Are you interested in selling stuff online?
Perhaps you dream of quitting the rat-race and starting your own Amazon or eBay business (which means working in your PJs, taking long weekends whenever you feel like it, waking up at 10 in the morning, and answering to nobody since you are the boss…)
Or perhaps you simply want a few more dollars in your pocket.
Irrespective of your reasons for wishing to get started, e-commerce presents endless amazing opportunities for those with access to the Internet. Of all the ways to make money online, it is probably one of the easiest to understand and get involved with.
The following guide to the world of selling online will show you how to do it properly and exactly where to start!
However, like everything, there is the benefits and drawbacks you should be aware of.
First, the good stuff…
Why is Online Selling So Amazing?
Working from home in your PJs is definitely something great, but there are many other great reasons for working at home to build an e-commerce business:
You get to set your own hours, you work from home, and you determine the extent to which you want to take it. The possibilities are practically limitless. Wish to build an online business empire? Wish to make a few more dollars to save? In the world of online selling, there is no glass ceiling and you never have to worry about sucking up to a boss. It is pure freedom.
It is something you may have probably already experienced. If you have ever sold or purchased something on the Internet, you have an understanding of how it works, which is what makes online selling an easier skill to understand than most other home business options.
You will be free to pursue your own interests. Do you love fly fishing? Refurbishing antique dolls? Cake decorating? When you start to sell online, you can often establish a profitable business of your passions.
It is neither as risky nor as difficult as starting a conventional business. You never have to invest too much of your money when you first get started and don’t actually have to worry about leasing or buying a physical property. The barriers to entry in this business are quite low, which means that just about anyone can try it out.
What is stopping you?
You never have to bother yourself with storing inventory if you don’t wish to!
It is fun and by the end of the guide, you will most likely agree with this assessment.
So, what are the Drawbacks?
Online selling has a few drawbacks just like with anything else in life. It is important to know about these before you get started so that you can set realistic expectations for yourself.
It will take time. You may have to wait a month or two before you start to see consistent results. It is highly unlikely that you will accumulate over $100 worth of sales on your first day.
There is a learning curve. If you have previously sold things online, you are already a step ahead of the competition. However, you will have to step up your game if you wish to sell online professionally.
You will have to wear different hats. You are the business owner and the amazing team of one especially when getting started. You will have to play the role of a marketer, accountant, web designer, and various other roles as required. It means that you will be shouldering all the responsibility. You cannot blame anybody but yourself if something goes wrong.
Not all the income is passive. Hopefully, you will be dealing with regular customer inquiries, sales, and shipments. This means that you will be very involved with the business until you are able to afford to hire staff. Even then, you will have to continue being involved in all that happens.
Simply put, it is not a scheme for getting rich quickly.
However, if you are ready to spend some of your time developing your brand, building a reputation, and optimizing the processes then the opportunities are endless.
Are You Ready for a Challenge?
Brace yourself since you are ready to embark upon an incredible journey.
With a bit of persistence and hard work, you could be soon handing in your two-week notice at your current job to take on your online business full-time.
So where should you begin?
Getting Started: Sell Things Around Your House
The first recommendation is that you head over to eBay (or a local equivalent) and try to sell some of the things lying around your house.
Why should you start by selling household items instead of driving straight into the things you really want to sell?
There are several good reasons for doing this first:
You will receive some seller feedback. People are often cautious about new sellers and this will give you some notches under your belt so that people are comfortable buying from you.
You get experience. You will learn how to capture photos, create listings, and deal with customers positively.
You will earn some extra cash. You can then use your earnings towards your first “real” stock purchase.
Here are a few tips for getting the first few sales under your belt.
Step 1: Find Items to Sell
You might not think that you have anything lying around in your house worth selling. Your trash might be another person’s treasure to paraphrase the popular saying.
A quick word of wisdom: If you find something you believe might sell but are not completely sure, check to see whether anyone else is selling it. If another person is selling a similar item, chances are you can too.
