How This CA Started an E-commerce Store That Actually Makes Money
In this article, you are going to learn – How to start your E-commerce business and e-commerce store while working full time.
In fact: These are the exact same strategies Astha Jalan used to start her own E-Commerce Store Gifting Wardrobe.
Astha is a qualified Chartered Accountant from India who turned into an e-commerce store owner.
Prior to starting her E-commerce business, she was working full time at Ernst and Young (EY) in the Transfer Pricing Team, Mumbai (India). After setting up her e-commerce business Astha started working again.
If you are looking for a new business or even just a side hustle, learning how to start an online store may be something that you want to look into.
How I started my eCommerce store from scratch?
I am really creative since childhood. Putting a smile on someone’s face with a nice personalized gift always made me feel great (and still does!).
So, it all started with making unique gift ideas for my friends and family while still in college. Looking at my gifts, my friends would approach me to make gifts for their friends and family. And that’s how I started getting orders.
I loved what I did so it was never a burden. While in college and even during my CA internship I would manage my gifting side business post office or on weekends.
After qualifying as a Chartered Accountant from ICAI, I joined EY, Mumbai in their Transfer Pricing team. You can find my entire journey How I started a profitable e-commerce business in 7 months?
I continued the same even after joining EY, balancing work and my gifting side business.
Working with EY in their Transfer Pricing team was a dream come true. I considered myself super lucky to get into this profile early in my career. However, while working at EY, I realized that I was looking for something else.
Now you will be wondering if I 'Quit my job' to start my online store? The answer is NO. I quit my job randomly without anything in hand or in mind. In short, I did not know what I wanted to do next.
Even after quitting my job at EY, I couldn’t understand what exactly I wanted to do in life. In the meanwhile (like always) I continued taking small orders to curate gifts for others.
A few weeks later, I met my mentor and told her that I did not know what to do in life. She knew about my gifting side business and suggested I should give a few months of dedicated time to my Gifting business and see if it worked well for me.
While working at EY, I had observed that many of my friends had the will and capacity to buy gifts for their family and friends but they had no time. So knew that there was a gap in the market and I could fill in the same.
So when I decided to go full time with my gifting business (this was in Feb'18) the first thing I did was to start - Gifting Wardrobe Instagram page.
Now I had no clue that I would land up launching a proper e-commerce store in July 2018.
In fact, the idea of starting an e-commerce store website initiated only in early June 2018 (almost 5 months after starting my gifting business full time). That’s when I started working towards setting up a proper e-commerce business.
Since I had a fair idea about the gifting industry and about the growth in it, I decided to explore that segment.
So, this is what I did when I started gifting wardrobe as a full-fledged business:
- I calculated my opportunity cost as compared to my salary at EY.
- And I started setting goals to say like a minimum of 100 orders every month.
It was tough to meet my target initially but somehow I started working harder and harder towards it and started achieving my goals.
There were times when I would not even get a min of 100 orders per month. But I kept pushing.
Also at times, I would take orders from a few big clients even if my profit margin was not much.
The goal was to always keep serving. It helped in marketing as well. So, if not monetary growth we looked upon long-term brand growth as well.
Getting the first few clients for business is the most challenging task.
So I do not have a goal book or so, but I do have a Vision board where I keep posting my vision for Gifting Wardrobe and for myself. Having a vision board is so helpful to everyone.
I would recommend all of you create a vision board for yourself. In fact, this New Year I made amazing vision boards for my clients.
How many orders did I get in my first month of business?
- During our first month as Gifting Wardrobe luckily we had one bulk order and a few small ones. The first month I had a total of 35 orders.
- At times we get 100/ 200 orders per month. We have also seen months with 250 orders.
- Diwali 2018 was our first season period as Gifting Wardrobe and we made amazing profits.
- Yes in between we did face a month with only 10 orders as that month I was engaged in sourcing of products and building my e-commerce store's website in detail.
What is my cost of running an E-commerce store?
- To start with an e-commerce store, the most important thing is the Website.
- The website might cost you around $3500 (approx INR 1.5-2 lakhs) along with GST and accounting software (more details below!).
- So, depending on the country you belong to, you will need software to keep your taxes in place.
- The website also needs monthly maintenance and that will cost you around - $100 – $175 per month.
- Since I have started my e-commerce business with my own money, all the money I earn goes back into the business.
- Luckily, we have been getting so many offers from Investors. However, we are yet to find that investor who shares the passion for gifting as we do!
Exact steps you can take to start your own online store
1. What is an e-commerce business?
Before knowing how to start your own online store/e-commerce business you need to know what is an e-commerce business.
