Being that this will be my first post on Bolder Entrepreneur, I wanted to start off strong and break down exactly how I got started in E-commerce, how I failed multiple times, and finally how everything eventually “clicked”. This is going to be a long and in-depth overview of how I became successful in E-commerce and how you can replicate my process to become successful too. So sit back, relax, grab a cup of coffee and enjoy.
How I Got Started In E-commerce
My online marketing career began primarily in SEO, or search engine optimization. That, in a nutshell, is essentially the process of ranking higher in search engine results pages such as Google, Bing, etc.
I did this under a few companies and was pretty good at it. However, during the whole time I was working for these companies, I always had side projects on the go. Whether it be blogs, curation sites, or community sites, I was always dabbling in the online space, seeing what I could come up with.
Through the years, these side projects did okay, I brought one of my content-based sites to over 100k monthly visitors in just over a year and was making some money with it, albeit, nothing crazy.
It wasn’t until I stumbled upon some YouTube videos of people talking about dropshipping through Shopify when I started getting serious about e-commerce. The whole concept was fascinating to me. You essentially find a product to sell, run ads to that product, then when somebody buys the product from your store you purchase it from a supplier, send it to your buyer, and pocket the difference.
So, after signing up for a Shopify free trial I started my first store. And guess what… it completely flopped.
I had no clear direction with the store, it wasn’t branded well, my product selection was dull and ultimately I had to shut it down. This went on a few more times with some moderate success here and there.
So, I knew something had to change. I went back to YouTube, watched a bunch more videos, joined e-commerce communities on FaceBook and read everything I could about how to make it in the e-commerce space. By the way, here are a few active e-commerce communities I would recommend joining:
It took up a lot of my evenings and weekends but I was driven to make this work… and eventually it did.
After taking a step back and really thinking about which niche I thought had potential and what the customers in that niche would ultimately want, I set off to open yet another Shopify account.
This time I had a clearer vision for what I wanted in a store, a product that my customers would resonate with, and a brand that was appealing to my customers (not just some slapped together Shopify store with a cheap Fiverr logo). I took the time to invest in the aesthetic of my store and build out a story and customized look and feel for my brand.
With all that in place, I could now start running ads and getting customers. Lo and behold, after a year of working hard and persisting through the ups and downs of online business, I built an e-commerce store that went from $0 to over $1 million in just under a year.
There’s obviously a lot that happened during that year and I want to break down everything in this post so that you can learn from my mistakes and be ready for when you start your own online business. So, I’m going to dive into what tools you need to get started, what you should be looking for in a product/niche, which advertising platforms you should use, and much more.
Step 1. Choosing a Niche
The first thing you need to do before getting started with E-commerce is to choose a niche. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “there are so many niches out there how do I know if I’m choosing the right one?”
A lot of people get overwhelmed right off the bat when it comes to niche selection. However, what I’ve found to be really helpful for beginners, and what I’ve done for every store I’ve run so far, is to choose a broad niche and then narrow down once you’ve proven what works.
What I mean by that is, let’s say you’re interested in opening a fitness store but you’re not sure which products to sell yet. Well, I would choose a domain name that revolves around fitness but isn’t directly tied to the product you’ll eventually be selling.
You might have to test 5, 10, 20 products before you eventually find one that works for you. So if you name your website ResistanceBandsRUs.com right off the bat but later find that you aren’t having any success with that product then you’ll need to start from scratch again when you move onto a totally unrelated product in the fitness niche. Otherwise, it’ll just confuse your customers and won’t be good for your brand down the road.
Remember, we want to have a brand vision in mind. Gone are the days of dropshipping cheap, crappy products for 2-3 months then cycling in a new one once that eventually dies out. We want to build something that is sustainable over the years and that we can eventually bring in-house, brand, and possibly even exit for a much larger sum of money.
So, back to choosing a niche… What I find to be a good starting point are the broad categories on major e-commerce sites such as Aliexpress and Amazon.
Amazon’s Broad Categories
Aliexpress’s Broad Categories
Pick a niche in one of the suggestions listed above and you’ll surely be able to find a product that sells well. YOU CAN MAKE ANY NICHE WORK. Yes, that’s in caps because I really want to drive that in. It’s just about finding the right product combined with the right audience.
As a side note, through the years that I’ve been working in e-commerce, I’ve seen which niches are typically the most popular as they have the most buyers. These are:
- Home and Kitchen
This also means that these niches are the most saturated but if you can out-market your competitor you’ll win. That being said, you shouldn’t just go into a niche because you “think” it has the highest chance of succeeding. You should go into a niche that you’re actually interested in pursuing and growing over the long term.
