

  • MARKETING PLAN: We’ll help you with this in Chapter 1, but you should have a general idea of what you want to sell, whom you want to sell to, where you’ll get your product and who your competition is.

  • AN ECOMMERCE PROVIDER: Unsurprisingly, we’re gonna toot our own horn here. With Volusion, you can get your online store up and going quickly and easily. Additionally, we have an extensive library of resources to keep you informed and help you learn and grow.

  • DOMAIN NAME: If you want people to be able to find your site easily, you’ll need to purchase a domain name where you can point them. Check out our article all about setting up your domain name here.

  • PRODUCT SOURCE: The goods have to come from somewhere! Look into wholesalers, flea markets, your personal sewing studio...wherever you think you can best find (or make!) your products. You can also dabble in dropshipping to see if that’s a profitable option for your business.

  • A SHIPPING CARRIER: If you’re shipping stuff out yourself, you’ll want to set up an account with UPS, USPS, FedEx or whichever shipping company you like best. (But don’t worry: shipping is a bit of a science, and we’ll show you some shortcuts in Chapter 5.)

  • TIME: While you may not need a boatload of cash to start your boutique, you will need a good amount of time to really kick butt. Creating product listings, photographing items, marketing your store and helping customers can (and will) take a good chunk of your time. But never fear: we’re here to help you learn to manage it all.

CH1

MJ

By Morgan Jones Johnston, Club Duquette


Morgan Jones Johnston is a rock and roll wife, mama, indigo-and-paint-slinging veteran, prop stylist and yoga teacher with an obsession for holistic wellness. Morgan is profoundly grateful that her business gives her an opportunity to connect with people, and believes that we all want connection, to to know we aren't alone in the world and to know that we are loved and that we are love.

Selling your products online opens up a whole new world to your business, and connects you to a global audience. Members of this audience will become your customers, patrons, friends and great champions for your brand. Whether or not you’re already familiar with retail and running a business, there are some unique benefits and challenges to taking it online.

The world of online selling is a proverbial oyster, but you’ve got to make sure you’ve got the shell, the meat and the pearl! That is to say, you’ve got to know who your brand is, who your ideal customer is and why your product matters to them...and you need to be able to present it in captivating ways on the web.

There are three aspects you must invest your efforts in as you grow your online business:

1. CULTIVATING RELATIONSHIPS
2. CREATING CAPTIVATING CONTENT
3. MAINTAINING QUALITY BUSINESS PRACTICES

Relationships are the most important aspect here. If you don’t invest some time in establishing, growing and maintaining them, you’re missing out on a unique opportunity to create real relationships and super supporters of what you do. (We dive even further into this in Chapter 7.)

FYP

Word of mouth is a powerful thing, and it can grow your online sales exponentially. A well-known jewelry designer found my work late one night on Instagram by going down the hashtag rabbit hole. She commented on several of my photos, and I wrote her back. We began talking and had some real engagement. In the past three months she has become a true collector of my work, ordering several pieces and commissioning some original work as well. She has sent several of her friends my way, and we recently spoke on the phone. When she first heard my voice she said,

Screen-Shot-2018-03-09-at-11.02.55-AM--2-

That, ladies and gentlemen, is what you're aiming for. Be personable. Call people by their name. Always say thank you. Be regular in your engagement. Know your customer. The people who are most successful in sales, business and in life are the people who care about the person on the other end.

Social

Social media platforms are a great way to reach people, and are a huge asset to building your community and directing people to your point of sale. Social media is the way I began to grow my brand recognition and my relationships. Pick two to three platforms that you can genuinely invest in and commit wholeheartedly to their success.

Additionally, don’t stress yourself out about the numbers of follows and likes you get! Think about what vibe you’re going for, what you want your channels to look like and who is going to pick up on them. The amazingly unique benefit to social media is that it gives us an opportunity to engage with visuals. We are a visual culture by nature, and we process an image in a matter of seconds. Someone may stumble across your content and immediately be hooked. Post intentionally, without sacrificing authenticity.

That’s a tall order, right? This may be intuitive for some and more difficult for others, so here are a few key tips to help keep you on track:

  • THINK BIG PICTURE. Do your social media grids, boards and posts align visually with your brand’s identity? Can you see the relationship between your feed’s vibe and your store?

  • TAKE INTERESTING PHOTOS THAT ARE GOOD QUALITY. Get a good app; I love VSCO and Afterlight for editing. Don’t rapid-fire post, but don’t go days without posting either. Find the right cadence that works best for your audience.

  • ALWAYS HAVE A DIRECT LINK TO YOUR STORE. You need to give people a way that they can reach you and your product! Be sure to post a variety of things,
    not just product related content. That can kill relationships because it makes people feel like there’s not a person on the other end and you’re the real deal, so make sure they know it.

  • MAKE THAT MONEY, HONEY, BUT DON’T FORGET RELATIONSHIPS WILL SUSTAIN YOU! And hey, if you suck at social media and content creation, take a workshop or try to find someone to join your team on this end. It’s worth it. 90% of my sales are a direct result of my social media efforts. Skillshare is a great place to find people
    who can help move your business forward.

Time

Finally, don’t forget that quality business practices create return customers. It can feel a little bit like you’re juggling so many things: growing your online presence while fulfilling and maintaining orders, restocking, creating and launching new product (and more). That’s accurate. You do have a ton on your plate, and you’ve got to maintain balance. This is why you need a solid schedule of your time, along with a healthy dose of discipline!

