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Issue #1 • January 2017

The Complete Guide to E-Commerce Platforms

Monetize Your List

Quick question for you: has your blog helped you to ring the NY Stock Exchange bell? Have your brand’s logo displayed on the NYSE building? Stay at a castle? Play Monopoly with Daymond John? Have Daymond endorse your product? Or meet Tony Robbins, Russell Simmons, Tim Ferriss, or Marie Forleo?

A select few can answer that with a resounding yes, and Cathryn Lavery is one of them.

Cathryn is a self-described “making junkie”. Over the years, she’s made digital products, physical products, and everything in between. If it can be thought of, designed, or made, Cathryn has had her hands in it, and she loves being in that position. Her colleagues call her the best designer they’ve ever met and one of the smartest marketing minds around.

So how did Cathryn’s business afford her those incredible opportunities above? Was it a degree in graphic design? An MBA from a fancy university? Having a business handed to her by a family member?

Nope, no, and no freaking way.

Cathryn took a background in architecture, $500, and an extreme passion for design and has leveraged it into a full time design company that replaced her corporate career in less than two years. All because of an e-commerce store called Calm the Ham.

E-commerce, shortened from “electronic commerce”, is how people sell products or services online. While many bloggers offer services and sell them directly through payment processors like Stripe or Paypal, makers like Cathryn often find themselves needing a more comprehensive way to sell their products online.

Once Cathryn dipped her toe into e-commerce, her business began to take off.

“That store was eventually my vehicle to freedom and allowed me to leave my full-time job in 2014,” Cathryn said in a recent Medium article. Because of her success with Calm the Ham, Cathryn’s blogging career has also shifted on her personal website – she now teaches people how to find the same kind of launch success she has experienced.

“Over the past few years since I’ve left architecture and exchanged it for entrepreneurship, many people have asked me what my ‘secret’ was. If I had to drill it down to one thing it would be simply this, ‘I made myself uncomfortable’. What does this mean?

It means I moved beyond doing the things that were comfortable to me so I could expand my horizons. Had I continued doing the same things I had always done, I would get what I had always gotten — which I knew was not what I wanted. This meant meeting new people who were doing the things I wanted to do, learning new skills (specifically around creating and running a business) and overall gaining new experiences.” – Cathryn Lavery

While it’s clear that e-commerce has had an incredible impact on Cathryn’s blogging career, it’s worth looking at things the other way around.

If your main revenue source comes from your product sales, what benefit is there in maintaining a blog on an e-commerce site?

SEO

Search engine optimization is Internet speak for how search engines (like Google) find you. The more quality keywords you have on your website for your particular niche, the higher you rank when someone Googles you. Since very few people click past that first page of search results, getting high up on the list can do a lot to add to the visibility of your brand.

Take Day Designer, for instance. A wildly popular day planner brand, Whitney English and the Day Designer team could be happily focused on creating new products and celebrating them with their community. But Whitney and her team are smart marketers and they know the power of good SEO in an otherwise crowded marketplace.

By writing blog posts covering topics their ideal audience wants, they rank higher and higher in search rankings for keywords like “goal setting”, “finding focus”, and “productivity and time management”.

DayDesigner SEO benefits for your blog

Customer Features

A blog is an opportunity to show off your customers to the rest of the world. Mama Malas runs a regular series of customer profiles and they also feature moms in their surrounding industries. By taking advantage of their blog, Mama Malas is able to show off higher profile women like Elena Brower.

Here’s the bonus of customer features and profiles like this: when you include links to other websites on your own blog, search engines think more highly of you. It’s a complex system, but search engines generally like it when you play nice with other people on the Internet. As such, your website gets rewarded for linking to other websites. Bonus points when that other website also plays nicely with others and is linking to other reputable sites.

Did you notice that keyword there? Reputable. When you’re linking out to other websites, be sure that they are a reputable source and that you feel good about sharing their site with your audience. It’s good for you, good for search engines, and good for your audience.

Mama Malas custom features for your blog

 

Teach Everything You Know

Ah, the ConvertKit motto, and something you may have even adopted for yourself these days. Your blog isn’t just another page on your website to keep up with. It’s an opportunity to teach your audience everything you know… and potentially create additional revenue streams.

Jenni at Fuzzy and Birch is no stranger to teaching everything she knows. While her products at Fuzzy and Birch were able to get her out from under a job she hated, Jenni knew that teaching others how she did it would add value to her offerings and become a platform to reach an entirely new audience.

