During this pandemic we have been forced to re-think the way we handle business altogether. Brick and mortar/Retail stores have seen a huge decrease in sales since the outbreak began.
Yet people of all ages, and experience levels have taken to the internet to generate a new way of income for their lives. Enter E-commerce.
This post is a big one. Feel free to jump to around to the sections you need at this moment in your E-commerce journey.
- What is E-commerce?
- Starting your E-commerce Business
- Running your E-commerce Business
- Growing your E-commerce Business
What is E-commerce?
E-commerce is defined as “A business model that lets firms and individuals buy and sell things over the internet.” (Investopedia)
That can be anything from shirts, stickers, and original art, to electronics, books and all sorts of other products you would normally find at a store but of course without having to leave your house. The perfect business model for a society that is currently spending close to 24hrs inside their locked homes.
According to CNBC “Global revenue from online sales in the second quarter of 2020 skyrocketed 71% year-over-year” This not only means that the e-commerce business model is thriving but it also means that the current socio-economical landscape is pivoting towards an e-commerce standard, so not only will it continue to thrive but profitability on online stores will grow even more as we continue to live our lives during this pandemic.
So you might be asking yourself:
“How do I benefit from this business model and what is the best way to secure my piece of the e-commerce pie?”
This blog aims to teach you the ins-and outs of starting, running and growing your e-commerce business. So whether you are a newbie, an amateur or a veteran in this field, you will be able to get tips, tricks and resources that will help you reach financial stability and independence through your e-commerce venture.
We will be discussing several tools that will help you such as using Fiverr.com, Printful Print on Demand Services and Siteground for hosting and running your online store, including some free alternatives like Storenvy as well as open markets like Etsy, Ebay and Amazon. Lets dive in.
Starting your E-commerce Business
Before we jump into starting an e-commerce business, we should get a acquainted with some terminology (for the full list check out this blogpost by Printful)
1- Storefront: A storefront is the online space where you’re selling your products. Also known as a webstore or online store.
2- Online Marketplace – a website that allows you to sell your products to their already established audience, great examples are Amazon, Ebay, Etsy and Storenvy.
3- Drop Shipping- A third-party store that fulfills and ships your products on your behalf.
4- Print on demand- A platform that allows a seller to upload a design and have it printed when a customer makes a purchase. This removes the need for huge inventory investments and storage charges.
5- Print File- Design file used for printing usually a pdf or png in high resolution
6- Mockup – This is a digital concept that showcases how a design will look on a final product, great for marketing material or for highlighting on your Storefront.
7- Digitization- Process in which a design is converted to the right file format for embroidery or complex printing techniques, usually comes as an extra charge.
With those things out of the way, let’s proceed to the actual meat and potatoes of the e-commerce business, the products.
Determine your product
Your products will depend on a myriad of variables, however a good rule of thumb to keep when determining which products to sell is, to sell something you are either already doing or can create easily and at a fast rate while still retaining quality.
The best products for an online store require very little upkeep and should be created once and sold multiple times. Some great examples are:
– Home décor and prints
The one thing all these products have in common is that they are created once and then sold multiple times to multiple customers. All you have to do is take out the time to create the design or write the content and then you can sell that product forever.
This is different from more complex products such as:
– custom/client specific art like painted shoes, canvases or caricatures
Whilst you can still have a successful business with these products like in the case for Holy Green, and Alero.lai. Your goal when picking your first product should take into account your already blooming life, and in the case of many of us, starting a second job can seem like an impossible task. This exercise of choosing a product that can be made once and sold forever allows us to keep our main job and still be able to create this new path of income without too much stress.
A good product number to start your business with should be diverse enough so you’re not only selling one thing, but at the same time focused enough so you become the go-to store for that specific line of products. When I started my e-commerce business, I started with about 5 stickers designs and about 2-3 shirts. This was diverse enough so I wasn’t just the sticker’s guy, yet still focused enough (original art) that people know that when they go to my store they will find original art always.
Once you have the list of products you’d like to sell, the next step is to create the products.
Creating your product
Creating your product can take a couple of different routes.
1- You can create it yourself if you have the know-how to do it.
2- You pay someone to create it for you.
3- You link up with a supplier.
We will be discussing the first two ways as the third one is pretty straight forward. You find someone that makes or has what you want to sell, and then you either pay them upfront for it so you can sell it at your market price, or you allow them to sell it on your storefront for a cut of the profits.