One great way to manage time: get the perfect daybook. I personally use iCal and my trusty old Moleskine day planner. Nowadays I perfectly block out time to create and time to do business, but I used to be terrible at it. I have an artist’s temperament, so I’m prone to doing things with spontaneity, moving when inspired and putting off tasks in favor of slinging paint. But that lifestyle isn’t gonna fly if you have customers to help! At the heart of all of this, you’re running a business. Be a savvy businessperson and do the work and planning.

Sum

DEVELOPING RELATIONSHIPS IS CRUCIAL TO YOUR SUCCESS. Create content that people
will engage with, and then maintain those relationships over time. This is a surefire way to nab repeat customers who are sure to spread the word about your business.

SOCIAL MEDIA IS ONE OF THE BEST WAYS TO GET YOUR NAME OUT THERE. Create a social presence that reflects your brand, features eye-catching photography and engages customers. And, like I said above, be sure to maintain relationships with the people you meet!

YOU WON’T GET ANYWHERE WITHOUT A SOLID TIME MANAGEMENT PLAN. Create a calendar,
buy a planner, set a million reminders in your phone: whatever it takes to keep you on track. Starting a business is a big time investment, but one that’s totally worth it!

Ch2

Otts-1

By Brad Otts, formerly of TOMS


Brad Otts was part of the founding team at TOMS and served
as their senior sales executive from 2006 - 2015. During this time he helped lead TOMS into what has become the fastest growing shoe brand in world. Currently, Brad serves as the EVP of business development for a mobile app company, Tellzone, and also owns a retail sales and consulting agency: The Forge. He has a wife, Noelle, three kids and three dogs. He also loves cooking, cycling, competing in triathlons, drinking wine and playing music.

BRAND CREATION: two words that can either get your blood pumping with excitement
or have you running for the hills in fear.

In our rapidly evolving digital world, if you are a new company, especially one whose real estate relies heavily on your ecommerce platform, you may not have 60-70 years (as brands once did) to cement your voice into the mind of your consumers. You might only have six to seven months.

Forming one’s visual voice needs to have cornerstones. As former Google executive Arielle Jackson said: “You need to have your three Ps in place: Purpose, Position
and Personality.” Look internally at who you are as a company, what messages you want to send and what impressions you are looking to make on the marketplace as a whole. By doing these through practical application, this will guide you into defining your voice. This is an evolutionary process. While many components will become your identity, as with all things, they evolve in small ways, so have patience and grace!

Who

I hear one question constantly: “What are some small practical things a company can do to keep their customer experience branded?” Establishing a core identity at the beginning is going to guide all of your next directions, from design to voice. One of the best ways to guide your brand is through extremely thorough market analysis
(here’s a great Entrepreneur article to get you started), and also by enlisting the skills, knowledge and experience of others. As the saying goes, “it takes a village to raise a child.” While your business is not a real life human being, in many ways it can feel like the same thing. (I have been part of multiple start-ups and I have three kids; trust me, I know.)

Language

As you develop your online store, there are many important elements that help shape your point of view. Determining your brand’s relationship to photography will be key in design direction. How much real estate should photos get? How can the composition, subject, background, color, light, etc. illustrate the brand? Additionally, what visual skills do you have? Graphic design, illustration, photography and video can all be leveraged in a unique way to propel your brand in the beginning.

Divider

Having specific tools or elements of a branding package will also help advance your online success. Easily accessible resources like Google fonts and colourlovers.com are great resources for getting started on logos. It’s important, though, to not stop there. With your MVP (Minimum Viable Product), you need to have at least two dominant visual markers that are being used consistently throughout user interface communication, such as logos, fonts, photo styles and color palettes.

You should also revisit aspects of your brand once you have more resources. Andy Dunn, CEO of Bonobos, talks about a “good enough” investment in visual language, followed by focusing heavily on customer feedback to then recalibrate (and even re-brand) into a new trajectory. In the early days, it’s key to do small tests in isolated pockets where you can interact with your customers and learn lessons. Once you arrive at a certain level of understanding, you can adjust and pivot.

Story

As you grasp these things and continue to expand your foothold into the marketplace, you will become hyper-aware of the fact that that we’re inundated with options online. Saying less and making your “visual voice” count will go much further than you could ever imagine. When you dial into the primary content of the story you’re telling, this will be evident in your “visual words.”

A beautiful and compelling example of this is a brand called Apolis Global. From day one, their revolutionary model of “advocacy through industry” has been their battle cry, and has helped them harness the power of business to create social change. They built their company around one simple idea: people can live better lives when they are given equal access to the global marketplace. This concept has helped guide their design principals both aesthetically in their products and online platform content. Similarly, you should have a guiding ideal to propel your business forward.

Community

The ability to access the skills, knowledge and experience of our peers is one of the greatest resources you could ever utilize. “No man is an island” is the saying, and it could not ring true any more here. Many think that branding and marketing have gone in a very “meta” direction, and feel it’s lost some perceived meaning. I disagree. Branding is an organism like anything else and sometimes it needs to be “re-branded.” A community will help see that, and with our world moving to the place of a shared economy, it can only serve us to join our voices in chorus and sing along together.

