Things to Consider if You're Starting to Sell Online
If you want to sell online, starting from scratch isn’t always as easy as it seems.
We started to sell online with Happy Piranha on Etsy in 2015, and have recently launched our own site too. In reality there’s no easy way about it, results won’t always occur instantly and it can be a little while till you feel the return on your time and investment, but stick with it!
Here are some of the things that we’ve learnt along the way that should help get you off to a swimming start.
1.Choosing the Platform That's Right for You.
eCommerce sitesThere's lots of different online selling platforms and they all have their pro’s and con’s. Ultimately you have to find the one that works for you, and don’t be afraid to use more than one!
Ecommerce sites like Etsy, Folksy, and Amazon can be a great for first time sellers. They provide already built, easy ways to upload your products and start selling, and an audience that are already, actively searching for things to buy.
These sites spend a lot of money on promoting themselves already, making it easier for you to be found online, and have spent time and effort making user friendly, navigable layouts.
Most sites like these don't have a subscription fee, meaning you can save costs until you sell an item – where a percentage is then taken off by the store and the payment gateway.
eCommerce Store Builders
Online store builders such as Shopify and Weebly have other benefits. Being able to build your own store means you are more able to make a standout site, rather than using the same format and layout as everybody else. They’re the next step to building your own brand.
These sites are great for making more custom selling pages without the complication of building your own website, or the need to know how to code. The downside - you do have to market yourself. People won’t stumble upon you the same way they do on Etsy or Ebay.
Most online store builders have a subscription fee that you’ll have to include into your costs. Some, such as Shopify, provide their own payment gateway services, meaning you can save the costs usually taken by other gateways such as Paypal or Stripe. They often take a percentage too, but this is usually reduced with higher subscription plans, meaning growing businesses can save more money.
What do we do?
We started simple on Etsy and now have expanded to Shopify to build our brand. A custom website may be in the future pipeline, but not quite yet. We’d also suggest selling on multiple platforms to increase your coverage.
2. Find Your Target Market
When selling online you need to define your target market as it will form the basis of how you advertise, the future products you may create and how you build and communicate your online brand.
There are pro’s and con’s to selling broad and filling a niche, and it’s really up to you to decide. You should also not be afraid to change or expand your target audience should the opportunity or need arise – don’t stick to things that aren’t working and don’t ignore a good market opportunity.
Overall, knowing your target market means you can deliver a service bespoke to them and that is part of what will make you stand out from the crowd. If you get the chance, do some research around stores selling similar items to you, see what works for them and what doesn’t and if there’s any opportunities you think they’re missing out on.
Happy Piranha took off really as an idea when we expanded upon our aromatherapy and Just to Say candle range, by developing a couple of candles based on books and games such as Harry potter and The Legend of Zelda. These items took off one Christmas so we decided to build upon the idea
Since then we have also found a great bookish, bibliophile and bookworm crowd on Instagram and are enjoying the community there, which has inspired further bookish scented candle ideas for the future!
Selling online is great for small, medium and micro business as you can save lots of extra costs on rent, shop rates and more. However, it is important to remember all the costs involved as this will inform the price you should sell your products at and the profits you will make.
Make sure to understand all the costs of selling: including subscription fees, sellers fees, payment gateway fees and also your production, postage and packaging costs. Another cost you need to take into equation is your own time and the time of your partners or staff if you have any.
It’s easy in your head to think that every time you sell something that you’re making 100 percent of the profit, but you’re not.Equally, how much you sell your products for is important.
Again, research similar products and brands, find out where you stand in that market and decide upon a competitive price.You don’t want to undervalue your work and run yourself out of business, but you do want to be at a price that will make people want to buy.
Don’t be afraid to change the price of your products should costs increase or fall, most valued customers understand that a startup, handmade or bespoke store will come at a small premium.
Another essential is cash flow – knowing when money is coming in and when it is going out and planning for this. For example, a lot of our business comes around at Christmas time, we need to make sure we have enough money to get there and then schedule our payments for the year based around this.