But make sure that the niche you choose isn’t too niche. I’ve made that mistake before and although you may have some really passionate buyers, you won’t be able to scale your product as high. Remember, start broad and narrow down once you’ve found something that consistently works.
In my case, I started with a niche store that focussed on a large group of people, I had various products in my store all related to what those people might be interested in. However, there was one product that I tested which delivered much better results than the others.
I was able to scale that product, consistently sell it, and it was evergreen (there would always be a market for it). So, after about 6 months, I decided to remove all other products from the store and focus solely on that one product. This made my store look much cleaner, easier to navigate, more authoritative, and was much easier to keep track of inventory and suppliers.
Picking a Domain Name
Once you’ve selected which niche you want to sell in, it’s time to pick a domain name. I like using Namecheap as my domain name provider because their prices are low, the dashboard is intuitive and their support is good.
Domain names can be difficult because so many of the “.com” ones have already been taken. Therefore, you’ll need to get a little creative with it in most cases. Here are a few guidelines to follow when picking a domain name:
- Make sure it is relevant to your broader niche but will still work if you decide to niche down to a specific product in the future
- Try to find something that uses .com. If nothing is available try .net, .org, or .co.
- Make sure your domain name is short and sweet (2-3 words max)
If you need some inspiration picking a domain name, try using a domain name generator to see what it comes up with.
Once you have your domain name it’s time to connect it to your e-commerce platform.
Step 2. Setting Up Your Store
The second thing you need to do before getting started with an e-commerce store is to figure out which platform you want to use. There are a variety of platforms out there and one isn’t necessarily better than another, it just depends on what you think best suits your skillset and ambitions. I’ll list a few platforms to choose from below but I’ll mainly be focussing on Shopify through this guide since that’s ultimately what I decided was best for me.
E-commerce Platforms to Choose From
Shopify is a great option for beginners and was created for e-commerce so it’s well optimized in terms of analytics, speed, best practices, etc.
- Upsides: Optimized for e-commerce, easy to understand, and navigate for beginners, great online support.
- Downsides: You need to pay a monthly fee to Shopify (starting at $29.99) and the themes & plugins are pretty expensive.
WordPress + WooCommerce
WordPress on its own is a blogging platform but combined with WooCommerce you can turn a WordPress site into an online shop.
- Upsides: Mainly free (unless you buy paid plugins), more control in terms of customization such as the checkout page for instance.
- Downsides: Wasn’t built specifically for e-commerce therefore isn’t as optimized. You need to run your own server to host a WordPress site whereas Shopify does that for you.
Clickfunnels is more well known to be a digital marketer’s funnel software, however, it can be used for e-commerce as well. Clickfunnels tends to convert really well for one product stores. You can simply build a 1-page funnel optimized around that specific product and in most cases, it will convert well.
- Upsides: Tends to convert really well and is great for one product stores
- Downsides: The monthly fee is pretty expensive. Also, Clickfunnels doesn’t tend to offer the easiest fulfillment connections so when it comes time to actually fulfill your orders you may run into some troubles/need to implement a workaround.
Amazon FBA is a way to take advantage of Amazon’s massive marketplace to sell your products. This essentially works buy you having to buy in bulk from a supplier (such as Alibaba) and then shipping that bulk order to one of Amazon’s warehouses. From there Amazon packages the items and ships them out without you having to touch the product.
- Upsides: You get to take advantage of Amazon’s massive marketplace and optimized website to sell your products
- Downsides: Amazon takes a cut of your profits, you need to buy in bulk in order to ship to their warehouses, you’ll be facing a massive amount of competition if you choose a niche that is saturated.
Etsy is primarily focused on artisans and DIYer’s. However, if that’s what you do, you can make a lot of money selling on Etsy. This process however is a bit more “involved” than the other methods mentioned above because in most cases you’re customizing the product you’re making. Therefore it’s a bit harder to scale.
- Upsides: Huge audience of interested buyers browsing the site for high-quality artisan products.
- Downsides: Etsy takes a cut of your profits, you have less flexibility on the overall aesthetic of your store as compared to if you had your own website.
Choosing a Theme
For the purposes of this guide, I’ll assume that you select Shopify as your e-commerce platform. In my opinion, it’s the easiest way to get started with. Once you sign up for a free trial you’ll then need to select a theme.
There are a few decent free themes that Shopify provides and there are a ton of paid themes. However, Shopify’s paid themes tend to be quite expensive (typically cost between $100-$300) and you don’t really need them to start.
The theme I like to use to is called Debutify.
It’s fairly similar to Shopify’s Debut theme but comes with some extra features. There are paid plans available that give you even more features but you don’t need them when you’re first starting out.