If you decide to make it yourself then it is important that your skills are in par with the value of your product. If you are an amateur painter trying to sell amateur shirt designs at high-end market prices you will never see a single sale. However if you are able to create a quality product that merits the high-end price, customers will have no doubt in purchasing from you.
I have found that the best skills to have when you decide to start an e-commerce business are those in the graphic/illustration spectrum. Even low level graphic design skills can help you when it comes to promoting your business, when you can create the marketing material yourself. Tools like Canvas, Inkscape, and Adobe Photoshop or Corel Draw come in handy but you don’t need any high end tools really, I’ve seen artists and designers create using just paint and paper and then scanning their artwork at high resolution for printing, this can work for you if you have the traditional skills but lack the digital background to digitize your ideas.
If you however have no graphic or visual skills whatsoever, worry not. You can still be a successful E-commerce business owner. Enter Fiverr.com, Fiverr.com is an online marketplace of all possible services in the world for you to run your business. Whether you are looking for copywriters (we will talk about this later) or graphic designers, you are sure to find the right freelancer or group of freelancers that can take your business to the next level.
I myself offer graphic design services on Fiverr however if you’re looking for a different art style below are 3 freelancers that are more than capable of turning your idea into a reality.
Finding your niche market
Once you’ve created the line of products that you want to start selling you should consider the end customer. Who do you think will purchase these products? Of course the who will be determined by the what of the product. So for example, say you want to sell original anime inspired shirts and stickers, then your best possible clients are going to be people that;
- watch anime
- watch the specific anime you are making products of
- otakus and Japanese merchandise fans
These 3 types of people are what we call Buyer Personas. A buyer persona is a hypothetical person that is our ideal store customer. Your store can have several buyer personas but they all most have something in common in order for you to secure a niche market. In our case the underlying theme across these buyer personas is their liking of Japanese animated mangaka culture. With this information we can easily develop a marketing strategy that can yield a good ROI (return on investment), this can also influence the appearance and name of your online store.
You can determine who are your buyer personas by quickly searching the social media accounts of similar online stores and researching the likes and comments of the people that follow these online stores. You can even follow them later on once you have your online store open and they can easily become your first couple of fans and customers.
Get a pro to help you with your buyer personas.
Setting up your store
We have a good size list of products we want to sell, we paid freelancers to create high quality print ready files of our products, we know who our target audience is and we are on our way to carving out our niche market. Now the next step is to set-up your store.
Like everything before this, there are several ways to setting up an online store.
Third party free hosting
I think this is the way to go for anyone that’s just starting out. Websites like Storenvy allow you to set up a free online storefront that is fully customizable and they handle everything for you. However whilst they are free to use, as in they do not require a monthly or yearly subscription, they do take a small fee from each purchase made for handling everything for you. To this day though that fee has never been an issue for me, to put it in perspective a $100 order can land you about a $4 worth of fees, which is honestly not bad at all when they are doing everything for you. In the case of Storenvy, they also promote your products on their online marketplace and even run automatic email newsletter marketing for repeat customers. If you want to start today this is the way to go.
Here are some freelancers on fiverr that can get you started the right way:
Online marketplace membership
If you’ve been in the internet for any reasonable amount of time, there is a huge chance you’ve heard of any of these online marketplaces. Whether it’s the recently popular Chinese Wish.com, once auction drive Ebay, the Jeff Bezos capitalism monolith that is Amazon, or the Handmade Haven of Esty.com, these online marketplaces allow you to set up a profile, add your products and start selling. There are 2 major benefits to these types of online store:
The first being that you really don’t have to know much coding at all; you just make a profile, add your product information and start selling.
The second great benefit of these sites is that they have been around for enough time to already have thousands of people frequent it on a daily basis. This means that the chances of you getting a sale without having to do any promotion skyrocket, they do most of the work for you.
However they also come with some disadvantages:
While some of these sites are easy to use they are also not free, Esty.com for example has a price per product that can be too much too handle if you have a lot of products but not a lot of sales. Others like Amazon and Wish.com can take a big chunk of your profits, which means you’ll have to price your products at a higher markup to make up for this, which can render you product unsellable because of the high price.
Personally I think this is a great second step for an online store, as it allows for multi channel selling and can put your products and your business in the hands and eyes of thousands of new potential customers.
Below are some freelancers that can help you make this a great and profitable experience for you.
The self hosted website/store is just that. You have a website and you add purchasing capabilities to it using a payment processor like Paypal or Stripe. Personally I think this is something you should consider once you have a couple of sales already in your belt, however I do know of stores that started and remain being self-hosted that are quite successful.
