Building Your Ecommerce and Design Business with Shopify

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Let’s be honest, you are probably reading this blog because you are a user of Treehouse or thinking about becoming one. You have a thirst for web knowledge and a desire to become better at what you do – right? Perhaps you want to change career path and move into the web industry or are thinking about undertaking some freelance work, or even starting your own agency with a friend. There’s never been a better time.

When I started out as a freelance “web designer” in the early 2000’s every project was custom built or often created in Flash. I didn’t have the luxury of platforms like WordPress, Perch and Expression Engine to help create my websites.

Today the landscape is very different and we are fortunate to have lots of options to choose from – tools, libraries and frameworks that will make our lives easier and enable us to build great websites and applications.

Shopify - Hosted ecommerce

One such platform getting a lot of traction in the last couple of years is Shopify, a hosted ecommerce solution started in Canada in 2006. In fact you may well have used Shopify already as many amazing brands run their online stores with it including A Book Apart, United Pixel Workers, Tattly, 8 Faces, Dodo Case and Treehouse!

I know this as I have had the pleasure of working with Shopify since early 2012 in the role of Designer Advocate. This sees me run free workshops aimed at helping designers and front-end developers learn more about the platform as well as producing resources such as the recent Shopify for Designers series on YouTube.

Over the last year I’ve had the privilege of meeting with and chatting to many amazing web designers and front-end developers who have started to work with the platform and found it a great additional skill set to offer their clients it’s a very web designer friendly platform and with a little Liquid, that’s the Shopify templating engine, knowledge coupled with your existing HTML, CSS and JavaScript skills you can be up and running in a few hours.

Themes

Firstly a bit of background on how Shopify works. Stores are powered by themes. If you have ever designed a theme for WordPress then the approach is very similar.

A theme is made up of a collection of files and images and uses four technologies – three of which you are all probably very familiar with. They are HTML, CSS, JavaScript (although this is entirely optional) and the fourth, and perhaps less familiar, is Liquid which I mentioned earlier.

Liquid

Liquid is the open source templating language created by Shopify which is used to pull data from your shop into your theme templates. Liquid is also used by other great apps such as Siteleaf and my preferred frontend development tool Mixture. it’s a very easy to use and readable templating syntax.

For example the following code snippet will render your shops name if placed in any of the core templates:

{{ shop.name }}

Zero restrictions

In terms of your creativity there really are no restrictions. You do not have to include any specific markup in your themes, specially named HTML elements or mandatory CSS. it’s entirely up to you how you design your store.

I often meet designers who are put off building themes as they think that there is a cost associated with using the Shopify platform. In actual fact it’s 100% free. To get started all you need to do is sign up for a free Shopify partner account after which you can create as many “dev shops” as you need.

Development shops are fully featured and allow you to build out your clients stores for zero outlay. Only when launched will your client need to sign up for a paid monthly account. As far as tools go as long as you have a text editor, browser and internet connection you are good to go.

experts

Shopify was started by a very small team of designers and developers – many who were freelancers themselves. Consequently as a company it does all it can to help designers and developers working with the platform – one such programme is Shopify Experts. it’s 100% free to join and it’s purpose is to help those with the skills find the merchants in need of help.

Experts facts and figures

To give you some background every month sees over 3,000 new stores launched and as the company has grown the need for knowledgeable theme designers and builders has increased rapidly. There are currently over 500 Experts and in the last 18 months the programme has generated over $18m worth of contracts for them. Each day over 2,000 work requests come through the programme and average contracts are worth around $6,000.

Typically Experts offer a variety of services including:

  • Setup – helping merchants open up a Shopify store, adding products and recommending third party applications ($500)
  • Customisation – typically applying new colour treatments, uploading logos and adding contact forms (circa $1,000 upwards)
  • Theme design and build – Full scale design and theme build projects (circa $6,000 upwards).

These are indicative services and prices and you are of course free to set your own prices – it’s entirely up to you.

