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How To Start an Online Boutique With No Money (2023)

start an online boutique. top left is store front with a canopy. center is a shopping cart icon

You have a passion for clothes and want to start an online boutique. It’s a great small business idea—you’ll capture some of the $294 billion consumers spend on clothes each year.

The problem? You don’t have any money to invest in starting a clothing business.

Here’s how to open an online boutique with no money. From discovering products to promoting them online, you’ll get your boutique up and running in record speed—even if you’re budget strapped.

1. Choose a business model

A business model describes how you’ll sell clothes through your online boutique.

Dropshipping clothes is great if you’re starting out with no money. Find a dropshipping clothing supplier, use their imagery on your store, and pay for inventory once it sells. You’re responsible solely for marketing. It’s your supplier’s responsibility to pick, pack, and ship items from your boutique to customers.

Other budget-friendly options include:

2. Select products you’ll sell

Choosing a niche market for your boutique means you can be known as the go-to place for one specific type of clothing. That might be:

Hannah Nash, online boutique owner and co-founder of Lucy Nash, says, “Our boutique specializes in high-quality jewelry that is designed to be worn. Rather than buying mass-produced jewelry that will end up in a drawer, our pieces are unique and will add distinction to any outfit.

“We also focus on quality over quantity. We only select the best materials and use skilled artisans to create each piece. This attention to detail ensures that our customers can enjoy their jewelry for years to come.”

Footer of Lucy Nash’s website showcasing its brand mission—“simple, elegant, and classic pieces that will elevate your look.”

3. Write a business and marketing plan

An online boutique business plan details how your store will attract customers and make money online. Use this free business plan template to break down how you plan to work around minimal investment, detailing:

  • Your business structure
  • How you’ll source inventory
  • Whether you need a business license
  • If you’ll secure financing or funding
  • Who your competitors are
  • Budgets for inventory, marketing, and paid advertising

While you’re planning, spend some time crafting a marketing plan that details your target market and how you plan to reach them.

Which social media marketing platforms will you use? What types of content does your target customer engage with? How will you drive them to your online boutique? Use a free marketing plan template to answer these questions.

4. Create a brand

A brand sets your online boutique apart from the rest. Yours should communicate what you sell, who you sell to, and why someone should buy from your boutique.

To DIY a visual brand on a budget, create:

Whatever you choose, be consistent with your online boutique’s branding across all touchpoints with potential customers. Brand consistency can increase revenue by as much as 33%.

Facebook page cover photo from Millie & Ralph showing a newborn baby in neutral clothing on a neutral background.

 

Millie & Ralph’s online boutique with neutral colors and a simplistic brand logo with a cotton ball.

5. Open your online store

To sell clothing through online boutiques, you need an ecommerce website for potential customers to search, browse, and purchase your inventory.

“Shopify makes it super easy for anyone to create a really nice, professional, and useful website, so long as you do a little research into what themes work best for you, and are willing to pay a little money for their use.” —Mariko Ichikawa, founder of Mariko Ichikawa

An online store (instead of marketplaces like Etsy) gives you greater control over the brand experience, and helps you retain important customer data that can be used for future retargeting.

Pay attention to the following elements of your online store:

  • Clothing product photography. Showcase what your boutique inventory looks like in various scenarios, like models of various sizes, hung on a hanger, or folded up.
  • Product descriptions. Share your size guide, the material it’s made from, and why your boutique’s inventory is different from other brands.
  • Navigation. Help people discover new products in your boutique by linking bestselling products and categories.
  • Store policies. From shipping to returns, giving potential customers this essential information upfront often makes them more comfortable in making their first purchase.

The best part? You don’t need tons of cash to get started. Start selling online with Shopify’s Starter plan. For just $5 per month, you’ll get all the tools you need to sell via social media. Mariko Ichikawa, founder of Mariko Ichikawa, found it was easy to get up and running: “Shopify makes it super easy for anyone to create a really nice, professional, and useful website, so long as you do a little research into what themes work best for you, and are willing to pay a little money for their use.” For just $5 per month, you’ll get all the tools you need to sell via social media.