Sum-1

BRAND CREATION SHOULD FOCUS AROUND THREE THINGS: PURPOSE, POSITION AND PERSONALITY. Assess these three factors of your business and build around them to form your identity in the marketplace. Eventually you’ll have a well-defined voice that resonates with customers.

ESTABLISH A CORE IDENTITY THROUGH MARKET ANALYSIS AND THE HELP OF OTHERS. Take a look at what other folks are doing, and let them help guide your company growth and direction. You can’t build a business in a vacuum, and it’s important to draw inspiration from outside sources.

DEVELOP YOUR VISUAL LANGUAGE. Your logo, photos, color scheme and other attributes should be cohesive, and say something compelling about your brand. Additionally, don’t be afraid to go back and make changes to your visual language as your business grows.

TELL A STORY. People have a lot of options out there. What makes your brand unique? Find a story that draws people in, and start building your voice around it.

Ch3

Fox-1

By Alyson Fox, Alyson Fox Designs


Alyson Fox makes things from paper, fabric, metal, ceramics, tape, plaster, office supplies, photographs, old tattered things, new polished things, furniture and packing materials. She has degrees in photography and sculpture. She enjoys designing things for commercial ends and designing things for no end at all.

Her work has been published in the New York Times, Architectural Digest and Wallpaper, to name a few, and has been shown both nationally and internationally. She is currently collaborating with companies on textile work, exploring personal curiosities and just launched her own line of goods under the name FOX_A.

Inspired

When it comes to design, I don’t want to just focus on one thing, and I try to have the best creative voice that I can. Sometimes that lends itself into a drawing and sometimes into a video and sometimes into a rug. All these things can make an impact on your brand, whether you’re displaying them on your site, social media or just in a workspace to keep you inspired.

I often like to get out of my comfort zone, because that’s where I feel real growth happens as a person. I try many things, fail at many things and sometimes find things that will stick. This way of thinking applies not only to design, but also to most risks in life. I’m constantly trying and experimenting with new ideas, which is critical for keeping a business fresh.

I had one series where I photographed women wearing the same shade of red lipstick, which was published by Chronicle Books. That was such a lovely collaboration and will stick with me for life. Conversely, I have landscape photos that are an ongoing series because they combine a lot of things I’m interested in – color, shape, imagination, layering...the list goes on. These are vastly different projects, but both were inspiring to me in different ways, which is such an important part of designing for any brand. I’m happiest working on a few things at once and when I step back, everything I do is one long continual dialogue.

Design

With the internet, so much is available at our fingertips, especially when it comes to selling goods. People near and far are able to see my work because of my online focus. If I didn’t have a well designed website, or wasn’t fortunate enough for people to share my work, I would not be where I am today. Whenever I get e-mails from recent grads asking for advice, the number one thing I tell them is to create
a great online presence.

I have had so many different platforms for my products, and right now I’m in the thick of redesigning my site. Since I do a little bit of this and that, it has been hard for me to categorize my work, especially when it comes to selling online. I’ve often gotten stuck on that, but with lots of thought and experience I’m in a nicely edited phase.

For my new store, I’m going to go for a clean big image on the homepage with simple navigation headings. I also only give a glimpse of my work in each category. I’m personally more intrigued by websites that leave you wanting more, and that is something I am going to strive to do.

I like sites with clean and neutral colors, and of course pages that are very user friendly. I have designed sites in the past where people tell me they did not see this or that because the navigation was a bit too complicated. So I’m 100% in the “less is more” phase: white background, grey text, paired down images. I’m also separating my work a bit more by having three sites that I link to from my main page.

Overall, when it comes to choosing a design for your site,
it’s good to choose the cleanest palate you can, especially for fashion. Incorporate some pops of video or something to keep it from being too flat, but really focus on simplicity. (Editor’s note: Check out some of our top-performing Volusion themes here.)

Simple

It’s also important for sellers to take the best pictures of your product that they can, or to at least spend money getting good images; they can make your site! From there out, only include things that you are proud of showing. You don’t need a lot of fluff on your store. Don’t fill your site just to fill it: organize your goods and then decide what words need to be written about them. Maybe that’s just picking the best headings for site navigation, or maybe it’s a nicely written “about us” page. See what works for other sites, and then figure out what works for you. When it comes down to building your brand, get advice from others, but in the end, you should almost always go with your gut.

Sum-2

DRAW INSPIRATION FROM EVERYWHERE. With design you can get ideas from absolutely anywhere. Surround yourself with art, writing and people that get you thinking abstractly: don’t just stick to the retail space! Staying inspired will keep your brand fresh.

TRY DIFFERENT THINGS. Don’t be afraid to try new ways of approaching design, even if they sometimes fall flat. Some ideas will fly, and others will need to be improved upon, but you’ll never create a compelling store if you always
play it safe.

CREATE A COMPELLING ONLINE PRESENCE. Craft a beautiful digital space that people will want to enter, whether it be a well-designed storefront or an eye-catching Instagram feed.

UNDERSTATED IS UNDERRATED. Stick to a clean, minimal palate for your site design. This draws more attention to the goods you’re selling, and makes pages easier to navigate. Incorporate some video and color to keep things interesting, but the main focus of your site should be the products.

FEATURE WHAT YOU’RE PROUD OF. Don’t fill your site with fluff. Have well-shot items, succinct descriptions, easy navigation and perhaps a nice “about us” page. Don’t overload your design with unnecessary baggage.

