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Want to start selling online on Amazon, eBay, Etsy, or your own website, but do not know where to start? You are at the right place! This “easy guide on how to start selling online” will show you how to start selling online.
You are interested in selling items online!
Maybe you have dreams of quitting that rat race to start your own online business that involves waking up at 10am, working in your favorite pajamas, taking long weekends off whenever you like, and not having to answer to anyone else because you are the boss.
Or maybe you just want to sell unused products from your home for extra money in your pocket.
Whatever the reason is for wanting to start selling online, eCommerce offers huge opportunities for anyone with a computer and internet connection.
Of all the ways of making extra money online, it is perhaps one of the easiest to understand and get started with.
This guide to the world of online selling will show you where to start, and how to do it the right way.
How to Sell Online Professionally
We have broken the process down into 6 simple steps to take you from complete beginner to professional seller.
What You Need to Know Before You Start!
Before you get started investing time and money into an online business, you will need to be sure that selling online is right for you.
So, let us look at the pros and cons of selling online so you can weigh them up and make an informed decision.
Working from home in your favorite pajamas is a plus, there are more amazing reasons to work from home while building your own eCommerce business.
- You will be working from home, making your own hours, and you choose how far you want to take it. The possibilities are endless! Make a few extra bucks to save! Create an online eCommerce empire! The choice is yours to make! There is no glass ceiling that means no boss to suck up to but only pure freedom.
- It is something you are probably already familiar with! If you have bought or sold something online, you basically understand already how it works. Which makes selling online an easy skill to grasp than many other home business option.
- You can follow your own interest. If you like fly fishing, cake decorating, refurbishing antique dolls, or anything else can think of. When you start selling online, you can turn your hobbies into a profitable business.
- It is not difficult or risky as starting a regular business. You do not have to invest a ton of money when you are first getting started, not to mention you will not have to worry about buying or leasing physical property. It has a low barrier to entry, that means practically anyone can give it a go. So, what is stopping you?
- You do not have to worry about storing inventory if you do not want to! This is called drop shipping and will discuss this later.
- It can be fun!
Like any other thing in life, selling online comes with a few downsides. It is important you are aware of these before you start, so you can set some realistic expectations.
- It takes time and dedication. It may take a couple of months to start seeing consistent results. The chances of accumulating over $500 worth of sales on your first day are, well, not likely.
- There are learning curves. If you have sold a few things online before, you are already ahead of your competitors! However, you will need to step up your game to sell online professionally.
- As a business owner, you are an incredible team of one when you start out. You will take on the roles of accountant, marketer, web designer, along with everything else. This means you will carry all the responsibility. If anything goes wrong, you cannot blame anyone else.
- It is not at all passive income. You will be dealing with regular sales, shipments, customer inquiries, this means your business will require you to do real work and invest time and effort. That is until you can hire staff to help, even then you will want to remain involved in everything related to your online business.
This is not a get rich quick scheme!
If you are happy to spend the time and effort into building a reputation, brand, and optimizing your process, then the sky is the limit.
Choosing eCommerce Model
There are many different business models to consider before you start selling online, each one has their own set of pros and cons.
You will want to think carefully about which business model is right for you. They all require different levels of financial investment and will determine how you structure your business.
The simplicity of drop shipping does come at a cost. You usually pay a higher price to your supplier compared with buying in bulk, and you will usually incur drop shipping fees.
Shipping also tends to take longer as most drop ship suppliers are based in China. However, drop shipping is popular and many people have built successful eCommerce businesses using this model. Drop shipping is best for people looking to dip their toe into selling online, those who do not have a lot of capital to buy in bulk, and people who want to keep their workload to a minimum.
Drop Shipping is the most well-known format in the eCommerce world. Why? Because the barrier to entry is way low. You do not need to make any financial investment to get started. This means you will not pay a cent until you make a sale.
You will not need to place any large orders or store excess stock. You will just need to decide what you want to sell, find a supplier that provides drop shipping services, list your products on your preferred online marketplaces, and start selling.
Your supplier will do most of the heavy lifting and your main job is to make sales. Easy, right?