Pro tip from Jenni here: when you reach a new audience and they love what you teach, they’re likely to become customers on the product side of your business. Trust is trust and that can come in the form of digital education or physical products.

Fuzzy and Birch Teach Everything You Know on your Blog

And there’s endless ways to start your blog! Here are a few suggestions from our friends at the e-commerce platform Shopify:

 

  • The story of your founding: the history, the vision, and the growth
  • Your products: where it came from, how it’s made, and its special features
  • Tutorials for how to use your products
  • Announcements for a sale
  • Events you’re running or participating in
  • Advice on products, not just your own
  • Company updates
  • Developments in the industry
  • Something fun you found on the web. It could, but doesn’t have to relate to your products. 

 

Don’t feel limited. If you sell foodware, blog about your favorite recipes. If you sell funny t-shirts, link to jokes and cartoons you enjoyed this week. If you sell your own art, you can discuss your favorite paintings. These aren’t hard if you know your products really well.

Now that we’ve established that e-commerce stores clearly need a blog and that bloggers might want to consider adding e-commerce to their offerings, it’s time to pick a platform. In our tireless quest to make things just a bit easier for you as a blogger, we’ve compiled the pros, cons, and best reasons to use the most popular e-commerce solutions out there.

Ready to unpack the options? Read on:

Shopify

It’s no surprise that Shopify is on our list. It’s one of the most popular e-commerce platforms out there and for good reason. With Shopify you can host your entire website on their robust templates, choose a point of sale option for your in-person sales, or even make use of their social buying buttons on your favorite social media channels.

GoFerment Shopify

Pros:

  • User-friendly interface.
  • Not many other e-commerce platforms offer point-of-sale too. Great for in-person sales.
  • On the ‘Lite’ plan, Shopify offers one of the most affordable ways to start selling online using an e-commerce platform.
  • Zero transaction fees when you process payments with Stripe.
  • Shopify has been around for a while and has a solid reputation.
  • Third-party apps and integrations galore!

Cons:

  • If you use a third-party payment system, transaction fees are unavoidable.
  • Product images have to all be cropped to the same size before uploading or they might not appear in an organized and clean way in your shop
  • You only get three product options per product (though you can create up to 100 variants of a single product)

Shopify is a great place to launch your e-commerce business, especially if you plan to sell your products in-person too. They also offer a 14-day free trial so trying it out for yourself is easy to do!

Etsy

While you might know Etsy as a place to shop for the most unique gifts, the handmade makers of the world have long called Etsy a staple of their business operations. And it’s easy to see why. Etsy makes selling online simple, straightforward, and beautiful.

Etsy’s mission is “to reimagine commerce in ways that build a more fulfilling and lasting world” – and that they have done. Etsy has been a certified B Corporation since 2012, proving their commitment to both community and the environment.

An Etsy shop adds a community element to your store – your customers can see ratings and reviews, they can favorite your shop to their own profile, and more.

Etsy SarahB Calligraphy

Pros:

  • Reputation. Etsy has an established one so you know your shop isn’t going to disappear overnight.
  • Community! There are forums for your questions and answers and the community is incredibly active.
  • Unlimited number of items in your shop.
  • Offers instant digital downloads (for digital products)
  • Promotes the handmade lifestyle/mindset

Cons:

  • There’s a fee for every listing plus a transaction fee for every purchase.
  • Your shop is hosted on Etsy so you won’t have a customized domain.
  • Can’t brand your shop beyond your logo in a regular Etsy shop (though they do offer custom sites for an additional fee).
  • Oversaturated in some areas like jewelry and textiles.

If you consider yourself a “maker” or you embody the handmade mindset, Etsy could be the perfect option for you. You can get started on a standard Etsy site or build a custom site on a free 30-day trial.

Gumroad

Typically considered as a solution for digital products, Gumroad has quickly become a contender with the likes of Shopify and Etsy with their physical product options and custom website solutions.

Gumroad CoCreatetheFuture

Pros:

  • Digital and physical product options
  • Product delivery is built in for digital products
  • Funds are directly deposited to your bank account
  • Clean and easy-to-use interface
  • The payment modal is incredibly user-friendly
  • Integrates with lots of external apps and systems
  • Affiliate program so others can get paid for promoting your product

Cons:

  • High processing fees
  • You’ll need an SSL certificate from your website host to use the ‘overlay’ feature (shown above)
  • Mostly popularized as a digital product platform, could be harder to setup physical products here
  • It’s buggy. There are features long-time customers are grandfathered into as free but they aren’t able to be updated without paying.

