Learning how to start an online boutique is best done if you take it step by step, which is what we will do today. What we want to do is to guide you in how you can start a small business, and then scale it up bit by bit until you earn enough money to leave your 9-5 job.
Today, you will learn how to start an online boutique from the ground up—from making decisions to sourcing to building your store—everything.
How to Start An Online Boutique Business in 6 Steps
The things we will discuss today are:
- Decide if you want a general store or niche store
- Select the business model for your boutique
- Choose your niche and create your customer avatar
- Find a supplier for your dropshipping store
- Build your store on Shopify
- Prepare a marketing plan.
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Click here to start a Shopify for 14 days free. After doing so, you can then use my detailed tutorial below for easy directions on how to start building your own profitable online boutique store today.
If you like to learn more on how to set up a Shopify store the right way, check out this easy step by step tutorial.How to Start An Online Boutique Business : 6 Steps to Build a Profitable Online Store Today Click To Tweet
By the end of this tutorial, you should have a clear roadmap. This roadmap shall be your guide in building your online clothing store step by step.
Let us get started!
1. Decide if you want a general store or niche store
There is a difference between a general store and a niche store. While some people will say that a clothing store is a niche store, you can actually niche down.
A general store is one that caters to everybody—men, women, and children. This kind of store is like your average department store. People walk inside and look at the clothes, but they never buy it. To begin with, they really have no intention of buying.
A niche store serves a specific market. For example, a baby clothing store. People will come to this store because they are looking for baby clothes.
Now, general stores and niche stores may overlap. For example, you may choose to build an online clothing store for men, but this is still considered as a general store unless you niche down further.
The best example of a niche store is an online boutique that sells clothes for goths. If you do not know what goth is, it is a fashion style that is typically dark.
The benefit in putting up a store like this is that you are catering to the needs of a specific market—every person who comes to your shop is looking for this type of clothing—either for himself or as a gift.
What does this mean? What it means is that the people who come to your niche store has an intention to buy. In case they do not buy, they are easier to convince to make a purchase later on.
With a general store, you would be hard-pressed to convince someone to make a purchase. Your ads are not targeted, and you are pretty much relying only on luck.
To help you make a decision, let us take a look at the advantages of both store types.
Advantages of a niche store
A niche store has many benefits, but like anything else, it also has its caveats. For the purposes of our discussion, let us focus on the gothic clothing store as a niche store.
a. Inventory management
A niche store will work even if you have less than 100 items in it. A general store requires more than that. In our goth store, you can further niche down by serving male clientele only, which means you can divide your store into categories such as, but not limited to:
You cannot do this with a general store. If you put up a general store for men, you will have to cover a lot of clothing areas such as:
You see, the inventory management for a general store is a nightmare. Even if you are in the dropshipping business in Shopify, managing a huge inventory takes a lot of time—you would have to update your inventory every so often because fashion changes so fast.
b. Targeted customers
A niche store has targeted customers, not random. With a gothic clothing store, your target customers are rock fans and anyone who likes “dark” stuff.
What this means is that it is easier to craft marketing materials for your target audience. If you put up a general store, can you just imagine how hard it is to define your customers?
If you build a niche store, your customer base is a certain group of people It is easy to find them, and you have a product that really solves their problem or a product that certainly gets their attention. You cannot do this with a general store.
c. Easier SEO strategy
With a niche store, optimizing your website and ads for search engines is easy. Your keywords are limited, and you can expect to have lesser competition than a general store.
If you have a general store for women’s clothing, you are going to have to fight for expensive keywords. More likely than not, you have to pay higher CPC rates on Google or social media ads.
With a niche store, you can find keywords that are not so competitive because there are only a few of them who are trying to bid for these keywords. The cost is also lesser since the search volume is not that high compared to keywords typically used in general stores.
Overall, a niche store gives you the advantage of search engine optimization, defined market reach, and a manageable inventory. Your niche store does not have to keep up with major changes in the fashion industry, and you have better chances of customers coming back if they like what you have to offer.
Advantages of a general store
Now, let us talk about the advantages of a general store. This should help you compare the two side by side and then decide which kind of online boutique you want to build.
a. Wide market
The entire world is practically your market with a general store—from mothers to fathers and singles—you can sell dozens of different products to these people.
