eCommerce is one of the most promising industries in today’s world. It’s a golden opportunity for small businesses to grow.
If we talk about facts and figures, online sales increased by 44% and represented 21.3% of the total retail sales in the US in 2020.
Of course, the pandemic had something to do with that. But these numbers have been on the rise since, which indicates that this industry has gotten the push it needed and now is the perfect time for you to expand your business over the borders of the internet.
Whether you have an existing business or want to start from scratch, getting online is not rocket science. That said, it gets smooth when you are up and running, but before jumping on the wagon, you must do some research.
You have to find a product you want to sell (if you don’t already have one) and figure out who your potential customers are. Then, you need to consider how exactly you will deliver those products to your customers.
Once you have all the answers ready, you will have the strategy for the win. After all, “knowing how to sell” is essential before you start selling.
Here is a complete guide to selling online!
1. Find Your Products
Online sellers typically source products in three ways: DIY, wholesale, and drop-shipping. Each of these methods has its own set of benefits and drawbacks. Whichever way you choose, you have to look for the products that you feel passionate about, which can meet a need in the marketplace or fulfill a gap.
DIY (do it yourself) products are those you make yourself. These products can be a small batch of homemade cookies or a 3D print factory in your garage.
The most beneficial part of these products is that they can be gratifying for the producer–you are doing what you love to do while being creative and earning money for it.
However, these products are usually the most expensive ones to produce. That is because people don’t often factor in the time and energy it has taken to produce a product – they do it like it’s a hobby, and they don’t consider cost-cutting.
In many cases, the premium is charged for the handcrafted and highly specialized products once the time and energy are factored in. If you are trying to take your home-based business online, be sure to reassess your production strategy and factor in everything you are inputting into the business.
Wholesale products fit your traditional retail model–buying products from a wholesaler and retailing them to a customer. Wholesale products are available on websites like Alibaba and Etsy. You can also go to a physical wholesale market to buy products in bulk.
If you are buying products online, it’s important to be careful when you are buying products wholesale. You have to be sure about the source–you can check Better Business Bureau (BBB) listings. Ask a lot of questions before placing your first order. In other words, make sure that the products will arrive in quality, quantity, and condition as they were promised.
Drop-shipped products are those you market and take orders for, but your supplier fulfills the order. You don’t have to buy or sell the product. You just advertise it and take orders.
This convenience is offset by a lower profit margin and tough competition because the product isn’t unique, and probably many people (online shops) are selling it at a similar price, possibly through the same supplier.
AliExpress, Oberlo, Wholesale2B, and Megagoods are some of the popular drop-shipping suppliers.
The best way to play in the drop-shipped product market is to select the most unique catalogue of products and advertise them to a niche market.
2. Identify Your Niche Market
While an online seller has access to a massive market, it can face much competition. The most creative way to beat that is to define your niche and work on it.
Think About Your Own Niche
You have to come up with your own niche product. For instance, if you are selling car covers, you will be against the brands that are already well-established and cater to the market. However, if you decide to sell car covers specifically for recreational vehicles or motor homes, you will be targeting a more specific audience with a lot less competition.
One way to start developing your niche is by thinking about the areas in which you are already experienced or passionate about.
Maybe you are a member of any social board, social media group, or online community where people share your interests. You can start from there and develop your market from there.
Make Sure It’s Viable
Whether or not you are experienced in or passionate about the niche you have decided on, you have to ensure that it will work. The key to doing that is to know your market.
To do that,
- Use Google Trends to see what’s trending.
- Join message boards and social media groups to interact with communities interested in your niche market.
- Check what’s hot on sites such as Trend Hunter and Trendwatching.
- Monitor your competitors and see what they are missing.
- Use Keyword Planner to see how large your niche is in the market.
3. Conduct Market Research
Once you are sure about your niche, you need to figure out if your niche market will buy what you are offering–and how much they are willing to pay. In other words, you must assess the value you are offering in the market.
To conduct market research, ask yourself the following questions and learn more about their answers.
- Is the market for your product expanding or declining?
- Are people satisfied with the products already existing in the market? If yes, how much?