If you’re just starting out you don’t need to worry about plugins too much. What’s more important is actually validating your product and idea through sales. However, down the road, you’ll want to optimize your site for higher conversions, a better average order value, repeat customers, integrated customer service etc. Here are a few plugins I recommend installing:
- VITALS: 40+ apps in one (Paid)
- Sweet Upsell (Paid)
- SMSBump Marketing & Automation (Paid)
- QuickBooks Bridge (Paid)
- Klaviyo – Email Marketing (Free plugin, but subscription to service is paid)
- Help Scout (Free plugin, but subscription to service is paid)
- Google Ads Conversion Tracking (Free)
- Feed For Google Shopping (Paid)
As I said, you don’t NEED to have every one of these plugins right off the bat. I’d argue that you don’t even need any of them. I’d recommend gradually adding them to your store as you get more customers so that you can better afford the monthly fees that come along with them.
Creating Your Brand
Creating your brand in the e-commerce space is VERY important. It’s your voice, it’s how you’re going to connect with your potential buyers, and it’s your first impression. To start, you’ll want to create a logo for your brand. This can be done using a service like Fiverr or Upwork which are both paid options or you can create one yourself.
If you’re using a paid service, just be sure to look through the artist’s past work and reviews to ensure that they’ll actually provide you with something you can use. I also recommend not going super cheap on this. If there’s someone who’s work you really like but they’re a bit more expensive, go with them. Your logo is extremely important in online sales.
There are some free logo generators out there that will actually generate a logo for you. However, in most cases I find these to be pretty low quality, but you can certainly use them for inspiration. A couple that I’ve used in the past include: Free Logo Design and Hatchful.
Alternatively, a lot of brands don’t even really have a logo per se. They just use a fancy font, change the colors and boom… that’s their brand. I don’t really have a preference over which route you chose, as long as it looks simple and clean, you’re good to go. Just search “free fonts” into Google or design something in Canva.
Try to spend AT LEAST a few hours coming up with a good logo since that will set the stage for what your potential customers see once you start advertising your products. You can always upgrade to a better logo down the road but it’s easier if you get the logo the way you want it right off the bat.
Along with your logo, your color scheme is also important. What you chose as your color scheme can help you stand out from other websites and other ads. You should aim for 2-3 colors MAX on your site. I see beginner sites all the time using 5, 6, 7 different colors and it’s way too much.
You want things to be clean and consistent. A cool service I like to use for choosing color pallets is called Coolors.
It generates a set of colors that all work together and you can sift through them until you find a combination you like. You can also start off with a primary color and then the generator will choose other colors that work with it so you’ll have secondary/tertiary colors.
Step 3. Finding a Product
There are a TON of ways to find a potential product to market and sell. Literally, just do a Youtube search for “How to find dropshipping products” and you have hours of videos to watch through.
There are gurus that suggest trending products, websites that offer product analysis services, sales statistics you can look at on supplier sites, and the list goes on. When you’re first starting out, this can be a daunting task. Even those who have been doing it for a while don’t always get it right.
In my opinion, trending products aren’t the way to go. They are short-lived and unless you want to be making a new store every couple of months and compete with hundreds of others then you should stay away from these; think fidget spinners.
In my opinion, the best products to sell are ones that are evergreen but have a unique selling point to them that hasn’t been seen by the masses. Think of this as a variation or improvement of an existing product.
I really like indestructible shoes for example. Overall, they are a shoe company and shoes are never going out of style. But they’re different in that they sell shoes that are able to withstand a lot of damage. They have a unique selling point that wasn’t widely popular when they first came out.
I have a few product criteria that I like to stick to when choosing a product:
- The product isn’t readily available in stores
- The product is in an evergreen niche but has a key differentiator to it
- The product can be sold for over $25
- The product is brandable
A lot of e-commerce gurus say that in order to be successful your product needs to have a “wow factor” or NEEDS to solve a problem. That’s not necessarily true if you’re building a brand that people will trust and connect with. It might be an easier way to make some quick money but we’re aiming to build something that is sustainable over the long term.
Now, when it comes to finding a product there are lots of options to choose from. However, I will go over a few of the popular ones below.
The first place I like to start when looking for a product is actually Google Trends. And unlike the name suggests, I’m not looking for a graph that indicates your typical short-lived “trend”. I’m looking for something that has seen steady or increasing interest over the years.
Once I’ve selected a broad niche such as apparel for instance I like to use Google trends to dig down a little deeper into sub-niches of apparel. Let’s take hats for example.
