By Laurence Bertone
Before I started my business, I spent a number of years drifting about in the entrepreneurial ocean with only a vague idea of what I wanted to do floating around in my head. The idea was “I want to sell things on the Internet.”
If you are in the same boat, so to speak, then I have some basic, down-to-earth, real-world advice that I hope will help you get your little vessel underway and on course.
There are a number of things you may need to do before starting an Internet-based retail business. For example, you should seriously consider writing a complete business plan; you may also want to create a legal entity to contain the business. There are lots of things you may need to do before starting your own e-commerce business that are well beyond the scope of this article.
However, in terms of actually selling on the Internet, I can tell you from experience, there are at least four things that you are absolutely going to need:
1. Things to Sell
At the risk of sounding obvious, you will need to have “Things” to sell. Also, be aware that certain Things are better suited to selling on the Internet than others. Many articles have been written on this topic, but in general you should be looking for products that are either uniquely available from you or are not widely available from other “brick and mortar” or Internet-based retailers.
Also keep in mind that your success is going to depend on people being able to find your website by searching for your Things on the major search engines like Google and Bing. So before you pick your product you need to do some keyword research–you can do this using the Keyword Planner function on Google AdWords.
Ideally you want to find a product that can be described very precisely using a multi-word (“long tail”) keyword phrase that a significant number of people actually search for every month. It’s easier to rank high on the search engine results pages for a product like this. For example, it’s easier to rank high for “french tablecloths” or “provence tablecloths” than for just “tablecloths.”
2. High Quality Images
Internet retail is the art of selling your Things to people who are sitting (or standing, or walking) in front of screens, looking at digital images. So the quality of your images is extremely important–if you don’t have great pictures of your Things, you’re going to be dead in the water.
If you’re really lucky, your Things may come with beautiful, high quality, high-resolution images. If not, you’ll need to make the images yourself (assuming you have the necessary photography equipment and skills) or hire a professional photographer to do it.
3. An E-Commerce Website
An e-commerce website is a site where you actually sell your Things, and it’s more than just a “regular” website. In addition to providing you with a nice “front end” for displaying your Things, it has a whole “back end” infrastructure for you to manage your Things, take orders, accept credit cards, and much more.
If you want to have your own shopping site, you’ll need to sign up for a hosted e-commerce service like Shopify, Bigcommerce, or Volusion. Luckily all these services make it really easy to get started–they have beautiful, mobile-friendly website templates, free trial periods, and inexpensive monthly subscription plans designed for budding e-commerce businesses.
4. An Internet Marketing Plan
If you want to sell your Things on the Internet, people have to be able to find your Things on the Internet. There are bazillions of pages of information out there about how to use tools like organic search, paid search, social media, email marketing, blogging, and the like to market your Things on the Internet–and you should definitely be prepared to spend some time learning about them. But in the end you will most likely end up doing two things:
- Fighting for “organic” (unpaid) search results, and
- Using some mix of paid advertising from services such as Google AdWords, Google Merchant, Bing Ads, Facebook, Pinterest, and others.
You’ll also have to learn how to monitor the effectiveness of your online marketing efforts using tools like Google Analytics.
Other than that, the best advice I can give you is: get started. Pick one of the hosted e-commerce platform services and sign up for a free trial. Take some glamour shots of your Things. Put the two together and–boom!–you’re in the Internet retail business.
Stop drifting around, start rowing the boat, and before you know it you’ll be selling your Things on the Internet!