I have done quite a bit of this and that online, but I have always wanted to sell some physical products – something about getting a product in someone’s hands has always been really romantic and unknown for me.
Recently, I was presented the opportunity to sell some coffee online and help a friend expand their business while getting my foot in the door in this sector too.
There are a million different ways to get up and running with e-commerce but I wanted to spend as little time and money as possible to get maraba.co.za selling and see where it could go.
For each person, this journey will look different depending on your set of skills and resources, but hopefully, by sharing my specific steps here someone can be helped in the right direction.
For now, I’m going to assume you have your primary market research and basic revenue model sorted – who’s buying and how are you going to make a profit. There is a lot more to say about the business side of things but we will stick to the technical steps to spin up an online business in South Africa selling physical goods.
ProTip: For a more disciplined approach to starting or scaling your startup check out Disciplined Entrepreneurship by Bill Aulet (https://www.amazon.com/Disciplined-Entrepreneurship-Steps-Successful-Startup/dp/1118692284)
Let’s get straight into it then!
Step 1: Create an online presence
The first thing you need is an online presence and the capability to receive people’s money securely.
You need a domain name where your website will be parked on the internet. Most hosting companies give you a free .co.za domain when you sign up for hosting. After that, it’s about R150 per year to keep that domain name registered.
I started out on a local South African hosting provider – Afrihost. Using their Linux silver home hosting package. This gives you the bare minimum to run your own website using WordPress. WordPress has it’s pros and cons but to get it up and running is dirt cheap and it can do almost anything you want if you fiddle long enough.
Once you purchased your domain and hosting package it might take a few hours for your domain name to reflect and for it to point to your new empty website.
Step 2: Install the required software
In your set of website tools, you should have an admin portal where you can access cPanel – this is like Windows for your website and WordPress is like an app you need to install. Under cPanel, you get a tool called Softaculous to install WordPress. Follow this simple guide to get started https://www.wpbeginner.com/how-to-install-wordpress/#installwpcpanel
SSL is a must for selling online and it has become increasingly important to have your site run over HTTPs even if you do not transact online. Some hosting platforms provide SSL certificates and installation for free so be sure to ask their support team to help you out there. If this is not an option check out Cloudflare. More info on SSL here.
The WooCommerce plugin then gives you the ability to manage a store on top of WordPress. Be warned – cheap hosting is usually really slow so I made the move to SiteGrounds and just repointed my domain to the new hosting. If things work out for you consider moving to a better hosting package.
There are a few simple steps to get WooCommerce integrated but luckily there is a simple setup wizard that will take you through all the steps.
Step 3: Setup your payment gateway
PayFast is by far the most popular South African payment gateway out there for easy integration. To get a verified merchant account you need a registered company, verified bank statements and a proof of address. It takes only a few days before you are ready to sell.
Step 4: Make the site your own
Once you have your website installed it’s time to pick a theme. There are some really great themes out there and you can spend as much or as little as you like – the free options get the job done. Here is a list of free options: https://justfreethemes.com/themes/woocommerce/
ProTip: Look for something with a well-known page builder like Elementor, Divi, Visual Composer or the new WordPress Gutenburg builder to ensure you can build pages the way you want them.
Most if not all themes have great demo content you can import. This will set up basic pages and content for you and it’s a good starting point. You will skip the tedious process of creating your basic website layout – just drop in your branding, copy and images and you are good to go.
You also don’t need a designer for your initial store. I used Over to create most of the graphics and branding on the site. Their free tier is great on Android and IOS and I got the chance to join their Web Beta version. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, they are offering free membership for a limited time here https://www.madewithover.com/
If you are totally hopeless and still want to design on the cheap – try finding a highly rated designer on www.fiverr.com. You can get loads of odd-jobs done here. Pick wisely though! Be sure to look at ratings and reviews before you buy.
Finally, load your products, their pictures and prices.
Step 5: Ship it
You have quite a few options when it comes to end-to-end shipping integration and WooCommerce. I initially went with Fastway as their pricing was very competitive.
Unfortunately during the first stretch of the COVID-19 lockdown, they closed shop and I was forced to try another provider. I picked The Courier Guy. I was pleasantly surprised by their improved integration and automation. Below a simple comparison between the two:
Fastway – the good.
- Integrated label and manifest printing
- Very tedious onboarding process and initial setup.
- R5000 initial deposit into your prepaid account.
- Additional R2000 for the WooCommerce plugin.
- Confusing consignment process where you have to manually create labels as well as run sheets for every batch of collections.
- Very unreliable billing. Once you click print on a label, you are billed.
- You have to SMS or call your dedicated delivery van to arrange a pickup.
The Courier Guy – the good.
- Automatic consignment creation from WooCommerce that includes assigning collector that will pick up the parcel the next day during configured hours.
- Better management portal although it could still use some improvements.
- A simple onboarding and integration process.
- R500 deposit
- Stable and free opensource plugin for WooCommerce integration.
- Not as cheap as Fastway
- Their PDF statements refuse to open on any mobile phone
- You need to login to their portal to print labels
Step 6: Never stop learning and improving
These steps, simple or complicated as they might be are only the bare minimum building blocks you need to sell online. As you fine-tune the site, products and process you will learn a great deal along the way if you are serious about personal growth and that of your business.
It takes more than just a website and a product to start an online business so you need to be damn sure there is a market before you invest any time and money. Rest assured though, that the single requirement for a successful business is a paying customer. The rest of it will fall into place as you learn more about the customer, how to reach them effectively and how to continue making a profit doing so.
If you would like a comprehensive step by step guide on selling and marketing online products successfully sign up here and you will be the first to know when I publish my full guide.
Other useful resources:
- Terms and conditions template
- Refund policy template
- Free WooCommerce invoicing plugin
- Facebook product synching
- Facebook pixel integration
- Google analytics integration
- Mailchimp integration
P.S I’m not affiliated with any of the brands or products mentioned in this article nor do I receive any payment for marketing.
If you have your own interesting tips or thoughts to share I’d love to hear from you in the comments. If you have come this far please use GG10 as coupon code at maraba.co.za for 10% off if you love a good coffee!
Happy selling and please reach out to me if I can help you with anything related to the article.