The most important things to consider is that; they can look highly professional, they allow for a full range of customization, and some investment is required to get it up and running.
If this is the route you want to take there are three things you will need.
1- Hosting and Domain- Hosting and domain prices can range from $15-$100 and even thousands of dollars. However I personally like to use the services of Siteground because not only do they provide fast and safe hosting, they provide you with a .com domain and they are affordable (around $85 for your first year, and $150 yearly after that.)
2- E-commerce platform- An e-commerce platform is a plugin that goes into your domain and allows you to upload your products and people to purchase them, whilst also handling all the communication needed to provide a good customer service. The best contenders in my opinion for this are Shopify, Ecwid, and WooComerce, any of these 3 can integrate easily into your website and get your store up and running in no time.
3- Back and Front End Developing Platform- This type of platform might sound complicated but in reality is just a tool that allows you to easily customize your website without really having to know too much CSS or HTML. I will forever point to WordPress.org for this, but there are other options like Wix, SquareSpace and Weebly.
Hosting and running your own website is a whole topic in it’s own, which is why I suggest you only do this if you are either an already established brand or store looking to make the transition to the online sphere or you are 100% sure that the products you are selling will yield a consistent amount of sales that will easily balance out the over head investment of running your site. Whatever your case may be, if you need that website, I highly suggest you hire a Fiverr professional that can do it for you so you can focus on creating even more cool products for your store.
Good copywriting versus Great copywriting
To close off this section of the blog, let’s talk about the product information that will go into your desired storefront.
There are 3 main parts to your product listing, and these are:
- Product Title
- Copy Text
- Product Images
The product title is easy, come up with something that’s catchy and highlights what your product is. Be sure to include exactly what you are selling in order to be found easily by your customers. When in doubt go for simple over complex.
Good examples of Product Titles are:
The copy text is the description of the product, here you need to go for entertaining and education whilst also being short and to the point. It is important that your description not only talks about the product in a fun manner, but also hits the keywords that a search engine will need to look through in order to match it with people looking for that kind of product. This I usually leave it to a talented copywriter on Fiverr. Here are my top picks for this kind of work:
Lastly and perhaps most importantly is the product image. You can go in 3 possible directions here. You can either showcase some cool lifestyle pictures of your product out in the wild, you can do studio pics of your product on a white background, or you can showcase a detailed mockup of your product that entices people to purchase it. The great thing is that you can also use all 3 styles together to create a listing that is attractive and informative and ready to get you that next sale.
My rule of thumb is to use either a lifestyle pic or a mockup pic for the feature image, and keep the studio pics for more close-up views of the product. A big no no though is using the same mockup picture for all your products, this will make your store look bland and boring and will have potential customers clicking away and never coming back
If you don’t have a good camera on hand or you don’t know your way around a graphic’s program to create your mock ups, you can outsource these services as well.
Running your E-commerce Business
Print on Demand Services
Like we talked about on our E-commerce 101 a Print on Demand Service is a platform that allows you to focus on designing your products and they take care of the rest. There are many platforms such as these, but for me the two most important ones are; Printful.com and Amazon’s KDP we will focus specifically on these two as they are the ones used most by businesses and the ones I find to be the best in what they do.
Printful is a print on demand and drop shipping service that allows you to create shirts, mugs, stickers, canvas art, and all sorts of wonderful products at really affordable prices. They also count with a state of the art mockup generator and even logo maker that can help you with designing and promoting your products. They are hands down the best print on demand service to date. Their prices are fair, the quality of their products are outstanding and the easily integrate with any possible online marketplace, even your own website, and to top it all off their product catalog counts with 100’s of high quality products ready for you to fully customize to your liking.
Whether you are selling mugs, stickers, or clothing Printful.com is the service for you.
Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)
Next we have the all mighty Amazon KDP. Kindle Direct Publishing is a print on demand service, dropshipper and online marketplace for books and e-books all rolled into one wonderfully easy service. They times of big house publishing or even small run publishing has come to an end. Now all you have to do is have a print ready pdf file and accompanying pdf book cover and today you can be selling your book to thousands of eager readers. They take care of printing, hosting, and shipping your products. It’s perfect! On top of that, they can do that for e-books as well. Just be sure that your book is 100% ready for printing when you upload it, otherwise it will be rejected and you will have to go through tons of edits to get it to fit Amazon’s printing and publishing standards.
