Home – New Forums Selling online Starting an online store? Here’s my advice

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  • #997563
    John Romaine
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    I see a lot of people on this forum asking about setting up an online store, and selling physical products on the internet.

    I also see a lot of members here really struggling trying to make sales, as well as those asking a million questions in order to minimise risk and avoid costly mistakes.

    I thought I’d share some thoughts here in an effort to give you all something to think about.

    This is going to be quick, dirty and straight to the point – I don’t have much time.

    1. Stop trying to be clever.

    I see people trying to sell toasters that glow in the dark and shoes that receive FM radio. Forget about all that nonsense. Stop trying to reinvent the wheel and just give people what they want. This applies to your online store too with all that fancy crap that does nothing more than annoy people when they’re trying to buy. Sure, be different but dont try to be clever. Just sell whats already selling. which brings me to my next point.

    2. Sell whats already selling.

    Every now and then I see people trying to sell sh*t nobody wants. Horrible. If you want to minimise risk and make money, just sell what is already selling. HINT – Go into a marketplace that is so massive its almost impossible to screw it up.

    3. Focus on making money.

    I see people wasting days, weeks, months on trivial bulls*t such as the background colour on their website, or whether or not they should include the dancing chicken on the homepage. F all of that. Focus on making sales.

    4. Avoid vanity metrics and the emotional BS

    I also see people falling in love with their own ideas before they’ve even proved its financially viable. No one cares. Again, just focus on making money. Likes and followers dont pay bills. Nor does getting emotionally involved. One of the best lessons I ever learnt was this – whatever you do, succeed or fail – do it quickly.

    5. Be prepared to work your face off

    For some reason people think making money online is easy. Its just a matter of slapping up a website and waiting for sales to roll in. I often think it might be easier for some people to open a traditional bricks and mortar store rather than trying to make money online. Selling on the internet can be a tough gig. Its cold and lonely and youll often find yourself struggling, which brings me to my next point.

    6. It takes years

    Unless you’re willing to be in this for the long haul – dont even start. I see so many posts here from members saying “About to launch”, “starting a new”, “Just finished our website”. I often make a point of going back months later and almost every time the sites are gone. Why? Because people give up too early. If you’re not in this for at least 7 years then forget it.

    7. If sh*ts not working, then DITCH IT.

    I’ve made this mistake myself plenty of times. Hanging on to something that’s not working. You should be very confident that whatever you’re about to do has potential and will start making money FAST. If you’ve been banging away on this for 3 years or so and you’re struggling then KILL IT. Anything that has potential should start bringing a return relatively quickly.

    8 Keep your mouth shut and work

    Ive lost count of how many times Ive been to parties and weekend BBQ’s only to have someone in my face telling me how theyve just setup a website and its wonderful and they’re going to make a million dollars by next Wednesday. Guess what? That rarely happens and in the end they end up looking like fools. Sure, be ambitious, but keep your mouth shut and brag when you buy that new Lexus.

    9. Get paid first.

    This is without a doubt one of the biggest mistakes I see people making here especially, and in general when it comes to selling online. People will either spend a fortune having a product developed or filling their back bedroom full of $50,000 worth of stock that they cant sell. Dont do that. Test the market first. Go to a FB group with 10,000 members who love gold fish and say “Hey Im selling goldfish shaped sunglasses, who wants a pair?” This should be highly targeted and you SHOULD make sales. If you dont then somethings wrong. Also, dont spend $20,000 on a swanky website. Setup your goods on ebay or something where theres NO investment or outlay on your behalf. If you start making a lot of sales then great – THEN setup your own store.

    And lastly, GET PAID FIRST. Dont spend $100,000 having those fancy widgets made then panic when you cant sell them. Instead, have people pay for them FIRST, then sort out the order AFTER you’ve been paid. In other words, work with other peoples money. I have done this successfully time and time again, and it reduces your risk to almost zero. Most people dont care if your website reads “made to order, please allow x weeks”. Always be honest when doing this.

    10. Sell what you love, or you have an interest in

    Unless you’re passionate about the subject matter – forget it. I see people all the time here saying “Im going to sell coffee cups” and i think “Wow this person must really love coffee cups?” and then in 3 months time the site is gone and they’re sitting at the end of a bar in some rundown part of town crying in their beer saying “I dont know why I bothered, I dont even like coffee cups, I was just in it for the money”. Remember, whatever you do, you’ve got to do it for YEARS. Its like a relationship. If you cant roll over every morning and be excited about it, then dont even start. Sell something you’re passionate about.