Here is how drop shipping works:
- 1. A customer buys a product from your online store at a retail set price.
- 2. You then place the order for that product sold with your supplier at a set wholesale price by the supplier.
- 3. Your supplier packages and ships the product directly to your customer at the shipping address they provided you.
Sourcing from wholesalers
Sourcing products from wholesalers is a more traditional retail business model. It is used by brick and mortar stores and eCommerce stores alike. Once you have decided on what product/s you are going to sell, you find a reliable wholesaler and buy the product/s in bulk. Getting the best price usually requires some negotiation.
Buying in bulk requires that you have significant cash to spend upfront. The upside is that you will usually get your products at a cheaper price than you would with drop shipping. That means higher profit margins for you every time you make a sale.
Once you have ordered the product/s, it is up to you to arrange storage, list them for sale online, and to organize shipping. Alternatively, you can use a third-party fulfillment service like Amazon FBA or ShipBob (there are many options to choose from) to handle the packaging and shipping for you. However, this comes at an added cost that eats into your profit margins.
You can see how sourcing from wholesalers can be more labor-intensive than drop shipping, but the financial benefits can make the extra work worth it.
sourcing a product from the manufacturer is a similar process to sourcing from a wholesaler. The main difference is that you can work with a manufacturer to create your own product or a private label product.
The initial investment is higher as you’re creating something new, but if you want to build a brand and sell a unique product, then sourcing from a manufacturer is the business model for you.
There are a lot more hoops to jump through in terms of product development, design, testing, packaging, and legal obligations, but if you’re ready to set in for the long haul and build a business that you can differentiate from the majority of online sellers, sourcing direct from manufacturers is a good option.
Make and Sell Your Own Products
If you are creative, artistic, or have a unique skill, then, you can make your own products and sell them online. Whether you crochet beanies, build wooden chopping boards, or engineer new technologies in your bedroom, there is bound to be a market for your creations. Think of it as turning your hobby into a business.
You can even start selling your own products as a side-hustle, while you are still working. If you are successful, you may be able to turn it into your full-time job.
The main thing with selling your own products is that all the responsibility is on your shoulders. You can only sell as much as you make, so you must invest your own time into production.
The main benefit is that, aside from the cost of materials and your time, you do not have to make a significant investment upfront. You also do not have to rely on suppliers. It is all on you.
Choose What to Sell
You have probably thought about this step already.
In fact, most people start by thinking of products they can sell online and go from there. What starts as a daydream at the office often flourishes into a successful business, so be careful what you wish for!
Choosing what to sell is arguably the most important decision you will make as it will determine the demand for your product, price and profitability, market competition, sales, and marketing. It is also one of the hardest decisions you will make.
Of the billions of products out there, how do you know which one to sell?
in general, you are looking for a product that meets these requirements:
- You can make a profit on it. This one is obvious. Do not forget to factor in things like shipping, packaging, and marketplace fees!
- There’s a reasonable demand for it. One of the common mistakes new sellers make is diving into selling a product without checking demand. Do not be that person stuck with a garage full of things you cannot sell!
- The competition is not too intense. Competition can really drive down your profits, particularly when there is not enough demand to meet it. When a bunch of sellers is competing for a small pool of buyers… things can get ugly.
What Can You Sell Online?
choose products that meet the criteria below.
- Products related to your interests
The first thing you should do to get ideas for what to sell is to brainstorm your hobbies – the things you are interested in. The reason why this can be a good idea is that you are more likely to be invested in selling products you are interested in. You will also have a certain level of expertise that can help inform your business decisions.
Once you have identified your hobbies, try, and think laterally and outside the box to generate product ideas that are not so obvious. The more specific your niche is, the better.
- Products that you discover online
Try to become intimately familiar with products that are selling well on the most popular online marketplaces, including Amazon, eBay, AliExpress, and Alibaba. Obviously, you do not want to sell products that are already doing well in highly competitive markets, but often those hot products can give your ideas for similar, complementary, and less competitive options.
