With the world going digital and the percentage of online shoppers increasing, it makes sense to establish an online presence. This enables you to reach out to a wider, larger audience and have access to new customer, easily and quickly. That is easier said than done- the online competition battlefield is hotter than ever before, and unless you have a strategy in place, survival is difficult.
We reached out to seven entrepreneurs–from eCommerce owners to coaches and people that offer services–that have been through the trenches and back to take a look at how to sell online and be successful at it.
Figure Out a Profitable Niche
Setting up an online store before you figure out what you want to sell is a direct road to failure, so identifying a niche should be your first priority. Here’s what the experts had to say about coming up with the idea for what to sell online.
Your Interests Can Lead to a Profitable Business Idea
“Jabberwocky Candles was started when I was making a traditional moonshine drink, Boilo pronounced Boil-o. It smells amazing with citrus and spice aromas,” says owner Pete Miernicki. “I decided on the spot that it must be a candle. So, I started learning the craft and what goes into making custom fragrances. Last year exceeded expectations, and I’m in a growth phase.”
Don’t Rush the Process
“It didn’t happen overnight. It has been a soul-searching process. It came at a time of personal self-discovery and development journey. I felt that I needed to reconnect with myself and find my true purpose. I needed more from life and from my professional path,” says life coach Fiorenza Rossini.
“The whole journey has been a real blessing, and it allowed me to reconnect with a part of myself that I had forgotten. I gained clarity on what my natural skills and strengths are.
For example, my listening skills had always been a strength, and now, it just feels so amazing that I am able to help people! This has really been a true dream of mine!”
There are millions of options before you and choosing one may be an uphill task. But the best products are those that are in demand, have a good track record, something that you are interested in, and something that’s currently drawing customers online.
Look at What’s Missing Locally
“Initially, I wanted to own a brick and mortar location, but after researching the never-ending costs that go into that, I decided to set it up as a local popup shop with an online store,” says Weber.
So now that you’ve decided on what product you’re going to sell, it’s time to take the first steps to get started.
How to Sell Online Effectively
Decide on what products and services you are going to offer– these can range from unique products that you have created, services based on your skills to products from third-party vendors. Remember, the product that you choose to sell online is going to impact branding and marketing.
Take a look at what these entrepreneurs recommended about getting started right away with selling online and the first steps to take.
Research potential customers, the market, and the competition.
“For newbie entrepreneurs, the best advice I can give is to get focused,” says Jenny Hale owner of The Military Social Media Guru. She’s a military-focused marketing coach and consultant. Hale added, “if you want to get started selling online, ask potential customers the types of services or products they would be interested in. Do your research! Before you start your business, you need to ensure there is a need and a market for it.”
Nail Down Your Branding
“Before you even have anything to sell, you can still get started on your social media accounts to start gaining a following,” says Weber. By the time you do start selling, those followers will already have an idea of who you are and what you’re about.” Also, research the types of website layouts and features from other online stores you like and make a list of your must-haves. For example, I knew that I wanted a layout that would allow for a slideshow on the main page, multiple product pages, and a blog page to draw more traffic from search engines and social media accounts.”
Create a Compelling Content Marketing Strategy
“I would use the same tactics to start as I currently use to expand to new areas. I carefully research what’s being searched online (using Google Keyword Planner, or Ahrefs Keyword planner). Then I match that up with which of those don’t have good results on the internet,” says Jon Harris of Hidden Door Store & Creative Home Engineering.
“I also try to stay away from topics that are already being dominated by huge companies, such as Home Depot (in our case). I start to create content to fill in those gaps and present my product in a way that solves what the researching client would be looking for. I feel this is vastly better than just making a hunch and hoping that ‘customers will find me,’” says Harris.
Choose the Right Platform
“If someone wants to get started now, I would tell them to either sell on a marketplace like eBay, Amazon or Etsy or if they want to develop their own brand they should sell under their own domain with an ecommerce solution,” says Christine Serra owner of Pastel Queen. “Their first step should be really to do a lot of research first to see if they’re ready to take that first step.”
Stop Thinking and Start Doing
Weber added, “on the other hand, don’t think about the nitty-gritty details of your site too much. You can always make adjustments. To get started, you have to do just that: start. If you spend all of your time perfecting the look of your very first website, you’re never going to get the meat of your business– figuring out how to make money.
5 Challenges to Watch Out for During the Early Phases of Selling Online
Challenge 1: You have to do everything yourself, at first
“The biggest challenge in starting out is you have to cover a lot of bases, and you usually have to do so on a small budget and without much help,” says Ryan O’Connor owner of the shop One Tribe Apparel.
Challenge 2: The art of filling orders quickly and efficiently
“Your first 10 order day and figuring out how to ship it all,” says Miernicki. “Then imagine you get a 100-order day. Fulfillment is a full-time job that you need to figure out or get some help.”
