I recently received the following email from a reader who wanted to learn how to start an online store:
Hi Andrew – I have just spent $5,500 with [X training program] online, and feel like I got ripped off. I have not found my NICHE. I have information overload with their tutorials and weekly discussions.
I am 60 years old. Love fashion and beauty. Am a grandmother. Am single and living alone. Financially needy. Capable, but not particularly internet savvy. Have read your advice through Google on drop shipping and my question is: HOW DO I FIND A NICHE? Please help! – Alice (name changed)
I get a surprising number of emails like this, and they are heartbreaking to read. Why? Because someone in a tight place financially (a 60-year-old single woman, no less) is out a large sum of money that almost certainly wasn’t a good investment. Because apart from the financial loss, this woman is now frustrated and upset. And because it underlies the pervasive mentality that with the right “system,” anyone can strike it rich online.
This isn’t a hit piece against online training programs or information products. When purchased by the right people – and when they contain quality information – educational products can be a great investment.
Starting out, I spent $800 per month (yep, not a typo!) for a short period to be part of an online SEO and marketing training community. And the roughly $4,000 I spent overall was a good investment, as it helped me generate tens of thousands of dollars in free traffic. The key difference between my situation and Alice’s was that I was in a position to fully apply my training, both from a timeframe and skills perspective.
What I do want to address head-on is when it’s not a wise decision for you to open an online store. Below are four telltale signs that you probably shouldn’t start an online store. I don’t write these to discourage you, but rather to provide a realistic perspective that you won’t find on the sales pages of over-hyped training programs.
The only thing worse than postponing your business plans is wasting months – or even years – of time and money because no one was honest with you about what was really required to succeed.
You Need to Make Money Fast
If you need to make money quickly, starting an eCommerce business is a really bad idea. Opening an online store is an involved process that takes months to research and launch, and usually years to build into a significant and sustainable income. If you need extra cash to pay this month’s rent or just don’t have enough to make ends meet, your best bet is to increase your income through a traditional job for the short term.
This doesn’t mean you have to resign yourself to being employed for the rest of your life, but it’s what you’ll realistically need to do to meet pending obligations. Anyone who tells you that you can start quickly making significant money with little work online – especially with a pre-built “system” – is selling you a pipe dream. Like all legitimate businesses, eCommerce stores take time to grow.
Additionally, you’ll need to make decisions in the best long-term interest of your business, which are usually opposed to short-term financial needs. If you’re using every cent of profits to pay bills, you can’t afford to re-invest in your business.
You Need a Guarantee
I repeatedly hear in emails:
“How can I be sure that this will work? I can’t afford to waste time on an idea/niche that isn’t successful.”
In the world of entrepreneurship, there are no guarantees despite what that slick-looking training program would have you believe. The only place to get a guaranteed return for your time is – you guessed it! – with a traditional job.
Being an entrepreneur means taking action without that guarantee of success. You do it strategically and with a well-thought-out and researched plan, but at the end of the day you move forward despite your doubts. With every business I’ve ever started, I’ve had doubts and reservations as to whether it would be successful or not. And while some ended up doing nicely, others didn’t fare as well. But I’d never know if I didn’t overcome my fears and take the plunge.
Educate yourself, research, agonize, and then make a decision despite your reservations. It’s the only option you have. And if you can’t afford for something not to work (i.e., if you’re “betting the farm” on a venture’s success), then you definitely shouldn’t be starting it.
You’re Not Willing/Able to Take a Step Back
Starting an online business requires a sacrifice of some kind, usually in the form of time or cash. You need to have one of these two currencies! If you’re not able to invest either, you won’t be able to build a viable business.
Every business success story has a tandem tale of investment, sacrifice or temporary setback. For me, it was working like crazy and saving for two years like a miser so I could afford to quit my job and ramp up my business. For previous guest-poster Kamal, it involved giving up his weekends to get his store online. Even Bill Gates had to drop out of Harvard to take a shot at starting Microsoft – something that, at the time, must have looked like a major step back.
Moving forward always requires taking a temporary and sometimes painful step back – it’s the only way to make real progress.
You’re Not Web Savvy
It has become significantly easier to start a business online today, even compared to just a few years ago. Services like Shopify, Magento, and BigCommerce have made it possible to get a store online without programming experience and with little tech knowledge (check out our Shopify vs Magento guide here). But if you’d describe yourself as “not web savvy” (like Alice), you’re likely going to struggle.
Being “web savvy” is simply the price of admission for trying to get a viable business online. If you have a hard time setting up an email account, doing online banking or using Facebook, you’re going to become incredibly frustrated trying to get a store online, even with all the easy-to-use tools available. As simple as these tools have become, they do require a basic level of online competency, as will most other resources you’ll need to build/market/operate your store.
Don’t Get Discouraged
Here’s the good news: Even if you’re not currently in a strong position to start you business, it’s always possible to get there. That might require prioritizing your finances to become more financially secure by leveraging an existing job or getting up to speed with basic web technologies. The circumstances above are not set in stone or hard-wired character attributes. All of them can be changed with time and effort.
And if you’re a bit older like Alice and outside the traditional 20-something stereotype for online entrepreneurs, please don’t get discouraged or interpret this post to mean that you can’t be successful!
I spoke with an eCommerce friend and coach last week who told me of a 70-something couple he works with who had recently launched a beautiful store. And I’ve personally received numerous emails from folks 60+ who are pursuing eCommerce from a position of strength and competency.
The bottom line? Make sure you’re starting an online business in the right position – and with the right expectations – and you’ll be much more likely to succeed.
The One Training I Can Recommend
Like I mentioned at the beginning, there are a lot of over-priced courses and eCommerce conferences out there that over promise and under deliver. But if you’re serious about learning how to start an online store (and don’t fall into any of the traps mentioned above) there’s one training series I can fully endorse.
My good friend Steve Chou has been successfully running his own eCommerce business for years and runs the best course I know of on how to do the same. This is someone I know personally, consider a friend and have been impressed by the quality of his work and content.
His training is stuffed with hundreds of quality videos and step-by-step tutorials. But my favorite part? He makes himself personally available to his students to answer questions during regular “virtual” office hours.
You can learn more about how his training can help you build your own successful store right here.
Disclosure: The links above are affiliate links, which means I’ll get a commission if you buy Steve’s course. I use to offer my own training but Steve’s was so much better than mine I decided to just partner up with him!