Almost any kind of business can benefit from an online presence. If your small business or side hustle sells any kind of product that could be shipped to the customer then an ecommerce website is your best choice. Even if you only sell services, you may still benefit from having a website or some other type of online presence that can help you generate leads and new customers.
If you've never had a website or attempted to sell anything online before, you will likely choose the easiest options to get your business running. However, I strongly advise you to consider against that natural tendency for one primary reason: ownership. If your build your own website, you own your domain, your content and have full control over your business. If you base your business on online marketplaces and social media, you don't actually own your online presence. You could lose it at any time, sometimes through no fault of your own.
WordPress & WooCommerce
In my opinion, the #1 option for e-commerce online is building your own website with WordPress and WooCommerce. This gives you complete control over your business. It is also the most time consuming and complex option though. However, I strongly recommend giving it a try because this gives you the most potential for the future of your company. Ultimately, building a website with WordPress doesn't actually require technical knowledge or programming skills. It's a fairly easy to use, point and click website builder. There are tons of options with it so it can be overwhelming at first, but it gets easier quickly.
With WordPress set up on a website, you can then add a theme and plugins to the site to customize how it works. One such plugin, WooCommerce, adds e-commerce functionality to your site so you can list your products for sale. When a customer comes to your website and makes a purchase, the sale gets automatically processed and the money is sent straight to your account such as PayPal or a credit card merchant account. This allows you to earn money without your direct involvement in each sale and can even allow you to make money while you sleep!
Another major benefit to this method is cost. A domain name (roughly $15/year) and website hosting (roughly $10/month) are the only expenses to create a WordPress website. Once your site is running, you only pay transaction fees through your payment processing accounts, such as PayPal. Other alternatives, such as eBay, can charge you an additional 8% fee on every sale, so you will simply end up with more of your revenue in your pocket as profits when you run your own site.
Online Marketplaces: Etsy, Ebay & Amazon
One of the easiest and fastest ways to start selling your products online is through various marketplaces like Etsy, eBay and Amazon. These sites and others like them will allow you to set up your own online store and list products for sale. Just like your own website, these sales take place without your direct involvement. However, you may have to wait a couple of weeks to actually receive your earnings from these sites.
With the ease of use of those marketplaces and access to their existing customers, all of those benefits come with drawbacks too. Cost is the biggest one. You'll pay fairly hefty fees to these companies when you make sales, so these fees will end up being a major expense for your business. When your run your own site, those fees stay in your pocket instead.
Among the biggest downsides with these marketplaces is that your business is put at the mercy of their policies. These businesses can change their policies, fee rates and anything else they want at any time. They can also go out of business entirely. Any negative events like these that happen beyond your control can have a direct and major effect on your business and especially your sales.
If you decide to take the easy way out and use these marketplaces, please keep in mind that it could all disappear overnight and have a backup plan. There's nothing wrong with using these websites to help boost your sales, but I would highly recommend building your own site too so your sales aren't completely dependent on another company.
Website Building Platforms: Wix & Shopify
Another option will allow you to have your own website with more ease compared with WordPress, but this option also has drawbacks that are important to consider. In general, website building platforms like Wix or Shopify will let you create your own website just like WordPress. However, these website building platforms tend to be limited in what they will allow you to do with your site, so you will find many more customization options using WordPress.
Cost is another factor to consider. These platforms make money from monthly subscription fees and/or a percentage of your sales as a fee. Depending on them to run your online e-commerce business will lower your profits and limit your options.
Just like online marketplaces, you are also at the mercy of these third-party companies, and this can be bad news for a business. Some website builders let you use your own domain name, so you may actually have some ownership over your website with those platforms. However, you still usually have to worry about rate hikes and policy changes when you use these services. Ultimately, if you're capable of building a site with these platforms then you're also capable of using WordPress instead to create your website, so you should highly consider using the best option for the long-term potential of your small business or side hustle.
Social Media E-Commerce Sales
A fast and fairly easy option to get started is to utilize social media sites like Facebook to generate sales for your products. There are actually a lot of Facebook groups centered around various industries where you can list a product for sale for free and get paid directly by the customer for the purchase. You can access an immense number of people through these groups, and it isn't considered spam when the group is solely for product sales.
Nothing good comes without a downside though and social media e-commerce sales are no different. This is the worst-case scenario for putting your business in the hands of others - the social media site has direct control and even the admin of the group you're using has control. Either of these parties can shut down your business in an instant with the click of a button.
I've personally witnessed someone spend more than 3 years creating a Facebook group for their business and reached nearly 100,000 members. This group powered a six figure a year e-commerce business. Competitors ganged up and reported the group in large numbers and were able to get it shut down without any wrong being done and no chance to argue the case to get the group reinstated. If you start this kind of business, you run the risk of losing it all overnight, but it can also deliver great rewards if you're willing to put up with that risk and especially if you have your own website to fall back on in case your social media presence gets closed.
Social Media Time Considerations
Time involvement is a final factor to consider when using social media to generate ecommerce retail sales. In general, this is the most time-consuming strategy to attempt. Pretty much every single phase of a sale will become more time consuming when done on social media. You have to personally make posts frequently to drive sales. You have to personally contact and arrange every single purchase. On top of that, you even have to manually invoice each customer to collect payment.
Social media also usually requires more customer support and contact compared with other options. This all adds up in the end. If you're willing to be hands-on with your business and spend most of your days working on it, this strategy can be very profitable, but definitely don't ignore the risks and drawbacks either.