Self-Hosted Options

There’s DIY and then there’s D.I.Y. (The periods in between really drive the point home here.) Some DIY is good as a business owner. You want to get your hands a bit dirty when you’re building your thing. So you shoot your pictures and you upload your items and you write your product descriptions and it’s all managed by a larger company (like Shopify or Etsy or Gumroad). And that’s all good.

Then there’s the bigger DIY that scares off a lot of bloggers. It’s the kind of DIY that requires a bit more technical know-how. While not impossible for even a novice, self-hosted shopping carts are often more challenging to get up and running than an all-in-one solution (like we just showed you above).

Long-time blogger Steve Chou knows a thing or two about selling products online. While he might not have had an Etsy shop or sold physical products through Shopify, he can speak to the pros and cons of self-hosted options with e-commerce.

As long as I’ve been writing tutorials on how to open an online store, I’ve always advocated going with a free open source shopping cart and hosting it yourself as opposed to signing up for an all-in-one hosted e-commerce solution.

After all, if you host your shopping cart yourself, you’re in charge of your own destiny. You have full control over the source and no one can suddenly raise prices on you. Plus, there are many cool things that you can do on your own that the big hosted solutions won’t allow you to do.

But after running this blog for a couple of years now and listening to reader feedback, I’ve come to realize that using an open source e-commerce solution and self-hosting may not be the right solution for everyone.

And Steve’s right. Self-hosting is not for everyone, but if you have the technical know-how and the time to pull it all together, a self-hosted option might be for you. If that’s the case, here are our favorites:

WooCommerce

One of the most popular self-hosted platforms, WooCommerce is typically used by a more experienced shop owner (though many start out using WooCommerce up front). WooCommerce does integrate directly with ConvertKit so communicating with your buyers is even easier than ever.

WooCommerce AmongstLovelyThings

Pros:

  • WooCommerce is a plugin that connects to your WordPress website. Many people are already on WordPress so this is an easy transition.
  • It’s free!
  • The team at WooCommerce works hard to make sure your site stays as secure as possible. They are always updating the plugin so it stays compatible with your version of WordPress without lifting a finger on your end.
  • Since it’s WordPress based, there’s a large community ready to help you at any time should you need it.

Cons:

  • If you want to customize WooCommerce, it can cost you a pretty penny.
  • Images and text don’t always display properly without customization (see point above).
  • It’s connected to WordPress. As much as this is a pro, it’s also a con as WordPress updates and subsequent WooCommerce updates could make it buggy from time to time.

Magento

An open source platform with complete flexibility over your online store, Magento allows for a completely customized e-commerce website and includes some robust features.

Magento iSpriritual

Pros:

  • The features are incredible and Magento provides a pretty easy-to-navigate interface
  • Small and medium sized businesses can get away with the free community version of Magento
  • Flexibility with completely customizable templates
  • Community power comes into play with long-standing users who offer help in real time and even have add-ons and plugins to support your needs

Cons:

  • If you need the full enterprise version, it’s going to set you back $18,000/year
  • You need a dedicated server for a Magento site. Normal hosting platforms don’t play nicely with this software and it can end up running slowly if you don’t use a dedicated server.
  • You’ll likely need a developer to help you set it up and Magento-specific developers are sometimes hard to find and they can also be pricey

Shopping Cart versus e-commerce provider

Many e-commerce providers, like the all-in-one and self-hosted providers above, offer a robust set of tools to help you succeed. Depending on the provider, the tools can include inventory management, coupon creation, reports, customer database management, and more.

But what if you don’t need all of that? What if you just want to sell a few products and don’t need or want a ton of bells a whistles? Do you need a full on e-commerce provider to do that?

Most likely no. A simple shopping cart solution will do.

Now, of course, an e-commerce provider has a shopping cart built in, but a shopping cart only provider will give you, well, only a shopping cart. It’s the ala carte option to selling online. Our customers just love using Digital Product Download (DPD for short) and SamCart.

The Decision is Yours

Now that you know why you might want an e-commerce solution, what options you have for selling your products online, and more than you could ever want to know about this topic, what are you waiting for? It’s time to make a choice, get it set up in your business, and start selling your products today.

Did this blog help you decide what e-commerce site to start using? If so, share it on Twitter with your friends to help them out too.

Val Geisler

Val is a yogi, mom, military wife, and avid podcast fan. She is ridiculously obsessed with sharing and creating content that actually makes a difference in the world, connecting with her fellow bloggers, and doing more with less effort. Val is based on Columbus, Ohio (O-H!) and can often be found oversharing on Instagram at @lovevalgeisler.

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