One of the most common questions I get asked on this website is – How do you start an online business? People read my posts about the success that I have had with my own online store, and want to know the steps involved in doing something like this for themselves.
Many people assume that starting a business online is difficult and not something that just anyone can do. You wouldn’t believe the number of times I have had people tell me that they wouldn’t know where to start, or that it’s just too difficult and time consuming. Fortunately the truth is of the matter is that this just isn’t the case.
To prove it, today I am going to go through the steps that I used to get my own online store up and selling products.
My Online Store
I’ve spoken about my online store a few times before (here, here, here and here) and it’s something that people are always interested in. For those of you that aren’t interested in going through my previous posts, I’ll give you a quick overview of my online store and how it came into being:
- August 2013: My wife and I decided we wanted to expand our online income activities and started brainstorming.
- September 2013: We decided on an online store and a product we thought might be good to sell.
- October 2013: I created a test website and sold similar products that I found on Amazon.com through my website. This confirmed that the product was something that people wanted to buy.
- November 2013: Bought some starting stock for the business so we had something to sell.
- December 2013: Started working on the website and uploading our products.
- January 2014: Opened the online store to the public.
Since that time I have learned so much about doing business online. I have also recently just started another online store, which has already sold 2 items in it’s first month for about $190!
The store continues to be an excellent source of side income for my wife and I. It currently generates (on average) over $1,000 every month, with some months going past $1,500 (December 2014 was a new record with over $2,500 in sales).
Getting Started With Your Online Business
OK, so enough about my store, let’s get you started with your own one.
Step 1 – Identify a product you can sell
I’m not going to give any details about what I sell on my store, as I don’t want any extra competition, but there are SO MANY things you can get into. If you are stuck for ideas, I recommend heading over to Amazon.com and taking a look at some of the products they sell and see if you think you could also sell them. Or, if you have something already in mind, go with that.
Try to think about how you will store the product, if it has an expiry date and what any shipping costs might be, as this will impact on how successful/profitable your store will be.
Step 2 – Confirm the market
There is no point spending time and money on a product that no one wants to buy. This is where you need to do some research. For my store I went to Google Keyword Planner and checked to see how many searches per month were done on my target product. In my case there were tens of thousands of searches, so I knew I had something that people were looking for.
The minimum number of searches I would target is around 2,500 to 5,000 searches per month (unless you are selling something worth a lot of money). More is obviously better, but likely to be more difficult to rank for.
Go and check Google.com and see what type of sites are ranking for your keyword. If there are lots of niche players, I tend to stay away, but if there are only one or two and then sites like Amazon I find it is a lot easier to rank for that keyword.
The next thing we did was to identify the demographics we were going to market to. This enabled us to tailor our website and any further marketing appropriately.
Step 3 – Source your product
The most profitable thing to sell is a digital download, it has no sourcing costs, no storage costs, won’t expire (spoil like food) and no shipping costs.
If you are planning on selling a physical product, I recommend checking out Alibaba.com. I sourced all of my stock through vendors that I discovered on Alibaba and it’s been quite relatively simple and pain free.
- Find a product on Amazon
- Confirm that there is a decent market for the product using Google Keyword Planner
- Go to Alibaba and source your product
Let’s do an example – I find examples always help to illustrate a point better. The first thing I am going to do is head over to Amazon and see if I can find something that is selling well, won’t spoil, is easy to store and should bring in a decent amount of profit (normally I look for products that are between $50 and $200).
After only a few minutes of searching I have come across backpacks as something that meets my criteria. There are plenty of people buying them, most are between $50 and $150 and they wouldn’t be too difficult to store.
Next I head over to the Keyword Planner tool – Backpack gets over 240,000 searches per month, it probably isn’t a specific enough product. I need to go back to Amazon and find something a bit more specific in the backpack space to sell. The way I do that is to look on the side of the Amazon page for ideas see the image below:
After only a few clicks I have stumbled onto something called a “Hydration backpack“. A quick keyword search tells me it gets 5,400 searches per month – perfect. Next I go to Google.com and do a search for “Hydration backpack” to see if I have any competition.
