How-To Start an Online Boutique in 10 Easy Steps (+Free Worksheets)
I get it. You know you are ready to start an online boutique, but don't where to start? You're not alone and Online Boutique Center is here to help. I'm sure you have a general idea of what you need to do:
- Get clothes
- Get a website
- Market like crazy
- Choose a Business Name (that you won't hate in 5 years)
- Select a Target Customer
- Getting Legal and Choosing a Business Structure
- Choosing a Domain and E-Commerce Platform
- Styling Products and Photoshoot Tips
- Branding and Packaging
- Pricing Strategies
- SEO (Search Engine Optimization) - Boost Your Organic Traffic from Google
- Marketing (Email, Social Media, Influencer)
Choose a Business Name (That you Won't Hate by Next Year)
Your business name is extremely important and literally represents your entire brand in a nutshell. That goes for good or bad customer service alike. Think deep and long about your business name. Check out these free business name generators to get your brainstorming on.A few tips and suggestions I recommend:
- Be sure your name defines who your brand is
- Not too specific if you plan to grow
- Holds value and can remain relevant as your brand grows
- Try Acronyms (First letter of each word in your business)
- Try Foreign Words (latin)
- Use your own name (if going this route, you better have A1 customer service and quality)
- Identifies what you sell if you plan to remain in the same lane (i.e. fashion nova)
- Is catchy or memorable (i.e. nasty gal)
- Choose a name that appeals not only to you, but also to the type of customers you're trying to attract.
Select a Target Customer
You may have heard that the online fashion business is "oversaturated", but trust me - there's room for EVERYBODY. According to Kinsta, by 2021, e-commerce is expected to reach $4.5 trillion in sales. To put that into perspective, in 2014, e-commerce reached about $1.3 trillion in sales. You got this! It will take a lot of quality marketing (in various forms) and most importantly, narrowing down a target customer (or target market). Whether you have customers already or not, you can determine your target customer with a few tips below:
If your just getting started:
- Search online for research others have done in your niche (i.e. trendsetters, fashion stats)
- Search blogs, forums and survey results where people in your target market may communicate their opinions
- Start up your social media accounts early and post inspo pics to see who gravitates to what. Begin reviewing the demographics in your insights/analytics.
- Use Google Trends to search for popular products and what age group buys them
- Review demographics from all social media analytic tools
- Manually review customer orders and separate by income, repeat customers, locations, etc.
- Re-evaluate your customer base and inventory. Do they match? Has your customer base changed?
- customer engagement and demographics on social media
- amount spent in your store
- repeat customers
- reviews (good and bad)
- and more
Getting Legal and Choosing a Business Structure
By now you're probably ready to get your inventory (if ordering wholesale or manufacturer) and start selling....Not so fast hun. Did you know the majority of wholesale companies online require a photo upload of your seller's permit (wholesale license). In many cases you aren't able to view products and/or product prices on these sites without it.
If you interested in a few wholesale-like companies (very low prices, longer shipping times) that do not require a seller's permit to purchase, check out this blog post listing out my favorite "wholesale vendor alternatives".
In addition, your business needs to be legal and unfortunately pay uncle Sam as required. By legal, you will need to get the following to be in compliance with city, state and federal levels.
- Employee Identifier Number (EIN): Think of this as a driver's license for your business - with no photo. Although this is not required for sole proprietors, I recommend you go ahead and get it either way. It's free and you will need it eventually if you plan to hire employees, get business funding and more. Apply through the IRS secure website here
- "Doing Business As" (DBA): Unless you are naming your business the same as your legal name, you will need a DBA. This is the "fictitious" name that you will be using instead of your name. This document costs anywhere from $10-100 and will need to be renewed every 5 or 10 years depending on your state. Find out where to get your DBA in the Boutique Startup Plan.
- Get a Business Bank Account: This isn't required, but highly recommended. Keep your personal income/expenses separate from your business income/expenses to avoid confusion. With a DBA you can open a business account at your local bank. If you do not want to use your bank or want to open an account at a different bank, I recommend using Azlo (backed by BBVA). Its is Free, comes with a VISA debit card that can be used everywhere and easily connects to e-commerce platform payment providers.
- Seller's Permit aka Wholesale License: A seller's permit is a state license that allows you to purchase products from wholesale companies without paying taxes on them. It also allows you to collect taxes from purchases made in the state your business resides in (and any warehouse locations outside the state if applicable). To order wholesale online or view products/product prices, you will need to obtain this document. Registering for a seller's permit is free in most states and may cost up to $20 in some. The following states do not require the collection of taxes: Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon *Florida > Read Here about Local Business Tax Receipts
For home-based businesses, online businesses or other small businesses, a sole proprietorship is often the best option because it is the least complicated and gives you complete control over your business. For tax purposes, you will add your income/losses to your personal tax returns each year. When choosing a DBA, you will be asked the type of business structure you will have. You can still be a sole proprietor even if you are not using your own name. Tip: a DBA cannot contain terms such as a corporation, incorporated (inc), or LLC unless the business legally operates as such.
LLC (Limited Liability Company)
Forming an LLC will help to protect your personal liabilities (i.e. house, vehicle) from lawsuits in case your are sued or if you were to file bankruptcy. Members of an LLC are considered self-employed and must pay self-employment tax contributions towards Medicare and Social Security (unlike a sole proprietor). LLCs can be a good choice for medium or higher-risk business owners that have a significant amount of assets that they want to be protected. Note: There are more fees and filings involved to file an LLC. Learn more about Sole Proprietors and LLC's here
Choosing a Domain and E-Commerce Platform
A domain name is your address on the web. Depending on how unique your business name is, the higher your chances are to secure your business name as your domain. In the case your business name isn't available, try adding some of these words to the domain:
- Shopify - Starting at $29 per month. The most popular and offers the greatest selection of free apps to grow your traffic/sales. 2.3% transaction fee.