- An e-commerce business is a business in which you conduct transactions over the Internet.
- You are selling a product or service, making sales and collecting payment online.
- So basically, any purchase made online would be an e-commerce transaction.
- The best part is there is No limitation on timing or geography. Anyone at any point in time can visit your website and purchase what they want.
2. You need to know - Your WHY?
- You cannot start an e-commerce store or business if you are not passionate or interested in the product.
- When working at EY, I observed that many of my friends had the will and capacity to buy gifts for their family and friends but they had no time.
- And that’s when I decided to start Gifting Wardrobe.
- I initially started Gifting wardrobe with a vision was to make professional and corporate people’s life easier when it comes to Gifting.
- So it is very important to have a WHY when starting any business.
3. Pick a niche for your e-commerce store
- Decide what you’d like to sell. Examples: apparel, home décor, kids wear, electronics, footwear, etc.
- See whats your USP or what is it that the best you can offer that is different than others or not in the market.
- Now with digital products, you can also sell printables and so many other products. There are several products a person can choose to sell.
- This is how you can pick a niche.
4. Source the right products
- Once you know what product you want to sell on your online store, the next step is sourcing those products!
- Research where you will purchase your products from. This would automatically be answered once you find your USP as mentioned above!
- There are a lot of small-scale businesses or artisans in our locality who have great products but no proper place to showcase/ sell their products.
- Also due to lack of knowledge or lack of funds they cannot start an online or offline store. You can get those products in the market through your e-commerce store.
- You can also find products from wholesalers or manufacturers and sell them online.
5. Set up your e-commerce store
Creating an e-commerce business is not as difficult as you may think but it can be time-intensive. There are 2 ways you can set up your e-commerce store:
Build a website of your own:
- When I say setting up your e-commerce store I mean 'you need a website where you can showcase your products.
- Once I made up my mind about creating an e-commerce website, I knew I had to find someone who could do the same for me. Remember building a website for your e-commerce store is a one-time investment so it is a good idea to select the right person to do the same for you. I was lucky enough to have a friend of mine who was into website designing so I approached him.
- Now if you do not know anyone, you can search on social media platforms and find a good web designer. Before finalizing on your web designer - Go through their past work and shortlist them accordingly. However, I would always recommend going through someone you know.
- Setting up a website from scratch might cost you around $2500 along with GST and Accounting software etc. So, depending on the country you belong to, you will need software to keep your taxes in place.
- You will also need a payment gateway so that people can pay you for your products.
- The website also needs monthly maintenance and that will cost you around - $100 – 175 per month.
- Also, if you plan to start your own website one should be ready to learn how to operate your own website. I had to learn how to add products, create discount codes, make products out of stock on the website and other details related for the same so that I did not have to depend on others all the time.
- So if you want to start your own website you will need - Domain name, a platform, and a web host.
Since I have bootstrapped this company, all the money I earn goes back into the business. I was always sure that I wouldn’t take money from anyone to start my work.
Start a Shopify Store
- If you do not want to start your own website you can opt for Shopify.
- Shopify is a platform where you can start your own Shopify store and get going. There is no need for you to invest in setting up a website, a payment gateway, etc. It is all available on the Shopify platform. Personally is my favorite since it provides a lot of features.
- So all you have to do is - pick a platform (ex. Shopify), buy your domain name, add products, and customize your store.
- We have developed our website on Shopify after considering a few more options since it provided a lot of additional features we were looking for.
So, make sure that when you initially start, everything is set up properly. I mean do all the documentation as though it is a proper working company.
By company I mean sort your accounts, taxation mainly GST, delivery channel, how would you source/manufacture products, etc.
While you are building your e-commerce store online make sure you add as many as features possible at the start only.
So basically, the whole idea is set up so strongly in the start that at a later stage you might only have to upgrade your website and not add whole new features.
To reduce the compliance burden, I thought I would avoid GST till the time I cross the threshold limit. GST required compulsory registration if any interstate sale is made, as I didn’t want to restrict my scope and market size I got registered under GST even before my threshold limit!
Eventually now even if I get one order from outside my state my whole working and set up is in such form that it does not add to any additional work for me. Thus, making everything simple.
6. Choose a Delivery Partner
- For an e-commerce website, the most essential factor is a - Delivery Partner.
- From my personal experience, I found figuring out the delivery system was the toughest of all.
- I must have tried almost 4-5 best delivery companies but wasn’t happy with the work of any of them.
- At one go you CANNOT select your delivery partner. You will have to check out a few and see which works best for you.