    #1212560
    Paul – FS Concierge
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    Hi [USER=39536]@John Romaine[/USER] ,

    Thanks for creating this thread. I would like to add to it if you don’t mind – perhaps over time.

    Additional tip #1.

    Don’t spend money on a website if you do not have a comprehensive idea of how you will get people to look at your site. This may involve advertising (and ad budget) or identifying low costs ways of reaching people with the money and the desire to buy your product or service.

    Building a website and then trying to work out how to get (the right people) to land on it, or concluding you don’t have the money needed for advertising will make your job sooooo much harder.

    #1212561
    arrowwise
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    Absolute brilliant post John. I will be printing these points out and some how link them into my overall goals / plans / mindset stuff.

    Nothing wrong with an average website that makes money and grows your business compared to an over cooked website with flying widgets everywhere that does nothing. It keeps the web designers in business at the very least.

    For most businesses it’s not a race to win a web design award as that will quickly lead you up the wrong path.

    There was a time when flash movie animations were common when you first enter a website because the design industry was saying this is what you need when people first arrive. That fad quickly disappeared….

    Many built excellent online business well before WordPress and Shopify etc using the some of the most basic hand coded sites and shopping carts. As long as you could sell what people wanted in an easy buy experience and find these buyers that was all that really mattered in the ole’ days…:D

    Unfortunately it has got a lot harder and much easier to lose focus and go down tangents of destruction.

    #1212562
    Johny
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    Unfortunately it has got a lot harder and much easier to lose focus and go down tangents of destruction.

    True.

    I have been discussing this a bit lately. Seems to be that the emphasis is on tech to drive business.

    The fundamentals of business have never changed. Things like meeting a need/providing a solution, providing good service etc. have always been the same.

    Tech is only the medium.

    #1212563
    Andy McWhirter
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    Great list, John!

    Many people think that having a website is enough. In reality, the website is just a small part of the business. On top of that you’ve got to have a marketing plan and a way to attract customers, suppliers to deal with, logistics and shipping, pricing, margins, tax, legalities, compliance etc. etc.

    I see people forget this and waste time fussing over small details on the website. They’d be better served by having a simple and user friendly ecommerce website, and instead focusing on and generating sales.

    #1212564
    JohnTranter
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    John Romaine, post: 254081, member: 39536 wrote:
    10. Sell what you love, or you have an interest in
    Unless you’re passionate about the subject matter – forget it.
    I see this advice a lot and always wonder about it. If you have a look at people making great money, you’ve got to wonder if they’re actually passionate about the thing they’re selling, or if they’re just passionate about the business.
    Is anyone actually interested in drain covers, or a replacement part #23aa8 for a dishwasher before they went into the business?
    #1212565
    John Debrincat
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    JohnTranter, post: 254293, member: 20554 wrote:
    I see this advice a lot and always wonder about it. If you have a look at people making great money, you’ve got to wonder if they’re actually passionate about the thing they’re selling, or if they’re just passionate about the business.
    Is anyone actually interested in drain covers, or a replacement part #23aa8 for a dishwasher before they went into the business?

    Hi [USER=20554]@JohnTranter[/USER] I think that you need to keep this in context. If it is a small business starting up then I think that knowing your product is extremely important. Remember its what you love OR what interests you to me that means also what you know. This would cut out about 99% of all the dodgy drop-shippers out there. As the business grows the rule fundamentally changes but if you look back to the start of most (maybe all) successful businesses you find a person that was passionate about the product.

    John

    #1212566
    bb1
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    JohnTranter, post: 254293, member: 20554 wrote:
    I see this advice a lot and always wonder about it. If you have a look at people making great money, you’ve got to wonder if they’re actually passionate about the thing they’re selling, or if they’re just passionate about the business.
    Is anyone actually interested in drain covers, or a replacement part #23aa8 for a dishwasher before they went into the business?
    Totally agree just because you love something doesnt mean there is money to be made.
    #1212567
    John Debrincat
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    bb1, post: 254336, member: 53375 wrote:
    Totally agree just because you love something doesnt mean there is money to be made.
    Hi Bert frankly I don’t think that is the point at all no one is saying there is money to be made just because you like a particular product. More realistically if you don’t know a product then there is probably no money to be made. But if you are starting a business to sell a product then understand that product. One thing has not changed in sales forever and that is “if you can’t pitch the product with knowledge and emotion then you can’t sell it”. Ever heard of the “elevator pitch” it is as true and necessary online as it has ever been. A good elevator pitch needs knowledge, attachment and emotion.

