How to: set up an online store

How to: set up an online store

set up an online store

Setting up your own online store is easier than you think, and no, you won’t have to pay a fancy web developer.

Having an online presence for your side hustle, no matter how small, means you can reach more customers and potentially earn money while you sleep. With all the online tools available today, setting up a digital store front can be done in a couple of hours. Shopify is the most commonly used e-commerce platform and the easiest to set up on your own, although there are others such as Wix and Squarespace. It offers a two-week free trial, so you can play around and see whether it works for you before committing to a fee – plans start at $29 per month.

Step 1: Pick a name

When signing up for Shopify ( you’ll be asked for your store name, which will eventually be the site address, for example ‘’.

Unless you’ve called your business something very inventive, chances are the name is already taken. Try adding ‘the’ to the beginning or prefixing it with ‘store’ or ‘online’. You’ll then be asked a little about yourself and your business.

Once you’re through to the dashboard you’ll be able to add your own customised domain, under the ‘add domain’ button. This means your customers will be able to find you at ‘’ instead of ‘’.

If you’ve already bought a domain you’ll be able to connect it here. If you don’t have your own domain yet, you can purchase it within the same section for $14.

Step 2: Make it look appealing

The next step is window dressing the front of your digital storefront. To do this, click on the ‘customise themes’ button and choose between free and paid themes. There are 10 basic free themes that will more than fulfil the needs of a small business owner.

Once you’ve chosen a theme, the fun part begins. You can now design what your website will look like to your customers. Here you can upload your business logo, change the font type, and decide where all the elements on the page will go. Get a basic idea of what you want it to look like, and don’t be too precious because you’ll inevitably come back to fiddle once your products have been uploaded.

Step 3: Stock it up

Back on the dashboard you’ll see an ‘add product’ button. In this section you’re adding your merchandise – either products you’ve made, a service you wish to provide, or there’s even a section that lets you tackle the world of dropshipping (where you become the middleman and don’t store stock, but instead get the items shipped directly from the manufacturer or third party to the customer).

Here you can add the product name, description and price, and upload a picture of it. You should also add the weight of the product here, which will be used to figure out shipping later.

If you’re dropshipping and you don’t actually have any of the items in your possession, you’ll need to go back a step and click on the ‘find products’ link instead of the ‘add product’ button.

You’ll then be directed to a page where you’ll be prompted to install a web app called Oberlo. Oberlo will let you search products from hundreds of suppliers, and once you’ve selected an item that fits your shop, you click ‘add
to your Shopify store’ and Oberlo will load all information about that product into your shop.

Tip: You should always check the products page after they’re pulled in by Oberlo, as descriptions can sometimes have typos or imperial measurements.

Step 4: All the extras

Once your inventory is listed, you may want to add extra information about the shop, such as an About me, Contact or FAQ page as well as a blog.

  • On the home Shopify dashboard, halfway down the left menu is an option called ‘Online Store’, and clicking on this will drop down several options.
  • To add a page, click ‘Pages’ then ‘Add page’. To add a Contact page, you’ll need to make sure the template, found in the right hand bar, is set to
  • To add a blog post, click ‘Blog posts’ then the ‘Create blog post’ button. Make sure you set the visibility of the post to ‘Visible’ before saving.
    • To add these pages to your site, click on ‘Navigation’ in the left hand menu, then click ‘Add menu item’, give the page a name and then search for the link you’ve just created in the next drop-down menu.

Tip: Clicking on the eye icon next to ‘Online store’ in the left menu at any point during set-up will give you a live
preview of what your website looks like.

Step 5: Shipping the goods

To set up shipping options, click on ‘Settings’ in the bottom of the left hand menu and then on ‘Shipping’. Your domestic zone (South Africa) should already be selected, and here you can decide whether you want to ship your products anywhere else in the world, or prefer to distribute just locally.

Shipping on the basic $29 per month plan calculates how much the total order weighs and then figures out how much it would cost to post it using the regular postal system. If you’d like to make use of a courier such as FedEx or UPS, their calculators can be integrated directly into your shop, but you’ll have to upgrade to a more expensive Shopify plan.

Tip: South African users can only accept payments through PayFast and PayPal. Set up a free account with one of them beforehand and then plug in your details in the ‘Settings’ menu.

Step 6: Help customers find you

Customers will not know about your shop’s existence unless it’s discoverable and able to float up through the tangles of the World Wide Web. This means you’ll have to employ a simple search engine optimisation (SEO) and social
media strategy.

Each product, blog post and page will have a link at the bottom of the page you created, called ‘Edit website SEO’. Here you can edit how your post will appear in search results, rewrite the headline to be simple and to the point, and then rewrite the description to include keywords you think your customer might use to find your product, such as
‘handcrafted’, ‘chunky knit’, or ‘heirloom seeds’.

At some point you may want to create a business page on Facebook or Instagram for your shop, to showcase your wares on social media. Don’t worry if creating a whole new page intimidates you. You can start by sharing what you’ve created on your personal page, with a link to your store, so that those closest to you can offer encouragement and help spread the word about your new side hustle.

Tip: The fun doesn’t stop after everything is set up. Check in regularly to see how the shop is doing through Shopify analytics and offer discounts on slow-moving stock.



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