by Robin Behrstock
The flexibility that comes from being self-employed is undeniable. Add to that the freedom to work from wherever you choose (including your bed) and it comes as no surprise that more and more people — especially women — are foregoing the typical office environment for the comfort and adaptability of remote work. E-commerce is one of the most common industries to find remote working opportunities. Here are a few tips to help you get your own venture started.
Most successful ecommerce businesses offer a full line of products. So if you have a great idea for a new product, think about how you can expand and offer a variety of options or complimentary items. Once you have your first few products in mind, research the competition. Are there many other websites with the same products? Do you have a unique selling proposition that offers a higher value? Why should people choose you over everyone else?
Will you manufacture the products yourself? This is a good way to start, but it will limit your long term production capacity, so I encourage you to find a manufacturing solution that allows for growth. You can find a factory that makes similar products and hire them to make yours. Or import products from another country by working with a factory or trading company. You can find factories around the world at Alibaba.com. If importing, you’ll need to hire a shipping company and customs broker who will help you get the products across borders and determine the import duties you’ll be required to pay.
If you’re just getting started, your sales volume may be low, so you can warehouse the products yourself and ship each order. However, when dealing with larger quantities, you should hire a 3PL (Third Party Logistics) warehouse to handle the warehousing and fulfillment logistics. You will need to properly identify each item with a SKU and UPC code. Amazon has its own network of warehouses and can handle your warehousing and fulfillment at a low cost. If you use Amazon’s warehouses through their FBA (Fulfillment by Amazon) program, your products will be eligible for “Prime” shipping and will have better sales results versus products that are fulfilled by you, the seller. Some ecommerce businesses choose to own and operate their own warehouse, but that can skyrocket your overhead costs and will prevent your business from being location-independent.
Now that you have products, warehousing and fulfillment set up, it’s time to sell! You can sell on marketplaces like Amazon, Etsy, Jet, etc., or launch your own ecommerce website. Nowadays, building an ecommerce website is easy with companies like Shopify. Templates are available with step-by-step instructions to build your product listings, accept credit card payments, and even integrate with shipping software.
Since there’s no face-to-face interaction like there is at your local gift shop, customer service emails are extremely important in e-commerce. You need to answer customer service emails quickly and effectively. Set up procedures for returning products to your 3PL warehouse, or to a different location where they can be evaluated and possibly resold as an “imperfect” item on eBay.
After your products are available for sale online, you need to help people find them. Determine your target keywords for each product and incorporate those words as many times as possible on your website and in your Search Engine marketing campaigns. Set up social media accounts to publicize new products and promotions and engage with customers. Follow users who follow similar companies and they will likely be interested in your products as well. Use popular and relevant hashtags to help increase the reach of your posts. Lastly, collect email addresses and build email marketing campaigns with a program like Mailchimp or Constant Contact.
Building a business takes trial and error. You must take risks and try new things to grow. Don’t be afraid of the unknown. You can learn along the way or ask other experts to help. Ask your accountant to help you measure the profitability of new products and marketing campaigns so you can expand upon the successful ones and retract on the poor performers. Establish KPI (Key Performance Indicators) and monitor on a weekly or monthly basis. Set goals, remind yourself about them, and celebrate when you reach them. Continue improving and growing your business by expanding the product line, sales channels and marketing efforts. Listen to your customers and create new products based on what you hear from them.
Building, growing and operating this type of e-commerce business can be done from anywhere! So feel free to hit the road and work from coffee shops or wherever you can find reliable wifi. Work hard, be nice, and enjoy life!
Robin Behrstock, author of ADVENTURES OF WOMEN ENTREPRENEURS: Stories That Inspire, started Alchemade, a copper mug business, just as they became a popular trend. In less than three years, she grew the business to annual sales of $3 million. Behrstock is currently a partner in Radius Partnership, a consulting firm focused on working with small businesses. For more information please visit www.AWEbook.com.