Ch4

Rey

By Jessica Rey, Rey Swimwear


Jessica Rey is a businesswoman, fashion designer, actress, wife
and mother of three. Formerly the White Power Ranger on Disney's Power Rangers Wild Force, she is experienced in using her ninja skills to fight the good fight. She also is the founder and CEO of Rey Swimwear. Among her favorite things in life are karaoke, making her kids laugh, traveling and anything to do with salted caramel.

Listings

Now we’re getting to the meat of your store: your products themselves! Here are some tips for listing and managing inventory, so you can put your best face forward. Even if you have great products, no one is going to buy them if your photos look terrible! Selling online is all about the photos. Since customers can’t physically touch the items you are selling, they need to be able to see details. Good photography is one of the most important aspects of your site to invest in, so buy or rent a nice camera, or hire a photographer pal to come shoot for you. (Editor’s note: here’s a post about how you can easily use your smartphone to take great shots.)

Additionally, item descriptions are also very important. Tell a story about the photo you’re featuring. And if you don’t like writing item descriptions, find someone who does! There are companies out there that specialize in ghostwriting, and you can pass the work off to them. One great place to start your writer search is Fiverr.

You should also make sure your site has all the info customers need. For clothing, you should include a size chart on every item listing. A small in one brand could be a medium in another; cut down on returns by cutting out confusion. For further inquiries, a FAQ section can help cut down on unnecessary customer communication.

Stock

Customers want to see what the product is going to look like on them. Figure out what your demographic is and choose models that resemble your potential customer. At the very least you should show the front and back of an item on a model. If your products have details or tiny patterns, include close-up shots as well. Customers also like to see lifestyle shots: they help them imagine what they’d do with your products, like how they’d wear them and incorporate them into their existing wardrobe.

While it’s important to have beautiful images, it’s also important to make sure the images accurately represent the products. When I first started my store, I had beautiful images but the colors didn’t quite match up to the products, which resulted in returns. Customers need to know exactly what they’re buying; otherwise they may feel deceived and lose trust in your store.

Additionally, you should make it easy for customers to navigate your site. If you sell jewelry, think about the types of collections you can create, such as bracelets, earrings, necklaces, etc. If you sell shoes, create collections for winter boots, summer sandals, etc. Collections make it easier for customers to shop. Nobody wants to scroll through pages of products to track down what they’re looking for on a website.

Practices

You want your stock to look cohesive, so that customers feel that all items belong in the same shop. You don’t want one piece that looks like it belongs in Bloomingdales and another in Wal-Mart. Again, think about your customer and target demographic. What would that specific person buy? If he/she wouldn’t buy it, it probably doesn’t belong in your shop.

Inventory

When I was shipping things myself, we had a shelving system with a bin for every single SKU. This is a must: you don’t want to have to go through a stack of products that all look the same in order to find a specific size. Minimize time spent looking for items, so you can focus on more important things. I have now moved my operations to a fulfillment warehouse, which was a huge learning curve for me. Here, we have to make sure everything is labeled and packaged the way the warehouse needs it to be, and I’ll admit that it was very time consuming at first. Once we got things going, our operation began to run like clockwork.

Handling inventory can be tricky, but when you get the hang of it you can develop a smooth-running system of selling. Hopefully these tips will help you get started!

Summary

CREATE AWESOME PRODUCT LISTINGS. No one wants to buy items that don’t have informative pages. Go the extra mile to write compelling item descriptions and add detailed info about sizing to each listing. Also create collections of various products, to make it easier for customers to navigate your site.

GO ALL OUT WITH YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY. Use models that visually represent your customer base, so that shoppers can picture themselves wearing the items you’re selling. Additionally, make sure that product photos match exactly what’s going to ship to the customer’s door. This will help you avoid returns (and headaches).

GET A HANDLE ON INVENTORY. Inventory can be a bear to tackle at first, but it’s one of the most important aspects of running an online business. Keep everything organized by SKU, so you don’t waste precious time digging around for items.

Ch5

Kinnison

By Andrea Kinnison, Volusion


Andrea Kinnison is a writer, photographer and nature lover. She's also the Content Strategist for Volusion. When not at work, you'll probably find her camping, bird watching or hanging out with her cat, Jolene.

Setting

So you’ve sold your first item. Awesome! Now it’s time to get the goods from point A to point B. Here are some tips for getting ship done. (Yeah, I went there.)

Obviously, the first step in shipping is figuring out who the heck is your best (and most affordable) option. Your four main options are USPS, UPS, FedEx and DHL, though there are a number of other companies out there. Here are a few good questions to ask when vetting shipping services:

WHAT KIND OF PRODUCTS AM I SHIPPING?

Are you selling shoes that will need to be sent in giant boxes, or clothing items that will easily fit in a small mailer? Some carriers can’t deliver items of a certain shape or size, while others charge higher rates for certain items.

WHICH PROVIDERS ARE MOST REPUTABLE?

Go with a name you know; we humbly suggest any of the four options listed above. This will provide you (and your customers!) with a greater sense of security.

HOW WILL I GET MY PACKAGES TO MY CARRIER?

Will you need to make a daily schlep to the post office, or will your carrier pick up goods for you? If you have to drop off packages, where’s the nearest place you can do so, and when are they open? Your chosen carrier’s website should have listings of their locations, along with detailed hours.

WILL I BE SHIPPING INTERNATIONALLY?