- Wix - Starting at $26, no transaction fees, 1 yr domain, and other valuable goodies. By far some of the best templates and has a few helpful apps.
- Squarespace - Starting at $18, includes a free domain and email address via G-Suite (normally $6/month), no transaction fees in other packages. Very simple, No app store.
If you need help with setting these platforms up, simply type in how-to videos in Youtube search. Shortly after getting a domain, unless included - setup a hosted email address that matches your business name (i.e email@example.com). Zoho is my go-to and what I use and highly recommend for email hosting. Why? Because it is only $1 per month! Period. No strings attached.
This is one of the most nerve-wracking but best part of the business. It's nothing like seeing your vision come to life as a collection. You have several choices for selling fashion in your boutique.
- Wholesale: This is a favorite for online boutiques. You can order wholesale both online and in-person. OBC has a list for women, plus size, children and men with tons of trusted wholesale vendors. To get wholesale vendors, visit wholesale vendor library. I also created a wholesale buyer guide included in the social boss bundle to assist you with sourcing vendors, spotting scams and other secret forums dedicated to wholesale vendor experiences and reviews.
- Dropshipping: This is quickly rising as one of the go-to for new business owners. Personally, I like to stay away from dropshipping with fashion boutiques due to not being able to see the products, attach my branding, etc. However, you can save tons of money going this route as long as the vendor is trusted and you are okay with possibly not being able to include any branding in your packaging. If you were selling fidget spinners, then I would say go for it! **Exception: If you're selling t-shirts, I highly recommend dropshipping. Check out our List of Trustworthy Dropshipping Vendors
- Manufacturer or Handmade: Bringing a drawing or idea to life is a feeling that you can't imagine until you feel it. To know people like what you thought of in your head is what will keep you motivated. This route is not for everyone, but there is a target niche out there for everyone. Marketplaces like Etsy and Amazon handmade are dedicated to created safe zones for original work. I recommend setting up an Amazon and Ebay account to increase sales and traffic. Etsy is specific to unique and handmade products and the marketplace always has a demand for products. The people searching there are looking for your unique work.
Styling Products and Photoshoot Tips
The way you style your products for your website and the themes of your photoshoot is marketing within itself. A signature style is how your brand sticks out compared to the next. Pick a good mix of solid background pics and lifestyle photos. Some vendors allow you to use their stock photos, however, that means so can everyone else. You can literally have a photoshoot free anywhere in the world. Here is where creativity takes the wheel. Our video library has tons of photoshoot inspiration. Access the library in the Boutique Resource Library. Check out some of my favorite photoshoot tools to add-on with your phone camera:
- Photo Lens Attachment, $39.99 from Amazon - turn your phone into an expensive camera instantly
- Bounce Cards, $19.99 from Amazon - for reflecting and directing light
- Ring Light, $35.99 from Amazon - Get the perfect lighting
- Tripod, $11.99 from Amazon - this tripod is for your phone
- Hang a freshly steamed white sheet for backgrounds, edit as needed later or remove the background at remove.bg
Save money by capturing your own product photos with a quality camera phone and hosting photoshoots with the tools above without ever needing a high-priced camera or photographer.
Branding and Packaging
SEO (Search Engine Optimization) - Boost Your Organic Traffic from Google
Marketing (Email, Social Media, Influencer)
- Email marketing: Your newsletter and promotional emails are a great way to convert visitors to customers and customers to loyal, repeating consumers Easily capture users that are not yet ready to purchase with an attractive newsletter popup when they arrive or leave your page, coupon for exchanging their email, etc. Connect your email addresses to your favorite email platform and watch your list grow through targeted emails and automations.
- Learn more about email marketing in the Social Media Boss Bundle
- Social Media marketing: Next to organic traffic (EO), social media marketing holds the top spot for marketing in 2019. Having a social media account for your business is an absolute must. It is a great way to connect with users that prefer social media searches over internet search engines. When using hashtags correctly and creating engaging content, social media can grant your business tons of traffic and sales. By engaging with social media users, you can build a loyal tribe that will return time and time again. Instagram, Facebook and Twitter are going to be your top social media channels to promote on and its recommended you create business accounts for each to see insights/analytics.
- Influencer marketing: Influencers essentially do the marketing for you in combination with social media marketing. This is why it is one of the most popular ways to market and goes hand in hand with social media marketing. By delegating the marketing to influencers, you do less work for a fee. There are three types of influencers that brands use: Megainfluencers, Macroinfluencers, Microinfluencers. Each has their own unique advantages depending on your target market. When starting out we understand you want to get sales quickly and may want to get larger promoters, but the engagement in the comments is what matters. What's the purpose of collaborating with an influencer that has 200k followers and averages 6-10 comments a post? Something is not right there and is an immediate red flag and waste of your money/product. Compare that to an Influencer with 10k followers averaging 120+ comments per post. This means people cares and trust the influencer with 10k followers more. There are website platforms dedicated to hosting trustworthy influencers or you can hunt via Instagram (recommended choice). Search through the hashtags to find someone in your niche to ensure your best ROI and pay/negotiate respectively.
By following the above steps, you are on your way to running an online boutique. Obviously this isn't everything and there's a lot more tips where these came from. In the How-To Start a Profitable Online Boutique ebook learn even more about making your dream business a success and getting the largest profit for your time put in.