How to Start an Online Boutique: A Step-by-Step Guide
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As more and more shoppers go online to purchase their clothes, shoes and accessories, there’s never been a better time to launch an online boutique.
With the convenience and safety online business offers, it’s no wonder customers are more likely to use their smartphones, tablets and computers than they are to get in their cars and drive to a brick-and-mortar store.
Plus, ecommerce makes it much easier to launch your business and make money without the additional expense of a physical location and items such as a cash register. However, that doesn’t mean you don’t still have to put in a lot of work to get your new business started.
The good news is that we’ve compiled everything you need, including a step-by-step guide, to get your own boutique storefront up and running.
Online Boutiques: By the Numbers
An online boutique is a small shop that typically sells fashionable clothing or accessories through the Internet.
For instance, an online clothing boutique might sell high-quality, high-end or trendy products at a significantly higher price point than what you’d find at a traditional retail business or department store. And one of the most appealing aspects of an online store is growth potential.
According to Statista, the value of ecommerce apparel sales in the United States is projected to grow to nearly $100 billion in 2021.
Additionally, in 2019, online fashion sales accounted for almost 30% of total retail ecommerce sales in the U.S.
As you can see, now is a great time to start that online boutique and clothing business idea you’ve been dreaming about.
Successful Online Boutique Skills and Traits
Before launching your online shop, we’ve identified some important traits and skills to have:
1. Passion and Drive.
Do you love spending your weekends scouring vintage shops and trade shows for unique items? Are you obsessed with coordinating your shoes with your outfits? If so, this passion for fashion will help you succeed.
Running a small business isn’t easy. When you’re knee deep in sourcing and tax paperwork, you need passion and drive to keep you going. So before you make any time or monetary commitment, make sure you’re passionate about what you’re doing and have the drive to succeed.
One of your most valuable assets is your network. Because even though you’re an expert jewelry designer, you might not know how to set up an LLC or design a professional logo.
Through the power of networking, you can find people who do know how to do these things — and enlist their expertise.
If you’re new to networking, that’s okay. Here are some ideas to help you get started:
- Sign up for LinkedIn and join some relevant groups for small business owners.
- Become a member of an association, such as your local America’s Small Business Development Center Network (SBDC).
- Attend a conference to connect with other boutique owners and entrepreneurs, like this year’s Make It Big conference.
- Join an online community to ask questions and get inspired, like the BigCommerce Community.
Also, don’t forget to reach out to your friends and family. They’re a great resource for expanding your network.
3. Digital Marketing.
As a business owner, you’ll need to wear a lot of hats. While you don’t have to be an expert in everything for your clothing store, it’s extremely helpful to have some background in digital marketing.
The good news is that it’s easier than ever to learn about digital marketing online. There are some great resources you can tap into to get familiar with search engine optimization (SEO), paid advertising, social media marketing, email marketing and more.
Here are a few options to check out:
- DigitalMarketer offers everything from tips and tricks to full certification courses on a wide range of topics.
- HubSpot Academy has a full library of online certification courses, covering everything from content marketing to digital advertising.
- LinkedIn Learning includes easy-to-watch video courses that provide an introduction to digital marketing topics.
4. Business Finances.
Similar to digital marketing, it’s helpful to have an understanding of your startup costs before you open an online store. The good news is that you can also do research online and take classes to gain a better understanding of how to manage your finances and cash flow.
Some things you’ll want to focus on include:
- Understanding your credit score.
- The different types of business loans.
- How to manage a budget.
Also, keep in mind that many people make mistakes along the way — and that’s okay. You just want to do everything you can in the beginning to set yourself up for success.
5. Time Management.
The best part about being your own boss is that no one is telling you what to do. However, that means you’re responsible for getting everything done. Passion and drive can only take you so far.
If you can’t manage your time, you’ll burn out fast.
Make your time a priority and work on developing this skill. Also, take advantage of the many books, apps and tools designed specifically for managing your time.
