Getting Started in eCommerce: From Idea to First Customer

You’ll learn the seven steps to creating happy customers and receive high-level guidance for decisions you’ll make along the way. We’ll be covering:

1. Choosing an audience
2. Finding a problem to solve
3. Selling your product before you make it
4. Creating the product
5. Choosing an operating system
6. Delivering the product to your customer
7. Creating happy customers

Comprehension questions

  • What audience do you want to serve?
  • What problem do you want to solve?
  • What can you do to confirm that people want your solution?
  • What experience do you want your audience to have with your solution?
  • What can you do to confirm that you’ve solved your audience’s problem?


[00:00:01] Welcome to this Learn WordPress workshop on how to get started in e-commerce. My name is Jonathan Wold. I’ve been in the world of WordPress since 2004 and in e-commerce even longer than that. E-commerce is complicated. There are a lot of moving parts and pieces getting started. Doesn’t need to be, though. And in this workshop, you’re going to learn how to think about e-commerce and where to focus your energies so that you can do just that, get started and have success as you work towards your first customer. What I want to do with this workshop is inspire you with what’s possible and help you see how easy it really can be, empower you to take that inspiration and move into action and then ultimately work to do so in a way that makes it as easy as possible, regardless of your past experience. I want to help you get to your first customer and beyond. We’re going to be covering seven steps over the course of this workshop. Let’s take a look at what those are. We’re going to talk about how to choose an audience, how to find a problem to solve, how to sell something before you make it, and then talk about creating the product, choosing an operating system to power your online store, getting the product to your customer, and then ultimately how to do all of that in service of creating happy customers, which is what we want.

[00:01:19] Let’s get started with step number one, choosing an audience. All right. So choosing an audience, what’s this all about? The idea here, a lot of folks who get started in this world of e-commerce will say, OK, I’m going to go make a product and then I’ll find people who are going to sell it. You can do that. What I find, though, and what a lot of us in this space find is that the e-commerce entrepreneurs who are most successful don’t start there. They start with who am I serving and what problem do they have and what can I do to solve that problem. That’s why we start with choosing an audience. Now, some folks will go and say, oh, well, sure, my audience is anyone. My product could be for anyone. The world has, last I checked, a little over eight billion people. You can’t make something that works for everyone. So why would you want to pick a specific audience then? When you choose a specific audience, it gives you the opportunity to be able to communicate really clearly with that audience, to speak their language, both literally and figuratively. It allows you to focus on the value that you can provide for that audience. And that audience is problems and it allows you to differentiate yourself. This is a common mistake that we’ll see with new entrepreneurs. Is that oh, well, I don’t want to limit myself.

[00:02:38] I want to focus on this audience and this one and this one over here. By choosing a specific audience, you can communicate clearly with them, show them what value you have to provide and you help yourself stand apart. Now, there’s two typical approaches that that you can take. Choose an audience. One is to choose the audience that you’re already connected to that you know well. Another is to choose is to work with someone, rather, who has an audience that they’re connected to. In other words, you may have an audience that you’re connected to that you’re like, OK, I know them well, I understand their needs and I’m going to focus on serving them. But if you don’t have that or you feel like the audiences that you’re connected to, that you’re unable to serve them effectively, it can work just as well to work with someone else who knows an audience really well and work through them. Now, as you think about how to narrow down an audience, there’s a few things to keep in mind. There’s there’s two ways that we typically see that there are external similarities. That’s this idea that you take things that you can see about an audience you could take where they live, you could take their age, you could take gender, you could take their income, which is a little bit trickier. But you get this idea that you can that’s a fairly common way.

[00:03:53] People will often call these like demographics and those are external ways of being able to group people together. It works, but not very effectively. What we find is that the entrepreneurs who are most successful will take external as a factor, but will actually focus on internal similarities instead. And that is the things that you can’t see from the outside are then they’re most commonly summed up in shared interests, people who might look very different and still care about similar things. Let’s take an example for a moment. You might say if you were going to open up a restaurant that I want to focus on everyone in my city. OK, well, maybe everyone in your city doesn’t like the same type of food. And instead by saying, I’m going to focus on everyone in my city who likes a certain type of food, then you can do the work to find out, OK, well, are there enough people in my city who like that food, maybe you might say, who like the food but don’t yet know they’re going to like it? Right. So there’s a difference there rather than just say I’m going to focus on what everyone who lives in an area. As an example, you can say, I want to focus on people who live in an area and care a. Out this an internal similarity, so step one, choose an audience.

