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How to Start an Online Boutique

May 12, 2020

Tools and tips to set you up for success

 

E-commerce is booming like never before; in fact, 68% of shopping occasions begin online. What does this mean for the in-person retail shopping experience? Doesn’t look TOO promising… (*sigh*- Neiman Marcus, we’re looking at you). With that being said, if you’re looking to start a business and want to fall into the realm of retail, e-commerce is probably the best option- more now than ever. So what do you do if you want to open an online boutique? Don’t stress, because we have steps and suggestions on how to open it, and make your online boutique the best it can be.

Pick a name, and then register it

You should start thinking about the name of your boutique. Starting an online boutique can be daunting, especially when there are so many of them with cute or unique names. Your name should be something you aren’t embarrassed to say in public, and it should be short and sweet- we recommend 1-2 words, 3 at the most. This is a great site to help brainstorm and help you kickstart some ideas. 

Once you have your name, register it! We recommend working with an accountant for this, as a grander part of your overall business plan. 

Decide from where you are going to source your products 

This should be determined in your business plan, but as you’re planning, you may discover other options! Once you’ve figured out the outside of your store, it’s time to figure out the inside. Where do you stock from? 

  • Etsy: Etsy is a great place to either source from other online boutiques, or you can actually wholesale purchase from them as well, without having to go to a big manufacturer to do that. 
  • Locally: If you have the ability to reach out to local brands and stores around you, we highly encourage you to do so. Local products will add some spice to your store, as well as give the buyer a one of a kind feeling because it isn’t a wholesale product just anyone can buy. You’re also supporting local, which is never a bad idea. 
  • Wholesale: Most likely the easiest way to stock your online boutique. There are plenty of wholesale sites, just Google them! Or if you have a specific brand in mind you’d like to stock, reach out to the manufacturer and see what they can do for you, or Google the brand at wholesale prices. 

Determine your target audience – it’s ok to niche down! 

Read: very important. Research who your target audience is: how old are they, what’s their job, what do they wear, what’s their personality like, what gender are they, etc. Who is your ideal customer and what do they look like? Do they like functional products or fashion products? Do they want to pay more money for handmade items? Are they only concerned with going out and looking expensive, but their budget isn’t that big? All these will help you curate your inventory and how you market it.  

Figuring that out will help create an outline for everything else that follows, and will allow you to perfectly identify who you are selling to. Because essentially, who you’re selling to becomes your brand.  

Pick your platform 

It’s an online boutique, where are you going to sell your product? There are so many out there to choose from that it can be overwhelming. Don’t forget to consider where your target audience would shop most. We’ve broken down some of the popular few into categories to hopefully help with starting an online boutique easier: 

Doing it all for you:

    1. Etsy: We know her, we love her, we shop on her all the time for those unique gifts for the famjam and friends. Etsy, or what we like to call the digital mall of small and unique boutiques; if you don’t want to have to deal with domains and websites and making everything look cohesive, this is your go-to. Etsy is great for beginners, too, to learn about the digital commerce world and most successful boutiques end up leaving for their own website after a while. Joining and starting a storefront on Etsy is free, but other fees do apply. 
    2. Big Cartel: A competitor to Etsy, Big Cartel is your go-to for fewer fees and more customization of storefronts. While it essentially does the same thing, there is a fee for listing more than 5 products, so we recommend using this platform if you’re specializing in a few products and just starting out. 
    3. Big Commerce:  Big Commerce is great because of all its built-in tools, that you don’t have to download third-party apps or make in house purchases for like you might on Shopify or Etsy. Oh, and it has some great SEO features to help boost your page. Pricing starts at $30/mo and goes up to even $300/mo, but with three different plans you’ll probably find something you like that fits your budget. 

 

All the templates:

    1. Wix: Starting at $23/mo, Wix is just so easy to use. It’s beginner-friendly and has its main focus on design and brand before product, so you can have complete artistic freedom here. However, it’s not a sole e-commerce site, but a website builder that has e-commerce functions to use.
    2. Weebly:  If you’re on a super tight budget, and we mean like so tight you’re counting cents, then Weebly is the one for you. Plans start at only $8/mo, but that’s for just 10 products- however, unlimited is only $25, which we don’t think is a bad deal. It has drag-and-drop features for ease of site creation, which can be more useful than Wix if you’re someone who gets overwhelmed easily. It’s not recommended for fast-growing boutiques, as gift cards and real-time shipping rate features are only available with the most expensive option. 
    3. Squarespace: If you’re itching to just make your site the most aesthetic, most creative it can be, then Squarespace is where it’s at for you. Plans start at $18/mo, and while it might not be the easiest for beginners, it comes with classic eCommerce functions like creating discounts or ads. What we love about Squarespace is you can sell as many products as you want on any of their plans, without paying for it. Plus, it has many templates that you can manipulate and create with, so we love that. 

