Starting your own business is one thing, but opening up an online boutique is something else entirely. To turn your idea into a fully operational store, you’ll have to face some challenges, and the more specific your vision, the more unique aspects you’ll have to consider.
Your customers may expect premium quality products. How do you find the right suppliers? How should you price your products? And how will you ship them? Since an online boutique is such a niche business, the answers to these questions can become complex. Fortunately, any challenges can be overcome if you make sure to start on the right foot.
I know that starting your own business can be scary – I’ve been there! I’m here to help you navigate through your first steps and get your boutique online and on its way to success. Here’s how to start an online boutique in 8 tried-and-true steps.
8 Steps to Start an Online Boutique
Starting your own online boutique is exciting, but you need to pay attention to the small details. Here’s everything you need to do to get started.
1. Shape Your Vision
Opening up a boutique allows you to think outside the box and get a little more creative with the types of products you’re looking to sell. Unlike a typical clothing store, you can niche down as much as you like and showcase the items that suit your vision.
Boutiques don’t just sell clothes, either. You may want to sell accessories, jewelry, shoes, and other similar things, or you may go down the line of beauty products or even antique furniture.
Boutiques stand out from conventional stores by choosing a unique kind of inventory and not selling massive amounts of the same item – everything is special in some way.
One thing to avoid is mixing up too many niches all at once – that defeats the point of owning a boutique versus a regular store. Consider your prospective buyers, too. If you’re looking to diversify your stock in the future, these products will have to appeal to the same target audience.
Here are some things to think of when you’re turning your vision into a more solid plan:
- What kind of products do you want to sell? You can pick a specific niche (for example, vintage clothes) or a specific theme, such as clothes and accessories related to tarot and astrology.
- Will you be making these products yourself or will you need to source them elsewhere?
- What kind of people do you think will be buying your products, primarily? If you’re not sure, look up similar boutiques or groups related to that particular interest and check out their audience. It’s easy to tell from social media posts.
- Is this going to be your future full-time job or will it be a passion project?
- Is your boutique going to be high-end or will it be on the affordable side?
Not all of these questions need immediate answers, but they will help guide your way when you’re establishing the founding elements of your boutique.
2. Choose Your Business Model
Now that you know what you want to sell, it’s time to choose a business model. This choice will affect how you run your business. Remember that you can mix things up and combine different models if needed.
If you’re opening a boutique, there will be a few different options for how you handle your products and deliver them to the customers:
- Making products to order: You either make the products yourself or pay someone else to make them whenever a customer places an order. It means you won’t have to worry about storing inventory, but it also means longer turnaround times for your orders. Unless you’re the creator, you may need to sign a retainer contract with someone to make sure you can always fulfill customer orders.
- Creating an inventory: In this scenario, you’ll be making all of the products in stock yourself, but rather than creating them when the customer places an order, you’ll create your inventory in advance.
- Buying wholesale: Whether you buy the products from a wholesaler or an independent designer, you source them ahead of time and keep them in a designated space. You also handle order fulfillment.
- White label: This means that you’ll source products from someone else, but have your own branding added to them, possibly in the form of labels or tags.
- Dropshipping: In this business model, you act as the go-between between the customer and the wholesaler. You offer the dropshipping provider’s products at your online store, where customers can make orders. The dropshipper handles the order fulfillment.
- Second hand and vintage: You’ll source second-hand/vintage products, be it from thrift shops, yard sales, or even your own collection. You’ll then sell them at an added premium and handle the entire process yourself.
3. Research the Competition
Once you’ve decided on the kind of boutique you’d like to open, look at what your competitors are offering. Entering an overly saturated market can pose some challenges – at the very least, it will be an uphill climb.
Search online for similar boutiques. Take note of their products, prices, and branding choices. Look up their social media profiles to see the size of their followings and the kind of content they publish. You’ll likely revisit their websites in the future once your own store is up and running.
4. Set Up the Business Side of Things
Take some time to come up with a good name for your online boutique. A catchy, creative name is a better choice than simply using your own name. An exception is if you’re going to be selling your own designs and want to build your brand around that.
It’s a good idea to buy a domain for your website and reserve any social media handles. A boutique will definitely benefit from Facebook and Instagram profiles at the very least, but you could also explore different options, like Snapchat and TikTok. You don’t have to use them all at once, but reserving the handles is crucial.
Make sure to take care of the legal side of things, too. Registering your business may look different depending on where you live, but in the United States, you’ll typically register it with your Secretary of State. Most small businesses start out as a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC). You will also need to get an Employer Identification Number (EIN) for tax purposes.
5. Find Your Products and Set Your Prices
At this point, you may not quite be ready to put in an offer and start gathering stock, but you should look into possible suppliers. If you’re creative and make something yourself, be it beauty products or clothes, you can add some of your own items to the store.
