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Marketing

10 hard truths to face before starting an online store

“I see a lot of people on this forum asking about setting up an online store, and a lot struggling to make sales,” writes renowned Flying Solo member John Romaine. Here are his no holds barred tips.

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“This is going to be quick, dirty and straight to the point – I don’t have much time,” wrote John, echoing the sentiments of time-poor soloists everywhere as he kicked off this excellent thread in our forums on creating a successful online store.

Over 14 million Australians visited online stores last month; how can yours stand out from the rest?

“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.”

Before we get into them, John also joined us on the podcast to dive a bit deeper.

Podcast: John Romaine talks to Robert Gerrish on the topic of “Fancy starting an online store? Best start here.”

Without further ado, here they are. Add to John’s list in the comments below.

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. All that fancy crap does nothing more than annoy people when they’re trying to buy. Sure, be different, but don’t try to be too clever.

2. Sell what’s 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 it’s almost impossible to screw it up.

3. Focus on making money

I see people wasting days, weeks and months on trivial stuff such as the background colour on their website, or whether or not they should include the dancing chicken on the homepage. Screw 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 it’s financially viable. No one cares. Again, just focus on making money. Likes and followers don’t pay bills. Nor does getting emotionally involved. One of the best lessons I ever learnt was this – whatever you do, do it quickly.

5. Be prepared to work your face off

For some reason people think making money online is easy; that it’s 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. It’s cold and lonely and you’ll often find yourself struggling. This brings me to my next point.

6. It takes years

Unless you’re willing to be in this for the long haul – don’t even start. I see so many posts from members saying “About to launch”, “Starting a new business”, “Just finished our website”. I often make a point of going back months later and almost every time the sites are gone.

People give up too early. If you’re not in this for at least seven years then forget it.

7. If sh*t’s not working, then DITCH IT

I’ve made this mistake myself plenty of times. Don’t hang onto a product, feature or idea that’s not working. If something’s struggling then KILL IT. Anything that has potential should start bringing a return relatively quickly.

8. Keep your mouth shut and work

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been to parties and weekend BBQs only to have someone telling me how they’ve just setup a website and it’s 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. Test the market first

This is without a doubt one of the biggest mistakes I see people making 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 can’t sell.

Don’t do that. Test the market first. Go to a Facebook group with 10,000 members who love goldfish and say “Hey I’m selling goldfish shaped sunglasses, who wants a pair?” This should be highly targeted and you SHOULD make sales. If you don’t, then something’s wrong. Also, don’t spend $20,000 on a swanky website. Set up your goods on EBay or something where there’s NO investment or outlay on your behalf. If you start making a lot of sales, THEN set up your own store.

And, don’t spend $100,000 having those fancy widgets made and then panic when you can’t 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 people’s money. I have done this successfully time and time again, and it reduces your risk to almost zero. Most people don’t care if your website reads “made to order, please allow x weeks”. Always be honest when doing this.

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

Unless you’re passionate about the subject matter – forget it. I see people all the time saying “I’m going to sell coffee cups” and I think “Wow, this person must really love coffee cups?” and then in three 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 don’t know why I bothered, I don’t even like coffee cups, I was just in it for the money”.

Remember, whatever you do, you’ve got to do it for YEARS. It’s like a relationship. If you can’t roll over every morning and be excited about it, then don’t even start. Sell something you’re passionate about.

Thanks John! Questions, comments? Let us know in the comments.

You can find lots of candid advice from John Romaine in Flying Solo forums, and he offers BS free SEO advice, training and services at SEO Point

Lucy Kippist

is an experienced Australian editor with experience in writing, podcasting radio and television, with previous senior editorial roles at News Corp news.com.au, Kidspot and Kinderling Kids Radio. In her current role as editor of Flying Solo, Australia's #1 website for solo business owners she is pursuing her passion for women in the small business space. Connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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