Or you can just hire someone on Fiverr to do it for you and you can start publishing all your books today.
Do’s and Don’t of Online Marketing
Online Marketing can take a variety of forms when it comes to promoting your products and your online store. Today we will be talking about the most important ones; social media marketing and paid social media marketing and influencer marketing. These are 3 levels to Online Marketing that we should be acquainted with in order to successfully make us of this resource in order to generate sales.
Level 1: Free Social Media Marketing
When you’re starting out and even towards the first and second year of your e-commerce business, this is the type of marketing you should be focused on. Why? Because it’s free! All you have to do is set-up a profile for your business on one of the top social media platforms and start posting, sharing and cultivating fans and followers.
In my experience the best social media platforms for businesses are Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. There are of course others like Tumblr, TikTok, Snapchat, Discord, and Slack but these first 4 are easy to handle and chances are you probably already have one or two of these already so the transition to business accounts is pretty easy. Let’s talk a little about how to succeed in these social media platforms.
The biggest asset you have right now are your product images and copytexts, you can use these to easily promote your products and when it comes to Pinterest and Instagram, high quality images that are fun and captivating will go along way into securing a sale. Add to that the fact that Facebook owns Instagram and you can easily share the same content on Instagram to Facebook with the click of a button. Not only that but you can set up a store page on both Instagram and Facebook and directly link to your products and your website, something that Twitter does not have.
Twitter while being a smaller contender for marketing than these first 3, they are still worth to have as you can directly communicate with potential customers and share their content as well as provide them extra content that they can share and help you promote your products. Twitter is great for bit-size content like business goals and fun content that revolves around your niche market. Memes and behind the scenes of your business is easily sharable and can result in spikes of interest towards you and your store.
One last piece of advice, remember the 3C’s of Social Media (as stated on the ComicsLab Podcast)
Creation, Curation and Kindness (Community)
Creation means posting things that you create for your store, that can be anything from finished products, behind the scenes, to ideas, concepts and mockups.
Curation means sharing the content that other people in your niche market are creating, for this it’s good to follow a good amount of accounts that are in your niche and promoting the things they make that are in line with what you are selling. Memes, quotes, art, anything that’s fan made but you think will appeal your community, share it.
Lastly we have Kindness or Community, this is the sort of stuff that you share just because it makes you happy. This is content from your fans and followers, product images taken by happy customers, and generally anything that brings a smile to your heart created by the community you are now the leader of.
A healthy balance of this content will create a profile that retains and gathers followers constantly and effectively. This is because no one wants to follow a brand marketing themselves on every post, and no one is going to buy from a brand that only posts stuff from other people, yet when you share each category of content repeatedly you are creating a brand that cares about it’s niche market and the people that make it up, and that is a brand that can be trusted. Trust will always mean support, and support means sales.
Consider hiring a freelancer to help make up your social media content calendar.
Level 2: Influencer Marketing
Level 2 comes after you’ve amassed a healthy amount of followers that engage with your content consistently. There is no set number but I like to think that a good range is between 800 – 1500 followers. This is because a small account is usually past upon by Influencers but a mid size account means a win-win situation for everyone involved.
Influencer marketing revolves around the use of bigger accounts with larger followings to promote your products usually for a specific sum of money or for a sampling of free products they can use to create content with. I personally love the second method as it has a bigger impact and usually these influencers if they like your products enough can turn into future partners and even customers. So when you get to this point start looking at the people that your niche market considers an influencer, make a list and reach out to them, if they already like what you are doing, they are much more likely to promote your product. This means don’t go sending a message to a Twitch streamer if you are selling handmade soaps and bath bombs, instead consider a beauty and skin care influencer and your results will be much more successful. If you’re a large company, consider adding a cash bonus for them promoting your product and they’ll be even more enticed to create quality content for their channels that you can also share on your own channels.
Leave the research to professionals:
Level 3: Paid Social Media Marketing
Last but not least comes the paid advertising model. If you’re in e-commerce I’m sure the thought of paying for ads has crossed your mind, and it can be worth it, but only if you are at a point where the other two options have been exhausted to it’s maximum and growth seems to have become stagnant. At this point and only then should you consider advertising, and even then only with a specific mindset and structure set in place. Stay away from all sorts of get rich quick schemes. Do not pay for followers, or likes, or comments, or clicks. Stick to one thing and one thing only, Facebook Pixel advertising. If you want to spend very little money but want a lot of Return on Investment, then only advertise to people that have visited your website in the past. For this you must install on your storefront a little bit of code known as the Facebook Pixel, once that’s installed it will track who comes to your site and match it up to a Facebook and IG account, what this means is that you are not wasting your time with spending thousands of dollars on casting a net that will yield one or two buyers, no you will be directly advertising to people that have already shown an interest in you and your store by going to your website. This means that the chances of them seeing an ad for one of your products and clicking it is much higher than from a person that has never even heard of you.
