A friend recently showed me her wonderful designer bags and asked me to tell her what the secret of a successful e-commerce business is.

A lot of aspiring retail entrepreneurs hope to begin their startup via an online shop. As a creator of a special product, their goal is to start acquiring customers and market share before a big department store even considers your product. It's fairly simple to acquire a URL address and make your products available to the universe. It's a no-brainer!

Before you invest your life savings, here are a few tips that may help:

1. Consider the cost

Despite its myriad of advantages, starting a successful online company comes with a laundry list of challenges and is not, as many believe, necessarily more cost-efficient than opening a brick-and-mortar store.

For starters, you have to get your site ranked. After two decades of internet startups, there are gazillions of existing websites already out there claiming seniority to your desired (and perhaps saturated) market. This means that it will take a considerable investment to expand the exposure of your brand beyond your social circle. The cost of doing so can be considerable, whether you use paid search engine adwords, or rely upon organic rankings.

A third, less-desirable option, is to focus on growing via a third party website such as Ebay or Amazon, but that also comes with its ranking challenges. Consider the investment of money and energy needed, choose a strategy, and calculate your risk well.

2. Become a Blogger First

If you have limited resources at your disposal, a great option to develop or expand your customer base is to become a blogger first. Through the power of stimulating content, delivered free to people's computers, phones, or tablets, you can generate great interest in your story or your persona. That can, eventually, transfer into the sale of your products. If you choose to blog (and this is highly recommended regardless of your initial investment), know this: privacy is a retrograde concept to the internet community. Leave the bashfulness behind. Write genuine, interesting content, and people will follow you. Online credibility has a direct correlation to online sale conversions, if the topics you write about are related to the use of the products. You can piggy-back your content with social media efforts, and that should create a significant boost in your following.

3. Give yourself a year

Just as with any start-up, a measurable goal is recommended to gauge the success of your efforts. If your goal is to create a profitable e-commerce business that you can use as your primary source of income, give yourself a reasonable amount of time to start seeing some progress. I've heard many people say they thought that once their site went live, the sales would start pouring in. That is far from the truth. Your website will be lost in the infinite cyber universe if no one knows it exists, so measuring the success of your ranking tactics (and social media/online marketing) can help you figure out if you need to change your strategy. You also need to establish online credibility to convert sales, and that is best done through content.

Listen to your gut, calculate your risk, be aware of your challenges, and go for it. There is enough room in the vast cyberspace for all the good ideas in this world.