To have a successful online boutique, you need confidence. Believe that you can do this and don’t let negative thoughts get in your way.
If you’ve never read the story about how Sylvester Stallone persevered to get the movie “Rocky” made, you should check it out. (spoiler alert: it has a happy ending).
While you might not need that level of confidence, you can take inspiration from his story and remember that even when things get tough, you can keep going.
How to Start an Online Boutique in 10 Steps
Here is a complete guide to launch your own boutique:
- Decide Your Product Niche.
- Find the Best Ecommerce Platform.
- Create a Business Plan.
- Select a Name and Domain.
- Locate and Vet Your Suppliers.
- Create Your Website With an Online Store Builder.
- Add Products and Descriptions.
- Launch Your Online Boutique.
- Begin Mass Marketing.
- Revise, Reinvent and Renew.
Decide Your Product Niche
While some creative entrepreneurs already know what they want to sell, you might have no idea. But that’s the fun part — figuring out your product and niche.
So what do we mean by niche? When you’re starting an online boutique, including fashion boutiques, you shouldn’t try to appeal to everyone. You want to target a small, specialized section of the population, whether it’s children’s clothes, hand-beaded necklaces or men’s hats.
Also, think about your ideal customer. Keep them in mind so that you can ensure the products you offer will keep them interested.
For example, if you decide to sell men’s athletic shorts and shirts, it wouldn’t make sense to then expand to selling women’s swimsuits. However, it would make sense to offer accessories such as socks, jackets and shoes.
Another important thing to keep in mind is customer lifetime value. It’s much more difficult to get a new customer than it is to sell to an existing customer.
To maximize your profits and grow your online boutique, you’ll ideally want to offer products that keep your customers coming back to load new products into their shopping cart.
Find the Best Ecommerce Platform
Now that you’ve got a product to sell, it’s time to build your store. For online businesses, this means your ecommerce platforms. And there are some great options that make it easy to build an ecommerce website — even when you have no experience.
“You want a good partner that is not only going to be right for you today, but provide solutions for you to scale. It’s not impossible to change platforms but it is a lot of work and you make a big investment setting up your online business. So making sure you have the right platform partner is the #1 thing I encourage people to take their time understanding and ultimately making a decision on.” — Shayda Torabi, Owner, WithShayda, Restartcbd
Whether it’s functionality, checkout features, WordPress or pricing, companies such as BigCommerce, Shopify and WooCommerce offer various ecommerce platform options.
Create a Business Plan
Up next is creating your own business plan. This will be your guide that lays out your goals and the steps you’re going to take to achieve them. You can then show your business plan to investors and banks when you’re ready to get additional financial assistance.
Here are some of the main elements you should in the business plan of your online boutique:
1. Market Research.
You probably did some market research when you were deciding on your product and niche, but now it’s time to dive even deeper into your target audience.
- Create Buyer Personas — Really think about the specific customers you want to purchase your products. You can include demographic information, such as their age, geographic location and income. Then, take it a step further and document which social media platforms they prefer, who they trust most for product information and information on their personal style.
- Conduct a Market Analysis — There is where you can determine if there is a market for your product, how big the current market is and how fast the market is growing. Make sure to find numerical data to back up your claims.
- Complete Keyword Research — How you talk about your broad and your products makes a big difference when you’re trying to get people to find you. You want to conduct keyword research to ensure you’re using the correct terminology. This will also help with your SEO when you’re building your online store down the road.
- Perform a SWOT Analysis — This is a great technique for sizing up your competition. First, you can identify your main competitors. Then, you create a table that reviews strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. This will help you position yourself in the market against competitors.
2. Business Model.
Once you have a good understanding of your ideal customer and the overall market, it’s time to decide on a business model. The model you choose will also help inform which type of business licenses you’ll need.
When it comes to clothing and accessories, most online retailers and wholesalers fall into one of these categories:
- Print On Demand — For this business model, you’re simply adding some type of logo or design to a clothing item when a customer places an order. And you can either do this yourself or use a third-party printer.