Hats are a sub-niche of apparel that you could focus on and are great for a few reasons:
- They’re evergreen; people will always be buying hats
- Interest has been steadily increasing in Google trends
- There are TONS of variations, you just need to find one that makes you stand out from the crowd
- They’re very brandable
- They can have a high perceived value if you market them correctly or if they have a feature your competitors don’t
Okay, so now that you have hats in mind, you can start looking at supplier sites for a hat that has a unique selling point and that isn’t readily available in stores.
The first place most beginners in e-commerce go to get started is Aliexpress. It’s super convenient because you don’t need to purchase any inventory upfront but deliveries do tend to take a while and some suppliers aren’t very trustworthy. That being said, it’s still a great way to find and test out a product.
Continuing with the hat example we can go onto Aliexpress and type in “hats”.
Right off the bat you’ll get a ton of results from Aliexpress for “hats”. The default search method in Aliexpress is set to “Best Match” which I find provides you with newer products. However, I also like to check out the “Orders” tab which returns the highest-selling products for your search.
Now it’s time to go out and find one that’s unique. Right off the bat, I see a couple of hats that I would potentially test. At the time of writing this post it’s almost Christmas so selling holiday-themed hats may be a great way to capitalize on all the holiday spending. However, there are already thousands of orders made for the holiday hats which could mean it would be harder to market with the increased competition and ad saturation.
Alternatively, on the “Best Match” results page I see there is a hat that acts as a hat and a scarf for kids.
The 2-in-1 hat can even go over the child’s mouth which can act as a fabric mask. Of course, you would need to specify that it would not meet the medical-grade mask requirements but most people during this 2020 pandemic only wear fabric masks anyway, which is better than nothing.
You can really fall down a rabbit hole in searching for a unique product with Aliexpress, which is what makes it so powerful. What I find helpful is clicking into a product that seems interesting and then scrolling all the way down to the “More to love” section. This gives you a TON more ideas to choose from.
In doing that for this example, I found a winter hat that is equipped with Bluetooth. This is a unique product as it’s not something that you see every day, it can be marked up as it has a technological component to it, it’s brandable, and it solves a problem. Now doing a search for “Bluetooth hats” in Aliexpress and sorting by “Orders” gives me the following results.
Definitely some promising results there in terms of reviews, number of orders, and price. I tend to sell products for 3x the cost of the product so that there is an even 33.3% split between:
- cost of goods sold
- marketing cost
- and profit.
In this case, you could sell this product for $28.95 or $29.95 which would leave you with a decent margin for testing.
Spocket is a Shopify plugin that is somewhat similar to Aliexpress in that they are a platform where various suppliers can list their products but on a much smaller scale. The key differentiator with Spocket is that they try to use US suppliers as much as possible. This is great because you can get the product to your customer faster, communication between you and the supplier is typically easier, and having things Made In America is a great selling point for customers of Western Countries.
That being said, Spocket’s selection is much smaller and their prices tend to be more expensive as US suppliers aren’t able to compete as aggressively on price as China-based suppliers. Spocket also offers a free and paid plan. Some products are marked as “Premium” and you can only list them on your store if you use Spocket’s paid plan.
That being said, here are the results for the search term “hats” in Spocket.
As you can see there are no reviews of the products nor does it tell you how many items were sold. Therefore it makes it a little more difficult to validate a product idea before actually going out and testing it. However, if you find a product that you think might work and that has decent margins I’d definitely recommend testing out Spocket. Your delivery times will be better and your customers will be happier right off the bat, which is the ultimate key to long-lasting success.
Facebook is the king of advertising for e-commerce and digital marketers. It’s extremely powerful in terms of who you can target as well as how cheap you can target those people. However, Facebook can also be used as a product research tool.
To unleash the power of Facebook’s product research tool, you’ll need to do something you may have thought you would never do… disable AdBlocker.
That’s right. And when you disable your ad blocker, guess what? You’ll start seeing ads, which is EXACTLY what you want for two reasons:
- You’ll get to see what products others are promoting and how successful they are doing it
- You’ll learn what a good/bad ad looks like based on the success of the ad itself.
When you come across an ad for a product in your niche give it a like, visit the site, add the item to your cart, and begin the checkout process. This all tells Facebook that you’re interested in that product and they’ll then show you other products similar to it.
This means you’ll now be getting a steady stream of new product ideas constantly being shown on your Facebook page. What I like to do is actually save each interesting Facebook ad to my profile’s “Saved” folder and then categorize them by niche. I can then go back if I ever need more inspiration and see how the ad is doing.
When you come across an ad for a product you are considering selling, the first thing you should do is check the most recent comments. If the ad is getting multiple comments every hour then it’s a good indication the store is scaling and is profitable. If the comment timestamps are few and far between it’s a deprecating factor in terms of the viability of the product.