- What needs are and aren’t being met?
- What features does the audience perceive? What features do they value?
- What is the average price point of your competitor’s product catalogue?
- What are your potential customer’s problems? Can you solve them?
You need to figure out if there is/will be a sustainable demand for the product you are planning to offer at the price of your choice.
Begin the process by looking at your competitors.
- Are they doing well in the market? Are they expanding, or do you see more and more people going out of business?
- Who are your most successful competitors, and what are they doing right?
- What is missing from the marketplace?
You can conduct formal and informal surveys to see what people are saying about your competition and how they react to your product. Online surveys can also help collect contact information and build your audience.
One mistake that online sellers make is that they charge lower prices than competitors and assume that they are automatically better. That’s not how it works. If your product is of high quality, people will be willing to pay a premium price.
If your target audience thinks your competitors’ products are overpriced, you can step in and offer them a more economical option.
4. Create Buyer Personas
A buyer persona is a visualized image of your target customers as a specific person. This image of a specific person is going to represent your whole audience, so you need to think critically when you are creating your brand’s buyer persona.
Going ahead with the example of car covers for recreational vehicles (RVs), you can imagine your specific customer as a middle-class family of four; a wife, a husband, and two kids. They like to travel to different places with different climates in their RV. So, they need a cover for their RV that can withstand every climate, whether it is too much rain or a sandstorm. They need the cover because they don’t want their RV paint ruined or get their RV roof full of debris.
Or, you can imagine your customer persona as an individual traveller who takes his RV out twice or thrice a year on a road trip, but he is not travelling, and the RV is parked outside his house. He needs to cover it to protect it from spray painters, insects, debris, and harmful weather conditions.
In such fictional stories, you can imagine your target audience and make your advertisements based on them.
Target Each Persona Differently
The strategies (images, language, prices) you use to market to the first buyer persona might be different than those you use to market to the second buyer persona. In other words, there can be hundreds of different personas, and you target each of them differently as your brand grows.
Each buyer might respond to a different persona. So, each persona should be properly conveyed with the help of the details like age, gender, interests, values, etc.
5. Brand Your Business
Branding your business is essential, no matter how big or small. Your brand identity includes your logo, website, social media pages, and other communicable marketing materials for customers. By making careful choices, you can make a unique brand identity that can attract many people.
The smartest way to start this process is to summarize the qualities you want your brand to convey in a few words. What do you think your brand symbolizes? Is it funky, casual, or formal? Is it sturdy, high quality, reliable or disposable?
Can it be youthful, fun, and exciting? A car cover for RV can be really exciting and adventurous if you portray it right.
Make hand-painted, customizable RV covers, and your brand can be vibrant, fun, exciting, sturdy, high quality, and all at once.
You can make your brand identity specific by giving it a persona. For instance, you can characterize your brand. Some real-life examples of such characterization are Wendy’s, KFC, and Pringles.
Imagine your brand as a cartoon character. Now, what does it look like? How old is it? Does it have a gender? What does it wear? What does it do? And all kinds of questions that you can ask a person.
Many small business owners deliver their brand identity using logos, language, images, and theme colours. You must make each choice carefully so your customers can interpret your brand and memorize it. If you want to make a strong brand identity, here is what you need to focus on.
Almost all brands have a recognizable identity formed by the brand’s colour, logo, and imagery. What you want is for customers to be able to recognize your brand just by looking at a mere picture or logo.
The best way to create that is to choose a colour palette with one main colour and 2 to 3 secondary colours. These colours will make up your brand’s visual identity. They will be used everywhere your brand is concerned.
When choosing colours, choose the ones that can express what you want them to. For instance, red is usually perceived as bold and dynamic, blue is for luxury and comfort, orange is for fun and excitement, and green is for organic and healthy. These typical colour associations can vary from culture to culture or country to country. But you have to make an all-inclusive choice to beat that.
Next, let’s talk about your logo. It should be simple and expressive. You don’t want a complicated design–they usually don’t work well in print. Your logo will be on everything you will ever create, so you must be extremely careful while designing your logo. You don’t want your brand changing logos every few days just because you don’t think the audience likes the current one–you only get to choose one that will be your brand’s identity for life.
