4 Signs You Shouldn’t Start an Online Store

4 Signs You Shouldn’t Start an Online Store

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.   This is especially true today in 2018 as the eCommerce landscape has become more competitive while courses offering “easy Amazon riches” have become popular.

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.

An Alternative – Getting Paid to Learn?

If you’re just starting out, one less risky alternative is to get an internship or entry-level job to build your eCommerce skills.

It’s not for everyone, but it’s definitely a less risky way to get some experience learn from people and companies that are making it work in the real world.

If that sounds interesting, you might want to check out the current internships and entry-level eCommerce positions posted on our job board.

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!  

Photos by Swanksalot, Velo_City & Frederik De Buck

Andrew Youderian
Post by Andrew Youderian
Andrew is the founder of eCommerceFuel and has been building eCommerce businesses ever since gleefully leaving the corporate world in 2008.  Join him and 1,000+ vetted 7- and 8-figure store owners inside the eCommerceFuel Community.

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134 Comment

KennithSeptember 6, 2014

There are several reasons why, and here are a few:.
No one but Bill Gates has tat much available money.
Thiss is aan easy way to get started-take one marketing strategy,
learn and hone it.

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DanaNovember 6, 2014

I only made this decision yesterday to start an on line business. So I’m definitely ‘green’. But hungry and I believe ready. Any and all ideas/ advice are welcome. Thank-you for your post. Now…where to start?

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Picking Painless Systems In junk cars | beatrizmadsenqxDecember 17, 2014

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Chantel DoanMarch 11, 2015

Thank you for this information. It was a reality check for me. Although I’m not quite ready to operate my business ready this encouraged me!

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SophieMarch 12, 2015

Thanks! I came upon this actually researching how to compete with online stores as in the process of opening a brick and mortar, I just found out someone is about to start a similar project as mine, in my neighborhood but online. I’m in the self doubt, scared of failing stage right now and even though this article does not directly relate to my endeavor, it did give me back the motivation I’ve had when the idea first popped in my head! Thanks!!!

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KelliMarch 16, 2015

I have been dying to try my hand at jewlry design & making & thought it would be easy to have an online biz with only that, but now, I’m thinking to try farmers markets as a testing grounds, save money, getting better/quicker/more experience at making jewelry, & then use other supplemental things related to a jewelry theme to fortify my business.

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ShaylaMarch 18, 2015

Then send the postcard to all of the addresses in your area, and try to draw customers in. With
good habit and savings, you can be assured of having enough to start your own business.

A customer is injured while using a product you
sold and files a claim for indemnity.

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Darren smithApril 4, 2015

The site is in preparation at the moment and will be launched over the next few months, I’m not expecting to make money right away but I am willing to give it time, I find your advice very interesting and understand keeping my existing job very important as one will fund the other for a while.

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Frances Benjamin-JamesMay 1, 2015

Wow Andrew, thank you for that wonderful information. When I accessed “how do I start an online business”, out of all the responses I got, I chose yours because I needed to know what not to do, etc. When you know what not to do and expect, it gives you a reality view of the “what to dos”. Very insightful information. Thank you Kindly.

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CanibuycaMay 29, 2015

I must say nice blog with useful tips to those who plan to start online clothing store.

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IsabellaJune 10, 2015

Hi Andrew,
I don’t agree with your point that making a money faster online is not a good idea.There are a lot of websites that offers to sell your products online by using their platform.People even use social media to do online business and they running their business very well and with in a short period of time.

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bill grantAugust 11, 2015

I’m 72 and just started a store selling my custom hand made back scratchers with a lifetime warranty. Your advice is well said. It’s so much different than 15 years ago. For several hundred dollars you can be up and running with your prototype. The biggest issue is getting page rank, which takes time and back links and social media. My daughter helped with the social side. Right now it’s a fun hobby that keeps me busy. I’m already taking advance orders for holiday delivery.

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Felix ChazAugust 24, 2015

I believe the only point which could go negative with your plan for an Ecommerce store may be your less market research. In the current scenario, It won’t be good not to get into the Ecommerce domain. Ecommerce segment is the one we can call an exact an amazing alternative to the physical market places. All you need to do is to do it precisely and perfectly. One particular step to ensure your Ebusiness to flourish and to fetch you success is to choose such an Ecommerce store Builder which would create a full fledged online store for you.
There are many amazing Online Store Builder who can help you out in this context but you should not limit your search to a few. You would need to be very peculiar which choosing your Ecommerce solutions partner.
Ratoon(http://www.ratoon.com/), not a very old Ecommerce Store Builder is one of the most amazing and client centric Ecommerce Website Builder I have come across recently. If you have any plans to get into the Ecommerce segment in India especially, I would readily suggest to check out Ratoon.
You can also follow Ratoon for updates at: https://www.facebook.com/RatoonStores

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SvetlanadrobyshSeptember 9, 2015

I try to pull any kind of info about ecommerce businesses, I’d like to start. Thank you, for this short involve. If you would have time to guide me in more, Im going to appreciate your help! Good luck your business!

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BlakeOctober 20, 2015

This is spot on! I run a successful online store and manufacturing company. As far as sacrifice, by business ramped up quickly, but I kept my full time job as a web developer for a year and a half before the business had reliable legs. It seems that I worked round the clock and earned each gray hair!

Having web development skills helps a great deal and saves much money. I know more than I need to, but I would advise grabbing a book on html and css so you can make some simple tweaks to the site here and there as needed.

Another skill that is great is to have some basic design sense and know how to use gimp/photoshop. If you don’t have these skills, you’d be surprised how many HS kids, college students, and crafty neighbors, do! You can stretch your start-up funds by offering a ‘portfolio opportunity’ to a young designer to provide some guidance and logos.

The rewards are great, but take heed of this article’s points. It’s real!

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HollyJanuary 12, 2016

Thank you for your hard work and honesty. It is very refreshing compared to everybody trying to sell these ‘get rich quick schemes’. You gave me the encouragement I needed, cause time is a resource I have plenty of. Being disabled & not able to physically work outside the home, you helped me to see, not all is lost. That my creativity can still be used, that I myself am still worth something.

Thank you for your insight & encouragement, Holly

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Monica MarbrandJanuary 13, 2016

Thank you for these precautions, Andrew. It will help a lot of beginners for sure.

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Kathy GumbertJanuary 24, 2016

Thank you for a concise picture of what to consider before getting into the already overloaded rodeo of e-commerce. I’m another Alice – over 60 with a passion for a particular craft that I’d like to morph from a hobby into a business. I believe I have the skill at my craft and the confidence to make the transition, but know I’ve got a lot of research ahead of me. Thanks for a starting point!

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How To Start An Online Clothing Business - StartupJungleJanuary 29, 2016

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Michelle LiApril 22, 2016

My first article of my research on how to start a business on-line.

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SergeoJune 17, 2018

Too many training products and webinars play the artificial scarcity card so much that they mentally bully someone into buying their products when this person just isn’t ready.

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AzJuly 17, 2018

It’s terrible how people are ripped off. But it’s always wise to start small make mistakes, learn from them and then move to something bigger. Like the first car I bought was an old clunky car. I perfected my driving and then bought a better car. Similarly recently when I decided to start dropshipping business I bought a turnkey shopify store from http://www.bebiggy.com. I think I made the right choice.

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