Case Study: Urban Alpha Ltd
For many young entrepreneurs, venturing online presents an easy way to enter the world of business. Andrew Pallett, Founder of designer menswear retailer Urban Alpha, shares his thoughts and tips for starting an ecommerce business from concept to launch.
This is always the most fun stage - letting your creativity run wild Your brain will most likely be racing a mile a minute coming up with ideas of how everything is going to work.
With so many online businesses, it is extremely important to think about how you are going to make your website different. What do you offer that is unique? If you are struggling to find an answer, perhaps you could take a concept that is successful in one niche and apply it to yours.
Top tip: Talk about it
Don’t be afraid to talk to your friends and family about your idea – you may be surprised by an interesting insight or angle you haven’t considered. Business-focused Social Networks and Discussion Forums are great for talking with likeminded entrepreneurs and discussing ideas!
In many respects, your research will make or break your business. You may find that there simply isn’t a demand for your idea which sends you back to the drawing board, or you may find a gap in the market and a perfect opportunity to capitalise on it!
Doing the right research is key. Talk to potential customers and your target market. Read blogs, journals, books and anything else you can get your hands on. When Sir Richard Branson was setting up Virgin Airways, part of his research involved talking with Sir Freddie Laker, someone who had done the exact same thing before him!
Top tip: Make reading a habit
Your industry won’t stop just because you’re busy, so make time to check up on the latest industry news. It could be your first job in the morning, or something you do on your lunch break (I personally devote a few hours over a weekend to check up on what’s going on).
As a young entrepreneur, there is a lot of free advice and funding available from places like The Prince's Trust and Shell LiveWIRE. You can also contact your local Chamber of Commerce to find out about funding in your area.
One of the benefits of starting an online business is that you can do it from home, keeping your overheads low. Family, friends and your own personal savings are a great place to start, and by investing your own money to build a proven sales track record, it will make approaching lenders like banks a much easier task.
Top tip: Set some money aside
When planning your budget, a really good lesson I learnt was to set some money aside to cover the first few months predicted overheads so you can focus exclusively on generating sales!
As an online business, your website is what customers will remember, so getting it right is important. Focus on a clean and simple layout, with easy and intuitive navigation. A good blog and an ‘About Us page’ are also great additions.
It’s easier than ever to get a simple website up and running – perhaps even the same day. Don’t worry if you can’t code, there are lots of great companies that allow you to easily design a great looking website, such as 1 and 1, Moonfruit and Mr Site.
Top tip: Your website is never finished
There will always be areas that you want to improve, new ideas you’ve had or even things you’ve seen on someone else’s website. Don’t spend all of your time obsessing over every last detail in the early days – you can always improve them later on!
The most important aspect to any online business is driving traffic to your website, and should be the number one focus of your marketing strategy.
On a start-up budget, social media is a great way to generate a buzz around your business. Blog often and engage customers through Facebook and Twitter. Mix up new product announcements with updates on how the business is doing – the personal side of business is becoming more and more important.
Top tip: Become an expert
Put some of that research to good use – position yourself as an expert by submitting guest posts and writing about and commenting on what’s happening in your industry. This is a great way to get extra exposure for your business!
Once your website has gone live, don’t sit back and relax – continue to build momentum. If your business is the newest and best thing out there, make sure everyone knows about it!
In the early days, everything will become a juggling act – managing cash flow, product reorders, etc. Make sure you find the time to get all of your jobs done, but remember to enjoy yourself too. Starting and running a business is one of the most rewarding things you can do – trust me!
Top tip: Just do it
You will learn just as much by being in business as you would by reading about business – so put all of your hard work to good use and go for it like I I did with www.urbanalpha.co.uk
Andrew Pallett, Founder of Urban Alpha