Most importantly charge what you need to make it viable for you. If people don't want to buy it, it's up to them. No matter what you do there will always be someone saying it's too expensive somewhere along the way.
What do we do?
We try to keep our pricing competitive for our products type and regularly look at other peoples pricing. We also go through regular cost breakdowns to see if we need to change anything.
For example; we’ve recently updated our postage and packaging to accommodate for international orders and changes in the packing we include, we’ve also altered our prices slightly to accommodate for changes in material costs.
4. Marketing and Social Media.
To build your audience and direct more customers to your store you are going to have to invest time into marketing. Especially if you have your own eCommerce store such a Shopify, marketing is imperative and social media is becoming one of the norms for doing so. It’s an open door with millions upon millions of people walking by every day who may just be interested in buying from you!
Set up Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts and make sure you post on them regularly. As you’ve probably heard before, content is king - so mix you posts with attractive images and intriguing content from blogs, to products to videos and more.
Gaining traction on social media can be hard at first, so make sure to benefit from things such as twitter hours and sub communities on social platforms that are related to your product. Most platforms also offer paid advertisement if that’s something you an afford.
How do we do it?
We regularly use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and also have a Pinterest and Tumblr account. Currently our biggest following is on Instagram and we love it, though we are working towards building it in other areas too!
We’re also looking at going to some offline events in the future such as comicons and sales fairs – its important to make some physical friends too!
5. Images!Images are key in the online world. There’s some amazing facts and figures out there about how much more people are likely to click on your link or buy your product if you use decent imagery.
Try and keep your images consistent in style, but don’t keep using the same ones. You can also use your images to show off your brand and crate interest on social media.
We like to use clear white backgrounds for our main product photos for consistency and then use more in depth backgrounds for our individual item pages and social media.
Try to get images of your products in a context that makes them look good and that creates the atmosphere around them that you want to promote. It’s always worth investing in some props for photography and setting up a picture taking station.
What do we do?
We started out by getting a lesson from a photographer friend and forming a good base set of clear product images for the store. We’ve then since had lots of fun creating interesting backgrounds and props for our social media and secondary store images.
6. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Search engine optimization is very important in getting your store seen on search engines. There’s no definitive guide to it and everyone has different ‘secrets’ to its success. Mostly it is down to knowing the best practice and putting in the time – we suggest you do some reading around it.
Here’s some relatively easy things to do to improve your SEO:
- Optimize your web pages, blogs and snippets to contain your keywords.
- Alt tag all of your images.
- Submit a site map to search engines so they crawl your site faster.
- Have a blog with your store and write regular, keyword targeted content.
- Build ‘backlinks’ to your store on other websites.
- Cross link between pages on your own store.
There are many, many ways and techniques to build your SEO and as with most of these points is a topic in its own right. Ultimately it boils down to building your sites trust and reliability with search engines, which is driven a lot by the content you produce and the consistency at which you do so. Keep it quality, keep it regular and work with friends to build links!
7. Roll with the Criticism
There’s a million more words we could write about selling online and each of these topics, but we’d like to end on this. Don’t let the slow days or the criticism get you down. If you think it’s a worthwhile idea and there’s a market for it and most importantly, if you enjoy it - it’s probably worth doing!
There will always be people who complain, but there will be many more who don’t. Take criticism and use it if you can to inform how you go about selling online, but don’t let individual comments consume you or change course entirely.
It’s easy to take things to heart especially if you’ve put so much of yourself into it, but at the end of the day it’s just feedback and feedback is always good.
Each of these topics could be pulled out in a lot more detail and we encourage you to do some research about each. We hope that - although a whistle stop tour - this has been beneficial and encourages you to investigate more.
Please do let us know if you enjoyed this type of post and what other kind of things you would like to read about. We’re also always happy for people to use and feature any of our ideas, and if you’d like to, or maybe do some writing yourself, please do get in touch – all we ask for is a link!
Just Keep Swimming!