You may start small, but international shipping is something you might want to consider eventually. Compare rates and provisions for international orders up front, and check out carriers that are specific to certain countries.

HOW WILL I GET MY PACKAGES TO MY CARRIER?

Will you need to make a daily schlep to the post office, or will your carrier pick up goods for you? If you have to drop off packages, where’s the nearest place you can do so, and when are they open? Your chosen carrier’s website should have listings of their locations, along with detailed hours.

Costs

We’ve gone over how to figure out what shipping will cost you, but it’s equally important to figure out what it will cost the customer. Here are a few options you can provide:

FREE SHIPPING

Yeah yeah, it’s hard to bite the financial bullet and offer free shipping on your products. But people love free shipping, and if you’re selling goods that have high retail competition, free shipping may be your trick to getting ahead of the crowd. You can also incentivize customers to buy more by offering free shipping on orders over a certain dollar amount.

FLAT-RATE SHIPPING

This is exactly what it sounds like: with flat-rate shipping you can charge a set amount based on the total order weight. For example: $5 for 0-3 pounds, $10 for 3-6 pounds, etc. Consider using flat-rate shipping for promotional purposes, such as “This week only! $3 shipping on all scarves.” You can also use flat rate shipping to utlize USPS' fixed-rate envelopes.

FLAT-RATE SHIPPING

This is exactly what it sounds like: with flat-rate shipping you can charge a set amount based on the total order weight. For example: $5 for 0-3 pounds, $10 for 3-6 pounds, etc. Consider using flat-rate shipping for promotional purposes, such as “This week only! $3 shipping on all scarves.” You can also use flat rate shipping to utlize USPS' fixed-rate envelopes.

Returns

Returns should be no-hassle for both you and your customers. Write out a crystal clear policy (or have a wordsmith friend do it for you), and have it prominently displayed on a Returns page. Need some help writing your return policy? We have a tool that will do it for you!

While your policy doesn’t have to be super formal, it should achieve the following:

KEEP IT CLEAR

Not everyone can speak legalese, so write your policy in plain English. This will help reduce a ton of confusion.

INDICATE RETURN CHANGES IN THE POLICY

Some online businesses offer free return shipping, but not everyone has those kinds of moneybags. If you charge return shipping or restocking fees, state that explicitly in your policy.

STATE YOUR TIMEFRAME AND HOW CREDIT IS GIVEN

Your policy should explicitly state how long customers have to return an item, and how their return will be credited, whether it is a store credit or refund to their card.

LIST ALL REQUIREMENTS FOR RETURNS

Does the product need to be in its original packaging? Can customers open the product beforehand? Where do they need to send the return? Should they include a receipt? Think of all the different requirements and include them.

Overall, you can prevent returns before they happen by meeting or exceeding customer expectations. Make sure your product images and descriptions are accurate, so customers know exactly what they're in for!

Sum-3

FIGURE OUT YOUR SHIPPING BASICS. Who is the most reputable carrier out there? What about the cheapest? How are you going to get your goods out the door? These are all simple questions, but the answers will take time, planning and research.

FIGURE OUT SHIPPING COSTS FOR YOUR STORE AND CUSTOMERS. Decide if you want your shipping to be free, discounted, weight-based or decided on some other factor. Be sure to consider how offering certain deals might compel customers to spend more.

HONE THAT RETURN POLICY. Your return policy should be crystal clear, easily readable and list all requirements and timeframes for returns. Having an easy-to-navigate policy will save you lots of customer service agony in the long run.

Ch6

Adam Sam

By Adam Kirsch and Samantha Rupert, Volusion


Adam Kirsch is an e-marketing professional with a specialization in paid search. His dog is named Moose. Samantha Rupert is an impassioned aquaphile, makeup addict and Volusion's Social Media Manager.

Develop

Congrats! You’ve added all your products, you’ve set shipping parameters and you’ve created your new social channels. Basically, you’re an entrepreneurial badass. But now it’s time to show the world what sets your store apart with a dynamic marketing plan.

Let’s be real. There’s a ton of fashion brands out there, and the competition has never been fiercer. You have to define what makes you special. Do you have a great customer service team? Are your designs super chic? Do you have a compelling backstory? Maybe you are known for only using ethically-sourced materials. Whatever it is, your unique selling proposition should be at the core of your marketing plan.

Once you’ve identified your store’s secret sauce, think about your audience. Who are they, and where can they be found? Great marketing plans are all about how you can convey your message to your target market through various mediums. Search engine optimization, social media, paid search ads, email marketing and blogging are all important marketing techniques for fashion entrepreneurs.

So put your thinking cap on and start doing your research. Pinpoint which marketing avenues your target market prefers and create a plan. Developing a content calendar or a three-month tactical plan can help you determine what and when you should advertise and where you should promote your website.

If you’re selling clothing to a younger, millennial market, social media is the way to go. About 90% of young adults, ages 18-29, use social media. And for tech-savvy Millennials, social media is actually the preferred communication tool for connecting with businesses. Post engaging content and photos on fashion-forward networks like Polyvore, Instagram, Wanelo, Tumblr and Pinterest. Maybe even set up some social media ads! But be sure to get involved and get engaged with potential customers in your target audience.

If your store caters to an older demographic, try paid ads or a tried-and-true email marketing campaign. Email marketing actually offers the best return on investment and generates more leads when compared to other advertising campaigns. Add your social buttons to your emails to bring your marketing efforts full circle.