 

For the more advanced and eCommerce savvy

The most known option here is Shopify for anyone who has experience or knowledge or just wants to go hard. Shopify starts at $30/mo,, but with that you get so many features and apps. You can sell physical and digital products AND services, which is a plus. Also, they have more than just 4 payment options that include Google Pay, unlike other platforms. It’s so popular that big brands like Harry’s Razors use it, too! The templates they provide also come with moderate SEO, which we can’t stress enough how important that is. Overall, we think Shopify is a great option for starting an online boutique. 

Note that the templates you start with on Shopify are free, but they are basic. We recommend purchasing a template or working with an experienced Shopify site builder to create a more customized site. 

Make it look good

Unlike creating a brand image (that’s next!) a brand design plan includes logos, fonts, color usage, brand guidelines, etc. Creating a brand design that is cohesive is important because it will create a flow on your website and aid in the overall brand image and aesthetic. A basic plan will just provide the font and the coordinating color palette, like the image below, but others can also include a different version of a logo, and what the voice is like when speaking on social or in ads.

Showcasing your products 

Inventory aside, how are you going to show off all your new stuff? You can either DIY, or hire someone. If you’d like to hire a photographer and models, get ready to shell out some serious cash for it, although the pictures will be great and the inventory will look professional. 

But, if you’re confident in your photography skills, know someone with a camera, or can rent one, grabbing friends to show off your clothes or products and you taking the pictures will save you lots of money! Making sure your products look the best they can is crucial when having people decide if they want to buy them or not. 

Plan out your marketing 

Last, your marketing plan. While lots of business marketing have points they want to hit outside of social media because your boutique is online, that’s basically where all your marketing lives (social media, etc), besides the packaging. Your first marketing budget should be for allocating resources to pay for promoted ads on Facebook and Instagram and promoting posts for your business profile. 

For online boutiques specifically, we’d suggest being on Instagram and Pinterest first, and plan out what your posting schedule looks like and what your content will look like. Flesh out your profiles to be as inviting as possible for potential curious customers. Figure out your tone for captions and story posts. We say Pinterest and not Facebook because as a new online boutique, the chances of you being discovered are higher than being on Facebook; a majority of searches on Pinterest are unbranded, so your product can come up at any time. Also, like Instagram, Pinterest allows you to be taken directly to the product if they want to buy it, so it creates more encouragement to purchase. 

However, if you don’t feel confident in doing your own marketing, then reaching out to a third party to do it for you is never a bad idea. It will definitely cost you money, but the end game of getting more traffic to your brand might be well worth the cash. Professionals will also be able to understand your brand at an industry level and figure out the best ways to market it that you might not have thought of before. 

Now in terms of packaging, that’s also a big part of your marketing. Packaging contributes to the overall experience of shopping with you, and especially if you’re a unique online boutique, they’ll expect your packaging to be unique as well. It should have your main brand colors, logo, and font, and if you’re a small store, a little handwritten note of thanks goes a long way. 

Influencers and paid ads are also something to consider. If you have the budget, reach out to an appropriate influencer that you think represents your brand well, and see how you can work together to promote it. Paid ads will also be crucial in creating awareness of your brand, and on platforms like Facebook and Instagram, you can target exactly the audience you want, down to their location. 

Ultimately, you need a plan.

Everything we’ve mentioned here will help you develop your overall business plan. If you intend on working with investors or applying for a loan or just LASTING as a business, you need a plan. 

So, what constitutes a business plan? In summary, it’s a plan that outlines the first couple months of business operations, what you’re bringing to the table to offer consumers, the first couple of finances and how you’ll meet the numbers, etc. 

Here’s an outline of what should be included in your business plan: 

  • Executive Summary
  • Overview and Objectives
  • Products and Services
  • Market Opportunities
  • Sales and Marketing
  • Competitive Analysis
  • Operations
  • Management Team
  • Financial Analysis

 

Starting a business, let alone an online boutique is not easy. It takes time and effort and research to be successful, but the rewards are worth it! We’ve helped, and it was tons of fun. If you have an idea of a store and want to create the online boutique of your dreams, look no further, we have you covered! Contact us or DM us on Instagram, and we’ll work together to make starting your online boutique a breeze. 

Written by Kyla Patton and Lauren Bordelon

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