Follow these four steps to save yourself a lot of time, money and headaches.
Starting an ecommerce business can be stressful.
Not because it's difficult, but because there's just so much information out there. It's hard to know what to do and when. Sure, you can figure it out through trial and error, but that can get expensive. Fast.
Throwing your computer at the wall can seem like a better solution. But, before you launch your laptop at the drywall, keep reading. The four steps I outline below will get you off to a powerful start. Plus you'll be saving yourself a lot of time, money and headaches.
1. Identify unmet needs.
It all starts with a need. Most people just upload products they feel others will like. That's a dice roll, though, and entrepreneurship shouldn't be treated like a casino trip. Instead of guessing, research what to sell first. You do that by identifying products that are already available, have steady sales track records and aren't meeting current customer needs.
Start with Amazon reviews. If a product has a lot of reviews, dive a little deeper. What do people like about it? What do they dislike? What features do customers wish for? Armed with insights like these, you'll be more informed about which products to steer clear of and which ones to invest in. How could you make those same products better based on customer feedback?
Amazon isn't the only way to uncover unmet needs. Listen when friends complain or praise products. Why do they love (or hate)? That's your in. You don't have to reinvent the wheel, just make a better one (more durable, faster, cheaper, safer, etc.). Reading through Quora, Facebook Groups and other communities is another great place to start. If you're still unsure, my newest guide outlines several other research methods you could look into.
2. Create a compelling offer.
Most offers are boring. You see these all over the place. "Contact us for a free trial" or "request a free demo" are common, albeit weak, offers. Who needs sleeping pills when you can just read offers like that before bed? A good offer is targeted to the right audience, addresses their most pressing concerns and outlines how your product can help with them.
Let's say you find out -- after browsing Amazon reviews for an hour -- that most flashlights suck. Consumers are complaining left and right. Poor battery life. Dim bulbs that produce no light. Cheap handles. Bulky and cumbersome construction.
Now let's say you make a better flashlight. A good offer wouldn't be "Click here to download our free flashlight specification sheet." It would be "Check out our blindingly bright, lightweight, military-grade flashlights with batteries guaranteed to last." See how I flipped those pain points and turned them into selling points? That's what a compelling offer does.
3. Build your ecommerce website.
When first getting started in ecommerce, keep your site design simple and your cost low -- Weebly is my go-to option at this stage in the game -- and remember, every minute you spend making your site look pretty is a dollar you're missing out on, so try not to get too bogged down in the details this early. It's all about taking your compelling offer to market, validating it by selling it and starting a dialogue with your customers to refine your offer. That's it.
Start with a clear headline that communicates the value of your product (see: compelling offer). Throw in some images (three product images and one lifestyle image that gives your product context) and three to five bullet points that break down the benefits of your product.
Sticking with our flashlight example, your bullets should say how customers won't have to worry about keeping spare batteries around, how they'll save money by not having to keep buying cheap replacements, have peace of mind knowing it'll always be on, etc.
4. Sound the alarm.
Marketing doesn't have to be complicated. Once your product page is finished, hop on Reddit and search for a subreddit related to your product. Using your compelling offer as the ad text, you can get it in front of your target audience the next day for just five bucks. Turns out there's an entire sub on Reddit dedicated to flashlights (with almost 20,000 subscribers as of this writing). Might have to revisit this idea myself!
Repurpose that same compelling offer and make a text ad on Google AdWords, too. Best part is, Weebly and most other ecommerce providers usually provide ad credits for new merchants.
Another great option is content marketing. Just like your offer, your content has to be compelling and informative. It can't just be a 1,000-word promotional post. Make it interesting and share it with care through relevant communities.
Another option: Facebook ads. But don't just boost your post. Visit Quantcast, punch in a few of your competitors' URLs, copy their demographic data and key it into Facebook's ad builder. Your targeting just got a lot more precise, which will increase your likelihood of getting sales.
If you do your homework, create something worth buying, and put consistent effort into sharing it with the people who could use it most -- whether through the blogs they read, the social media sites they frequent or whichever other medium you choose -- you'll be off to a great start.
When the going gets tough -- and it will -- just remember: If it were easy to be an ecommerce millionaire, everyone would be one. Now go get after it!