When you’re just starting out, earning traffic can be a real pain. But don’t get discouraged if you only see your friends and family browsing your site. Start out small. Concentrate on getting traffic to your site through search engine optimization. Once your store has been established, work on turning those visitors into loyal customers.

SEO

Search engine optimization can be a slow and steady process. When creating a new business, you’re probably anxious to start making sales. So you may be thinking,
“I ain’t got no time for that!” But chill for a sec. SEO is an essential marketing tool that can help boost visibility to your online store organically.

The sooner you implement search engine optimization best practices to your site, the sooner Google can index your store and start directing relevant traffic your way. Obviously the more people who see your store, the more chances you have for visitors to purchase.

So where do you start? Before you do anything, get set up on Google Analytics immediately. It’s free and it can give you a wealth of information on the status of your site. It tracks where traffic is coming from and collects data on the visitors coming to your store.

Once you check Google Analytics off your list, start making category pages and products SEO-ready by writing unique, engaging and informative product URLs, titles and descriptions. Include descriptive, relevant keywords that could lead searchers to your products. But be specific! For instance, a little black dress is not JUST a little black dress. Is it a black cotton fit-and-flare dress or is it a black lace bodycon dress? Insert important adjectives into the product titles such as material, color, design and brand name to make sure users have all the information they need. This increases conversions and limits the amount of people returning items to your store. Detailed titles and descriptions also make it easier for search engines to crawl this information on your site and serve your products to relevant prospects.

Ensuring all of your products and category pages are SEO-friendly definitely takes more than a hot minute. It can be a big process, but the earlier you start, the earlier your store will be in great shape. If you’re looking for more of an instant return, paid search campaigns like pay-per-click advertising and product listing ads can satisfy your “get money now” appetite.

PPC

Pay per click advertising (PPC) is a great way to hit the ground running with your new store. These are ads that appear at the top (and bottom) of a search engine result page. You heard us right – they’re at the top of the page. That’s prime real estate! As such, this makes PPC one of the quickest and easiest ways to get your name out there and get people visiting your site.

The best part of all this is that you only spend what you’re comfortable spending. While it is true that pay per click ads will cost some money, you don’t have to empty your bank account for it. You set your daily budget and the amount you are willing to spend for a visit to your site. You create ads, and tell Google what types of phrases you want to show up for in search. When someone uses the Internet and searches for those terms and keywords, your ad has a chance to be served up to potential shoppers. When someone clicks on that ad, they’re brought to a corresponding category page on your site, where they can browse and start buying! It’s that simple.

You’ll have to create an AdWords campaign and input your billing information to get started. Don’t worry about keeping track of a new username and password – you can set this up under the same email address you used for Analytics. Once you do, you’ll see that there are a few different types of ads you can create within AdWords. Some of the coolest ads are product listing ads, which incorporate information like your product price and pictures right in the ad! We’re sure we don’t have to tell you that being able to show shoppers pictures of that dress you’re trying to sell is a huge advantage, and it leads to buyers that are more engaged and on board with what you’re selling right from the get-go.

You can even make special ads for people that have already visited your site, making your store more memorable, and possibly even getting someone to change their mind and splurge on those shoes they were iffy about.

Paid ads can be great for bringing traffic to your site right away, and the revenue you generate can help you out while you work toward a long-term marketing project like SEO. With the myriad options of ways to promote your products, as well as the flexibility to pay what you want, there’s no reason not to give it a shot!

Sum-4

FIGURE OUT YOUR MARKETING PLAN. There are probably plenty of companies out there that are similar to your own. Which is why you need to find what makes you special, and then let everyone know about it. Who is your market, and how are you going to show them how awesome you are? For a younger audience, social media marketing is your best bet. Do your customers skew older? Try your hand at email campaigns.

SEO IS A MUST. Navigating the world of search engine optimization can be confusing at first, but you’re gonna have to do it if you want to get ahead of the Google pack. Start off by downloading and familiarizing yourself with Google Analytics, which will help you see how you rank for your key terms. And be specific as possible with the item descriptions on your site; search engines love attention to detail!

GET INSTANT GRATIFICATION WITH PPC. Pay per click ads cost money, but they’ll also get you immediately showing up in search results. Familiarize yourself with Google AdWords and see if PPC is the right option for your store. This can be a good way of getting eyeballs to your site while you’re still waiting for your SEO to kick into gear.

Ch7

Ashley

By Ashley Cottle, Sister House Collective


Ashley Cottle is the founder and curator of Sister House Collective. Her intense passion for social justice inspired her to create a social impact brand that promotes fair trade practices and the local and global handmade market. She strives to create conversations about the importance of equality, opportunity and well being for all people. Find Sister House Collective on Instagram and Facebook!

CS

Customer service is one of the most important aspects of running a successful small business. This cannot be stressed enough. Think about a time when you found a shop that really intrigued you, but when you asked for help the salesperson reacted as if they were being bothered. We’ve all been there at least once. When you’re the customer, there is nothing less inviting than the person who’s operating this totally rad store, but treating you in an unfriendly manner. There’s also the opposite end of this customer service spectrum: the store clerk who eyes each customer, carefully watching every step, suggesting that every item within arm’s length is perfect for the shopper. I equate this with the online business that blows your email to pieces by hitting up prospects several times a day. Although this attack on your email is much more pleasant than a physical mailbox surplus, it still strikes as desperate and overbearing, like that sales clerk shadowing you through a store. So what's the happy medium?