[00:05:06] We’ve talked a little bit about how you can narrow it down and the approaches that you can take. And we’ve talked about the why. I want you to choose an audience and be specific in your choice. It can be very tempting early on to say, well, I don’t want to limit myself. I want to go big. The more that you choose, the more that you’re specific, the more that you can focus in on providing value for that audience. Step number two is find a problem to solve. You’ve focused on you’ve identified who your audience is now. You want to focus on finding the problem that you can solve for them. Now, what problems, problems, oversimplified are things that people will pay money to solve. And if you think about it, everything I challenge, everything that folks are willing to spend money for are in one way or another a problem that that they’re wanting to to solve. And to just take that a bit further, the way that I find it most helpful to think about problems is to think about them as unmet needs. And as you do that, there’s a lot of categories you can break it down to. Right? There are physical needs. I’m hungry. I’m thirsty. I need a place to sleep. Those are all sort of problems that I’m willing to spend money to solve. There are mental needs. I want to learn something more.

[00:06:22] I’m feeling bored. I want some inspiration. I want to pick up some new skills. And you could provide solutions to those. And the list goes on. There’s, for instance, practical needs. Hey, everything is good, but I need some parts. I need some ingredients for something that I’m working on now. And you could focus on solving those needs. So you’ve chosen an audience. And as you look, as you work with that audience, you want to focus on understanding, OK, what are their unmet needs? Where are the areas that they have problems now? How do you choose? Well, there’s a few different ways that you can go about this. And in my experience, there tends to be two primary approaches. You can focus on identifying the biggest problems, the biggest sort of unmet needs that your audience has and where presumably they’re the most incentivized to get them solved. Or you can focus on the tiny problems that sort of create momentum in a direction by getting this solved. It makes other things in their life easier. There’s not a right or wrong approach. I think ultimately you want to focus on what’s a best fit for what you’re capable of serving as. You sort of narrow that list down and consider both considered the big problems and the opportunity that you have to solve those and consider small problems that build momentum in a positive direction. So choose a problem.

[00:07:42] And as you’re doing that, focus on following their lead. Talk to your audience as you’re building out that list of potential problems and let them sort of fill in blanks for you. Remember that people can’t always articulate what they’re what it is that is a problem for them. So a lot of it just needs to be focused on listening, reading between the lines, having multiple conversations with multiple folks in your audience, put that list together and ultimately choose a problem where you can focus on having an impact, either a big one or a small one that can build momentum over time and follow their lead and making that choice. Now, that takes us to step number three. Let’s bring our steps back up on the screen for a moment. And step number three is to sell it before you make it. Now, what’s this about? At the heart of all of this is to make sure that the idea that you have so you’ve chosen audience, you picked a problem to solve and you come up with an idea for solving that problem. You want to make sure that that idea resonates with your audience, that it’s actually something that is going to work for them. And one of the best ways, the best way that I know of to to find out if it’s going to work is if they’re willing to pay for it or not.

[00:08:57] People might say that, oh, I like that idea. But until they’re willing to spend money on it, it’s you know, it’s really hard to know. Now, oftentimes, it does make sense for this to be literal. Like you can presell something. There’s a lot of common examples that you’ll see of this. You can presell something, take money, have money, be put down before you make the product. It doesn’t have to be, though. I want to stress this is really about the concept of testing something with your audience before you commit to making it, make sure that the idea you have is something that’s going to actually be valuable for them. Let’s give you a couple of reasons why you’re thinking about this. The first is that testing something, selling something before you make it helps make sure that your problem or your product rather solves a real problem for them. When people say, yes, I would pay for that, that’s an indicator that you’re going the right direction. Selling something before you make it also helps you make your product better as you get feedback from folks, especially if they know that you’re early on in the process, they might say, yes, I want. And can you make it do this or can you offer in this option as well before you commit to the manufacturer in the creation of your product, selling it can give you just incredibly valuable insight into how you can make your product even better as you created for them.