What I don’t want to see if a whole heap of sites dedicated to hydration backpacks. That would tell me that it will be difficult to rank for, but when I see stores like Amazon and Walmart, I know that Google doesn’t really know what to rank for this term and has gone with the bigger retailers. That’s not to say it will be easy to rank for, but it’s something I tend to prefer to see. The only site there that gives me any concern is CamelBak, which is obviously a backpack store that I would be competing with.
Next I head over to Alibaba and see how cheaply I can source the backpacks. After searching for “Hydration Backpack” I see at least 6000 manufacturers that sell this item – see here.
The next trick is finding the right type of backpack and getting it for the right price. You can see in the image below the two main things to check when sourcing your product. The first is the price, the second is the minimum order quantity.
Some manufacturers will only sell in large quantities, while others offer them in much smaller quantities. I personally go for the ones that allow you to buy less, I know that I pay more for the product, but if I struggle to sell my item I am not left with hundreds of them.
Plus, if I can buy them for between $4-$6 and can sell them for about $100, there is a lot of profit margin available for me there.
- Tip 1 – When buying on Alibaba is to be ruthless. There are hundreds of stores all vying for your business, if you pay full price, it’s because you didn’t negotiate.
- Tip 2 – Always ask for samples first. Some manufacturers have vastly superior products, which are the ones you want to be selling. So make sure you check them before ordering hundreds of them.
Buy a Domain and Hosting
Once you have a product that you are ready to start selling, you need to focus on getting your website up and running. This just couldn’t be any easier.
Step 1 – Find a hosting company and select a hosting plan
Finding appropriate hosting is important. You don’t want to have unreliable hosting and have your website offline – how will customers buy stuff if your site is down?
I have spent quite a bit of time testing out different hosting companies and I recommend that people use A2 hosting. They offer really competitive pricing (less than $5 a month – don’t both with any of the extra items they try and sell you, 99.9% of people don’t need them) and their servers are quite quick and almost never offline.
Step 2 – Register a Domain
Getting the right domain name is critical. Ensure that you choose something that represents the product you are planning on selling. As an example – you don’t want to have a domain www.glensboats.com if you are selling dog food. Try to think of something that is catchy, memorable and relevant.
When it comes to registering a domain, I normally just register it when I buy my hosting. A2 allows you to register a domain for only $12.95 a year (That’s a fairly standard price). Some hosting companies will offer you a free domain when you buy their hosting products, but in some cases i have found their hosting to be lacking.
Video – A2 Hosting
I have put together the following video showing you how to sign up with A2 and get your hosting up and going.
Now we have a hosting account and a domain name, it’s time to install WordPress. WordPress is one of the most popular content management systems available on the internet. It’s so popular because it’s so easy to setup, customize and use.
Installing WordPress on A2 Hosting:
Here is a short video walking you through how to install WordPress ready to get your online store up and running.
You don’t have to use WordPress, there are plenty of dedicated e-commerce applications you could select, but I personally find the WordPress interface so familiar and easy to use that I just see no reason to change.
There are lots of different e-commerce plugins available to use within WordPress, however, the one that I have found to be the easiest to use and manage my inventory is WooCommerce. I did try quite a few of the others, but WooCommerce was free, had lots of upgrades available and worked with a minimum of fuss.
The following is the official WooCommerce video
Install and Setup WooCommerce
Here I go into detailed steps on how to setup WooCommerce, from installing the plugin, through to selling your first item. It’s not a short video though folks, so maybe consider getting a cuppa before starting it.
Now you have your website up and running, it’s time to start attracting customers. The best way to get customers is to start marketing, after all, no one is going to buy your product if they don’t know it exists.
The bulk of the people who buy products on my site come from the following sources:
- Direct Traffic
However you can always pay for advertising on other websites like Facebook, Adsense Ads or even just other relevant sites in your niche.
The main thing is to get visitors to your site and have them convert into customers. To maximize your chances, make sure your website looks professional, has relevant details about the product, and ensure that your product is priced competitively with others in the same market.
Good luck with your online business endeavors. If you feel like you need more information, or you have some feedback for me, please leave me a comment below – I would love to hear how your own online store works out.