Since the general store caters to the average Joe, looking for customers is not an issue. You can create ads and use general keywords, and you will find customers. You do not even have to research for long-tail and targeted keywords to use to make your ads work.
b. Less expertise
With a general store, you do not need any form of expertise. In a gothic clothing line. You need to understand what makes “goths” tick. In a general store, standard social media posts will do just fine—just use a full-body image of a model wearing the shirt or dress, and that should work.
With a niche store, that approach is not going to make the cut. You need to sell a lifestyle, and you have to publish content and ads that will make you a credible personality or authority in your niche.
c. Bigger profits
A bigger market share also means that you can have bigger profits. In a general store, you are not likely to exhaust your market—there will always be another person who has not yet bought any of your products.
In a niche store, a customer who made a purchase may not buy for a long time, even if the customer loves your product. Some may buy a few things at a time, but once you have exhausted your customer base, it will be a challenge to find new ones.
As you can see, a general store is leaning towards the safe side. With a general store, you always have a wide market because you are going to sell contemporary clothes. You also do not need a lot of expertise, as the clothing you sell does not represent any genre.
2. Select the business model for your boutique
The next step is to choose your business model. In a boutique business, you only have two choices: dropshipping or keep your own inventory.
If you keep your own inventory, you need to buy the items and have them shipped to your house or warehouse. This inventory is paid, and it is money sitting in your house. Any item you paid for that you did not sell is money that you lost.
In dropshipping, you do not pay for inventory. What you have to do is to choose a supplier, display then supplier’s products on your website, and only pay if an order comes in.
In a nutshell, here is how dropshipping works:
- You look for suppliers who do dropshipping
- You build an online store on Shopify
- You display the products on your store
- A customer buys your product
- You order the product from a supplier
- The supplier ships the item to your customer
As you can see, the products do not come to you. What happens is that you are serving as an intermediary between the supplier and the customer.
The profit that you make is the difference between your selling price and the supplier’s price. If the supplier sells the shirt for $15, you can sell that shirt for $23. If the supplier charges $5.99 for shipping, you must charge the same from your customer.
The difference of $8 is your gross profit. If you sell 100 of these items in a month, your gross profit is $800. From this $800, you need to deduct the cost of your online store subscription in Shopify, which is typically $29 per month only.
Here are the benefits of dropshipping:
- Less than $100 in capital required – you do not need a lot of money to get a website store started. In fact, you do not need a coder or a website builder. Dropshipping costs at least $29 to get started, especially if you build your store on Shopify. The rest of the budget shall be used for your graphic arts and your advertisements.
If you buy your own inventory, $1,000 will not be enough. You need to pay for your items upfront, and you have to go through a lot of trouble packaging these items, which is an added cost.
- No need to pay for inventory – in dropshipping, you do not buy any product unless a customer already made a purchase. You only spend money because you need to buy what the customer ordered. What this means is that you are not going to lose money on unsold inventory.
In dropshipping, your main concern is how to sell your products. The inventory management is something that your supplier should take care of. The beauty of dropshipping is its automation. Once you upload a product from a supplier, the system will know if your product is in supply or not.
- Has lots of suppliers – there are thousands of suppliers in the dropshipping business. While most dropshippers get their products from AliExpress, there are also local suppliers from your country. You can use dropship supplier tools like Spocket if you want, as tools like this allow you to filter suppliers within your locality.
Spocket and Oberlo are the preferred choices for dropshipping. These tools source products not just from AliExpress but from other sellers worldwide. Both are offered for free, and you have the option to upgrade if you need better services.
- Supported by a great platform – dropshipping became big because of Shopify. It is a platform where you can build your online store and then install dropshipping plug-ins. These plug-ins enable you to manage your online boutique in one place. You can upload products, edit them, and then fulfill orders in just one dashboard.
- Has a global support system – there are thousands of software company that offer support for the dropshipping business. They create tools, software, and accounting services, and a whole lot more.
Dropshipping is the better option for you because it allows you to build an online store even if you do not have a huge capital. If you build an online boutique and keep your own inventory, can you just imagine the amount of money you need to buy your stocks?
With your own inventory, you need to buy different size for one piece of clothing, not to mention buy different designs. An online boutique where you keep your inventory is a nightmare. Our advice is that you study dropshipping, and take this route to put up your online boutique.