Before signing on with a supplier, check if there are any wholesalers in your area that you could visit in person and see the products with your own eyes. Alternatively, have some samples shipped to you so you can inspect them in person. A boutique selling low-quality products will not get far, so don’t be lenient when giving out your stamp of approval.
Boutiques are often seen as more high-end than a typical clothing store. You’re trying to build a cohesive, more contained brand, which means that your pricing will reflect that.
Assuming you’re sourcing premium-quality products, your overall costs will be higher, which means that your prices will be too. Make sure not to sell your items too cheap. A boutique will often have a smaller sale volume (especially at the start) than a less specialized store, so keep that in mind.
6. Make a Business Plan
While it’s possible to start a business with no money, opening an online boutique is likely going to need an initial investment. If you will need a loan, be it now or in the future, you will be asked for your business plan, and it’s also something to refer to going forward as your business evolves.
Some of the most important things to cover in a business plan include:
- A full summary of your business – Such as what you will be selling, how, and where; whether you’ll be employing anyone; whether you will be renting or buying a space for your business needs, and more.
- Market research – Supplement the information you’ve already obtained about your competitors with any extra research and add it all to your business plan.
- Supplier information, including future projections
- Financing needs – Will you be needing any financial help? Will you be seeking investors or are you okay on your own?
- Future projections and plans – It might be too early to really picture where your store will be in a year or two, but for the purpose of the business plan, try to set some goals to meet. Keep it realistic.
Over time, you will be able to revisit the initial business plan you’ve made and expand on it. You don’t have to stick to it too strictly, but it will be a good starting point as you build your boutique.
7. Build Your Checkout Process
In order to sell your products, you can use your own website or rely on online marketplaces and social media. The way that gives you the most freedom is to build your own site and control the whole payment process. Using marketplaces such as eBay means that you’ll be paying extra fees, which is not ideal for a new business.
If you’re going to use your own website, you need to build a secure and flexible checkout system. To make sure everything goes smoothly and your customers enjoy the experience of buying from your store, choose Pay.com as your payment service provider.
With Pay.com, you’ll be able to build a customizable checkout page in minutes, built to match your own unique style. Once you’re done, your store will be ready to accept various payment methods. This includes credit and debit cards, Google Pay, Apple Pay, and more.
8. Incorporate Marketing Strategies
You don’t need to run a massive ad campaign for thousands of dollars in order to make your shop more visible – it’s entirely possible to market your business for free. Of course, having an advertising budget doesn’t hurt, but it’s not a necessity at the very beginning of your journey.
Here are some ways to drive traffic to your store.
- Get on social media – Use those handles you reserved earlier and start building a following. Showcase your products, post useful tips or relevant content, and add hashtags where applicable. Focus on the channels that are most often used in your niche; this most likely means Facebook and Instagram. You can comment on other people’s posts and join relevant groups to make yourself more seen.
- Pay for advertising – There are many ways to do this, but it can be affordable to run a targeted ad campaign on a website like Facebook. You can also consider other paid options if your budget can stretch to it, such as paid ads on other websites.
- Optimize your website for SEO – Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the key to having your website easier to find in search engines. The higher you rank, the higher the chance you’ll get organic search traffic.
- Start a newsletter – Open up a newsletter and give your customers a discount for signing up. This helps encourage repeat purchases.
Be patient. It will take time for any of these strategies to kick in properly, but if you keep at it, it will work!
The Pros and Cons of Starting Your Own Online Boutique
Running an online boutique comes with a set of challenges, but if you’re willing to put in the work, you could have a one-of-a-kind business. Here are some reasons why you might want to start a boutique, but also some reasons why you might not.
- You have the chance to build a unique online store unlike any other.
- You have more freedom in choosing your products; boutiques can sell anything from clothing to artisan soaps.
- If you’re a creative person, you can sell your own products in the store.
- Starting an online boutique is a relatively expensive affair, and unless you will be selling strictly your own products, you may have to gather an initial capital or take out a loan.
- Pricing your products is a balancing act between too expensive and not profitable.
- It may take a while for your business to take off.
The Bottom Line: Is Starting an Online Boutique Right for You?
I know that opening up an online boutique comes with a unique set of challenges. You’ll be dealing with a different clientele than discount stores. Your customers may expect more from your products and they will certainly want to get the quality they’ll be paying for.
On the other hand, it’s very fulfilling to run a store you’re passionate about, and a boutique gives you the space to explore these passions and share them with the world. You can overcome the challenges and run a successful boutique that will stand out from the competition, and I hope that my guide helps you along the way.
When setting up your store, remember that a trustworthy payment system is one of the keys to success. With Pay.com, you can start accepting payments in minutes and start building toward the success of your business. Click here to get started now!