Keepin

A-U-T-H-E-N-T-I-C-I-T-Y. Be authentic. This is your online store, right? You created a place with a very specific look and feel, selling products that you are passionate
about getting out into the world. This is the place where your customers were intrigued enough to click through and add items to their cart, pay for them and wait patiently for their goods to arrive.

It’s safe to say that these customers are already invested in what you’ve created. Not only have they invested with their purchase, but they’re also probably going to share their experience with at least one friend or potential customer. This is the online equivalent of walking into your store, purchasing an item or two and walking out. The experience after the purchase is when others ask that customer, “Where did you find that?” or “That’s incredible! Where can I get one?” You want them leaving with the feeling of being welcomed, the exchange being seamless and all of their questions having been addressed in a polite and timely fashion. Customer service is the key to keeping customers. It is the key to returned business. It is the key to growing your business.

Love

Developing customer relationships should feel natural and uncontrived. This is especially important to the customer experience; as inauthentic relationships are usually quite apparent. So what does a natural relationship look like between a customer and the online store they support? Who is looking at your site and why? Where are they following you on social media; is it Facebook? Instagram? Twitter? Consider taking the time to “investigate” these clients and figure out what it is about your brand that interests them. Consider commenting on these individuals’ pages or photos. Respond to a comment they posted on yours. Something that simple can initiate an authentic relationship. Developing these relationships in a genuine manner shows your customer that you not only appreciate their business, but are also truly thankful for what they offer to the prosperity and growth of your store. Your customers are your true support system; make sure that they have a positive, personal testimony as to why they will continue to back your brand.

Keeping

Maintaining customer relationships is something that takes a little planning, but don’t be intimidated. They should already know that the time, interest in your store
and the income that they bring to your business are absolutely valued. This is when you can get creative with how you will go that extra mile to make a larger, lasting impact. It can be the quarterly or monthly newsletter you send or a handwritten thank you. Keep in mind that it does not need to be lengthy or intensely wordy, just a simple, “Thank you for your business!” will suffice.

If handwriting a thank you is not feasible, a quick, personal email saying thank you (signed by you, not the company as a whole) can work just as well. As customers receive this personal outreach from you as the owner or manager, they not only experience the products but also develop a personal interaction with the creators behind them. And if income allows, sending a small gift or special discount code with a package is also a GREAT way to maintain customer relationships. These small gestures will really make an impression and strengthen your customers’ overall association with your company.

Your ecommerce brand is what initiates a service to your customers; your personal outreach involvement is what maintains it. Be authentic, be genuine and make sure each and every one of your shoppers knows their significance in cultivating your pursuit.

Sum-5

TREAD THE MIDDLE GROUND. Some stores err on the side of being too aloof, while others practically throw themselves at shoppers (and the money in their pockets). Find a happy medium between icy and overbearing, and your customers will keep coming back.

WHEN IT COMES TO CUSTOMER SERVICE, AUTHENTICITY IS KEY. You can tell when a company is being phony, and the same goes for your customers. Just be friendly, efficient and genuine, and you’re sure to see positive results (and returning shoppers).

CONNECT AS MUCH AS YOU CAN. Surprise surprise: social media gets mentioned again in this book! That’s because it’s so important to develop a good rapport with your customers. Comment on their photos, like their posts and just show an overall interest in their lives (without being creepy, of course).

MAINTAIN YOUR RELATIONSHIPS. Your customers already like you; now don’t let them forget it. Write a handwritten thank-you note, or shoot off an email signed by you personally. Maybe even throw in a discount code or small gift. Just find a way to make your fans’ barometer dip into the “love” category.

Ch8

Amanda

By Amanda Assad Mounser, Mounser


Amanda Assad Mounser is the founder and creative director behind the sculptural jewelry line MOUNSER, and co-founder of the new ready-to-wear series LOVEHARD. Amanda’s resume also includes positions at the powerhouse fashion showroom Aeffe as well as with the CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund nominee and shoe designer Alejandro Ingelmo.

Hopefully you’ve gleaned a good amount from our ebook thus far. There’s a lot to be learned when you’re starting your own business, especially in the world of online fashion. I’m here to fill in a few gaps that we still want to cover so that you can go out and sell strong. Here’s a shortlist of some things to try, things to avoid and things to consider when building your own brand.

Plan

If I’ve learned one lesson in business, it’s that procrastination can be your worst enemy. Entrepreneurship is filled with exciting challenges and lots of opportunity for learning how to problem solve on your feet. You never know what each day will bring, so give yourself a leg up by tackling things as they come, rather than putting them off.

Sometimes tasks can stack up and seem overwhelming, which can then breed procrastination. If you take each item on your task list and work through them step by step, you’ll operate more calmly and efficiently than if you give into that stress filled feeling of overload.

Planning ahead, and taking steps with calm fluidity will allow you to stay on track and actually accomplish the goals you set for yourself. This will then infuse a general vibe of calm confidence in everything you do, and when there are hiccups, you’ll be able to quickly exercise decisiveness and move on to the next challenge with efficiency.

Do2

Alyson and Brad already touched on this, but your website should be illuminated with the soul of your brand. The first step in in having a successful website is defining what your brand identity is, and figuring out how to communicate that through the language you use and the visual imagery you provide. A few things to consider:

  • Define the spirit of your brand: How do you describe its aesthetic? What are the brand’s inspirations?