3. Choose your niche and create your customer avatar
At this point, you should have decided if you are going to build a general store or a niche store. You should have also selected the business model for your store, and it is likely that you have chosen dropshipping.
It is at this stage that many people start their store and fail. The main reason behind their failure at this point is that they have not really thought through what kind of niche they should belong to.
In this section, we will discuss how to choose a niche and how you can create a customer avatar for that niche.
Tips for choosing a niche
Here are some of the guidelines that should help you in deciding what niche you should belong to.
a. Choose what you are passionate about
Why is this important?
All people who put up a business need money. That is a given. One reason why people fail in dropshipping is that they are in it only for the money. What happens is that they build a store, market it for a month or two, and then give up if they never made a sale.
They give up because they are only in it for the money.
If you choose a niche that you are passionate about, you are less likely to get derailed. You are not going to lose your motivation because you are doing something that you love.
The same principle applies to build a successful online boutique. Why would you sell women’s boots if you never had one and never wanted one?
Your passion is your stepping stone to success. What you have to do is to list down all possible niches in the online boutique industry, and then ask yourself carefully which one of these have a special place in your heart.
If you build an online boutique, you will have to create content for your audience—and this is something you cannot fulfill if you do not love what you are doing.
b. Choose a profitable niche
Technically, there is no way of telling if a niche is profitable. There is no single database that would show you if a niche makes this or that kind of money.
We are not saying that you should rely on gut. Instead, use meaningful data that is available to you. For one, you can use Google Trends to identify if there is a search demand for your product.
Let us take a look at an example below:
If we use the word “gothic” in our search, we can see that it has a low trend over the last five years. This does not mean that it is not profitable, it only means that it does not have a big market.
Of course, the goth subculture is not something that you see on a regular basis. Despite this, Google Trends is telling us that there is a market.
In Google Trends, a search term is rated between 0 and 100. A score of 0 means that there is no interest in the keyword you used, and a score of 100 means that phrase is in peak demand.
The next step to determining if your niche is profitable is to find products online. Determine the capital you need for that product and how much you can sell it for.
If we go to AliExpress and type “goth shirt”, we can see that there are shirts here that we can buy for $4.99. Take a look at the screenshot below:
Now, if we go to Amazon, supposing that our target customers are from the US, we can see that a goth shirt is something that we can sell for as much as $25. Take a look at the third item on the screenshot below:
From this research, we know that if we buy something for $5, we can sell it for $25, which gives us a profit of $20 per shirt.
c. Choose a niche that solves problems
If there is one reason why a person would hand you over his money, it is because you are solving a problem. If the problem you are solving is more complex, you will get paid more money.
When it comes to learning how to start an online boutique business, you are not solving the problem of nakedness. You are solving a problem of functionality and fashion sense.
In the goth clothing example, the problem we are solving is variation in design—we are trying to sell clothing that fits a customer’s personality.
Another type of problem you can solve in the clothing business is warmth, and this should tell you that you can sell jackets and sweaters. You can also solve the problem of functionality, and so you can sell clothing specifically designed for anglers, hunters, and campers.
How to create a customer avatar
A customer avatar is a representation of your target market. You need to build one because all your marketing content and ads will revolve around this person.
Here are some tips to think about:
- Age – how old is your target market? Do you think a 60-year old will buy from you? How about a teenager, is this a customer you want to buy your products? You need to set an age range as this will help you decide if the clothing you are selling fits your desired audience.
- Location – where are your customers located? This is critical in the clothing business. If you are selling camping gears, you certainly do not want to sell it to people in New York. This is a huge city, and only a few people are interested to go camping. Instead, you should sell your items to people who live in Maryland and Louisiana—places where camping is a normal activity.
- Interests – in our goth example, we know that these target customers like rock music. They like Marilyn Manson, SlipKnot, and other types of dark and loud music. We know that several of them are interested in dark stuff, and we can take advantage of this knowledge.
How? If we know what they are interested in, we know where to find them. We also know what kind of content to produce to make them come to our store.
Once you have a customer avatar, it is easier for you to create content, such as YouTube videos, blogs, and even ads. If you know that your target market is between 18 to 25 years old, it will not make sense to advertise on Facebook targeting 35-year old individuals.