Navigation drop-down showing categories titled tops, blonde ambition, graphic apparel, bottoms, dresses, shoes, accessories, and drinkware.

6. Decide on your shipping strategy

How will you get items from your online boutique to your customers? Use Shopify Shipping for discounted shipping rates. It’ll prevent extra costs that deter almost half of potential customers from making a purchase.

Consider domestic and international shipping rates, and whether you’ll offer free shipping—some 66% of customers are put off if they have to pay for shipping. Work around this problem without sacrificing your profits by enforcing a minimum spend threshold, such as “spend $50 for free shipping.”

This problem is taken off your plate entirely if you’re using the dropshipping business model to run your online boutique. Order fulfillment and shipping are the responsibility of your dropshipping supplier. 

Announcement bar which promotes Vita Grace’s free international shipping offer for orders over £200.

7. Price your boutique’s inventory

One of the hardest things about opening an online boutique is pricing your inventory. You’ll need to sell products for more than they’re costing you.
Consider different pricing strategies, such as:

Regardless of which pricing model you’re using, calculate profit margins using this free calculator. Bake fixed costs (mainly your domain and Shopify plan) into your product pricing to make sure you’re still turning a profit after paying for the online boutique’s overheads.

8. Get set up to take payment

You’ve set the prices for each item in your online boutique. Next, get your payment processor up and running to collect money from each customer.

The most popular payment method is debit or credit card. Accept these on your online store using Shopify Payments. Customers can use their American Express, Visa, or Mastercard to pay for online purchases.

Alongside debit and credit cards, offer alternative payment methods on your boutique to generate more sales. That includes:

Product page for a $68 pink jumper with an option to pay in four monthly installments of $17 with Afterpay.

9. Start promoting your online boutique

Your job isn’t over once your boutique is up and running. Smart marketing strategies increase the odds of people stumbling upon your online store. The more ecommerce website traffic you have, the greater your chance at making money online.

Promote your online boutique using free promotion tactics like:

  • Gifting free products to fashion influencers
  • Guest posting on clothing publications
  • Creating TikTok videos
  • Offering a discount code
  • Running an automated email marketing campaign
  • Hosting a social media giveaway

Use Shopify analytics to figure out what’s working—and do more of it.

TikTok profile of Odd Muse London showcasing videos of a woman wearing smart business clothing.

10. Optimize your online store

The average conversion rate for an online store is just 2.86%. The type of traffic you’re driving to your online boutique largely impacts your conversion rate. But there are things you can do to squeeze more revenue from existing website visitors.

Optimize your online store with conversion rate optimization (CRO) tactics like:

  • One-click checkout
  • Trust signals, such as payment processor logos or free returns policy
  • A/B testing elements on the page, such as your product photos or layout
  • Showcasing social proof, such as customer reviews or user-generated content
  • Mobile-friendly design that automatically resizes based on a visitor’s device

You don’t need cash to start an online boutique

Opening an online boutique is a great low-cost business idea. Choose a business model that doesn’t require upfront cash, like dropshipping or print on demand, and explain how you’ll work around a minimal budget with a solid business plan.

Get up and running with Shopify’s Starter plan from $5 per month.


How to start an online boutique with no money FAQ

Is owning an online boutique profitable?

An online boutique can become a profitable business, since it allows you to tap into the $775 billion global consumers spend on fashion. The key to success is monitoring your profit margins and selling clothes at a higher price than they cost you.

How do I start a small online clothing business from home?

Start by choosing a business model that doesn’t require upfront investment, such as dropshipping. Find a reliable supplier, sync their inventory with your online store, and start promoting your boutique online.

How much does it cost to start a boutique?

Start an online business for as little as $5 per month with Shopify’s Starter plan. If you’re dropshipping inventory for your online boutique, you’ll only pay for inventory once you’ve sold it.

What can be sold in a boutique?

  • T-shirts
  • Sweaters
  • Jewelry
  • Handbags
  • Cosmetics
  • Luxury goods

Where do boutiques buy their inventory?

  • Thrift stores
  • Directly from manufacturers
  • Dropshipping suppliers
  • Wholesale fashion retailers
  • Online marketplaces like eBay
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