However, even if nobody is selling a similar item, it is still worth a shot. Experiment with various products to find those that sell the best. You might even find a lucrative niche doing this.
Once you have had some experience selling second-hand items, move to the next step…
Step 2: Taking Pictures
Pictures are the foundation of a great product listing. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words.
The best thing about taking pictures of your items is that you don’t have to use an expensive camera to do it, and you don’t require a fancy studio setup.
Your phone camera should work just fine. The important thing is to capture clear images so that people are able to see what they are buying.
For this, you just require some common sense…
Use a plain-colored background. Having other things in the background of the pictures for the listings can be very off-putting and distracting. Ensure that the focus is always on the product by eliminating any background distractions.
Keep your camera still. Blurry images are the worst and completely unprofessional. It usually happens if you don’t have enough light, which means that even the tiniest shake of your hand blurs the image. The best way to ensure good quality images is by moving to an area with better lighting, putting the camera on a steady surface, or using a tripod.
Take pictures from different angles. The best way to show off pictures is capturing them from different sides. It helps customers build a better picture of the item in their minds.
Show the product in use. For instance, if it a used dress, capture photos of somebody wearing it rather than simply laying it flat. It will help customers see how well it fits since it will ultimately affect their decision as to whether to buy or not.
Step 3: Create An Awesome Description For Each Item
After you have your products accounted for and eye-catching photos for each one, an awesome description will really help you bring it all together. Don’t be too vague or short. Minor details won’t cut it; you really need to make the product sound as essential as possible. If anyone is ever to feel inspired to make the purchase without seeing the item first hand, the text needs to convince them that it’s just as good as the photographs make it seem. Make sure you include the following details:
The Composition Of The Product
If you have an item like a bracelet, you need to let your customers know what type of material is being used. Be sure to include every detail that you can, even if it’s plain to see in the photos.
The Dimensions And Weight
The dimensions and the weight will help give a better “mind’s eye view” of the product. Photographs can easily make items seem larger than they really are, resulting in guaranteed returns and disgruntled feedback.
Flaws And Damage
No matter what, you always have to account for any flaws that the product may have. If you attempt to brush over it, it’s only going to hurt your reliability and future potential for business. You should also be sure that your images show off the flaws as well. This will help build the trust of your customers, a feat that is absolutely priceless.
The Benefits Of The Product
Don’t focus solely on stating how amazing the product is. You need to let your customers know what’s actually in it for them if they make the purchase. Try to come up with just as many potential benefits as technical features!
You need to write with passion and emotion in order to evoke the same feeling from your audience. Plainly stating facts won’t get you very far. Be sure to jazz up your descriptions with fun adjectives (where appropriate) and a cheery (albeit not corny) attitude.
Step 4: Create Your Sales Listings
Now that you have all of the tools necessary to get the point across about your products, it’s time for you to make them available to the public! The details of how you go about listing items will differ from one online marketplace to the next, but all of the major sources should have help pages to assist you if you get lost. Some of the most useful online sources right now are eBay and Craigslist. You might also have success with Facebook groups, or even your own personal website.
Step 5: Watch Over Your Sales
Once your listings have gone live, you might feel as if all you need to do is sit and wait. If you notice there’s not much attention being drummed up however, you need to take action. Lower the prices and advertise the listings more if need be. You should also be sure to have plenty of shipping supplies on hand for when everything does eventually sell; speedy delivery is always important!
Although it isn’t quite fair for individual sellers, major online retailers such as Amazon have such lighting fast service and relatively low pricing that everyone else has to do their best to keep up. You need to keep in regular contact with your customers and provide excellent packing and shipping for them. This will help you develop positive feedback and the possibility of return customers, both of which will keep you afloat as you move forward.
Be sure to include a tracking number for your shipments as well; this will help give you a layer of protection from customers claiming they never received their packages. You can also use the tracking to note when you haven’t received any comments or feedback. In that event, you might want to send a friendly e-mail along these lines:
“Hello, (customer name)!
Thank you so much for your purchase of (the product)!