Your customer avatar is what you have to look at every time you build content. If you are going to write a blog post, will this blog post serve the interest of this target customer? If not, do not do it.
4. Find a supplier for your dropshipping store
One mistake that people do is that they build their dropshipping stores first before they look for a supplier.
This is a terrible idea. If you build a store and realize that you cannot find a supplier, what will you sell?
In this section, we will talk about two things: tips when looking for a supplier and where to find suppliers.
Tips when looking for a supplier
There are thousands of suppliers from around the world. The thing is, not all suppliers are reliable. If you are keeping your own inventory, the last thing you want is to receive a sub-standard product.
While you can always ask for a refund, you have to ship the items back to the supplier, and this supplier is not going to shoulder that cost.
If you are a dropshipper, you certainly want to deal with a supplier that you can trust, someone who will ship the items to your customers in a timely manner.
Here are some tips for supplier hunting:
a. Look at customer feedback
Always look for customer feedback if you are eyeing a supplier. If possible, look for a supplier that has thousands of feedback. If you are going to use AliExpress, this should be easy. All it takes is to click on the supplier’s product and check the rating.
See this sample screenshot from AliExpress:
This supplier has a positive rating of 97.1%. This is good. A benchmark you can use is 95%. Do not deal with a supplier with a rating less than that.
If you click on that rating, you will also see some important ratings like the product quality and shipping speed. Only choose a supplier who has an above-average score for all the three sections.
Furthermore, this product has a rating of 4.8 stars out of 136 reviews. In total, this supplier has shipped 547 orders, which is a good sign that this product is not only in demand, but that this supplier is making sales.
b. Order the items yourself
It is best if you touch the product yourself. Images can be deceiving, so you better order the product and have them delivered to you.
If you do, you will find out if the item is as described. You will also get to experience how a supplier handles the orders, or how long it takes the supplier to process the order. You will also know what shipping method is used, and how long it takes to get to you.
If you know all these things, you will have a clear roadmap on how to deal with this supplier, and you can adjust your customer’s expectations. On your store, you can say that shipping will take two to three weeks, knowing that this supplier takes at least four business days to get the shirt from the warehouse.
Never ever work with a supplier that you have never tried. While this experiment comes at a cost, the money you spend is paltry compared to your possible losses if you chose a bad supplier.
c. Find out if they are dropshipping
Ask the supplier if they dropship. This is critical because there are some suppliers who will only ship the item to the credit card’s billing address. They do this because they want to ensure that they are not participating in fraudulent transactions.
d. Ask for return policy
The last thing you need to know is the supplier’s refund policy. If the supplier does not accept a return or a refund, you should not work with this supplier. Otherwise, you will bear all the cost of your own customers asking you for a refund or a return.
Where to find suppliers
Now, I will show you three of the most common tools entrepreneurs use to find suppliers.
Dropship supplier tools – these are tools that you install in your Shopify store. With these tools, you can look for suppliers who are tested for dependability. All suppliers here do dropshipping, and these tools allow you to choose the suppliers who are physically located in areas you want to ship to.
AliExpress – AliExpress is one of the biggest online manufacturers in the world. All products here are made in China, and a vast majority of the items sold globally come from Chinese manufacturers.
Direct from the manufacturer – the best example we can provide for this are print on demand companies. These are companies who manufacture blank products, like mugs, umbrellas, hoodies, and more. You design your products, display them on your store, and then you order that product if you receive an order from your customer.
If you are just starting out, limit your supplier count to one or two only. This should help you create an online store whose photos are uniform. One error that many dropshippers make is that they work with different suppliers right away. The result is a Frankenstein store—lots of images for different products whose “phot shoot” style vary from one to another.
5. Build your store on Shopify
You are now ready to build your Shopify store. This is probably the easiest thing to do when building an online boutique, but also the one that requires manual work.
I’ve put together a step by step tutorial on how to build your own Shopify store the right way. In my tutorial I cover most of the essential steps to building an online store effectively. Check out 10 Easy Steps to Build Shopify Store Today.
Shopify is the best platform to build an online boutique. It is affordable, and you do not have to pay your subscription on an annual basis. At the very least, you only have to pay $29 per month. Click here to start a Shopify store for free.
