Early in 2016, I moved to New York City with my wife and three children for “an overseas adventure” for a couple of years.
Since arriving in this incredible, vibrant city, I have been keen to launch an online retail business—mainly as a way to experiment with the tools and services I use every day in my work at Lucid.
With a large population of relatively affluent people living in a concentrated area, this is a fantastic proving ground for experimenting with new ideas.
I have always been fascinated by new technology—both online and offline—and am always looking for excuses to try new things. If I can create a profitable, sustainable business at the same time, great! But I have no illusions that this will be easy.
Over the coming weeks and months, my intention is to document the process of using Shopify and various others apps and services to build a business from scratch.
So, without further ado, here is what’s happened and what I have learnt already over the past week.
Quick overview of what I am setting out to build
One of the trends in online shopping that I have been particularly keen to play with is same-day deliveries.
It has become apparent in New York City that the weather changes often—and dramatically—and that local deliveries are a way of life.
As a New Zealander, I have been a huge fan of Blunt umbrellas—and I have been using their exceptional umbrellas for many years.
My idea for an online business is to create a website that sells umbrellas (and possibly other weather-related products) with good prices, great customer service, free shipping, and same-day deliveries.
July 26, 2016—Day one of building an online business from scratch
By pure coincidence, I met a fellow Kiwi in a café in Brooklyn who just happened to have an upcoming interview with Blunt to become their North American sales manager. Seriously, what are the chances of that?!
Securing the products
A few weeks after meeting him and once he was installed in his new role, I called him up and pitched my idea. He was enthusiastic and supportive of the idea and was happy to supply me with products.
So, with a supply chain in place, I decided it was time to build this thing.
Naming this new business
Quite frankly, coming up with a name for a new business or product is one of the hardest first steps. A, finding a name that feels right and then, B, making sure it works on all major social media channels is tough. Super hard.
In this case, I wanted to really develop my skills in realtime, time- and place-relevant advertising using highly targeted ads relating to the weather (something I wasn’t sure would actually be possible when I launched—more on this later).
Start with some research
Using Google Trends and Google AdWords Keyword Planner, I explored a bunch of different weather-related search phrases to see if I could find a popular one that would also make a reasonable brand name.
I settled on Will it Rain Today? as this is one of the most commonly-searched weather phrase—seriously, try typing “will it…” into Google and see what is recommended as the most common search phrase.
Register a domain name
Once I had settled on the name, I checked domain names to see what might be available that was as close to my new brand name as possible.
I didn’t expect .com to be available so settled on willitraintoday.co—a domain I am not totally thrilled with but hopefully it will do.
Spin up a new site on Shopify
I work with Shopify every day so building a new site for my own project when I am inspired is super fun. It’s amazing how quickly you can develop a good looking site on Shopify when you don’t need to go through a design process and can iterate on-the-fly.
It’s fair to say, though, that one of the lessons I am learning is that it might be quick to start something and flesh it out quickly; but putting the polish on it and adding the texture and detail, so to speak, takes real time and effort.
To get up-and-running quickly on Shopify, I recommend the following:
- Go through all the settings and preferences to familiarize yourself with what knobs and dials can be tweaked and optimized. This will do you in good stead down the track when you are needing to make changes and improvements.
- Add some starting content—including a few products, pages (about us and contact as a bare minimum), and a collection or two.
- Browse the Shopify Theme Store and experiment with different themes to find one that you like. You can install a preview version of the theme on your store and customize all the settings before you commit to buying it. This is a great way to really kick the tires and see if the theme will meet your needs. Here are some tips on what to look at when finding the best theme for your store.
Design the brand
Some would likely do this before building the Shopify site but, when playing with a new idea, I like to build the bare bones of the site first and just use a wordmark logo by choosing an appropriate font in the theme settings. This allows me to get a feel for the bigger picture as quickly as possible.
Once the site is starting to take shape—and before you can set up Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest etc., you will need to design a logo.
There are many ways to do this, which are beyond the scope of this article—and Shopify even has a logo generator if you just want something to help you get to market as quickly as possible.
For this project, I used an umbrella icon from Font Awesome and combined it with my own raindrop element (mainly because I wasn’t totally happy with Font Awesome’s raindrop for this particular purpose).
It’s worth noting that a brand is much more than just a logo. Your brand is your identity—it conveys the ethos, story, and emotion of your business.
So, in addition to your logo, give consideration to the following when developing your brand:
- The energy and emotion behind it
- The story and ethos. What drives you? What inspires you? Who is your target market? What industry are you in?
- What colors best reflect the brand?
- What imagery will you use? Photos? Illustrations? Both?
- Will it be highly detailed or minimalist and simple?
This was my extremely quick 5-minute logo direct from Erik Flower’s Font Awesome-inspired Weather Icons:
By the end of the day, I had iterated on it and developed this:
A more developed logo with a new color palette that will hopefully better hold its own.
Set up social media profiles
Hopefully you have already determined that you can get your desired username—or a variation of it. I strongly recommend picking a username that you can keep the same on all channels.
Will it Rain Today? on social media:
Facebook (companies can’t choose their domain until they have over 100 likes)
Whether we will actively use all these profiles remains to be seen—and we may not link to all of them if we can’t keep them feeling vibrant and with purpose.
Submit to Google Webmaster Tools
If you want the best chance of showing up in the search engines anytime soon, be sure to set your site up in Google Webmaster Tools and submit to the Google Index.
Make sure you also submit your sitemap (for Shopify sites, it’s yourdomain.com/sitemap.xml).
Moving this quickly with a new business is rare—and only really possible because I was feeling inspired and knew what I was aiming for. The first iteration that went live on day one was very bare bones and certainly lacked polish.
But one of the biggest lessons you will learn when running an online business is that it takes time to generate sales. In fact, one of the hardest parts about launching a new online business is getting the first sale. There are screes of blog posts and articles dedicated to this.
So my desire was to launch while I was feeling inspired and iterate once the site is live. Not always the best approach but it felt appropriate in this case.
I’m not going to run through all the recommended things you should do before launching your site as Shopify has a great pre-launch checklist right here.
Check it out: willitraintoday.co
Tell the world
Submitting to Google’s index is one thing but it takes time for any new site to show up. If you are generally happy with what you have built (even if it’s not finished!), put it out there. Post to Twitter and share on Facebook. Let people know you have launched. I promise you, unless you have created something extremely special, you are not going to get swamped with enquiries or orders so don’t worry about not being ready.
(I actually waited until the next morning the put it out there. Probably advisable to make sure DNS is propagating etc.)