- Products that are backed by market research
You can do your own market research or use a tool like a heave to do the heavy lifting for you. SaleHoo Labs uses data from Amazon and eBay to determine the sell rate, average retail price, and competition for a massive range of products. You can simply browse by product category and set specific filters to identify products that you can be confident will sell online.
Which Products are Selling Best Online?
This is the million-dollar question. But the answer is not simple. As you will know from your own market research, there is a wide range of products that are selling well online.
The thing is, that once a product becomes a “best seller”, it is probably too late to start selling it as the market quickly becomes saturated. You need to learn to anticipate trends or identify ways to sell items that are similar or complementary to best-selling products.
However, according to our own data and research, products in these five niches are always selling well. You will just need a bit of creativity (and a dash of intuition) to discover the next best-selling product.
- Blocks and Lego Products
- Pet Supplies
- Baby Supplies
- Coffee Products
More products you can think of, not listed above.
Another strategy to consider is selling products that tap into consumer’s physiological needs. American psychologist Abraham Maslow created “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs” way back in 1943 and it is still relied on by marketers and salespeople today. The hierarchy of needs are:
- Self-actualization: The desire to become the most one can be
- Esteem: Respect, self-esteem, status, recognition, strength, freedom
- Love and belonging: friendship, intimacy, family, connection
- Safety: Personal security, employment, resources, health, property
- Physiological: air, water, food, shelter, sleep, clothing, reproduction
If you can identify products that fit into these deep-seated human desires, then you are almost guaranteed to have success selling them. You can see how luxury goods might fit into the ‘esteem’ need, home security items tap into our need for ‘safety’, and the latest and greatest pillow fills our ‘physiological’ need for sleep.
Once you have decided on a product to start selling online, you need to find a reliable supplier for that product.
Finding a supplier is probably the second most time-consuming part of selling online and comes with a raft of boobytraps to avoid – so be careful! A supplier is one of your most important business partners, so you want to make sure you choose the right one.
Your business model will largely determine what type of supplier you work with. But let us get down to the nitty-gritty. How do you find a supplier you can trust?
There are several ways to look for suppliers:
SaleHoo can help you save time and minimize risk when choosing a supplier. SaleHoo’s directory has more than 8000 legitimate, low-cost suppliers of a massive range of products, located all over the world. SaleHoo’s staff check and verify all suppliers before adding them to the directory so you can be confident that they are reliable and trustworthy.
· Finding Dropship Suppliers
If you want to go at it alone, you can use search engines like Google and online marketplaces like Alibaba and AliExpress to find dropship suppliers. It takes a lot more time and you must watch out for fraudulent businesses and scams. But if you are willing to invest the effort, you can find good dropship suppliers this way. Start by searching “[your product] + drop shipper” and go from there. On websites like Alibaba, you can contact suppliers directly and ask if they provide drop shipping services.
Finding Wholesale Suppliers
Google is your friend when it comes to finding wholesale suppliers. However, you should be aware that often the best suppliers do not have a lot of time and money to invest in marketing (and their websites can look really cheap), so they can be hard to find online. If you are wanting to secure the best deal, you will have to do a bit of groundwork. One way around this is to work with local wholesale suppliers, or to visit trade shows and meet suppliers face-to-face, the old-fashioned way. A lot of the sellers on Alibaba, AliExpress, and other major online marketplaces will be wholesalers, so you can contact them and make inquiries. If you want a shortcut, there’s always SaleHoo.
You can find manufacturers much the same way as you find other suppliers – on Google, SaleHoo, and popular online retail sites. But if you are getting them to manufacture your product, there are just a whole lot more boxes to add to your checklist. You need to be even more vigilant and ensure you do due diligence. Ideally, this means visiting the factory, meeting the manufacturer, and testing their products and service before committing to your first order. Finding a great manufacturer is essential to the success of your business.
So, you have found a few suppliers that you want to reach out to? Great! You are making real progress. The next step is contacting them. This sounds as simple as flicking them a quick email. But you should know that the best suppliers get contacted by a lot of aspiring online sellers every day, so if you do not make a good first impression, chances are they will just ignore you. And you do not want that!