- I have for instance tried Professionals, FedEx, Maruti, Anjani, etc. Yet these being best brands didn’t work well for me. So depending on the areas you cater to select your delivery partner accordingly!
- Depending on the place of delivery, the delivery guys are decided.
- Like if I want a product to be delivered within Mumbai (where I live) I use one delivery company.
- But for outstation deliveries, I check up with 2-3 courier companies and depending on the requirements I select the company.
7. Inventory stocking
- Inventory is required to get a bulk discount and have ready options at all times. I have stocked up at least 1 - 2 pieces of the products to ensure timely delivery of urgent orders.
- Stocking up helps to keep ourselves save guarded against urgent orders or when the vendor is out of stock.
8. Promote your e-commerce store
- One can promote their online business through paid and unpaid traffic.
- Since I have been in the gifting business since a long time I had a set of loyal customers. So through my bunch of customers, I would get more customers.
- However, later when I started my e-commerce business I also started promoting my store through Facebook and Instagram ads. However, when going for such paid ads have targets of what you want to achieve through the add.
- Keep an eye on the ROI when you go for paid traffic.
- You have to market your store to get customers and make sales.
- To find customers for e-commerce is easy as well as complicated, we have to keep patience to see the growth in e-commerce and constantly spend time and money on marketing.
- Digital marketing modes such as advertisement on social media, search engines, and blogs, Google adds play an important role in marketing.
- Word of mouth has been a constant source of marketing for our brand.
How long does it take to set up an e-commerce store?
The whole process is not difficult but time-consuming accompanied by hard work and patience.
In case anyone wants to set up a store side by side while working full time, it can be done however the investment needed would be more to compensate for your limited time and efforts.
I took me 2 full months to set up my e-commerce website - Gifting Wardrobe. However, if you are oing the same while working full time it might take you 4- 5 months.
I devoted around 5 hours daily for 2 months to research and decide the flow, features, design of the website.
The main challenge was to set up the entire flow of the website correctly right from the beginning in terms of marketing, receiving the order, fulfilling it and after sale service.
Once the whole set up is done then post that you just have to market your website and cater to your clients.
All your background work of hunting suppliers or setting up your manufacturing unit, keeping a back up fr the same should be done at the initial stage.
Nothing about the e-commerce business is passive you continuously need to market and develop new products. Yes after some point in time it gets easier but there is work to be done.
How much can an e-commerce business owner make?
The income potential for an e-commerce business owner is UNLIMITED.
The initial 1-2 years would be low income but once it's set properly and made its market you will make equal or more than your job with your online store.
It’s not uncommon to run into a million-dollar e-commerce owner.
Amazon is the biggest inspiration for e-commerce and the way it has captured the market.
What were my Start-up expenses?
For my e-commerce store, my start-up costs were:
- Logo designing charges
- The domain name, URL(@giftingwardrobe.com)
- Web designing
- Website application charges for instance Shopify,
- Photo editing charges(we preferred edited photo’s in a standard format). You can also edit your photos for free on Canva.com
- Marketing (Facebook and Instagram add),
- Stocking up a few products
- Packaging expenses (we got custom made gift hamper boxes with our brand name)
- Delivery courier expenses
- Branding charges( visiting card, stickers of the brand to be put on products)
- Registration of GST, annual charges of the accounting system.
Maintenance costs are the regular recurring monthly costs to operate the e-commerce store.
Post an e-commerce website there are few maintenance charges that incur every month.
This can include:
- Costs like domain name, hosting, PayPal, or other payment processor fees
- Shipping supplies
- Monthly Shopify charges
- Photo editing expenses
- Printing and stationery
- GST filing
- Marketing expenses / Brand expenses
- Expenses such as salary, rent, etc depending on your setup.
- It’s important that you’re aware of the reasons why you want to start your own e-commerce business. This will be the driving motivation behind your wanting to create a successful e-commerce business.
- Do you hate your boring job and desperately want to try something new? Are you looking for more flexibility with your work? - Whatever your reason is for wanting to start an e-commerce business, it’s important that you think about the amount of time and effort you think it will take to make that reason a reality.
- You can start an e-commerce store while working full time as well but be ready to put in the efforts.
Gifting Wardrobe’s most successful and popular gifting range are Gifts for Chartered Accountants especially its customized desk decor, and leather diary. They are also known for bridal hampers, baby hampers, and quirky products.
Now It's Your Turn
Have you ever considered starting your own e-commerce store?
Do you know you can also sell digital products in your store?
Have questions for Astha comment below and she will get back to you.