Setting up the Facebook Pixel can be tricky so feel free to leave it to a pro.
One last piece of advice for this section, use the story feature on IG and FB! Take pictures regularly and post them up there, even short clips can be difference between a sale being successful or it ending up a bust.
Growing your E-commerce Business
Diversifying your product line and multi channel selling
OK, so you got a couple of sales on your belt, now how can you double that?
The first thing you should think about is offering more products that people are already buying. Are your customers buying tons of postcards? Well make more designs that offer them. Are they purchasing the red shirts more often than the blue ones? Then make more designs that use a redshirt. This technique of listening to your customers and creating products you know they will like is a sure fire way to get more orders rolling in, and upping the value of customers sales carts.
The next thing you can do is to consider opening up a second store. Whichever storefront you decided to go with at the beginning, should not limit you from also having another store in an online marketplace, especially if the costs of opening a new store on an online marketplace can be covered by the profit from your first store. This means new customers, a new niche market to turn into fans and followers and all sorts of new selling opportunities.
At this point you can even consider becoming a supplier for brick and mortar stores by selling your products to them at a bulk price so they purchase more and are enticed to come back to you again and again to fill their inventory needs.
Get an expert to create new products for you based on your store’s needs.
Another great thing you can do to grow your established business is Inbound Marketing. Inbound Marketing is the creation of content that addresses a need of your niche market. With some light listening to what your customers are saying on social media. You can create lists, articles, videos and all sorts of creative fun educational content that they can share with other people in their circles tha enjoy the things they like. Those things of course being the concepts and ideas that your products are already based around. Tie two and two together and you got yourself a new customer making new sales, and old customers sharing to your new potential customers.
If you don’t want to spend hours of a day writing, editing and producing your content let a professional do it for you.
Facebook Groups and Discord Chats
Facebook Groups and Discord Chats are a great way to find people in your niche market. Simply search for the special keywords that your target audience is searching for and you will find countless communities for you to promote to. A big thing about these communities however is that usually direct promotion is either frown upon, marginalized or straight up banned, so how can you actually promote if it’s not allowed? Well you don’t. What you do instead is go back to the 3C’s of Social Media and you focus on Kindness.
Post your latest creations but do not actually advertise it, just show it. No links, but be genuine, tell people about how you created it, what you like about it and let them give you feedback. More often than not, the people that truly like what you’ve created will either comment that they love that and would like to purchase it, in which case that’s a direct invitation to carry the conversation through inbox where you can share your store’s link with them so they can purchase, or they will do the messaging and they’ll ask you if you’re saying that latest piece they like.
Be kind and your kindness will be rewarded, and of course whenever possible, help others, give feedback and share the resources that allow you to make what you make. This will make you a valuable member of these communities and people will come to you for advice, and open lines of communication that can later be turned to sales.
Last but not least, one thing most people fail to make good promotional use of is the packaging of your products. Your actual customers are your biggest advocates, they are your bigger fans, they’ve already given you money for your products, they will be more than happy to promote you and your business without you having to even ask them, but you have to make it easy for them to do it, because if you don’t, well they won’t do it.
You can help them promote your work by branding everything you do with your links. This can mean things like including free stickers of your store’s logo, adding cute beer coasters like Sticker Mule does, or adding a business card with all your information to everything you mail out. Do not neglect the things that might be thrown away, you honestly don’t know if someone is going to pick up that brightly colored box you mailed your product in and recycle it for their family’s Christmas gift, which means new eyes on your business. So make it pretty, make it useful, and make it branded.
Find a freelancer to take your marketing material up to the next level.
25+ More tips Pdf Download
That’s it for this blog post, I hope you’ve enjoyed it and that you are able to get some new tips and tricks to get your next sales. It was a blast writing this for you. If you’d like a couple more tips check out this free 25+ more tips pdf for growing your business and your brand. Created by the amazing Coung Tran, Nahir Alejandra and me AntonioMabs.
Thanks for reading and may your business thrive and succeed in every possible way imaginable.