You need to know what suppliers want in a potential customer/business relationship, and you should also know what you want from the supplier. These are the top five things that a supplier is looking for when you contact them.
- A serious buyer mentality
- Clear, concise communication
- Good manners
- Long-term customers
- Low-risk relationships
The best way to achieve these objectives is by doing your research and not overloading the supplier with questions.
We highly recommend that, whenever possible, you always opt for a telephone call. Email is OK, but it doesn’t give you that personal interaction which can help you determine the legitimacy, expertise, and professionalism of potential suppliers, which are all things you need to know when you’re giving someone a bunch of money.
Negotiating with Suppliers
So, you have contacted a suitable supplier and you are ready to commit? Now’s the time to get down to business and negotiate your deal.
Remember: your goal is to be able to source your products for less than what you will eventually sell them for. Every little discount you can get will count towards your profits — and it can really add up!
So, how do you get a better deal from your supplier? Simple! You can:
- Order in bulk. The more you order, the better the price you can negotiate. If you are just starting out this might not be an option, but it is something to consider for later, especially if this product seems to be working out well for you.
- Develop a relationship with your supplier. As you work with your supplier and show them, you are serious and consistent, most of them will help you out by offering discounts and other bonuses. If they do not offer… try asking. If your business is valuable to them, they will try anything to keep you happy!
- Buy from the source (the manufacturer) if possible. If you can afford to order in bulk, buying directly from the manufacturer of the product (rather than a wholesaler) will get you the best prices. If you are not able to buy in bulk, consider splitting the cost with other sellers. You can sometimes find partners on wholesale forum sites (like SaleHoo’s members’ forum) and arrange to split a shipment.
Now that you have decided on what product you want to sell and who you are going to buy it from, it is time to make everything official and legal! Yes, that means taking the step to becoming a real online business.
Setting Up Your Business
So, you have got all the ingredients to launch your online business, now you just need to make everything official. Every country has different requirements when it comes to setting up a business, so it is always a good idea to speak to an accountant or lawyer to get professional advice.
However, to make sure you are getting started on the right foot, here are the four main things you need to consider when setting up your business.
· Choosing a business name
Make sure it is something you feel comfortable broadcasting via your social channels as well as in person. For example, do not name your business “Miss Kay’s Underwear Store” even if you are selling underwear. Who is going to want to share (or even click on) a store’s social page if they think it is a joke? Make sure your business name is on-brand. Even better, choose something original so that the .com domain name is still available.
· Registering your business
Business regulations are different across countries and, in the United States, they vary from city to city and state to state. A simple Google search of your country and city will tell you whether you need to register your business to operate legally.
· Applying for a Sales Tax ID (or reseller’s license)
If you are serious about starting an online retail business and sourcing products from wholesalers, in most US states, you’ll need a Sales Tax ID. A Sales Tax ID is a number you obtain from your state and/or local government that allows you to charge sales tax whenever a buyer in your state, county, and/or city purchases an item from you, even if it’s an online purchase. Note: This is only relevant for businesses in the US, or with customers in the US.
· Setting up payment options for your store
When you launch your online store, you want to be ready to start accepting money. That means you need to offer a range of payment options for your customers. These days, it is common for online stores to cater for credit cards, PayPal, Stripe, After pay. You do not need to be signed up for every payment option, but the more flexible you are, the more sales you will make.
Choosing What Platforms to Sell On
Now that you know what you are selling and your business is set up legally, it is time to choose where you want to sell. There are a lot of options, but how do you know which is best for you?
What Is the Best Platform to Sell Online for You?
I wish I could tell you that a specific online marketplace is the best one for you, but it really depends on what you are selling and what you’re hoping to achieve with your business. Each platform has its own pros and cons, so it pays to do a bit of research into a few different platforms before deciding which one you will use to start selling online.
You should also consider starting your own online store using a platform like Shopify so you don’t have to compete in a crowded marketplace like Amazon or eBay.
What to Look for in an Online Store Solution?