  • What do you give the consumer that no other brand does? When they purchase your brand, what kind of lifestyle are they buying into?

  • What is your mission? Why does your brand exist?

  • What does your brand stand for? What does it believe in?

  • Create a mood board that visually inspires and defines your brand.

Determining the answers above and using them as tools to springboard your framework will create a clear picture of your personal brand identity. This will also provide the vein through which your whole website will run so that you always stay on message.

It’s important to focus on what the consumer is seeing visually, as this will communicate the soul of the brand and evoke emotion within the consumer that will tie them to you. “Editorial images” should visually describe the lifestyle and feeling of the brand in an aspirational way. The consumer should be able to see these images and feel as if they have stepped into your world, and then subsequently feel they want to be part of that world. In addition to aspirational imagery, if you are selling a product, it should also be shot in its cleanest and purest form, on a white background where the product can shine on its own.

Do3

My store’s clockwork is bound closely to social media, specifically Instagram. Social media is the link to many of my online sales; it’s where editors discover my brand for features, and is a direct way of communicating my brand message to the consumer one-on-one.

I focus on creating the same level of strong imagery for social media that can also be found on my website. For me, it’s a continuation of the story that includes art, architecture and fashion inspiration, my own creative work, artistically-shot products and some personal imagery that provide an intimate snapshot for consumers to connect to visually.

Social media is great because it’s free, and for a new brand starting out it should be a no-brainer marketing effort. I am closely connected to a lot of fashion industry insiders and all of them use Instagram like a search engine to discover new brands and companies. Many seek Instagram first before even going to a brand’s website because the picture is more comprehensive.

Social media allows you to create a glimpse into the world of your brand, and your website should be connected to that narrative in a very strategic way.

Dont

DON'T EXPECT INSTANT SUCCESS.

Online entrepreneurship is all about trial and error. Some things work, some don’t. It takes time to get into your groove and connect all of the dots, and that’s okay. You can implement the same step-by-step attitude and know that one thing always leads to another. It just takes one domino to fall to launch the path of success.

Do4

DO PLAN AHEAD.

I also make sure that my resources are lined up to do larger scale manufacturing for all products that I offer. This way I am covered when certain items start selling like hot cakes, and I can capitalize on those sales.

DO MAKE YOUR EFFORT COUNT.

One thing I am always mindful of is to make sure that the product available on my website mirrors what I am marketing through social media or what is being featured editorially. I want the purchase process to be seamless for the consumer so I make sure the availability matches what is being promoted so marketing efforts don’t go to waste.

Details

When it comes to branding and visuals, I’m a stickler for details, and I also make sure that same attention radiates throughout the entire consumer experience. This attitude should be all encompassing when it comes to your online business. Here are some factors to consider:

PRODUCT QUALITY

Your product should be carefully checked before it leaves your studio or warehouse. Your product is your brand, and quality control is everything. If you do make the mistake of sending something that isn’t 100% up to standards, make sure you are quick to rectify the situation and that your communication with the consumer is open and expeditious.

PACKAGING

It’s part of the consumer experience, and should feel just as special and as beautiful as the actual product itself. Packaging should build excitement and feel like an extension of the lifestyle of the brand. Be mindful of its importance.

SHIPPING AND COMMUNICATION

Communicate effectively and in a timely manner. Once an order is placed, quickly acknowledge placement. Choose reliable shipping options with tracking – it’s important that the consumer feels that they can keep and eye on the product as it makes the journey to them. Be quick to respond if there
are complications.

FALL IN LOVE WITH YOUR CUSTOMER, AND THEY WILL FALL IN LOVE WITH YOU

Make the consumer experience an amazing one. Your customers are your best advertisers, and if their experience is strong and they connect with you, they will spread the word to their friends and automatically build your customer base.

Fresh

One of the hardest things to embrace sometimes is the idea of change, but change is your closest ally. Change is what propels you forward. Get comfortable with change, experimentation and trying new tactics and you will go far. There aren’t any rules, so you can really be flexible and have fun as long as at the core of it all you’re staying true to your identity.

Change

If something isn’t working, scrap it and move on! The beauty of owning your ecommerce is that there are no rules, you can experiment and play and see what works for you.

Sum-6

PROCRASTINATION IS THE ENEMY.

Plan ahead, and get organized with your time. Running a business is a lot less stressful when you aren’t constantly putting out last-minute fires.

GET YOUR BRAND ON POINT.

Figure out the heart of what you’re doing, and then build your business around it. Your design, marketing, website and more should all be developed around your brand identity. Additionally, really try to communicate the soul of what you’re doing through the visuals on your site.

SOCIAL MEDIA IS WHERE IT’S AT.

Not only should you be connecting to customers via social media, but you should also be using it to give them a look into the world you’re creating around your brand. Additionally, make sure there’s no discord between your branding on social media and the branding on your website.

IT’S THE LITTLE THINGS.

Focus on details such as product quality, packaging, efficient shipping and overall customer experience. Even the smallest thing can turn an impulse buyer into a returning customer.

Afterword


Well there you have it: the ultimate guidebook to crafting your fashion empire online. Building your own business can be tough, but with the right amount of time, determination and hustle, you can make it happen. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and start selling!

Have any questions for the authors? Hit us up at marketing@volusion.com