When companies halted ad spend at the onset of the pandemic, many influencers and content creators had to double-down on monetization and find other ways to generate revenue. The good thing is creators and eCommerce are a natural fit for one another. Instead of disappearing as the talking heads speculated they would, influencers actually matured of the influencer marketing industry by “next-leveling” their own personal brands.
Sure, some influencers still had a rotating roster of brand partners. But that was the exception, not the rule. For the most part, influencers did things like join affiliate networks, or launched and marketed their own swag and merchandise, or capitalized on the subscription model to provide gated content for hardcore fans. If you’re wondering if you should add a full-blown eCommerce business to the mix, that’s not a bad idea, especially if you want to boost your income as an influencer.
It’s Been a Tough Year for Influencers, and a Tough Year for Us All
This year, we all learned a valuable lesson about how quickly things can change. One in five members of the American workforce were laid off or furloughed as a result of the pandemic at some point this year. Many businesses are still struggling, and it’s putting a lot of people’s employment in jeopardy, and that includes influencers.
Freelancing has certainly gotten a boost in all this. Hiring for freelance work increased by 25% between April and June, but the ebb and flow of freelancing and the income freelancers generate can be a tough sell for 9 to 5ers who typically know what to expect come pay day, and content creators who have invested so much time into building an online brand that may not translate so well into the gig economy. Many are finding that freelancing on its own isn’t enough to support them.
Of course, as a creator, you have other options.
One strategy that’s proving successful is to start an eCommerce business. With all the new marketplaces, platforms, and tools available, it’s easier than ever to build your own online store that seamlessly integrates with your social media accounts.
The best part is that once an eCommerce business is up and running it can be mostly automated. This gives you plenty of time to create new content, scope out new platforms (like Instagram Reels), master the gig economy as a freelancer, or work on other projects.
But how do you start an eCommerce business? We’ll outline the basics here so you can decide if this strategy makes sense for you.
Types of eCommerce Businesses
When most people think about starting an eCommerce business they imagine building their own website, sourcing products, storing inventory, and shipping out orders. And while you can do all this yourself, nowadays you don’t have to.
There are a couple of different eCommerce business models you can choose from, and both can actually be fairly hands-off. This means that even if you don’t have the time to run the whole business yourself you can still sell online and be successful.
Here are the two different types of eCommerce businesses that are most common:
#1 Sell on Existing Marketplaces
The hardest part of building a new business is finding customers. If no one’s heard of you it can take a lot of time and money to build a customer base. This is why many people sell on existing marketplaces like Amazon and eBay.
These sites already get tons of traffic so it’s a lot easier to build your business quickly. Plus, there are a number of tools in place to make the process easier for sellers.
- You Can Get Started Right Away: You don’t have to wait for your website and store to be created. If you have products to sell you can create your listings on Amazon and start selling right away.
- Smaller Initial Investment: Websites and hosting aren’t free and you’ll pay a good chunk of money to get your store up and running. With marketplaces like Amazon and eBay the infrastructure is already there. In most cases, you’ll just have to pay a monthly fee to start selling.
- Built-In Traffic: Established marketplaces already get a ton of traffic. This isn’t to say you’ll immediately get a bunch of sales as soon as your listings go live. You’ll have to do some marketing and promotions to get the ball rolling, but it’s a lot easier than starting with your own website from scratch.
- Amazon Live Stream: If you’re great with video, you can transfer those skills to Amazon Live to create things like how-to tutorials, reviews, haul video… the usual stuff your audience gets from your.
- You’re Dependent on Someone Else: Perhaps the biggest drawback of not selling on your own site is that you’re dependent on someone else. If the site you’re selling on runs into issues or shuts down for some reason it can hurt your business.
#2 Use eCommerce Platforms
Maybe you want to sell on your own website but you don’t know how to build a working online store. This is where eCommerce platforms like Shopify, BigCommerce, and Magento come in.
These platforms have already developed all the necessary software like product pages, shopping carts, and payment pages. By signing up for their service all that tech can be easily integrated into your website.
- Not as Dependent on Other Businesses: While you’re still using someone else’s software, your website, domain, and traffic are your own. This means you’re less dependent on other businesses.
- Build Your Brand: Having your own website makes it easier to grow your own brand. When people buy from you on Amazon they’ll tell people they bought their product “on Amazon.” But when they buy from your website they’ll associate the sale with the brand and business you’re already building.
- You Already Have an Audience: These platforms give you the technology to process sales, but it’s up to you to bring customers to your site. The good thing is you already have an audience and you can gauge your audience sentiment to figure out what types of products they would most like to see from you. Another idea is to create a simple poll using Instagram Stories (it’ll last 24 hours) and “read the room” so to speak.