- How many users does that platform have? The more users, the more potential customers for your business. That is almost always a good thing!
- How many sellers does the platform have? The more sellers (particularly sellers in your niche), the more competition you will have. It is a good idea to weigh up the number of sellers against the number of potential customers.
- What seller’s fees do you have to pay? Every fee eats into your profit margins. Do the calculations to see what the platform will cost you.
- What type of goods are you selling? Some platforms are more suited to specific types of products. For instance, Etsy has a reputation as being great for arts, crafts, and creative goods.
- How reliable is the platform? Are you confident the platform will exist 10 years from now? It is hard to know, but if you build your business and customer base on a platform you want to be sure it is going to stick around.
- How much flexibility does the platform allow you? Some online marketplaces have strict guidelines you must follow. If you make a mistake, your account can be suspended. Whereas, with your own website, you have complete freedom. It is up to you to decide what is best for you.
Where Can I Sell My Products Online?
There are a lot of platforms where you can sell your products, but the two biggest players are eBay and Amazon. However, there are plenty of viable alternatives, including setting up your own website with the help of SaleHoo, Shopify, or WooCommerce. Let us look at some of the best online marketplace options for your new business.
- eBay – You are probably already familiar with eBay being the big daddy of the online auction sites. eBay is great for selling all kinds of products, such as used goods, and one-off items you’ve purchased from liquidation sales (that’s when a store is getting rid of a bunch of old stock or going out of business). The thing with eBay is that prices can be low, and for many products, it can be hard to make a profit. You will need to make sure you are choosing the right product when dipping into the eBay marketplace.
- Amazon – Amazon is a bit more “high end” than eBay, mainly because they have a rigorous screening process you must go through just to sell on their platform. That said, you can sell products at a much higher price than eBay. They also have more site traffic and people will see you as an actual store, rather than just a Regular Joe selling bits and bobs from around the house. Let’s not forget that Amazon has their FBA (fulfilled by Amazon) program which you can use to have them store and ship your products for you. This can allow you to grow your business without needing to hire more staff to help you pack and ship goods.
- Your own website – Having your own store gives you greater freedom, less competition, and no seller fees, but it is a little trickier to set up. You can use platforms like Shopify to easily set up an online store or integrate a plugin like WooCommerce with your WordPress site.
- Other alternatives – Other online platforms such as Etsy and Bonanza can also be used to build successful eCommerce businesses.
Marketing Strategies for Your Online Store
Congratulations! Your online store is up and running. Now you need to attract customers to your listings or website. This is where your marketing strategy comes in. You cannot just sit back and expect the money to start rolling in. It is time to get to work.
How Do I Start a Successful Online Store?
You have already got the first ingredient to running a successful online store: A great product! But there are several other factors you need to get right from the beginning to ensure long-term success.
- Good quality copy in your listings: The words you use to sell your products should sell the benefits to your customers. Do not just use the description the supplier provides. Inject some fun and personality into your listings with a creative copy.
- Good quality photos: You would be surprised how many people decide to buy something based on a photo. Make sure your photos are high quality and show the product at all angles. Include an in-scale image and highlight important features. Great photography is an easy way to set your listings apart from the rest.
- A marketing strategy: You should have a plan for how to promote your business outside of your chosen platform so that you can attract more customers to your listings and make more sales. This should include paid and organic marketing methods, such as Facebook advertising and email list building.
- Ask customers for reviews: Positive reviews tell potential customers that you are a trustworthy seller with a good product. You should ask your customers to leave reviews to put your future customers at ease when they land on your listings.
How Do I Become a Good Seller?
- Provide excellent customer service: Treat every interaction with a customer as though they are your first and last customer. Be polite, honest, and provide all the information they ask for. Your customers are your business’ lifeblood. Without them, you do not really have a business at all.
- Fast shipping: Customers expect to receive their products quickly – often the next day. If you are drop shipping products from China, make sure your customers understand that and have some other benefit, such as a lower price, that makes the wait worth it.
- Always be improving: Immerse yourself in the world of eCommerce. Try and pick up on trends before your competition. Offer additional services or benefits to your customers. Be adaptable and do not become complacent. The online world changes rapidly and you need to be ready to change with it.
