The beginners' guide to starting a business selling things online
So you’re interested in selling stuff online, eh?
Perhaps you have dreams of quitting the rat-race to start your own eBay or Amazon business (which obviously involves waking up at 10am, working in your pajamas, taking long weekends whenever you like, and answering to nobody because you're the boss...)
Or perhaps you just want a few extra bucks in your back pocket.
Whatever your reason for wanting to get started, eCommerce offers huge opportunities for anyone with an internet connection. Of all the ways of making money online, it's perhaps one of the easiest to understand and get started with.
Our ten-minute guide to the world of online selling will show you where to start, and how to do it right!
Like everything, however, there are pros and cons you should know about.
First, let's start with the good stuff…
While working from home in your pajamas is definitely a plus, there are plenty of other amazing reasons to work from home while building your own eCommerce business:
Like anything in life, selling online comes with a few downsides. It's important you're aware of these before you get begin, so you set yourself realistic expectations.
To simplify, this isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme.
But if you're happy to spend a little time building a reputation, developing your brand, and optimizing your processes... the sky's the limit.
We had a feeling you would be! Brace yourself, you’re about to embark upon an amazing journey.
With enough elbow grease and a little bit of persistence, you could be handing in your two week notice at your regular job, and taking on your online business full-time.
So where do you even start?
The first thing we recommend you do is to jump on eBay (or your local equivalent) and try selling some things you have lying around the house.
Why should you start by selling household bits and bobs, rather than diving straight in with the stuff you really want to sell?
There are a few good reasons to do this first:
Let’s talk about how you can get your first few sales under your belt.
You might not think you have anything around the house worth selling, but don't be so hasty. One man's trash is another man's treasure, as they say. If you're not sure where to start, check out our article on what you could sell on eBay.
A quick word of advice: If you find something you think might sell but you're not 100% sure, check eBay to see if someone else is selling it. Chances are if someone else is selling it, you can too.
But, even if they’re not, it’s worth a shot! Experiment with different products to see which one sells the best. You may even find your niche by doing this!
Once you've rustled up your quality second-hand goods, move onto the next step…
The foundations of a good product listing are the pictures! After all, a picture is worth 1,000 words. The best part about taking pictures of your items is: they don’t have to be taken with a top-of-the-line camera, and you don't need a fancy studio setup.
The camera on your phone will work just fine! The most important thing is that the images are clear and people can see what they're buying.
And for this you just need a little common sense…
For more information on how to take great stock photos, check out our guide to taking photos for your listings.
Now that you've got your products and your photos, it’s time to write a kickass description to seal the deal.
Don't be stingy with your product description — Just saying "Used, good condition" probably isn't going to cut it.
Remember that people are buying your product without getting to see it or hold it, so make up for this with a detailed description. Try to mention…
For a detailed discussion of how to write listings that sell well, see our guide to writing powerful product listings.
With a pile of items, pictures, and descriptions ready, it’s time to list them for sale online!
The actual nitty-gritty details of how you list something in an online marketplace really depends on which marketplace you’re using, so we won't bog you down in details right here.
If you’re selling on eBay and you want a step-by-step guide, check out our guide to listing your first item on eBay.
Once your listings are created and online, it's just a matter of waiting to see if they sell. If they don't sell, re-list them with an updated price (or product description).
If your products do sell, package those goods well and send them off to your customer as soon as you can.
This is your chance to wow your customer with your careful packaging, swift shipping, and great customer service. Remember that part of your mission here is to earn some good feedback, so be as courteous as possible!
If you’re able to, shoot your customers an email to ask them how they liked the product. If they haven’t written feedback yet, ask them if they wouldn’t mind writing one.
I'll usually send my customer an email like this:
Hey, [their name]!
Thanks for purchasing [your product]!
I just wanted to reach out to you to make sure it arrived on time and in good shape. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to get in touch.
Also, if you found the process easy, I'd really appreciate it if you give me a review by going to [link to review].
Once you've made a few sales of things from around the house, you'll have a taste of what it’s like to be an online seller.
You’ll have received some feedback from your customers (which builds trust with future customers), and will have learned some good lessons about what works (as well as what doesn't work) for you.
Are you feeling the buzz, yet?
If you're loving the process of selling things online, and you feel like it's something you might want to do for a living, it's time to get serious and start building your own online business.
Here are a few simple steps to get you started:
As you can tell, there’s a big difference between selling stuff from around the house and selling professionally.
Deciding what to sell is often the hardest part of the entire process, and certainly the most time-consuming. Of the billions of products out there, how do you know which one to sell?
For the full run-down on choosing a product to sell, see our “What to sell?” article. But in general, you're looking for a product that meets these requirements:
Once you have an idea of what you’d like to sell, the next step is to find a supplier for that particular product.
Finding a supplier is probably the second most time-consuming part of selling online, and also comes with a raft of boobytraps to avoid... so be careful.
There are two main ways to look for suppliers:
Check out our “Finding a Supplier” article for a detailed guide to finding the right supplier for you.
Once you've identified some prospective suppliers, it's time for you to reach out!
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.
If the idea of calling up a supplier gives you the willies, see our guide to contacting a supplier. In this article, we talk about what to expect, what to ask, and red flags that might indicate the supplier is no good.
Found a suitable-looking supplier? That’s great! 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'll eventually sell it 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 could:
Now that you’ve decided on what product you want to sell and who you’re going to buy it from, it’s time to make everything official and legal!
It's important to check the legal requirements in your country or state for small businesses selling online. You might need to register a business name (or file a "DBA" in the U.S), as well as additional licenses when dealing with suppliers.
See our “Business Basics” article for more on getting your business set up. Some things you’ll want to do include:
Now that you know what you’re selling and you’re set up legally, it’s time to choose where you want to sell.
The two big marketplaces most people start with are eBay and Amazon. Why? We’re glad you asked:
Even though eBay and Amazon are the big players, there are quite a few alternative marketplaces you might also want to look into.
One last option is to set up a store on your own website...
Having your own store gives you greater freedom, less competition and no seller fees, but it's a little trickier to set up. See our article, setting up your own webstore, to figure out whether this is something you want to do.
Now that you’re set up and selling, it’s time to focus on marketing and growing your new store. You need to develop your brand and show people what you’re about and give them a reason to buy from you rather than your competitors!
You may also want to start considering your pricing and shipping strategies.
Finally, if you’re selling on your own webstore, you need to focus on social media, email, and content marketing to get customers to your store and keep them coming back.
Now that you’re up and running, here are some additional resources to help you out:
Additionally, here are some other great blogs to follow that frequently post content to help you along your online selling journey:
We hope this guide has helped you understand the basics of selling online! If you follow the tips and tricks we’ve shared, we know you’ll be an eCommerce mastermind in no time
eCommerce is a fantastic (and fun) way to make some extra cash online — and potentially build a full-time income. It also gives you the freedom to be your own boss while doing something you really love.
If you’ve found this article helpful, be sure to share it with your friends! As always, thanks for counting on SaleHoo to provide you with the tips and tricks needed to create your dream store.
Want to know what sells best online? Leave your email and we’ll send you our top four niches for 2017. These are niches you can almost ALWAYS make good profit in. We’ll also give you contact details for our favourite suppliers in those niches, so you can get started selling today.