July 1, 2015

How To: Start Your Ecommerce Website

There's been so many ideas that I've thought would make me a bazillionaire but I never knew the business basics. I've always wondered what actually goes into creating an online business. I got the chance to find out what happens behind the scenes of a successful ecommerce website.

I chatted with Angela Afifi whose the Founder, CEO www.onyx-creative.com, about her awesome site and how she got started.

ME: I know you're a big fan of Nasty Gal, and I was wondering if you happened to read Girl Boss? If so, did you apply any of what you learned to your business?

ANGELA: I haven’t gotten around to reading #GIRLBOSS yet, though I’ve heard some great things about it! Very curious to see what it’s all about.

Have you had other ecommerce businesses in the past, or is this your first venture?

While in college at UC Irvine, I was looking for a project outside of school to make some money on the side. At the time, Society6 was one of my favorite platforms to discover and shop items designed by actual artists. So I began experimenting with Shopify and gave birth to a boutique called The Funky Skull.I scouted artists on Society6 with interest to carry their mobile accessories and home designs in my boutique. 

I also began dropshipping women’s clothing and jewelry brands from China. Big mistake. I was unprepared for what was to come and didn’t know how to run an ecommerce platform. Orders began coming in and the logistics of maintaining a dropshipping model with unreliable manufacturers is a nightmare. I decided to close the storefront to get things under control before more orders started coming in. 

I would say The Funky Skull was the best learning experience for me because I taught myself about the industry, made mistakes and now I run Onyx Creative based on what I learned from those mistakes. I don’t think I could’ve learned what I did with The Funky Skull in school.

All of the products on your site are amazing! Could you tell me a little about how you go about sourcing, stocking, and contacting indie designers for small batch orders, etc.?

Each brand is very personal to me, as I’ve handpicked each one and reached out to the designer myself. There’s something special about working with designers or artists themselves rather than a sales associate who just wants to sell you massive orders of product. 

We work on a dropshipping basis which means we don’t stock items in­house, rather we relay the order to each brand who then fulfills the items. As far as scouting, I am always on the hunt for new brands and the process seems to be getting better and better the more I understand exactly what I’m looking for and seeing what works.

You've accomplished so much at such a young age! Did you have a business mentor or someone coach you on starting this amazing website?

In my opinion this is only the beginning, there is still a lot of room for both myself and Onyx Creative to grow! There are definitely people in my life who have influenced the start of Onyx Creative, but no one has took my hand and coached me through the process (boy would I have loved that). 

My moms entrepreneurial spirit and work ethic have been a large contributing factor to always keep going and work hard. Ultimately, I would love to connect with a mentor in the ecommerce space because they know exactly what I’m going through.

What in your opinion, are the 5 biggest mistakes new ecommerce businesses make.

1. Branding:​ Get your branding, aesthetics and logo down beforelaunch! This helps steer the way for all marketing and creative components for the website.

2. SEO: Most people forget to think beyond social media. SEO is one of the most important aspects to driving traffic to your boutique. Use Google, Bing and Yahoo! as tools to drive traffic to your website via specific keywords and advertisements.

3. Sloppy Product Images:​ Product images make or break your boutique. If you’re carrying great items but have sloppy images for them, customers won’t feel compelled to buy them.

4. Spam:​ Spamming people is one of my biggest pet peeves. Whether it’s on social media, newsletters or via email, people hate spam. Spam is not the proper way to develop a reliable and trustworthy reputation in the digital space. Rather than sending your boutique link to millions of people, target those who you know will be interested.

5. Unrealistic Expectations:​ I wish I can apply this to myself but the best advice I can give anyone starting their own business is to be patient. Having unrealistic expectations for your first month of business will only leave you disappointed. It takes time, hard work and trial and error to start seeing results. Don’t give up!

It was so great chatting with Angela! She inspires me to maybe give some of my whacky ideas a try. Who knows, maybe you'll see my own ecommerce site up in the near future? Stranger things have happened.

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