Unless you're blessed with a design background or a very flexible start-up budget, creating a website that communicates your brand to customers within about two seconds of hitting your Home Page is a pretty tall order. Add in the fact that most new makers on the handmade scene don't have much business or web experience, you can see why getting your small business website up and running can cause a lot of panic, frustration and time-wasting confusion.
But, it doesn't have to be that scary if you know a few tricks.
When you're first starting out, general start-up costs and ongoing fees are a huge factor for new small businesses. Once you begin to add up materials, insurance, payment fees, monthly services etc. you can be looking at a lot of sales before break-even for the month. And who goes into business to break even?
From all of that, I've genuinely found that Shopify is the best bang for your buck and the easiest to set up.
But what about Wordpress?
There are some Wordpress obsessives out there that say you should "own your real estate" and have complete control over the look and feel of your website at low cost and while I agree with the sentiment, I really believe that when you're starting out and still developing your brand, not having to make all of those decisions as well as learning web design, is a better use of your time and money. Because it will take at least three times longer than you expect and stress is not fun.
I use the bare-bones Basic Shopify plan and a free template and while I absolutely have plans to upgrade many things over the next few years, actually getting started and launching is the biggest hurdle that handmade small business faces. Done is better than perfect, especially in the early days when let's face it, no one is looking. And unless you have a butt-tonne of start-up capital and a knack for marketing and advertising, that custom, fancy-ass website won't convert into the sales you need. It's better to grow slowly and build your brand over time as you get to know your audience and target market better.
The free Analytics and SEO within Shopify is really quite good and so long as you've paid for full domain name hosting, you can avoid the unsightly my-shopify URL (which I highly recommend because it builds customer trust).
While the Basic Shopify it's not everything you should be tracking and understanding as a small handmade business, it is much easier to digest than say, jumping into Google Analytics.
Plus, their FAQ is very detailed and there are more YouTube tutorials for Shopify than any other out-of-the-box platform so getting it looking how you want can take only a few hours to get the basic skeleton looking good.
How to Maximise Your Basic Shopify Website
Okay, so if I've been able to convince you to use Shopify as your e-commerce website, here are a few things to do, right off the bat to ensure you get as much mileage out of your website as possible.
Reduce your File Size at all costs
How many times have you clicked off a website if it didn't load fast enough? ie. within about three seconds. If you're uploading high-resolution images to your website, you're making a big but easily fixed mistake.
TinyPNG drastically reduces the file size of your photos without any obvious impact on the photo quality. Simply upload the photos you want to have on your website, compress them and save the smaller file. When I do this it reduces my file size by around 68%. That's huge! And it's free for images under 5MB.
Name Your Files With SEO In Mind
When you upload your (tinified) images to your website, make the most of your SEO (search engine optimisation) by naming your files in a way that lets them be found. How is anyone going to find your kickass handmade products if they're named Image001XBC?
Remember - and this is crucial - separate out words with a dash, like this - not a dot or slash . or / otherwise Google can't read it
You want it to look like this:
Don't let your words run together either. Use a dash - to separate out the words only. Anything else is a total waste of free SEO.
Utilise Free Shopify Apps
Shopify is known for their comprehensive suite of apps and many are free. Spend a little time going through their catalogue and see what you can get for free that would really add extras features to your website.
Some essentials are:
- Instagram Feed
These are the kind of features most shoppers expect on a website but won't come with a typical free theme. Installing a few apps will help give your customers the kind of shopping experience we've all come to expect from online shopping. Just don't get caught up installing a heap of stuff - most apps need you to install/customise or otherwise work with it ongoing to get the best results. You may not have that time and I always think it's best to focus on building your business than analysing
Judge Me Product
Shopify really is a great option for new and upcoming small handmade businesses. It gives you a solid e-commerce website with excellent security and a wide range of drag and drop templates for free that you can customise to suit your look and feel. Free apps allow you to make your site even more customer-friendly and you get access to reporting that suits the needs of small business. Plus, it's not priced crazy high. If you want to save time, money and stress, get a Shopify site.