[00:10:15] And last but not least, selling something before you make it helps to reduce the risk to you as an entrepreneur, to the business that you’re creating, making sure that you don’t buy too much inventory or making sure that you don’t overinvest in an aspect of the product that they don’t actually care about. So you’ve chosen an audience. You found a problem to solve. Now you’ve sold it before and you’ve sold it now before you make it. And as you focus on that process, this is your chance to make sure that the thing that you’re still selling is solving real problems. So make sure that you keeping that audience and the problem that you’re focused on in mind as you go out there and test that idea, what are some of the ways that you can sell something before you make it create an offer for them? There’s a lot of simple ways that you can do this. A common one is put up a website where you put the offer out there and have a preorder button or a waiting list that they get on. But that doesn’t matter nearly as much as getting the offer out. There might just be a conversation that you have with a bunch of folks in your audience or emails that you send out but create an offer tested, repeat the process as needed until you you’re sure that you’ve got something that solves a real problem for the audience that you picked.

[00:11:23] Now that takes us to step number for creating the product. This is where the magic comes in. This is where I don’t have a whole lot to say because you as the entrepreneur, you’ve got the ideas, you’ve got the capability to make something incredible or, you know, someone who does that you can work with. And this is this is where for magic just comes into the picture. You’ve got there’s so much here as a human that you can really bring into the mix and put new ideas and concepts together to provide value for your audience. As you’re making the product. I’ll just offer you a few pieces of guidance to keep in mind. The first is to start small. Oftentimes we can at this stage have some pretty grand ambitions and want to just go really big. That’s great. Keep that there. And I encourage you to start small and just make sure that you’re staying problem focused and providing value to the audience that you picked. The second thing to keep in mind is just to look for ways to make the creation process as simple as possible. If you’ve got ideas for making it better, and especially if those ideas involve more complexity, take notes to them, store them away. But don’t focus on that early on.

[00:12:31] Start small and keep it simple. Next up, we have choosing an operating system. All right, now what’s what’s this about? So operating systems, our concept that we’re familiar with, right? We have operating systems on our phones, on our computers these days and our cars and in our even in some of our appliances and operating system, something that lets us interface, interact with the system behind it and access its functionality. It’s designed for humans and lets us tap into it. And if you’re going to have an e-commerce business that has an online store, you’re going to need an operating system to run that store for you. Now, I’m going to oversimplify for a moment, but for for the purposes of this workshop, there are two types of operating systems for you to be thinking about. There are proprietary operating systems and there are open source operating systems. And these are operating systems that you use to create an online store on the open web. WordPress, as an example, is an operating system for for doing exactly that, for creating content, e-commerce, et cetera, on the open web. Now, how do you choose? There are pros and cons to each. And I’m going to encourage you to focus on three particular concepts to consider, rather three concepts. The first is ownership with open source the because of how it’s licensed, the way that the open source code base, open source concept ecosystem works, you are owning it.

[00:13:57] You can do whatever you want with it. When you choose to use open source software, there’s a part of ownership that comes with that. With proprietary software, it’s more like you’re renting it because it’s owned by someone else. They don’t give you access to the code base. You can’t do what you want with it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But ownership is an important concept to keep in mind, especially if you’re going to build something that’s going to grow. The second thing to keep in mind is flexibility. When you’re choosing an operating system, consider how important flexibility is to you. Do you need to be able to customize it? Do you have something that’s a little different in mind with the product that you’re creating for the customers that you’re serving? And the third thing to keep in mind is community with open source. As an example, I’ll just call out my bias here. As part of the WordPress ecosystem community is a huge factor. There’s so many people because that sense of shared ownership who are willing to spend their time and energy helping you succeed, because in doing so, we’re also helping ourselves succeed as the more as more people have success on open source. So those are three things to keep in mind. As you choose an operating system, ownership, flexibility and community, we recommend WordPress and within WordPress for ecommerce.

[00:15:08] Specifically, I recommend that you find a plug in with an ecosystem that meets your meets your needs. Three common examples are commerce. Another one is easy digital downloads. Another one is member press. Each one of these has different pros and cons. And as you choose, if you choose first that decision about open source versus proprietary and if you choose open source and choose WordPress, then you can find an e-commerce plugin that meets your needs based on the audience that you chose and the problem that you’re focused on solving and the way that you’re going about doing so. Next step, we have step number six, getting the product to your customer. Now, there’s a couple of things to keep in mind here. There’s a lot we could say, but since we’re focused on just getting started, I to focus on two pieces that’s packaging and the delivery process. So for packaging the priority here, and I’m assuming for a moment that you’re making a physical product with digital, obviously it’s a bit different, but with physical products, the focus is on safety, making sure that the product arrives to your customer safely and the unboxing experience. What’s it like when someone opens that package and gets to the product for the first time and with delivery? Similarly, we’re focusing for a moment on physical products. You want to focus on keeping your customer informed about the delivery process, where their product is at in the process and making sure that they have that information so they can know what to expect.