We would recommend you hire a graphic designer for a good logo. But if you are on a budget, you can make a logo using Canva and other software.
Similarly, the images you will create or choose to go on your website, ads, and social media should be consistent themes and should express your brand’s identity.
Your brand voice is the words you choose to project your brand’s identity. That includes your mission, vision, aims and objectives in writing, product descriptions, and everything that you will use language in.
When writing a copy, keep the buyer’s personas in mind. Who are you talking to? How are you talking to them? Are you trying to be funny and likeable, or do you want to stay serious and rational?
Your tone will project the kind of customers you want. You must keep them consistent everywhere, including email, product copy, social media, ads, and more.
To be specific, you can create a list of words that you would like to use more than the others that reflect your brand’s identity. For instance, the repeated word list can include “protective,” “unique,” “customizable,” “durable,” and more.
6. Build Your E-Commerce Website
You can’t have a store without a website. Your brand identity and persona will be displayed on your website, so you must make it–and make sure it’s a good one.
Now, this part seems like it’s going to be a strenuous one. But don’t worry. We have broken it down into steps, so you can follow along and get it done right.
Pick the Right Domain Name
The name of your website will be your domain name, which means it will be the name of your business. Now, if you know what your business will be called, you know your domain name. The critical part is the domain name extension (.com, .org, .net, etc.). Choose it wisely.
Secondly, you don’t need a generic domain name. Go more towards what is brandable and unique. Keep in mind that shorter names are always more memorable and easy to search for than longer names. Talking about typing, make sure there are no spelling errors or confusion. It should also be easy to pronounce–if it’s not, then make sure you convey the proper pronunciation to your audience through ads, etc.
A domain name should be without hyphens and numbers–just words work more effectively. Moreover, niche keywords are more result-oriented and reflect your website more, so think about that too.
In other words, you have to think about the long term and not just the short term when thinking about your domain name.
Choose Web Hosting
A website cannot be set up without web hosting. Web hosting is renting a space on the internet from the web host for your website. There are multiple forms of web hosting provided by a huge variety of web hosts.
A good web host is one that offers the most amount of features at a competitive price. Some features to consider while choosing a web hosting are uptime, available storage, monthly traffic, data security, loading speed, customer support, payment methods, and a versatile content management system.
Since you would be running a business on your website, check out important features in business web hosting.
When you start looking for web hosting packages, you will have an unending list of options in front of you. Depending on your business needs and wants, you must choose the right package.
Select the Right Hosting Package
From lots of different options, choosing the right hosting package is certainly a difficult task. As stated above, you must carefully look at the features the host is offering you in the package before you sign up.
Apart from a versatile, efficient, and easy-to-use content management system, what you need is maximum uptime, which means your website will never be shut down because of backend problems. The next thing you need to worry about is the loading speed. Loading speed should be high. Customers don’t wait for a website that is taking forever to load. Opt for the package with enough expandable storage, so you will not be limited with your website when your business is growing.
Moreover, data security is important. Your customer information, order numbers, client list, emails, addresses, everything is on your website, so if your website gets compromised, you will lose all that data. Therefore, you must be careful in choosing the package with optimal and high-rated data security.
Your host should provide you with multiple top-rated payment methods, so your customer has convenience and trusts in your payment procedures. If faced with a problem, your host should be able to provide you with professional support via a suitable platform, whether it is chatting, email, or call.
If you find all these features at an affordable price, you will find the right hosting package.
Get Your Website Designed
Web design is vital when conducting your business on it. You can’t just have a two-page website with a pre-installed theme. You need a website that speaks loud about your business and not just in words.
The logo, pictures, product category pages, product pages, product descriptions, colour schemes, contact methods, ads, and discount banners, and everything should be fully customized, functional, and updated.
The two most important features in web designing are plugins and themes. No matter which content management system you use, you can change themes to suit your business. As for plugins, they are there to make your website’s functions easy and secure.
Customize your website and design it in the most professional, appealing way.