With a little Liquid knowledge you can start building your first Shopify theme in a few days. Lots of great companies now provide Shopify related services and I’d like to take this opportunity to highlight how one such small agency in Omaha has built a successful business by specialising in Shopify and explain how you can take advantage of the opportunities too.

As part of the work I do I have been fortunate to meet and chat with many of the listed Shopify Experts. Many who like me starting out plying their trade designing and building web sites but who have recently focused in on the opportunity of building Shopify themes.

Tracy Sailors Shopify Experts listing

One such person is Tracy Sailors who runs her own three person agency in Omaha, Nebraska. Tracy was kind enough to answer a few of questions via email recently.

How did you get started with Shopify?

I ran an interactive design company from 2003 – 2010. In 2008, as we were preparing to sell that company, I had an idea for an ecommerce store. Because none of us were familiar with building an ecommerce store, our team researched a number of different platforms and options, eventually settling on Shopify.

By May ’08 we had our first Shopify store: Melondipity. We ran Melondipity for three years before selling it in August 2011. Actually early on we did try building a store on Volusion but switched to Shopify within two months of going live.

Personally I love that Shopify is continually evolving and including users’ ideas as they grow. Our team personally made requests that were integrated into the new Shopify 2 for example, which we of course really appreciate.

Tuckernuck by Tracy Sailors

Why do your clients love Shopify?

Mainly that they don’t need me to manage or update the site for them once it’s up and running. It’s rare that a client will contact me to update their store once it’s live – adding products, a page or collections, changing their shipping preferences, even switching payment processors – all takes minutes for our clients to do on their own in Shopify. They like being in control.

Many clients say that I have a particular style that they like and often contact me after seeing a store that I’ve build in the past.

Once we begin working together, I think they appreciate that I also run my own Shopify stores. This really helps as oftentimes I can provide tips and suggestions based on my own personal experiences of running a Shopify store.

How long have you been a member of the Experts programme?

Since it first launched in November 2011. We are now in a position where 100% of our work relates to Shopify and I would say that about 80% of my clients contact me through Shopify Experts.

Prior to joining Experts I got most of my work through my website, tracysailors.com, and the Shopify Jobs Board. In terms of the type of work we get I would say it’s 10% setup and 90% design, build and customization.

Three Bird Nest by Tracy Sailors

In what ways has being part of the Experts programme changed your business?

Shopify Experts accounts for about 70% of our business. I have recommended Shopify over the past year to dozens of my own clients while the Experts program sends me new opportunities daily. It’s truly a win-win relationship.

Shopify needs you!

Tracy is one of many Experts who have transformed their business using Shopify. With the growth in new stores the need for talented designers with Shopify knowledge is only going to increase – put simply “Shopify Needs You“.

If you would like to learn more there’s plenty of free resources you can take advantage of including my recently published YouTube series and upcoming free to attend half day workshops in Chicago, New York, Belfast and San Francisco. Finally I am here to help, feel free to fire off any questions in the comments or contact me on Twitter. I look forward to seeing the amazing work you all come up with.

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Comments

19 comments on “Building Your Ecommerce and Design Business with Shopify

  1. Great info. Do I need to create a Shopify account in order to learn how to work with the platform?

  2. So I have basic HTML and CSS knowledge – how advanced do you have to be to get started here? It seems like a lot of it is already prepped for you to go with it?

  3. Awesome article. It’s great to know that Shopify is taking off and opening new doors for e-commerce solutions. Although, it is great to have all of these new frameworks and platforms to make our lives easier. We are still not learning the underlying code. We are learning things that may dissappear one day, and when that happens we will have to look elsewhere for frameworks and platforms to work off of. In my opinion, if you actually want to learn something that is worth your time, build an online store yourself… Regardless of how bad the code may be, you will get better, and you will actually learn something that you can put on your resume when looking for a job.

  4. This is fantastic! A buddy and I have been looking into ways to break into the web design field full time and this will greatly help! Thank you so much for posting.

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  6. Great blog !!! Really very informative and interesting. It will help many to design an effective and innovative eccomerce website.