OK, let’s get something straight – you don’t really have to cower under the table every time you read a word with the letter “E” as prefix. And before I get to the other obstacles, let me just go ahead and say that fear and reluctance to take the first step is probably the biggest obstacle standing between you and your dream of making passive income from an e-commerce venture.
If you’re reading this blog post, you are likely to have heard stories or read about internet entrepreneurs making a killing online. You may even have stumbled upon photographs of super-successful entrepreneurs vacationing in exotic destinations, and wondered how these “kids” in their 20s made it so big.
The answer is: E-Commerce.
Allow me to explain!
E-Commerce is the new commerce. This isn’t just a clever tagline. It’s the truth – delivered to you in a minimalist fashion. You see, e-commerce, according to Wikipedia, is “…a type of industry where the buying and selling of products or services is conducted over electronic systems.” By this very definition, all modern economy has its basis in e-commerce. Everything you see online and offline is connected to one giant sphere of digital commerce. It’s all digital, or electronic, if you will. It’s so “electronic” that a single misfiring electron in a server somewhere in Hamburg, Germany, can cause your Director’s Cut Blu-Ray Disc Set of Harry Potter series to be delivered to someone in Point Barrow, Alaska; or render this page in Klingon.
What does is take to be an internet entrepreneur?
Not much, really. A bit of hard work and a sliver of common sense would do. Internet entrepreneurship is no different than entrepreneurship in the most general sense of the word, but there is one tiny little difference, though. It’s a lot easier to be an entrepreneur online than in the offline world, and internet, in itself, is nothing but a facilitator of commerce that would take place between humans regardless of internet’s existence.
The job of an entrepreneur is simply to identify an opportunity and act upon the discovery in such a manner as to create a market for the products or services being offered. The product does not have to be tangible. This blog post, for example, is an intangible product that is serving the need for awesome content on how to get started in e-commerce. It doesn’t matter what you’re selling. If there’s a demand and you can supply it, you can carve out a comfortable little niche for yourself.
Where do I start?
It’s easy to get confused and distracted when you’re just starting out in the world of e-commerce, but don’t let the information overload deter you from achieving your goals. So, first things first: You have to identify your niche and figure out what you want to sell. The possibilities are virtually endless and you’re bound to find something that you can promote. This article here offers a crash course in finding a great product to sell and even goes beyond the premise to cover stuff like SEO.
If you want to sell physical products like books, electronics, etc., setting yourself up as an associate with Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, would be a good place to start. In most cases, it’s as easy as re-listing the inventory on your own website.
Many people have found success in dropshipping, so if you want to learn the tools of that trade, you can set up a shop even on a shoestring budget and start selling your goods right away.
Even if you are a creator or designer with unique handmade products of your own to sell, you can set up an Etsy store with one of your hands in a bag of Doritos. It really is that easy!
For a full disclosure on how to pick a niche where you can add value, discover the best products to promote, identify your target audience and customers, and bring traffic to your website, I wholeheartedly recommend that you read Andrew Youderian’s free e-book Profitable eCommerce.
How do I compete?
It’s a good question, but a bit premature. If you’re just starting out, you shouldn’t focus on competing. Your goal should be to survive, and by the end of the year, turn out a profit, no matter how small a sum it is. But here’s a trick I picked up on my way to becoming a successful online merchant: Distinguish yourself by adding value. These are the five most powerful words I learned in online marketing.
The problem with competition is that it is not a zero sum game. Even if you beat your competition in a price war, it does not mean that you’ve won. Your competition’s loss may not be your gain. Trying to push your competition off the cliff by lowering the prices of your products will destroy the marketplace and there’s no way you can guarantee prices. A behemoth like Amazon can beat just about anyone in a price war so it’s meaningless to play.
Your goal as an online merchant should be to add value. Where Amazon’s product descriptions are vague and 100-word long, yours should be 300-word long and as descriptive as possible. Serve your audience by providing them as much information as possible about the product and you’ll be able to charge a premium on the product price. Your customers will literally pay you extra for the information you provide.
Where to find time to do all this?
Really? Is this your excuse? Perhaps you can miss an episode or two of Breaking Bad and spend that time building your online business. Here’s my mantra: I work so that I don’t have to work. If you spend a couple of hours every week focusing on your dream to build a passive online income stream, you’ll have enough time (and money) to do absolutely anything you want in a couple of years.
Start by making a list of unproductive activities and pick the one that is most unproductive. And stop doing it. You can easily find 2 to 3 hours in a week. Here’s a fun fact: Men spend an average of 1 hour 45 minutes every week on the toilet. Why not make good use of that lost time by reading Andrew Youderian’s free e-book Profitable eCommerce instead of playing Plants vs. Zombies on your iPhone?
Where do I get traffic for my website?
This one deserves a blog post of its own, but I’ll simply lay out the basics for you. When it comes to getting traffic for your website, there is no magic formula. It takes a lot of useful high-quality content, guest blogging and search engine optimization to get to the point where you stop worrying about getting traffic and start worrying about converting it.
But here’s a quick and dirty guide:
- Guest blog on other websites – So here’s an example: Imagine you’re selling iPhone covers. Do a quick Google search for “iPhone accessories reviews” and you’ll find tons of blogs and websites that are talking about iPhone accessories. Reach out to them by sending a highly personalized email and see if they’ll accept a guest post from you. Even if only a few people agree to let you post your content on their blog, you can get a ton of free traffic and a neat little back link.
- Leverage social media – Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest can drive a ton of traffic to your website if you can connect to the right audience. Create shareworthy content (images and videos are the best) and give your audience an incentive to share it with others.
- Search engine optimization – SEO is a long-term strategy, but there’s no question about its importance. There is nothing like organic traffic from the big three search engines. There are a couple of things you can do right away to jumpstart your SEO campaign, like:
a) Optimizing your website for long-tail and complex keywords. Not only can they prove to be more profitable than short-tail focus keywords, but also easier to rank for. Long-tail SEO just became more relevant with Google’s latest Hummingbird Update as the updated search algorithm can now find complex semantic patterns and identify the relevance of your content with greater accuracy.
b) Complement the on-page search engine optimization with off-page efforts like guest blogging to get more and more backlinks. It will take a while before you see any meaningful increase in visitors and keyword rankings, but the effort will be well worth it.
- Pay for it – Not recommended for beginners, but paid traffic can sometimes work miracles if you’re in a very niche market. You’ll have to spend a lot of time identifying undervalued keywords and managing your PPC campaign, but if you can pull it off, there’s nothing like it!
So, there you go! The mysteries of e-commerce cracked open for you. Let me know if you run into any problems or feel that I’ve missed something out.