Below is an example of an ad I found for a felt Christmas tree that just has unbelievable engagement. It has over 102k reactions and over 30k comments. You know this ad is doing very well otherwise the store owners wouldn’t have run it for this long.
When I find an ad I like I go straight to the comments section to see how frequent and recent the comments are.
As you can see this ad is getting a new comment every few minutes! This is a great sign but they have likely already saturated the market with this product. Regardless, I like to look for ads that are producing between 5-10 new comments per hour. This means that your competitor is likely scaling the product and making money with it.
Next, you’ll want to actually scroll through the comments and see what people are saying. Are they upset with the quality, shipping times, customer service? If so, that presents an opportunity for you. You can then go and find a better supplier that provides better quality and shipping times while making sure your customer service is top-notch.
You could also find a similar product with a unique feature that your competitor doesn’t have or you could produce better quality ads and simply out-market them. Once you find a product that has been proven to work, there are TONS of things you can do to build on that momentum and carve out your own slice of the pie.
Step 4. Product Fulfillment
Now that you’ve done your research and found a product you would like to start advertising it’s time to find a supplier to fulfill your products. It’s important to note that before you start sending a lot of orders to any supplier you should first order the product and inspect it for quality/shipping time.
If you skip this step it could be detrimental to your business and get you closed down very quickly. Between PayPal, Shopify, and Facebook all becoming more and more selective with who they choose to work with it’s important that you provide your customers with the best possible buying experience.
That being said, there are a variety of product fulfillment services you can choose to work with. You can’t work with everyone right off the bat as in some cases you’ll need to reach a certain number of orders per day before they’ll even look at you. But, the important thing is to start small and work your way up.
The easiest and most obvious place to start with fulfilling your e-commerce orders is Aliexpress. Shopify gives you multiple options for connecting your store to Aliexpress so that product fulfillment is automated. I recommend using a free app called DSers. This app allows you to place multiple orders all at once to Aliexpress.
It’s easy, fast, and free.
Now, as previously mentioned in this post, the downside to Aliexpress is the slow processing/shipping times, unreliable suppliers, limited customization. etc. But, when you’re first starting out, I think it’s a great way to fulfill your orders with minimal risk.
That being said, don’t just fulfill your orders from any and every supplier out there. First, you should be doing a bit of due diligence on your suppliers before you start buying from there. Here are a few things I like to do/check:
- Customer reviews for products: Read through the good and bad reviews. See what people are saying and if the product has terrible reviews, move on.
- Message the supplier directly and start a conversation with them. Ask them about their shipping times, potential customization options, their inventory levels, etc. At this point you just want to see that they reply in a timely manner. If they don’t, move on.
- Check the supplier’s store rating. This should be in the top left corner of your web browser whenever you go to a product’s details page or the supplier’s home page. I like to stick with suppliers that have at least a 95% positive feedback rating. If Aliexpress has them marked as a top brand – even better.
If all of the above 3 points check out, then you should be fine sending a few orders out and monitoring how things go. If orders are being shipped out fast and arriving within 2-3 weeks then stick with the supplier until you’ve reached 10-20 orders per day. At this point it’s time to start looking elsewhere for more reliable shipping so that you can start scaling more reliably.
Fulfillment agents are people who go out and find your products at the lowest cost and then ship them out on your behalf. This may sound similar to Aliexpress but the differentiating factor here is that a fulfillment agent is often times just a small team of people based in China who work with a few select clients.
Some agents are better than others in terms of transparency and you really need to do your homework before settling on an agent. That being said, agents are often times able to give you better prices than Aliexpress and they can process/ship your items faster than Aliexpress suppliers.
This is because many China-based fulfilling agents use different shipping lines than Aliexpress suppliers, a notable one being Yunexpress.
However, one thing to be aware of when working with a fulfillment agent is that you’ll need to pre-order inventory to take advantage of the faster processing/fulfillment times. This means you’ll need to put up capital that you otherwise wouldn’t have spent until you got an order from a customer.
On one hand you’ll be taking on more risk, on the other hand you’ll have happier customers that will keep coming back (as long as your product quality and customer service is also good).
Some fulfillment agents have a minimum daily order number that you must meet before they’ll start working with you. I’ve seen some that require 20-30 orders minimum per day and others that require 50.
If you do want to work with a fulfillment agent, I would recommend checking out EcommOps.
Their founder, Dayu, is super transparent and upfront about their pricing and shipping times. The only thing is that they require a minimum order count of 50 orders per day. So if you’re just starting out it likely won’t work but keep them in mind as you continue to grow.
CJDropshipping is sort of like a mix between having a fulfillment agent and Aliexpress. They don’t require that you have a certain number of orders per day to work with them but they do offer a lot of the same advantages as a fulfillment agent such as customization (which requires an MOQ), bulk ordering for faster processing times, and various shipping options.
