Startup Diaries: Setting up an Online Fashion Boutique

The NextWomen Fashion & Retail Theme. 

Do you remember in the last start-up diaries I mentioned that setting up a website was another story in itself? Yes/No?

Well I am back to share with you a few more experiences, so if you’re settled in, I will begin. 

Where do you start - what’s in a name?

The name of your online fashion boutique, is it going to be your own, or is it going to be a theme, perhaps something that can be an acronym, or initials to be quick and snappy. Is this name memorable, there is a lot to be said for a name that is simple and to the point, your strap-line (what you say about this name) is the opportunity to express more of who you are, and what you do.

To explain further, my name if Coral Turner, my company however is Coral Turner Couture, the strap-line is ‘distinctively made garments’ followed by ‘because every day is special’.  By presenting myself this way I have introduced not only the person, but also my profession; I then go onto say what it is that I do – ‘I design and make garments of distinction’ – my philosophy is that I don’t take any moment or day for granted, I believe that ‘every day is special’ because it is.  I also want to express that sentiment to my audience, and share this experience with them, not just through the couture garments that I make and design but also how I think.  

It’s not just about ‘selling’ to your audience, it is also about caring and sharing, building a relationship with your client/customer, getting to know them and vice versa.

The name you choose for your company is vitally important, it is what you will build your brand and reputation on; you don’t want to complicate how people recognise you, or ultimately find you.  Now that you have the name sorted what will be the theme for your logo, will you have one, and does it tie in with the name?  More food for thought; however with the name and logo now sorted we move on.

Building the website, your on-line boutique

You first have to decide how you want your website to look; bearing in mind this is your virtual shop front.

What impression do you want to give to your customers and what experiences do you want them to have?

It’s all very well having some really hi-tech fancy looking webpage, that when you click on certain aspects on the page it opens up onto your Homepage, but if no-one other than you, and the web designer know about this feature and how it works, you have already alienated your audience.  I have seen websites that start with great music, and visuals, only to learn it is similar to the Rubric’s  Cube challenge as to where do I go from here.  Speaking of music, if you do decide to have music on your website, give your customer the choice to turn it off, and make sure this option is easy to find, your taste in music may not be that of your customer.

Think about boutique shopping from your own experiences, you go to the boutique door, either push to open, or its automatic, you are now in the shop, you then look around at your leisure, an assistant may ask you if you need any help, you look at the garments on the display, you may even select a few pieces to inspect further; this is what you are transferring from the high-street shopping experience to your unique clothing boutique, the difference is its performed online.

Have a look at other fashion boutique websites - what do you like, what don’t you like, what works for you, how could you improve on what they have created? 

Initially it is all about asking yourself lots of questions, jotting down your answers, this will all help in deciding how your website will play its role in being a unique shopping experience for your customer.

The importance of your brainstorming and the answers you come up with is that this information will then need to be relayed to your web designer, if you employ one or choose to build your website yourself.  You need to know that the platform you choose to build your website is capable of supporting your needs and that of your customer.

'Floral Infusion'

Let’s start with the basics, do you have the time, and more importantly do you have the patience?  The reality is, you will need patience especially in abundance.  There are lots of website building platforms on the market, what do I mean by platforms, other than the shoes?  Well as with the shoes, it is all about the varying levels on which you will develop your website in terms of pages on which to write copy, and facilities for visuals i.e. photographs and much more.  Another aspect to bear in mind when building your own website, are does it provide safe and secure ecommerce payment facilities, and what are the methods of payment available?  Do you have access to a help desk, video tutorials or forums on which you can ask questions if you get stuck; are there facilities for you to put a video on your website and music if you require?

Now if this all sounds like a major headache before you have even started, and you feel that I am raining on your dream, believe me when I say this is not my intention in the slightest, in fact far from it.  What I am saying is, if like me your experience of working on a computer has been typing of documents/reports, spreadsheets and Power Point presentations all of these skills are valid and will be fully utilised, however building a website yourself is a whole new learning curve.  One that is very doable and enjoyable, and even when you have built your website, you will as a matter of course find yourself tweaking and re-arranging until it feels right, and this is no different to organising a display garment collection in your boutique, and seeing how the shop window looks, my words of caution here are, do not keep tweaking to the point of ‘not going live’, there has to be a cut off point, and you have to test the website to see what is and isn’t working.  

Employing a Web Designer

As with a marriage before you say ‘I do’, are you ready for this, have you discussed what you both want from the relationship or will you make it up as you go along?

A key factor is ability and reliability; can they work to deadlines, are you able to view previous websites they have built, and are they willing to share with you information as to how to make changes to your website, or do you want for them to have sole control of your website with you providing the information they will input?

The vision you have for your all singing and dancing fashion boutique; is this within the budget you have set aside, do you have a budget?  At the end of the development who owns the website?  Strange question, no, not really, I have heard of many a horror story of people being locked out of their own websites, as with all things it is about trust and integrity.  Equally for you as the client don’t go changing the script on the web designer every 2 minutes and still expect to remain in budget and on target.

In order for the lines of communication to be transparent from the outset, why not draw up a list of ground rules that covers both parties. If you are going to work together it is best to know that you are both singing from the same hymn sheet.  Working with a web designer can be a brilliant experience he/she can bring to the table visions and ideas you had not even thought about, if you don’t like something say so, don’t expect them to read your mind.

Summary

I feel I have bombarded you with enough ‘Challenges of a Fashion Entrepreneur’ as these are based on my own experiences.  Yes it may appear a bit daunting at first, or an adventure depending on your thought process, just remember 1) think from the viewpoint of your customer 2) what is the experience I would like them to have, now they have arrived at my website. With this in mind, you're already on your way to building a fantastic online fashion boutique, where shopping is a pleasure and customers return time and again, which is ultimately what you want.

To your success...

Coral Turner is a fashion entrepreneur with an online boutique http://www.coralturner.co.uk.  In addition to her design work she also writes articles in relation to empowering self image and confidence through the clothes that we wear.

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