7. Set Up Processes for Payment, Shipping, and Staying In Touch
Before you begin operations on your website, there are some things you need to keep in order. That includes setting up procedures for payment, shipping, and contact.
Depending on your web host, your website can connect with a payment method to receive online payments.
Secondly, if you are handling shipping, you must mention the accurate shipping charges while setting up shipping options. Depending on the country you are based in, you can compare shipping charges from different outlets and mention the one you find the most suitable. For instance, if you are a US-based company, you can compare prices from mainstream shippers, such as USPS, UPS, FedEx, and more.
Customers love free shipping. Free shipping is also a perfect hook to drag in the customers. However, if you are offering that, make sure the costs are built into your product price tag. Regarding the product price, don’t forget to add the cost of packaging materials and boxes.
Apart from that, use customer relationship (CRM) software. It is where the information of your customer is saved once they make a purchase. Once you have that information stored safely, you can send them order notifications and follow up after purchase. That helps in building customer loyalty.
8. Create High-quality Product Content
An ideal situation would be that you’re assembled by web developers, copywriters, graphic designers, product photographers, and marketing pros. However, that’s not how it goes in most small business startups. They all have to do the work themselves.
No shame, but if you are doing all the work alone with little to no experience, just take some tips that will help you.
The images you would add to your website should accomplish two things: make your product appealing and align with your brand identity.
If you receive the product images from the supplier, make sure to polish them before uploading, and by polishing, we mean adding the watermark of your own logo (depending on whether or not you are allowed to do that).
On the other hand, if you take your own photos, keep the following things in mind.
- Set up a bright light or use natural light.
- Move closer to the product for better results. Close-up shots sell more.
- Don’t photograph your product from above. Get down eye-to-eye with it.
- You don’t have to capture the whole product in one frame. Highlight the product’s most specific details in different shots.
- Take tons of photos, then choose the best ones.
- Try a different camera if you are on the fence about the camera result.
A couple of things to remember: choose one signature image with a few images with detailed highlights, give your image file names that include target keywords, and add alt text when uploading them. All these things are so helpful for SEO.
A product description is everything when the customer is about to purchase the product. A product description should be detailed and thorough. That being said, a busy person should be able to understand your product just by glancing at a product description.
Some things to remember when creating product descriptions:
- Utilize the headline space fully. Don’t waste it. Name the products in a descriptive way that tells people exactly what it is. For instance, it should be “Hand-Painted Scenery Travel Denim RV Cover” instead of “RV Cover.”
- When writing product descriptions, start with an overview. In just a sentence or two, explain to people why they should care about this product and what it does for them.
- Keep it brief. People aren’t often willing to read a wall of text. Keep your paragraphs short.
- Use topic headings in between paragraphs. Break down the page and make it scannable.
- Some people will just read the headings, so make sure the headings have compelling, descriptive words.
- Use bullet points to keep your page readable, attractive, and digestible.
- Always encourage people to leave reviews. Consider offering a free product in exchange for the first review of a product.
9. Promote Your Products
When your website is built and products are uploaded with attractive descriptions, it’s time to start promoting them to land potential customers.
There are many ways to promote your products:
- Social media: use hashtags and paid ads.
- Send free samples to small-time celebrities on Instagram and TikTok.
- Connect with your target market through Facebook groups.
- Put your products in front of everyone using Google ads.
- Use content marketing to create blog posts to bring organic traffic.
- Spread word of mouth and encourage your customers to do the same.
- Make YouTube videos to showcase your products.
When it comes to online selling, it is possible that you can sell directly through social media pages (a lot of small-time businesses are doing it). However, making a website and getting the traffic there is a good and reliable practice. That way, customers can join your email list, and you can maintain a formal connection with them forever.
And when we talk about websites, all the things in this guide become necessary, like identifying your niche, getting a brand identity, marketing through content and images, and promoting your products through various platforms.
Furthermore, it’s the website that allows you to integrate a large number of tools and plugins to encourage customers to spend more and check out faster, which makes your online selling more profitable.
Now that you know all there is to know about online selling, we wish you very good luck with your business!