In contrast to Aliexpress, CJ doesn’t carry as many products on their site. However, they do provide a sourcing feature which allows you to request that they source a particular product which you can then begin selling.
In terms of shipping, CJ is pretty versatile. They offer many different shipping options from China and also allow you to store products in their warehouses across the US, Germany, UK, and a few other countries. So, if the majority of your orders are coming from the US you can purchase some inventory, ship it to one of their US warehouses and send products directly from there using USPS; which typically gets delivered in under five days.
The great thing about CJ’s warehouses is that they don’t charge any additional storage or processing fees. These are all built into the shipping price you pay when you go to ship the product.
That being said, I have heard a few horror stories about CJ when it comes time to scale your product. Some reviewers have said that as soon as they started sending CJ 100’s of orders per day, CJ wasn’t able to keep up and they had orders stuck in processing for days or weeks.
What I would recommend if you choose to go with CJ, or any other supplier for that matter, is to keep an eye on your orders regularly. Make sure they are being shipped out, make sure they are being delivered, and have a conversation with your supplier as much as possible. You want to build a relationship that will help benefit all parties.
One method of fulfillment that isn’t discussed much in the e-commerce space is manual fulfillment. This is a much more hands-on approach as it requires you to order in bulk to your house or business address, pack the orders, and then ship them out to your customers.
There’s probably a reason why this isn’t talked about a ton – it’s A LOT more work.
But, when you fulfill your orders yourself you have complete control over the customer unboxing experience. You can order custom packaging to fit with your brand and you’ll be able to ship to your customers faster (depending on where you live in relation to them). This will offer a significant boost in customer retention and happiness.
The thing is, once you get so big, you won’t have the time to fulfill all orders yourself. You’ll need to start hiring a team and secure a warehouse which is a big overhead expense.
It’s probably safe to say that most people reading this won’t want to start out with manual fulfillment. However, once your brand grows to a point where you want to offer a more customized experience for your buyers then manual fulfillment might be the way to go.
The last method of product fulfillment I’ll be discussing are 3PLs or third party logistics. Third-party logistics companies such as Shipbob or Dollarfulfillment offer a service wherein you can ship them a bulk order and they’ll store it, pack it, and ship it.
These types of companies tend to offer very fast shipping and great customer service as they’re US-based. The downside is that they can be expensive when you start adding up their additional fees.
With 3PLs, you’ll also have to manage the bulk ordering, the customs process which can be a pain if something goes wrong, and you’ll have to ensure that each product has been properly tagged with a SKU number so that the 3PL can input it into their system.
3PLs are a great method of product fulfillment if you have a couple of really good selling products with minimal variants. However, they don’t tend to be the biggest fans of things that have many variants such as clothing which can come in multiple colors and sizes.
Which Product Fulfillment Services Do I Use?
I personally started out with Aliexpress as many beginners so in the e-commerce space. However, once I scaled to a certain point, my supplier wasn’t able to ship out orders as fast as I would have liked and they weren’t willing to negotiate on price.
Therefore, I looked into all other possible options. The store I was running had a product with many variants which isn’t ideal for 3PLs or fulfillment agents as that means they need to store and keep track of 30-40 SKUS instead of just a few.
Ultimately I ended up working (and still work) with CJDropshipping as they offer great shipping options, the ability to purchase stock to overseas warehouses, custom branding ability, and more. Keep in close contact with the agent CJDropshipping assigns to you and you shouldn’t have any problems.
Regardless of what I use, I would recommend everyone do their own research. At the time of looking for another product fulfillment solution I also found that CJDropshipping offered the best prices for what I wanted. However, this isn’t the case with all products.
I’ve seen some products costing more on CJDropshipping than what you could buy for in bulk and ship from a 3PL. Again, It all depends on your product and I recommend looking into all options above so that you can make an informed decision.
Step 5. Getting Traffic
So, at this point you have a store, you’ve found a product, and you know which product fulfillment route you’re going with. Now, it’s time to start getting traffic into your store and converting visitors to customers.
There are a few ways to get traffic to your store. Some are free, some are paid. In most cases, the free ones take longer to work while the paid ones are faster. I like doing a mix of both since I don’t want to put all of my eggs in one basket. That being said, when you’re starting out it’s a good idea to run ads so you can quickly identify any holes in your marketing strategy, website design, or product selection.
At this point, you may be thinking “I don’t want to run ads because I don’t have the money for ads”. Well in that case I would say, you should find a job and save your money until you do have money for ads. When I started in e-commerce I said to myself that I’ll spend up to $5000, and if I couldn’t make it work or see some sign of it working before it’s all gone then I’ll do something else.