- It Takes Time Before You’ll Make Sales: You may get that initial rush of traffic… or you may not. Either way, you’re going to need a content strategy outside of social media that keeps people heading to your site. It could be weeks or months before you build anything consistent.
The 4 Basic Steps of Starting an eCommerce Business (for Influencers)
Starting an eCommerce business may sound complicated, but it’s actually a lot easier than you might think. Here are the four basic steps you need to take to get started:
#1 Create a Business Plan
Don’t get freaked out by that. The term “business plan” gets such a bad rap. Successful businesses don’t just happen. Almost all of them start with a solid plan. So, if you’re serious about building an eCommerce business it’s important to lay the foundation first. A good business plan will set you off on the right foot and help you stay on course.
Here’s what your business plan should include:
- Your starting budget
- The types of products you’re going to sell
- Your ideal customer
- How you’re going to market your products
- How you’re going to sell your products
- How you’re going to fulfill your orders (deliver your products to your customers)
Your plan will likely change over time and that’s okay. This just gives you a good place to start.
#2 Source Your Products
In order to sell products online, you first need to decide what you’re going to sell THAT YOUR AUDIENCE WILL BUY FROM YOU. You need to figure out (and be honest about) exactly where you have influence. The area of your influence, expertise and trustworthiness is where you’ll be most profitable with new products.
Once you know what kinds of product you will sell, there are a number of tools available that allow you to identify products that are trending on Amazon and other marketplaces. For example, AMZScout’s product research tools help you generate product ideas, measure demand and competition, and determine how profitable they’ll be for your business.
Next, you need to figure out where you’re going to acquire your products. You have a few different options:
- Local retail stores
Wholesalers and manufacturers offer the best price per item, but they also require you to buy in large quantities which can be expensive. If you want to build a sustainable business though this is the best strategy to use.
#3 Select a Sales Channel
As we already discussed, you can sell on an existing marketplace or your own website. Both have their pros and cons so you’ll need to decide what’s right for your business.
When it comes to marketplaces Amazon is by far the most popular. They sell far more than any other website and easily have the most traffic. Plus, they offer their Fulfilled by Amazon program, which allows you to ship all your inventory to their warehouses where they’ll store your products and ship your orders for you.
If you’re at all unsure about how to sell online Amazon is a good place to start. Remember, once you get the hang of it you can always branch out to other marketplaces and create your own website.
#4 Market Your Products
Once your product listings are live on the internet it’s time to promote them. Of course, your go-to is going to be reaching out to your audiences on the platforms where you normally engage. But you’ll also want to leverage the power of online ads. There are three main ad types you’ll want to consider:
- Google Ads: These are the sponsored listings that show up at the top of search results. They let you target specific keywords related to your products.
- Facebook Ads: Advertising on Facebook is great because it allows you to target people based on location, age, income, education, interests, and a number of other factors.
- Amazon Ads: If you decide to sell on Amazon use their ad platform to increase traffic to your listings and promote your products.
Make sure to factor the cost of paid ads into your marketing, JUST IN CASE you need to reach shoppers outside your existing audience.
How Much Money Do You Need to Start an eCommerce Business and How Much Can You Make?
Before you get started you probably want to know the financials. Are you going to be able to afford to get started and will the payoff be worth it?
HOW MUCH WILL THE LAUNCH COST?
If you’re sourcing products through retail arbitrage (finding items on sale at retail stores and flipping them online for a profit) you can spend as much or as little on inventory as you want. So, you may only need around $100. However, if you want to buy from wholesalers and suppliers expect to pay anywhere from $500 to a few thousand dollars, plus shipping costs.
Then there are other costs to consider as well, such as account fees if you’re joining a marketplace, subscription fees if you’re using an eCommerce platform, domain and hosting costs if you’re building your own website, and marketing expenses.
If you just want to sell a few products online to try it out you might be able to get away with only a few hundred dollars. But if you’re interested in starting a serious business try to start with at least $2000 – $3000.
HOW MUCH CAN YOU MAKE?
The possibilities are virtually endless. There’s no limit to the number of sales you can make or the number of products you can sell. The harder you work the more you’ll sell.
Successful Amazon sellers can make anywhere from $1000 per month all the way up to $250,000 a month. The same is true for people selling from their own store, although it usually takes more time to get to those numbers selling on your own site.
These types of numbers don’t happen overnight, but if you’re willing to put in the work anything is possible.
Starting your own eCommerce store doesn’t just have to be a dream. Many ordinary people with little to no experience are starting these types of businesses and finding success. If you’re currently out of work and looking for a way to amplify your income this might just be the solution you’re looking for.
About the Author, Travis Fleming
Travis is a freelance copywriter with experience in selling and marketing on Amazon. He is currently a contributor for AMZScout.net. He likes to learn new tools and marketing strategies.