[00:16:35] And then just making sure that you’ve chosen the best delivery options for your customer and the type of product that you have available don’t just make assumptions. Oftentimes, you’re limited here with what’s available in the country that you’re focused on serving. But there more than there are usually several options to pick from. And within those you want to focus on just what’s best for your audience now, especially when you’re getting started out. The thing to keep in mind about delivery and getting the product to your customer, whether it’s physical or digital, is the overall experience. What’s that experience like for your customer and focus on just making sure that you’re doing creating this experience with your audience in mind, with the problem that you’re focused on solving in mind? And just how can you give them the best experience as possible and route to solving that problem? Last but not least, we’re going to talk about what we’re all of this is building towards, which is creating happy customers. And at the heart of all of this, at the. All this because you could get a customer, but we want a happy customer, happy customer, someone who is going to have success with your product or is more likely to have success with your product as they do so, they’re more likely to tell others about it, become ambassadors for you.

[00:17:48] And there’s two things in particular to keep in mind, as you especially when you’re getting started. First is how important communication is. The communication that you have with your customer goes such a long way to influence the relationship that they’re going to have with your product and the experience that they’re going to have. And then the second thing to keep in mind as you work on that communication is to focus on the long term. It’s easy in the world of commerce to focus on volume and just the transactions and forget that there’s very real people on the other side that have problems to solve. And they’re looking to you to help solve those problems. So as you think about how to create happy customers and focus on that, think about it in terms of building relationship, that’s the key thing to focus on there, that it’s not just the transaction, it’s the relationship that comes with it. And as you communicate with them, think about ways within the audience that you’ve chosen the problem that you’re focused on solving to provide additional value to them. What kind of information can you share that helps to open their thinking to new possibilities and provides additional value within that problem that you’re wanting to solve for them? All right, so let’s look back over the seven steps first, choose an audience as you go about choosing audience, focus on being specific.

[00:19:02] Second, find a problem to solve. As you do that, focus on following their lead. As you look at the narrowed through the possibilities, sell something before you make it. That’s what you want to do next. And as you do so, make sure you’re testing it European as needed. Make sure that you’re focused on solving real problems for them, that we don’t get distracted there with different ideas. You have an idea and you tested it on the audience with that problem in mind. Next, you create the product and as you do so, just make sure that you stay problem focused. You did all that work to sort of get to this point and make sure that what you create, the magic that you bring is focused on solving a problem. Next, choose an operating system. My recommendation to you ultimately choose what works best for what you’re doing. And I recommend that you favor open source. Just think about that longer term value that comes with ownership, flexibility and be a part of a bigger community. Then you want to get your product to your customer and focus on the overall experience that you’re creating for them as you get the product to them and whatever way that you do, do so. And all of this is in service of creating happy customers.

[00:20:08] And to do that, focus on building long term relationships. All right. So this is these are things to keep in mind as you get to your first customer. We want you to go beyond your first customer and continue building. So as you do that, a few things I’ll leave you with as we wrap this up, focus continually on communication, interacting with your customers, learning from them and taking what you learn to improve the product that you’re creating and the experience that you’re building around that product. Keep learning, be curious about things, attend other workshops. Be just generally curious about the space that you’re in and look for opportunities to learn. And last but not least, I encourage you to join. Community WordPress is an incredible community that people are willing to share and teach. And I encourage you to take part of that look for ways that you can share what you’ve learned as well. Find local meetups and attend online events within the ecosystem that you choose. If you choose will commerce, for instance. There’s a lot of great meetups out there. If you choose a different plugin within WordPress, find a community around that or you can learn and share what you’ve learned and continue to pick out from others. That’s all I’ve got for you. For now. Get out there, get started. Let me know how you do and keep up the good work.

Workshop Details


Jonathan Wold

I love WordPress! And I love being part of our community. I’ve been in the world of WordPress since 2004, working as a freelancer, in a small then large agency, as a consultant, leading community initiatives at WooCommerce, and now investing in the WordPress ecosystem.