Additionally, if you want to take advantage of a discounted rate for WordPress hosting, HostPapa has created a 15% Off deal specifically for online boutique stores.
Here are the steps to build a successful Shopify store:
- Create an account – the first step is to create an account in Shopify. During this process, you have to name your store, and this name will be appended to your URL. You cannot change this name, but you can use a different domain name later.
- Choose a theme – the next step is to choose a theme. There are at least nine free themes in Shopify, which is built by Shopify itself. Stick to these themes for now. If you want, you can also purchase themes, but it is best that you choose a free one since you are just starting out.
- Modify the theme – all themes in Shopify function like templates. The themes have pre-uploaded photos and texts. All you have to do is to replace them with yours.
You also have the option to remove and add sections to your store’s theme. You can do this if you go to the customization page of your theme, which is accessible on the left control panel of your Shopify dashboard.
- Create your product pages – in Shopify, you can create collection pages that function as categories. Once you have set these up, the next step is to upload your product, put a price, and then add a product description.
You can assign each product under a category, and that product will appear inside that collection.
- Set-up payment and shipping – the last step is to create set-up your payment method and shipping rates. There are hundreds of payment processors that you can integrate with Shopify.
There is no need for technical integration here. You can choose a payment processor with a click of a button. For shipping, you can create shipping zones and put a standard shipping price for each zone.
Shopify is an intuitive platform. You do not need an expert to build the online store for you. If you can use Facebook, you can use Shopify.
The wonderful thing about Shopify is that it has tons of training materials that you can read, or watch if it is a video, to help you build your store. Also, the support team is within your reach. Just send them an email, and they will respond to you in 24 hours.
6. Prepare a marketing plan
The most difficult part of the online boutique journey is marketing. Stores are easy to build, but making sales is easier said than done.
In this section, we will provide you with some of the best ways you can market your products. What we suggest is that you take one method at a time, not all at once.
Social media – social media is a source of free traffic. For an online clothing store, you can use Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. These three platforms are great for publishing images and videos about your product.
When publishing content, make sure that your material resonates with your audience. If possible, avoid cramming your social media pages with announcement of sales and other items that require money. What you want is to sell a lifestyle.
Paid ads – this is a fundamental source of traffic and sales. Before you spend a fortune on ads, you have to do what is called A/B testing. Publish the same ad in two versions. See which one converts more, and then scale up. If none converts, go back to the drawing board and make new ads.
Blogging – if you think blogging is not for online stores, you are making a mistake. There is a reason why Shopify has included a blog on its platform: it works. Blog regularly and make use of search engine optimization to drive free traffic to your online store. Check out this step by step tutorial on How To Start Your Own Blog.
Marketing is the lifeline of your business. Many people who build an online store focus their attention on the wrong things—they keep making changes to their store, or they keep on adding or removing products. These activities do not drive sales.
Once you have put up your store, decide on a final look and inventory, and focus your efforts on marketing. Be active in social media and post new content regularly. Traffic is the key to sales, and a lot of your activity should revolve around it.
Summary: How to start an online boutique
Many people have attempted to build a Shopify store—a clothing boutique to be exact—and failed. They failed because they do not have a plan, and they did not think their business through.
You see, the process of building a Shopify store is the same. The steps are the same, and the buttons you have to click are the same. What makes the difference between failed and successful stores are the presentation and marketing.
If you just spend some time on Shopify forums, you will see so many stores that were built in a rush. The stores are functional, but they are not presentable. And if this happens, the usual culprit is lack of planning.
Follow the steps that we laid out here, and take each step one at a time. Take a good, long, hard look at what you have accomplished at each step, and ask yourself if your idea is really going to work.
As an important side note, you should also be sure to do business legally. While an online boutique can be run from anywhere, there are still things that legitimate businesses need to adhere to. To protect yourself and business, consider forming an LLC or similar business structure — either on your own or through a company formation service. This can help other companies you engage with take you more seriously, separate your personal assets in the event of a lawsuit and even simplify taxes.
Never rush building a Shopify store, or you will end up fixing these problems. Instead of focusing on your marketing strategy, you will waste your time fixing what could have been done correctly the first time around. If you do these things right, you will certainly be on your way to success.
→ Build your profitable online boutique business today. Click here to start a Shopify store for 14 days free if you haven’t already.