Making some extra money on the side is more important than ever with the Covid pandemic. And that’s especially true with side incomes like ecommerce where you don’t have to leave your home.
If you don’t have much experience with online retail, opening an ecommerce store might seem too time-consuming to manage alongside a regular nine-to-five. But the good news is, with a little hard work and elbow grease, even first-timers can make it work — without having to quit their day job.
This guide gives you five expert tips on how to start an ecommerce business without too much time investment so you can manage it in your spare time. If all goes well, your online store could become your main source of income, and your current day job is the side hustle!
1. Find a Niche
Choosing an ecommerce niche is one of the most important decisions an online seller makes. The more focused and specialized your online store is, the less competition you have, and competition is brutal in today’s ecommerce climate. If you don’t specialize with a niche, you’ll find yourself competing with other jack-of-all-trades ecommerce stores like Amazon or Walmart — and that’s a full-time job.
So your first step is identifying an unfulfilled niche that you yourself have some expertise in. Read our guide on choosing your niche and answer the questions there for you. If you want some quick recommendations, we recently posted our Top Ecommerce Niches of 2021.
2. Use a Platform that’s Low Maintenance
If your ecommerce store is just for moonlighting, the platform you sell on makes all the difference. For example, BigCommerce has a ton of sophisticated features to help you sell, but the learning curve and amount of maintenance make it untenable as a side gig (in addition to the costly price tag).
For first-time online retailers, and those who want minimal time investment, a quick-and-easy ecommerce platform serves better. Shopify is the most popular option, but Volusion is another alternative that’s loved by beginners. If you have big ambitions, you might want to try WooCommerce (which uses WordPress); WooCommerce suits beginners and experts alike, so you can scale up without a problem.
3. Choose Product Sourcing that Fits your Schedule
Product sourcing, or product acquisition, is how you find the products you sell. It follows the standard “buy low, sell high” principle, but without extra time to spend, you need to find a method that doesn’t take long.
Dropshipping requires the least effort — ideal for a side job — but yields the least profit per item. The manufacturer is in charge of shipping and fulfillment, so all you have to worry about is the customer side: marketing, outreach, site design, etc. However, most of the profits go to the manufacturer, so you’re more-or-less working on commission.
If you’re a craftsperson selling homemade goods, you don’t have to worry about product sourcing at all, but still have to source raw materials, not to mention meet all the orders yourself. Selling white label and private label goods are relatively faster than sourcing original products, although their range is somewhat limited.
For first-time online retailers, it helps to acquaint yourself with all the methods at your disposal to see which fits into your schedule. You can read about them in our free ebook, Ecommerce Product Sourcing Strategies for Every Business Model.
4. Start Small and Scale Up
Success in ecommerce is as much adapting as it is planning. The market is in constant fluctuation, and today’s best-sellers are tomorrow’s dead stock.
Online retailers must hone their instincts in areas like pricing, design trends, SEO, and what policies their customers expect (i.e., returns, free shipping, etc.). These of course take time and experience to develop — both of which are lacking for beginners and those doing it as a side gig.
If this describes you, your best bet is to start small. Walk into the pool, don’t jump in. This minimizes the risk and mitigates early losses; you’re bound to make mistakes at first, so you don’t want them to be costly ones. Try a handful of flagship products before expanding into less familiar markets.
5. Automate Everything You Can
This is crucial if you want a minimal time investment: automate everything you can. The key to running an online store in your spare time is resource management, and automation is the most efficient use of resources.
Luckily, we’re living in a day-and-age where automation continually breaks new ground. That extends to the world of ecommerce, where there’s plenty of software, apps, plugins, and online services to handle some of the more menial tasks for you.
Automation tools are most common in ecommerce marketing. You have tons of social media schedulers to choose from, like Hootsuite or Preview for Instagram, so that you can complete all your social media posts in one sitting and not think about it again. But you also have email marketing automation, like Constant Contact, which not only saves you time but also is proven to increase engagement.
Finally, there’s inventory management automation, like our own ecomdash. Our software automatically updates your stock levels on all your channels, so you never have to worry about accidentally overselling. You can also set custom alerts so you’re never late for reordering new stock.
Starting Out in Ecommerce
Beginning in ecommerce isn’t easy… but it doesn’t need to be hard, either. Even if it’s just a side job, learning the fundamentals and drawing on expert advice will yield more success than if you went at it alone. To help you start out, check out our free ecommerce guides for beginners:
- Best Ecommerce Business Model for You: A Pocket Guide
- Checklist for Starting your Ecommerce Business
- Launching Your Ecommerce Store: A Post-Launch Checklist
Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published February 2016 and was updated in February 2021 to reflect more accurate and relevant information.