Challenge 3: Learning how to use online ads
“Some challenges were figuring out the paid advertisement part of the business. Facebook ads to me, were pretty difficult since there is a lot to learn. But don’t let it intimidate you, I would jump right into it, for me that’s the only way I learn,” says Serra.
Challenge 4: Pricing products competitively
“It is tough to differentiate a high-priced version of our product category and the (competitor) low-cost version in our customers’ minds,” says Harris. “The average person can instantly understand the difference between a Honda and a Mercedes because we all have experience with cars. But that isn’t the case with secret doors – people don’t have a frame of reference. Talking about precision, gap size and durability is hard to convey in tangible terms. Research helps!
Challenge 5: Just taking action
“Having absolutely no idea where to start was really intimidating. I just started reading articles and listening to any podcasts that I thought might give me some good direction. I think the hardest part is just taking action- actually making a list and checking the things off that list. Eventually, you’ll just be doing things and learning as you go. There is SO much information out there now, you just need to filter out the noise and start doing what you can with what you have,” says Weber.
How to Get That First Coveted Sale
The day arrives, and your product is as ready as it will ever be for launch. From now on, it’s in your hands to ensure that it sells, and customers get what they want. If you’re wondering how to sell online, making that first sale is a huge step to success. Check out what the experts have to say about getting customers to your shop early on.
“When building a business, it’s important to collaborate with others,” says Hale. “Find a complimentary business to your niche and reach out! The more you build your audience and provide mutually beneficial relationships with others, the faster your business can grow. I have used LinkedIn for this and found wonderful leads for my business.”
“Facebook was my best online traffic driver. It’s very easy to create a video that tells the emotional story of your product and brand. It’s a self-feeding cycle where the more sales you make, the better customers Facebook can advertise to,” says Miernicki.
Word of Mouth Referrals
“You have to start somewhere, and people who love you and believe in you will support you, and will then spread the word,” says Weber. “Some of my most loyal customers now are friends of friends- people I didn’t know before but do now because my friends bragged about how awesome my pieces/style are to them. In my opinion, word of mouth and testimonials are still the best way to bring in new business. Again, there is so much noise online and on social media- it’s way more efficient for people to hear about you from an actual person.”
Posting on Instagram!
“It took about a week for my business to start gaining traction. A week in is when I got my first sale, I would say that my first success came from my Instagram,” says Serra. “If it weren’t for Instagram I wouldn’t be where I am today. Instagram is the single most important tool that I had for my brand, and it’s free!”
Choose One or Two ways to Promote Your Online Store to Start
“I recommend picking one or two marketing channels and sticking with them until you gain traction. Too often I see people with very little experience trying to do SEO, Facebook ads, Google ads, email marketing, social media posting, influencer marketing, etc. by themselves and they’re doing it all poor to mediocre instead of choosing one or two channels to excel at,” says O’Connor.
7 Tips for Newbie Entrepreneurs From the Experts
Avoid the comparison trap. “Try not to compare yourself to others,” says Rossini. “I know that it’s not easy when we are immersed in all the beautiful feeds and pics from social media. But you don’t know how long it took others to get to where they are at, or to what many call ‘backstage’…Remind yourself of how unique you are and honor the pace of your own journey!”
Take your time. “For a new business trying to get started right away I would say don’t rush it, picking your niche and product is the single most important thing you will do and will be the single biggest factor in your success,” says O’Connor.
Figure out your niche. “My biggest piece of advice to a newbie entrepreneur is to find your niche and stand out from the crowd,” says Hale. “Your personal brand makes all the difference!”
Be patient and try things out. “View your new website as an experiment, not a test,” says Harris. “This will leave you open to changing course, being open to new ideas, and be honest with your customers about what can and can’t be done. You’ll get to where you want to go, it may just take a bit of time.”
Give yourself permission and follow your vision. “Don’t ask too many people about what they think of your idea. At the end of the day, you’re the only one who sees your vision clearly, so don’t give them a piece of it and expect them to judge it fairly,” says Weber.
Test the waters with a ready-made service or product. “Sell someone else’s product first through affiliate marketing. There is a great urgency you feel when you need to make up for initial gravity. By selling someone else’s product first, you can focus on developing your skills risk-free,” says Miernicki.
Get started now! Serra adds, “my advice for newbies is to stop thinking and start doing!”
Learning how to sell online can be a hugely profitable and enjoyable endeavor. In this article, I’ve gone over just some of the ways you can make that happened but also shared advice from successful entrepreneurs that have been where you are today. Take your time to go over their tips, jot down ideas and things you want to remember later, but more importantly start taking action.
Want to learn more about selling products online? Check out our YouTube channel.
If this article got you excited about how to sell online, why not take the first step today? Sign up for a free 14-day trial of Selz and start building your new online store today. Our customer support team will be there 24/7 to help you every step of the way!