Whether you’ve had it with corporate life and are ready to strike out on your own, or want to pursue a passion while making some extra money, starting an ecommerce business can help you turn your passion into profit. Freelancing or creating a service-based business are both great ways to get started, since they don’t require a lot of starting capital. All you need is a business idea—and clients.
You likely already have your idea, so now you just need the clients. And with more and more people going online to find the services and help they need, a strong digital presence can help set your business apart. When you’re ready to start building your brand online, you have a few options:
- Marketplace profile: This is the easiest approach by far, but marketplaces are full of competitors and it can be hard to differentiate yourself. If your goal is to create a personal brand and attract great clients, you don’t want to rely on freelance marketplaces alone.
- Online portfolio: This option displays your work or services, as well as gives potential clients a direct path to contact you. Many freelancers and businesses have this type of website, but it’s not the most effective approach if you want to build a following or get new business.
- Ecommerce website: A well-designed ecommerce website can inspire your potential clients to take a specific action, whether it’s to sign up for services, hire you, or contact you for a consultation. Done correctly, building an ecommerce website can help build brand awareness and your client list.
Building an ecommerce website is often the most effective tool to sell your services. Below, we’ll explore what an ecommerce website is, best design practices, and how to build the perfect ecommerce website for your small business.
What Is an Ecommerce Website?
Ecommerce is often associated with online retail and marketplaces, but at its core, it simply means selling goods or services via the internet.
Therefore, for the purposes of this guide, an ecommerce website refers to a site that uses basic principles of ecommerce design to inspire a potential client to take the next step toward becoming an actual client, such as purchasing a service or setting up a consultation.
Principles of Ecommerce Design
Ecommerce is an incredibly wide category, and there’s a range of ways to build an effective ecommerce website depending on the type of services you’re offering and your business goals. That said, there are some overarching principles to keep in mind:
Showcase What Makes Your Brand Unique
You’re likely not the only person to offer your type of service, so why should potential clients choose you over a competitor? Your ecommerce website is an opportunity to showcase what sets you apart from the rest. Consider your website like a resume, cover letter, dating profile, and portfolio all rolled into one. In other words: Your website needs to show prospective clients that you’re talented, motivated, and easy to work with, as well as the basics like what exact services you’re offering.
When people look at your website, they should see your values, aesthetic, talents, and all the other characteristics that make your work unique.
Tailor to Your Target Market
Carefully choosing and defining your target market and then designing your website with them in mind will help you stand out from the competition while also attracting the right people to your site.
If you’re a mindfulness coach for busy, career-oriented executives and entrepreneurs, your website should look very different than if you’re a freelance designer who designs mobile apps for rapidly growing tech startups.
An effective website will speak directly to the people who are most likely to become your clients, allowing you to identify and start building relationships with them.
Demonstrate Your Value and Build Trust
How you choose to demonstrate your business’s value and build trust with prospective customers will depend on the type of service you’re offering. An effective retail ecommerce website, for example, will demonstrate value with product descriptions, reviews, and high-quality photos, and builds trust with secure payment methods, customer testimonials, a strong return policy.
Showcasing your portfolio, case studies from successful projects you’ve completed, and customer testimonials are all good options. At this stage, you’ll also want to decide whether you want to include pricing upfront, or whether prospective clients will need to contact you to learn more. The right choice varies based on your situation, but being upfront with prices can help prospective clients take the next step in their buying journey.
Include Clear Calls-to-Action
A call-to-action (CTA) is a request or an appeal that inspires someone to do a specific thing. Whenever you communicate with a potential client, you should offer them an easy way to move forward by starting a conversation via email, setting up a meeting, or even purchasing a specific service from you.
As mentioned earlier, a lot of small businesses have websites with a contact form, which is a CTA of sorts. However, a contact form or an email address usually isn’t the most effective CTA because it’s not always clear why or what happens next. It also requires effort from the potential client since they have to write an email and figure out how to start the conversation.
To create an effective CTA, think about the journey a client will take—from the moment they first hear your name or stumble across your website, to after they’ve become a happy client. Once you have a clear picture of where your audience is coming from and where they’re going, you can write clear, specific CTAs that show your audience exactly what to do and why. You should also make the CTAs nearly effortless—instead of asking a prospective client to write an email, make the very first step as easy as clicking a button.
How to Build an Ecommerce Website
Now that we’ve covered why you should build an ecommerce website to sell your services online, let’s talk about how. In addition to the ordinary website builders that many small business owners use to create their first website, there are platforms designed specifically for ecommerce, known as ecommerce platforms. Here are some pros and cons to using an ecommerce platform to build your ecommerce website.
Pros of Ecommerce Platforms
Most ecommerce platforms offer specific tools that make it easy to build a very functional, useful website, including:
- Built-in features: You can easily create or add useful tools like email drip campaigns, chat support for potential clients, analytics, and SEO tools. These features can make it easier to effectively market your small business.
- Integration with other tools: Works seamlessly with payment processors, your calendar, your customer relationship management software, and more.
- Templates: Easily build an ecommerce website that matches your style and needs without HTML or CSS knowledge.
Cons of Ecommerce Platforms
While there are several pros to ecommerce platforms, they might not be the right fit for your needs. Here are some potential downsides to ecommerce platforms:
- Lack of customization: If you don’t like the offered templates or need something more sophisticated, you may not have the ability.
- Geared toward retailers: Most of the templates that ecommerce platforms offer are designed for a catalog of retail goods, and they may not be optimized to display your portfolio, blog, or other critical examples of your work.
- Price: Plan prices vary, but most ecommerce platforms cost more than a basic website builder.
Choosing the Right Ecommerce Platform
If an ecommerce platform seems like the right fit for your small business, you’ll have plenty of options to choose from—there are over 100 ecommerce platform providers, all with varying features and offerings. Before you start your search, think about exactly what you want to accomplish with your ecommerce website, who your audience is, and how they will ideally interact with your site. Next, check out the best ecommerce platforms to find the right fit for you.
If an ecommerce platform isn’t the right solution for your business needs, consider a small business website builder. These services are often a good fit for freelancers and service-based businesses because they offer robust, flexible website-building and design options alongside basic ecommerce tools.
Building an Ecommerce Website: The Bottom Line
Building an ecommerce website offers you a chance to make a compelling first impression and start building a relationship with each potential client. That means you need a website that makes each visitor feel welcome, valued, and inspired to take action. It’s a lot to accomplish, but these basic principles of ecommerce design and the right website-building tool will get you well on your way to success.