So you've decided to take the plunge into e-commerce. If you don't already have a business, you may not be sure what kind of business to start. So how do you decide what to sell online?
My personal recommendation is to find something relatively small that can have a decent mark-up that doesn't have a huge online presence already. A good suggestion is to find something manufactured locally by someone that doesn't currently have a website. You might start out by buying a few of their items and seeing what you can get for them on eBay.
If you don't make enough off the item, then start looking again for something to sell. On the other hand, if you get a decent profit off the item, then you should see if you can buy in bulk from the person who makes the item.
A good place to start looking is at local craft fairs. If you're wanting to go this route with your online business, don't wait! Check the paper, the phone book and the internet. Find out where some local craft fairs and expos are. Go this weekend and see what they have. Set a budget of, say, $50 or $100. Buy several different things that interest you that you think you might be able to sell online and throw them up on eBay.
Worst case, you'll waste a couple of hours and a little money. Best case, you'll hit the jackpot and find something great to sell online.
If, instead, you are looking for something to sell where you don't have to keep any inventory in stock, affiliate programs and drop-shipping programs would be the way to go.
Affiliate programs work best when paired with an informational website on the same topic. For example, if you are wanting to join, say, Amazon.com's affiliate program and sell DVDs, you might first start a website with DVD reviews. Make the reviews unusual in some way. Perhaps a husband and wife reviewing team. Or maybe you give every DVD a scathing review, whether you liked it or not. The sky's the limit, but you'll need some sort of way to make your site different from all the rest.
While setting up that site, incorporate links to each product you review on Amazon.com. You can also set up a search box so that visitors to your site can easily search Amazon, and you'll get the commission for anything they buy.
With drop-shipping, the key is to do business (and create your website) as if all the products come directly from you. I'm not talking about deceiving customers. I'm talking more about a customer service angle. Even though the product doesn't come from you, your website and customer service should be set up so that you fully support the product. Sure, you will likely have to contact the drop-shipper if there's any real issues, but your customer shouldn't have to worry about that part. You're there to run interference.
The nice thing about any e-commerce site is they are relatively inexpensive to start. When you start one, give it at least six months or so to see how it does. If you don't like the direction it's going, or you aren't making enough money, you can cut your losses and start a new store for not too much more. And you will have (hopefully) learned from your experience.
Or, you could set up one type of store one month. Once your first store is up and going, try another type. While you shouldn't stretch yourself too thin early on, multiple stores can create a decent income.
Tim is the owner and senior web designer at T&S Web Design . His company has developed and maintained website for dozens of small businesses and organizations. Tim also maintains a blog with free website advice for small business owners, GetASiteOnline.com .