With the online retail sales steadily growing, Forrester Research predicts that e-commerce sales in the US will continue to grow at a 10% compound annual growth rate through 2014. For those of you interested in another statistical tidbit : Forrester is also forecasting that online retail sales will hit $250 billion this year, that’s up from $155 billion in 2009. As a budding online entrepreneur, even capturing a small piece of that pie, would be a huge success.
How do you break into this market? What steps should you take to and start ? And most importantly, how do you do so in a manner that sets you up for success.
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1Plan your dream. Before you start thinking about all the tactical stuff you’re going to need to accomplish over the next little while (getting a website, finding products, getting your name out there etc.). Slow down and think strategy for a moment or two. What do you want to sell – you literally have millions of options, and you can’t sell all of them, so narrow your field and look for your own little niche. A good starting point: think about your interests and brainstorm if there’s a target market that can spin out of that. Watches, Baby Clothes, Sports Memorabilia. What strikes your fancy?
2Create a business plan. Next, sit down and write a serious business plan for yourself. It doesn’t need to be a behemoth of an undertaking. Simply set a few realistic goals, reasonable budget, time frame and take a good hard look at what you’re trying to accomplish. Is it feasible and is it a viable money-making opportunity? Consider your target market – is it too much for a small start up to tackle? If so, focus your efforts on a smaller and more manageable niche and then work on growing it out once you’ve reached profitability. Is it too small to reach and sustain adequate levels of profitability over time? If the answer is yes, look to expand your product offering so it meets the needs of a larger market. Or look to sell something else. Then create a road map of all the tasks you need to accomplish and the due dates and milestones you’re going to attach to each one.
3Find suppliers. Most online sellers, don’t create their own products from scratch, they locate and resell those products for a profit. A significant advantage to selling on line? You can locate a wholesale supplier who rather than shipping inventory to you, will ship straight to your end customer once an order is placed. This is called a drop ship supplier.
4Look for an online storefront provider. As an entrepreneur, you have many skills, you’re resourceful, you’re creative, you’ve got a good business sense, and a whole lot of other strengths and abilities that will help you succeed. Website design however, might not make this list, and frankly, it doesn’t need to. There are a number of reputable solutions out there. Depending on your particular needs, you can use do any thing from using their simple tools to set up your own website to hiring one of their professional designers to build a custom site for you. And these services won’t break the bank either. A good professionally designed premium template can cost as little as $1000. Often these services also offer integrated shopping carts and order management systems so you’re not just getting a website, you’re getting a full business solution, which is a huge time and money saver (especially if you don’t have a lot of spare start-up capital). A select number of online storefronts will have even built relationships with a host so you can use them to source products too.
5Market your new store. Once you’ve got your inventory built out and have your e-commerce up and running, you’ll need to spread the word, and get your name out there. This can include submitting your site to search engines, sending out press releases, pay-per-click advertising campaigns, and a number of other options. Whatever strategies you tackle ensure you can track the performance of each one. This allows you to assess which strategies resonate with your target market and which are a drain on your precious capital.
Provide good customer service. Providing great customer support will set you apart from the competition and encourage repeat business, which in turn will make you money and keep you in business.
7Keep it fresh. Keep updating your product lines, your website, stay in contact with your customer base so they keep coming back and you keep making sales.