- Enjoy the ride: Starting your own business should be exciting and fun and, potentially, provide you with the freedom to work for yourself full-time. Try and take the time to appreciate the experience and be thankful that you are not stuck in an office working a job you do not like that much. When you are enjoying your work, you are more likely to succeed.
How Can I Market My Product Online for Free?
When you are starting out selling online, you probably will not have a big marketing budget like major retail brands. In fact, you might not have any money put aside for marketing. Thankfully, there are a lot of ways you can market your products online for free – if you are willing to invest some time into learning how to do it.
- Social media marketing: Every business worth its weight in salt should have a social media presence. Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter – they are all great for promoting your business and products and you do not have to spend a cent. You can build an audience simply by sharing interesting and engaging photos and content associated with your product or niche.
- Start a blog: Blogging is still one of the most popular content marketing methods. If you are selling outdoor/hiking equipment, why not start a blog on your website that your audience will enjoy. It can be great for SEO and will likely help convert customers over time.
- Start a YouTube channel: Vlogging is another option. If you are good in front of a camera and having something interesting to say, why not set up a YouTube channel and start talking to your audience and customers that way?
- Positive PR: Do something that is newsworthy. You will have to get creative, but if you can do something that generates media attention for your business that is some of the best free marketing you can get. Just make sure it is not a cheap “stunt” that could end up doing damage to your reputation.
- Competitions: Try giving some of your products away via competitions that you can run on whatever social media or website channels you are using. It might not be 100% free, but it can be a great way to draw attention to your business and products.
Paid Marketing Strategies for Your Online Store
If you have some money to spend on paid advertising, it can be a worthwhile investment. Paid advertising allows you to target specific audiences with your products and generate traffic to your listings immediately. Paid advertising is the only method that some online sellers, especially drop shippers, use to make sales. If you can, it is optimal to use a mix of free and paid marketing to give your online store the best chance of success.
- Facebook Ads – Facebook is the world’s largest social media platform with 2.4 billion users. It also has one of the most advanced advertising platforms that allow you to target people based on their location, age, gender, interests, and online behavior. This is an extremely powerful tool for online sellers. It does cost money, but you can start with a strategy that costs just $10-$20 a day and once you find an advertisement that’s working and converting customers, you can start spending more. The more you advertise, the more data Facebook collects on your audiences. This helps with targeting and retargeting, helping Facebook to connect your ads with the people who are most likely to purchase your products. Facebook Ads are a case of having to spend money to make money.
- Instagram Ads – Facebook owns Instagram, so the ads you set up on Facebook can also run on Instagram. You can choose to run ads on Instagram as posts or stories and you can target people the same way that you can with Facebook. You want to create ads that are native to the platform, meaning they do not look like ads and blend into
- Google Ads – Google is the world’s most-used search engine. Google Ads lets you place ads within search results. You know those recommended links you see at the top of search results? Those are paid ads. Google also allows you to target specific keywords relevant to your product or niche. You can set a monthly cap on how much you are willing to spend on your Google Ads, but the average cost is said to be between $1 and $2 per click. Google also owns YouTube, which is another platform to consider advertising on.
Almost every online marketplace has its own paid advertising platform to promote your products. You should start by focusing on the platforms that your customers are likely to be engaging in most. Paid advertising is fast becoming a must-have for growth and success in eCommerce. It is worth becoming familiar with the different platforms as soon as you have some money to experiment with.
Creating a Brand for Your Online Store
A great way to differentiate your online store from the masses is by creating a professional and recognizable brand.
When creating a brand make sure it meets these criteria:
- It is simple, memorable, and professional
- It is original (check that the domain name is available)
- It aligns with your business, its values, and aesthetic
- You will not be embarrassed by it in 10 years
How to Create an SEO Strategy for Your eCommerce Business
While social media and content marketing strategies, outlined above, help with Search Engine Optimization (SEO), you will want to have a specific SEO strategy that bumps your business up the list on popular search engines.