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E-commerce 101

Steve Strauss on July 10, 2015

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, small businesses had it tough.

Confined to selling only in their own city or town, these intrepid entrepreneurs endured good times and bad, up periods and down. The local economy was the only economy that really mattered.

Marketing back then was equally tough as the choices were few and those options expensive. Whether it was television, radio, the newspaper, or what have you, getting the word out was usually fairly costly back in the day.

But today?

Today’s small businesses have a plethora of options available to them that their small business forbearers could only dream of. Whether it is marketing though a website, or networking via social media, or advertising with pay-per-click, marketing alone has been transformed for the better by technology.

But even more important than that fundamental change has been the e-commerce revolution because that means that today, no small business has to 1) look small any longer, and 2) be forced to sell only in their own neighborhood. No, today, any small business can be a global business and the whims of the local economy are (or should be) a thing of the past.

So how do you take advantage of this incredible opportunity? It’s really a four-step process:

Step 1: Decide What You Want to Sell: You really have two options here. You can

  • Sell your own products
  • Sell products you source from a manufacturer or wholesaler

Of the two, the beginning e-commerce seller should probably go with the first option, for a few reasons. The first is that you know the product. You sell it already. This makes handling things like customer inquiries and returns far easier. Selling a product you know well will also allow you to write good copy when you post it on your e-store, and that is critical to your success.

The other important thing in the beginning is to start small. Sell a few products, test, see what works. There is plenty to learn in this brave, new e-world and it will be far easier if you are dealing with only a few products you know well.

Step 2: Decide Where You Will Sell Your Products: The next part of the process involves figuring out the best way and place to sell your wares. Again, essentially you have two options:

  1. An online marketplace: Think eBay, Craigslist, or Amazon: In this scenario, you would post your products for sale on one of these online e-commerce platforms. There are a few good reasons to go this route, especially at the beginning. For starters, you will have a built-in audience – the millions of people who are already going online to these sites to buy. Moreover, setting up shop on these sites is very fast and easy. The challenge here of course is that you will have a lot of competition as well as that there are fairly restrictive policies that must be followed.
  2. Your own website: Setting up an e-commerce store these days is easy (see below) and the advantage here is that it will be your baby – like your business, your e-commerce store can look and be run however you like. There are also no fees from sales to share with a site like Amazon. The tough part here is getting people to find you online.

Step 3: Set Up Shop: If you choose route one and begin to sell on eBay for example, the process is fairly straightforward. You will need to upload photos of your products and describe them in a way that will make people want to buy them. You will need to learn about shipping, shipping costs, return policies and the like.

You can find eBay’s Quickstart guide here.

You can find Amazon’s here.

And here is a guide to selling on Craigslist.

If you want to instead create your own online e-commerce website, that is easier than ever. What you do here is either to add e-commerce to your existing site or purchase a domain name (e.g., TheWorldsBestSoap.com.) Next you would find an e-commerce provider who offers a soup-to-nuts solution that includes a shopping cart, the ability to easily upload and take down products, a backend dashboard, inventory control – the whole works. A search will reveal many such e-commerce hosts.

The final thing you will need is the ability to process credit card payments.

Once you have your store in place and your products posted, then it is simply a matter of

Step 4: Learning the Ropes: This is all new. Learning how to sell online, how to ship, how to handle complaints and returns, what your markup should be and so on will take a bit of time. But that’s OK. Have fun.

After all, once you get your store up, you will have a 24/7 global selling machine ready to go.

Author Bio:

USA TODAY, Small Business Columnist

Author, The Small Business Bible

CEO, TheSelfEmployed.com

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