I think it’s good to have a budget in mind because that gives you the motivation to make things work with the budget you have. If you only have 1k, 3k, or 5k, then you’ll be smart with your money and find a way.
The thing is, in e-commerce you’ll likely need to run ads to be profitable in the short term, if you’re playing the long game then other methods may work but I recommend running ads from the get-go. And for that, there are 2 main platforms.
When it comes to e-commerce advertising Facebook/Instagram is typically the place to go. And rightfully so. It’s extremely powerful in terms of who you can target and how broadly you can scale a campaign.
There are a ton of different Facebook ad strategies out there and most of them likely work. However, it’s important to stick to a single strategy until you validate its success before moving on to a new one.
The very first thing you want to do is ensure that you have the Facebook Pixel installed. This is what tracks and records the buying behaviors of users who visit your site. The more data your Facebook pixel collects, the smarter it gets and the cheaper it becomes to advertise.
Once your pixel is set up and configured correctly it’s time to create a campaign. I always like to start with a Conversions – Purchase campaign since that is the action you’re aiming for – purchases. Then, you’ll want to specify which countries you’re targeting, age range, interests, etc.
Nowadays, Facebook likes larger audiences so when choosing an interest try to go for ones that have at least over 1 million, preferably over 2 million. If you have to stack interests to get to that number do it. Facebook is smart and once you spend a certain amount of money they’ll learn who your ideal target customer is.
Once you have the ad set configured it’s time to move onto the ad portion. Here you can use a video or text ad. I recommend running at least one of each to see which ad type converts better. We’ll go into how to make ads in more detail in a separate post.
Write a catchy headline, a brief description, and insert your product page link. When running your ads MAKE SURE that you don’t copy someone else’s ad. That’s lazy, unethical, and will get you banned. Instead, if you can find supplier images that anyone can use, make something of your own out of them. Alternatively, order the product and make an ad with your own content.
If you’re just starting out, I like to recommend running 5-10 different ad sets at $15-20 per day and running each ad set to your BEROAS. BEROAS can be calculated as follows:
The selling price of your product / Your profit margin (before marketing costs)
So If you’re selling a product for $50 and it costs you $15 to purchase and ship out to your customer, then your profit margin before marketing costs is $35. Therefore, you can spend $35 on marketing costs to get 1 sale and breakeven. Now to convert that into Return On Ad Spend (ROAS) terms we just need to take $50 / $35 = 1.42.
If after 3 days any of your ad sets are below your BEROAS then kill the adset. If it is above, then keep it and start running more similar ad sets. Eventually, you can start increasing your budget on each ad set and once you get enough conversions you can start running lookalike audiences. I made the majority of my 7 figures using a combination of both lookalike audiences and single-interest audiences (they’re both VERY powerful).
With Facebook, you don’t really need to tweak your campaigns a whole lot. In fact, if things are running smoothly then it’s better not to micro-tweak as every time you change something your ads need to re-optimize which only happens after 50 purchases are made from a single ad set within one week.
To start out, I recommend not overcomplicating things and keeping an eye on your BEROAS for each ad set and ad. Make a few ad variations so that you can cycle through content. As one ad gets fatigued, you can cycle in another.
There’s certainly a lot more to dive into in terms of Facebook ads. I’ll definitely be revisiting this topic again perhaps in a separate post if I get enough interest from readers who want me to break down exactly how I scale and run my ads within the Facebook platform.
Google’s platform is completely different from Facebook in that Facebook’s users aren’t there to purchase products, they’re there to socialize with friends and family. We advertisers are pushing products into their feeds hoping that it catches their attention and makes them buy.
On the other hand, Google’s model runs on buyer intent. When someone searches into Google “best hat to buy”. They want to see results that will give them hats to purchase. So depending on your product and the amount of search volume it has, it may be worth running Google ads as well.
I’ve seen nice results with Google ads myself and although not as scalable as Facebook ads, they do tend to provide a better return on investment. I like to run google shopping ads side-by-side with Facebook and then retarget any users who didn’t complete a purchase through Facebook.
Again, there are more details that I will go into in a separate post to clarify which steps I take when setting up my Google ad campaigns.
A couple of years ago utilizing Instagram influencers was a popular way to drive traffic to your store. Essentially you would pay an influencer to post your ad on their feed or story for a certain number of hours and then hope that their audience would visit your site and purchase.
However, to do this at scale is cumbersome and many influencers raised their prices to the point where it just wasn’t sustainable anymore.
That being said, I still really like working with small Instagram influencers, not so much to run ads, but to get new ad content. The strategy here is to find influencers with under 10k followers, message them to see if they would like to receive a product for free in exchange for a picture or video of them using the product and a post on their feed.