- Custom Cut and Sew — This is the most labor-intensive and costly of the models because you’re making everything yourself or paying someone else to make it for you.
- Private Label — Private label, also sometimes called white label, means you’re partnering with a manufacturing company who makes the product. Then, you can addd your branding.
- Dropshipping — Dropshipping requires the smallest investment, but faces the toughest competition. It is an order fulfillment method that allows your business to partner with a wholesale supplier to display and sell their products in your online store.
3. Financial Planning.
This is the part of your business plan where you estimate your costs and your revenue. Here are some questions you’ll want to answer:
- How much money are you investing versus what do you need from an outside source?
- What expenses are you anticipating (e.g. production, shipping, materials)?
- How are you going to price your products?
- How much revenue do you expect to earn in the first year?
If you’re not sure how to calculate these numbers, this is an excellent opportunity to reach out to your network and see if anyone can help you plan your finances.
4. Marketing Strategy.
Finally, you can lay out a high-level marketing strategy. While there’s a basic marketing that every business owner should do, this is your opportunity to define your launch strategy.
For example, you might want to focus heavily on influencer marketing to build anticipation and excitement. You can collaborate with micro-influencers to promote the launch of your online boutique on their social media platforms.
You should also ensure that you have a press release or some kind of plan for the big announcement.
Since there are so many ways to market your business, you want to narrow it down in the beginning and focus on the channels that will have the biggest impact for your target customers right away.
Select a Name and Domain
Now, it’s time to make your clothing business a reality by giving it a name. While you don’t necessarily have to keep this name forever, it can be extremely costly to re-brand. So definitely use these tips when you’re thinking about what you’re going to name your online store.
You want to stand out from the crowd, so make sure you choose an original name. Go back and visit your ideal customer. What do they care about? Can you tie that into your brand name? Tap into the emotional and aspirational aspect of your ecommerce business to help you come up with a unique name.
In addition to being original, you want your brand to have some personality. Infuse yourself and who you are in the name. For instance, if you’re selling t-shirts with funny saying on them, come up with a brand name that will make people laugh! This will help you with the next tip.
Once you’ve put together some ideas that are unique and personable, the next tip is to make sure people will remember it. Of course, you don’t want to be remembered for the wrong reasons. So this is another opportunity to reach out to your network and get feedback on your ways. That way, if there’s something you didn’t account for, such as how your name might translate to an audience in another country, you can change it now before you’ve made any investments.
Even if you’ve come up with the perfect, most awesome name for your store, you can’t do anything with it if it’s not available. Check for trademarks, domain name availability, existing social media handles, and more to ensure you can proceed with your business name.
Locate and Vet Your Suppliers
This is where your products come to life. Because even if you’re making everything yourself, you still need supplies. And you want to make sure you’re balancing the quality of the supplies with your budget.
Additionally, you want to make sure this is a business (or a person) that you can have a good relationship with since you’ll be working with them frequently.
Here are some things to consider when you’re vetting suppliers:
Is the quality of the product up to your boutique’s standards? Request samples to get a better idea how the products will look and feel.
2. Level of Support.
Are you going to have a point person to speak with every week or month? Make sure you have a conversation with them so that you can evaluate their communication style.
3. Reviews of the Supplier.
Does the supplier have a history of success? Check online for reviews or reach out to your network to see if anyone has worked with them before.
Create Your Website With an Online Store Builder
You’ve got your product, your ecommerce platform and your business name. Now, it’s time to actually create the website for your boutique business.
Before you start, however, make sure you have a logo, brand colors and pictures of your products. This will make building your website much easier.
Another thing that makes building a website from scratch much less intimidating is drag-and-drop functionality. If you’re a BigCommerce customer, you can use the Page Builder tool to create a beautiful website that’s easy to navigate and without having to touch any code.
1. Choose a Theme or Template.
The first thing you’ll want to do is pick a theme or template for your website. Most ecommerce platforms, including BigCommerce, have both free and paid theme options that you can customize for your brand.