I’m reaching out in order to make sure that your package arrived as expected. If you have questions or concerns, feel free to get back in touch!
If everything was to your liking, I’d greatly appreciate if you could leave some review comments or feedback at (relevant link to your seller page).
After you’ve made even a small number of sales, you’ll slowly start getting the hang of it. You might even find the entire process fun! As long as you honor your customers’ needs, you’ll be growing a strong reputation in no time (and it will only get better from there).
How To Move On To Professional Sales
Have you really gotten the bug for selling? If you find that selling items is something you’re really cut out for, you might want to consider making it your full-time job. Many people operate wildly successful online businesses this way; you’re more than welcome to give it a go yourself! With that said, here are a few steps to help you get off on the right foot:
Find Products You Believe In
Selling anything and everything might help you get started, but you’ll likely tire of it. To keep yourself motivated, you really need to pick a product that you fully believe in. Operating within smaller niches will put you in the best position, but anything that you’re passionate about will serve you well.
Find A Reliable Supplier
You should also look into finding product suppliers to help keep your costs at a minimum. Salehoo is a great resource! Once you have a few wholesale suppliers in mind, it’s as simple as reaching out and seeing who might be able to work something out with you.
Assure The Legality Of Your Sales
You should also be sure that you’re selling official products rather than bootlegged materials. Do your research on every aspect of your products and the suppliers you aim to rely upon.
Decide Upon Your Marketplace
Don’t sweat it if you decide that eBay isn’t for you. (You should never rule out the option, however). Between the likes of Amazon, Facebook, and Etsy, there are a wealth of alternative options out there. You should pick one to rely upon over all others in order to make your life a little easier, but spreading stock throughout several venues may occasionally prove useful.
Choosing Your Products
There’s quite a difference when it comes to getting rid of random belongings and becoming a professional seller. Deciding exactly what you need to sell is often the most difficult aspect of the process. Of all the countless items that are on the marketplace, how do you know where to start? Above all, make sure your products meet these requirements:
- A Profit Can Be Made
- The Product Has Demand
- The Competition Is Bearable
Steps For Finding A Supplier
When you’ve decided what you want to sell, the next step is nearly self-explanatory; find a person who can supply it for you!
Of course, just because it’s obvious doesn’t mean it’s easy. Finding someone to supply can take quite a bit of time, and that’s presuming you find a supplier that’s honest and helpful.
If you want to find a supplier, there are two ways:
Wholesale directories are the first place to go. SaleHoo is a popular one, but it’s not the only one. As you might suspect, these are directories full of wholesale suppliers. The best are carefully organized and searchable.
These directories can make it quite a bit easier to find those suppliers you need. If you really want to find a good supplier, you may want to look into membership-only directories. They may charge a fee, but they also tend to do background checks and other checks on supply companies in order to ensure they’re legitimate.
Google search. If you haven’t figured out how to use Google by now, then you probably shouldn’t be trying to sell things online! It’s fairly simple to do a Google search, and you’ll no doubt get a large number of results if you have a few useful keywords.
That said, there are a number of things you have to watch out for. It’s hard to tell if a company’s website looks terrible because the company is terrible, or if they simply don’t have the money for a good website even though they’re a good company. And then there are the companies that spend plenty on marketing so that they don’t have to spend anything on actually helping customers. If you’re considering an unverified supplier, be cautious.
Contacting A Supplier
Once you have a few different suppliers that you’d like to do business with, it’s time to actually make contact.
We always recommend a telephone call rather than other forms of communication. Email contact is helpful since you have everything in writing. But for the initial contact, it’s helpful to speak directly with the other person. It will give you a much better idea of who they are and whether or not they’re on the level.
It’s not always easy to call a supplier on the phone, so if you need some help check out our guide to contacting a supplier. We can help you find out what to expect, what questions you should ask, and what red flags to look for in order to ensure you’re not getting taken for a ride.
Are you finally happy with your choice of suppliers? Great! Now it’s time to get down to the brass tacks.