With this deal, you’re spending the product/shipping cost of whatever your product is in exchange for extremely valuable ad content and as a bonus, you’ll also have them post about it on their feed. To sweeten the deal I also like to have an affiliate program that gives them a kickback if any of their followers purchase the product through their link. The Shopify affiliate program app I currently like to use is called GoAffPro – Affiliate Marketing.
This way, influencers can make money promoting your product and you don’t have to spend money on marketing costs to acquire a new customer. WIN-WIN!
SEO or search engine optimization is a completely different beast entirely. I worked in the SEO space for 3 years and let me tell you it’s definitely a long-term game. The key with SEO is to find keywords in your niche that have decent search volume but low competition.
Once you’ve found one, you need to create an article that’s better than any other article on the first page of Google and focus on that keyword throughout. How well your article will rank will also depend on your domain rating which increases through having other sites link back to yours. This alone can be difficult and time consuming to do.
That being said, if you have a brand that is evergreen and you plan to run for years, it’s important to have an SEO strategy in place. SEO will allow you to rank high in the search engines thus providing you with the holy grail of traffic – FREE traffic. It takes a while to achieve but is definitely worth it in the long run.
Step 6. Maintaining Good Customer Service; The #1 Key to Sustaining Long-Term Growth
The last, but in my opinion, the most important step to growing an online business over the long term is customer service. Having good customer service in place means you will have happier customers that’ll keep coming back and you’ll be much less likely to get into trouble with advertising and payment processing platforms.
When I first started out in e-commerce I ran all of my customer service directly through my email inbox. This however can get really messy, really fast. It isn’t organized at all and there is no functionality to automate workflows.
That’s why when I started getting between 5-10 emails a day I decided to start using Helpscout (use our link and get a $50 credit when you sign up).
Helpscout allows you to send and receive all of your customer support emails in one place and gives you the ability to organize them easily. You can set emails to different statuses depending on if the conversation is on-going or done, you can add multiple team members, you can tag emails, you can send automatic replies, and so much more.
Having a system like Helpscout is no doubt one of the best investments you’ll make in your business. Since your customers now have so many places to air their grievances, you want to make sure that you keep them satisfied and try to find a solution that benefits everyone in a timely manner.
Should You Do Your Own Customer Support or Hire Someone?
Most gurus say that once you start making so much money in your e-commerce store you should start outsourcing your customer service. I have no problem with this, the thing is you NEED to make sure that your customer support staff is trained properly and that you stay in touch with them frequently.
Some store owners simply go on Upwork and find someone who is willing to work for $5 an hour. However, in most cases, their English isn’t very good, and their willingness to go above and beyond isn’t there. Rightfully so, you’re paying them $5 an hour! If you’re going to outsource, make sure you hire someone who is a native English speaker and that you pay them a decent wage.
I have no problem with freelance hiring sites like Upwork, I use them too, but be sure to interview your candidates and gradually give them more tasks as you become more comfortable with their abilities.
Lastly, it’s important that you check up on your customer support staff frequently. Don’t just assume that everything is fine on the support front. I’ve heard so many stories where a store owner thinks everything is running smoothly because they hired a few customer support personnel and then never looked at their support emails again. Meanwhile, in the background, it’s a dumpster fire and their business is slowly burning to the ground.
On the flip side, depending on your daily order volume, there is a case to be made for doing customer support yourself. You know your business the best and you care about your business the most. Since Helpscout allows you to create saved replies with variables such as customer name, email address, etc you can use these for frequently asked questions.
Additionally, if you’re receiving a lot of customer emails pertaining to the same topic, maybe it’s time that you look into how to improve that part of your business. If you do that, then you’ll not only have happier customers but you’ll save time on customer support or save money on hiring someone for customer support.
All this to say that I truly believe taking care of your customers and replying to their questions promptly is what will keep your business thriving for years as opposed to running for 3-6 months before getting a flurry of complaints on third-party websites and eventually being shut down.
If you’ve made it to the end of this article, congratulations. This ended being way longer than I initially anticipated and although I wasn’t able to cover every single topic as in-depth as I would like, I do plan on creating more step-by-step guides that go into each topic even more in-depth.
Doing e-commerce and running a successful online store isn’t difficult once you know the steps to take. The main thing is that you need to persevere through failure. I know it sounds cliché but it’s the truth. Your first store may very well fail and that’s okay. You’ll learn tons and be better prepared for the next project you decide to undertake. You just need to start!
If you’ve enjoyed this article, let me know in the comments section below. And if you have any questions or ideas for topics you would like me to discuss next, I’m happy to hear them.
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Till next time.