If you do not have an interest in changing the code within your theme, BigCommerce’s website builder allows you to make those changes.
2. Add Products and Descriptions.
Once you’ve got the basic template in place, you can add your products. Plus, you can apply the keyword research you did for your business plan to your product descriptions, which will give your SEO a boost.
Also remember to think about your product pages as an opportunity to let your personality shine. For example, you can give tips on how potential customers can wear the clothing. Can they use a scarf for their neck and their hair? Let them know!
3. Generate Checkout Policies.
This is where you share the rules for your online store. Typically, this includes your policies for shipping, returns, sizing and promotions.
4. Select Accepted Payment Providers.
You may not realize it, but selecting the right payment provider can make a big difference for your boutique business. They keep credit card transactions secure and improve the checkout process for an enhanced customer experience.
BigCommerce works with a variety of payment gateways so that your customers can use whatever payment method they prefer, such as PayPal or Apple Pay.
Also, as a side note, when talking about payments, ensure you have a plan in place for calculating sales tax. Even online shopping requires you to collect sales tax in either your state or the state your customers live in.
5. Determine Shipping.
Finally, you’ll need to set up shipping so that your products can reach your customers. While you might not want to put a ton of thought into shipping, it’s actually one of the most important parts of your ecommerce store.
Amazon and Etsy have set the bar extremely high. If a potential customer feels that shipping costs are too much or their items won’t get to them fast enough, they could abandon their cart.
If you’re a BigCommerce customer, you can collaborate with one of our supping and fulfillment Partners to help ensure this won’t happen to you.
Launch Your Online Boutique
Once you’ve built your website, you can set up everything you need to launch your online store:
- Fill out your social media platforms with information about your boutique.
- Set up your transactional emails so they’re ready to go when you get first order.
- Get your Google Analytics and tracking pixels set up to get data right away.
- Test all the functionality and links so that you know everything’s working correctly.
- Hit the actual launch button and go live!
It’s also time to put the marketing strategies you laid out in your business plan into action. Additionally, you’ll want to make sure you have some kind of press release that you can send out to generate additional buzz about your business.
Begin Mass Marketing
After you’ve done the initial push for your online boutique, you can settle into the day-today marketing activities, including social media, content marketing and email marketing.
“1. It’s okay to not use every single social channel out there. Pick the top 3 channels your target market is actively using and optimize your strategy for those. 2. If there is a shopping feature available on the social channel, take advantage of it. The shopping feature is an easy tool to set up and a seamless way to convert your followers who are already interested in your brand onto your site.” — Jessica Lago, Manager of Marketing and Partnerships, IMedia
Revise, Reinvent and Renew
Now that you’ve launched your store, it’s time to dig into your data and analytics to understand what’s working and what’s not. Then, you can make changes and improvements, such as:
- Merchandising your best-selling products on your homepage.
- Testing new product copy or imagery on underperforming pages.
- Making changes to your cart where people tend to drop off.
- Adding product reviews and customer testimonials.
- Trying out holiday discounts and promotions.
You can also reach out directly to your customers to gain a better understanding of their specific needs and wants.
How to Build Engagement for Your Online Boutique
Once your store has been open for a little while, you can go beyond the basics to build relationships with your customers and other brands.
1. Add an “About Us” Page.
Everyone can sell a t-shirt these days. What shoppers want is a connection with the brands they’re supporting. You can build these connections on your About Us page.
Write about what inspired you to start your business and how your passion for it keeps you going.
2. Partner With Other Brands.
A great way to grow your business is to partner with other brands. For instance, if you sell accessories, you can partner with another brand that sells only clothing to offer customers full head-to-toe outfits.
Additionally, you can cross-promote each other’s products on your website, social media and emails — creating a win-win for both partners.
At the end of the day, with the right combination of skills, a solid business plan and a flexible ecommerce platform, you can get your online boutique up and running in no time.
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