Suppliers want to charge as much as possible, even the good ones. This is no different from you or any other business. That said, the lower the price you pay, the more profit you make.
So what can you do in order to get the best possible deal? There are a number of things you can do that may entice the supplier to give you a lower price. These include:
- Ordering in bulk – If you’re making a large enough order, the supplier may be willing to drop the price per unit. Some suppliers only offer a basic discount for first-time buyers, but if you become a repeat customer you may get an even better price.
- Developing a relationship with your supplier never hurts – Just like with anyone else, the more trustworthy and dependable you are the more your supplier will be willing to work with you. Try not to take advantage of them, since you wouldn’t want to be taken advantage of. But there’s no harm in asking if you can get a bit of a discount if you’ve been buying long enough.
- Buy directly from the manufacturer if at all possible – Just like buying something at retail price means buying smaller amounts for a higher price per unit, buying wholesale means the same thing when you compare it to buying from the manufacturer. Of course, manufacturers often demand you purchase enough to fill a wholesale order. There are ways around this, however. Your best option is to find other sellers to split the cost. If you’re all buying the same product, then there’s no reason you shouldn’t work together to save money.
So, you have your supplier, you have your product, what’s next? Actually ensuring you can sell the products online!
Making It Legal
While there are generally federal level laws involving online sales, many smaller jurisdictions will have their own laws that must also be followed. You may need to register as a local business or have certain kinds of licenses in order to buy from local suppliers.
If you need some advice on setting up your business, check out our “Business Basics” article. Here are a few things you’ll have to consider:
Choosing the name of your business: You should think carefully about this one. The name of your store is something you’ll have to plaster all over the internet. It has to attract people’s attention, but it also has to convince them to visit your shop. Naming your shop after a witty double entendre may be amusing in theory, but it’s a lot less funny when no one visits your page because they think it’s a joke.
Make absolutely certain you apply for a tax ID or a reseller license, depending on what your local laws demand. Having these certifications keep the government from taking everything or charging you with illegal selling.
Make sure you have a solid understanding of what business structure you should use. You’re building an empire, not a short-term tent city. Plan for the long-game, rather than taking actions that seem immediately profitable but lead to diminishing returns. Empires are meant to last forever, and yours should be no different.
Choose Where You Want To Sell
When it comes to online sales, there aren’t a lot of options.
When you’re starting out, your best bet is to stick with the two big marketplaces; eBay and Amazon. Why?
eBay – eBay has been around for nearly 20 years now, so it’s no wonder so many people use it for online sales. It’s a great website for used goods and one-off items you’re hoping to get rid of quickly rather than keep in stock.
The downside of eBay is that it’s not a highly profitable marketplace. There are certain products that can command a high price, but for the most part, eBay sales are priced cheap. Plan your sales appropriately, and don’t go to eBay expecting to rake in the cash.
Amazon – Part of why eBay runs cheap is because of the ease with which a person can become a seller. All you have to do is set up an account, and you run an online store. Amazon has a much more rigorous screen process, which means only companies profitable enough to prove their worth can sell on the platform.
In addition, Amazon has a certain credibility that eBay simply doesn’t have. Amazon is considered a place for online stores, whereas eBay is considered an online garage sale. In addition, Amazon offers sellers quite a few options that eBay doesn’t offer. One of the more popular options is the FBA (fulfilled by Amazon) program.
With this program, you can pay Amazon to store and ship products on your behalf. While it’s not suitable for every business, you may find it a better option than drop shipping or attempting to find product storage on your own.
Amazon and eBay are the biggest marketplaces, but there are a number of smaller online marketplaces that might be suitable for your company.
And of course, you can always set up your own website with an online shop feature.
This gives you a lot more freedom in terms of how you offer your product and what customer services you’re able to perform. In addition, you won’t have to pay a seller’s fee to a third party. That said, it takes a bit more time and effort to set up. If you’d like some advice on doing so, check our article “Setting Up Your Own Webstore”. It should help you decide which direction you want to go.
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