    The real problem (issue maybe) that I see is individuals and small businesses trying to sell online when they couldn’t sell a Big Mac to Donald Trump. Maybe there needs to be a (online) sales 101 school.

    John

    #1212568
    El Arish Tropical Exotics
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    Unless it’s a family business no one grows up thinking “I want to be a draincover seller one day” . However, if you are in an industry where you can see a need or in a complementary business where you dig drains then it’s a natural progression and if I’m buying one from you I want you to speak knowledgeably to me about draincovers. “Passionate”? maybe not but at least interested enough to know your product inside and out.

    It used to be that people would say you “you can’t just be good at plumbing to be a plumber, you need to be good at business to succeed” but now the pendulum has swung so far that some business owners are overly wrapped up in the business of being in business. They buy the bells and whistles, stick up an ultra slick website, pay for high end expertise (which I think should be used to enhance your business, not substitute for your involvement) and think that’s enough to sell their product and make money.

    You could conceivably flit from fad to fad, selling different things you know or care nothing about but I personally think longevity is a mark of success. In order for a business to have that the owner and staff need to be knowledgeable and believe in the product. At the core at every business, including ecommerce is your product and your ability to convince me why I need to buy it from you.

    #1212569
    heylouise
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    I don’t think John means you have to be fanatical about the product you are selling.

    You could sell something you love, but is not something people will buy. (You get no sales.)

    You could sell something that you know people will buy, but not love the product yourself. (You get sales, but you don’t feel happy.)

    You sell something you know people will buy, and you have knowledge in the topic. You may not love it in the same way you love your kids or your favourite sports team, but it’s up there in high importance to you. (You get sales, you are happy sharing your knowledge about the product. This is the sweet spot.)

    #1212570
    John Romaine
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    JohnTranter, post: 254293, member: 20554 wrote:
    Is anyone actually interested in drain covers, or a replacement part #23aa8 for a dishwasher before they went into the business?

    I met a multi millionaire a few years back that made plastic pipes (plumbing and drainage)

    I remember asking him (whilst sipping expensive champagne on his 48 foot Riveria out near Sovereign Island) “What do you do?, and he replied “I make plastic pipes”.

    I too thought the same thing.

    People have a deep interest in all kinds of weird stuff. I would guess that others simply love business and the lifestyle it provides.

    In any case, they’re motivated.

    Something else that no one has mentioned here (and this applies more-so to online that traditional business is CONTENT)

    To succeed in the online space you MUST be providing value and innovating and that usually ALWAYS means creating content.

    Can you imagine sitting down and having to constantly produce content around something you don’t even like?

    No thanks.

    #1212571
    John Romaine
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    I should also point out that I know of several online store owners that sell a sh&t load of product (some making in excess of $200,000 a month) and they’re selling out.

    Because they’ve had enough and just the thought of even looking a their product makes them sick.

    Go with something you have a vested interest in or you’re passionate about because chances are you’ll do better long term.

    #1212572
    arrowwise
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    If they are turning over that sort of money surely they could be more removed so there is less time to think and hate their product (assuming it is legal and ethical)?

    I hear what you say, but they must of originally liked it to a degree to grow it to that level.

    #1212573
    Peter – FS Administrator
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    Thanks all. This is such a fascinating discussion! Firstly the main list about the realities of online stores is great, but equally the side discussion about passion/love.

    I loved this summary from [USER=79034]@heylouise[/USER] around the sweet spot “You sell something you know people will buy, and you have knowledge in the topic. You may not love it in the same way you love your kids or your favourite sports team, but it’s up there in high importance to you. (You get sales, you are happy sharing your knowledge about the product. This is the sweet spot.)”

    As [USER=39536]@John Romaine[/USER] said, having passion/interest will increase the chances of success and persistence over time… “Go with something you have a vested interest in or you’re passionate about because chances are you’ll do better long term.”

    A lot of people start business because they are passionate which is a great start, but it only takes you so far. Ultimately having a profitable business (i.e. getting paid) is the only way to sustain things long-term.

    [USER=39536]@John Romaine[/USER] – I’d be keen to create an article from this post to run on the site/newsletter. Is that something you’d be ok with? I’d be very happy for you to author it, but I know you’re always flatout, so equally we would be happy to edit it and publish on your behalf (with attribution/links). I’ll PM you.

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