Don't Follow Your Passion: A Smarter Way to Find a Product to Sell

Follow Your Passion is easily the worst advice you could ever give or get. (Mark Cuban)

By Andrew Youderian

You've undoubtedly heard the mantra, “Just follow your passion!” But I have to agree with Mark Cuban - I think it's awful advice.

This is especially true when it comes to choosing something to sell online. Your life-long love of Star Wars figurines doesn't mean it's a great niche to build your new ecommerce store around – sorry, Skywalker. If a thriving business is your goal, you should follow a methodical approach and pick a niche with attributes conducive to online success. 

In this blog post I'll share 6 strategies to help you find a niche and product to sell. I'll also show you how to determine if there's enough demand for your product, and give you a few tools to measure the competitive pressures in those areas.

6 Strategies to Help You Find a Product to Sell

While you're brainstorming various niches and products to sell, there are a lot of important things to consider. Here are 6 strategies to help you find a product to sell: 

1. Accessory-Heavy Niches: Merchants rarely make much on big-ticket items and will only earn maybe 5 to 10% on products like laptops and TVs. Where they really make their money is on the accessories.

Accessories enjoy markups of 100 to 1,000%, and customers are much less price-sensitive about them. A buyer might shop for weeks to get the best deal on a TV, but wouldn’t think twice about dropping $30 on an HDMI cable from the same place. Yet there's a good chance the business made nearly as much profit on the cable as it did on the flatscreen.

When you choose a niche with lots of accessories, you'll enjoy significantly higher profit margins and fewer price-sensitive shoppers.

2. Customers with a Passion or Problem: It's amazing how much money passionate hobbyists will spend. Mountain bikers will drop hundreds on light-weight accessories to shave a few pounds, and avid fishermen will invest tens of thousands of dollars in boats and related accessories. Also, if you can offer a product-based solution to a painful problem, you'll find a captive audience eager to buy.

3. The $100 to $200 Range: I've found that this price range is an ecommerce “sweet spot.” It’s large enough to create decent per-order profit, but small enough that – with a quality, informative website – most customers won't need to personally speak with someone before the sale. 

As you grow, being able to generate most of your orders online offers massive efficiency savings versus a phone-heavy approach. But if you're selling products that cost $500 or more, many customers will want personal customer service before pulling out their credit cards.  

4. Hard to Find Locally: If you needed garden equipment, you'd likely head down to your local Home Depot or Lowe’s. But where would you go to buy surveillance equipment or magicians' accessories? Probably online. Pick niche products that are hard to find locally, and you'll be able to get in front of the vast majority of your customers as they search online.

While you ideally want something difficult to source locally, you also need to ensure there's ample demand for the product! This can be a fine line to walk, and we'll return to the issue in the competition section below.

5. Low Product Turnover: If your product line is constantly changing year to year, you’ll end up spending valuable time on resources that will soon be outdated. Selling a product line with limited turnover ensures you can invest in an information-rich website that will be applicable for years.

6. Consumable or Disposable Products: Repeat customers are essential to any business, and it's MUCH easier to sell to existing customers who trust you than to new prospects. If your product needs to be re-ordered on a regular basis – and you're able to keep your customers happy – you’ll be on your way to building a profitable business with recurring revenue. 

Finding a great product is only part of the equation. Even a niche fitting all the above criteria would be a poor choice in the face of inadequate demand or crushing competition. Understanding a product’s demand, competition and suppliers will be important to making an informed decision. If you want to learn more about finding the perfect product to sell, check out Shopify's more comprehensive guide on how to find a good product to sell online.

Is There Enough Demand For Your Product?

The best way to measure online demand is with Google's Keyword Tool, which provides data on how many people are searching for a specific term. If you're unfamiliar with the tool, I'd strongly recommend watching this video on how to do keyword research:

 
In a nutshell, make sure to:
  • Use “phrase” or [exact] match, as these provide the most accurate results;
  • Look at the local and not the global results;
  • Look for keywords with lots of “long-tail” variations.

If we were selling sunglasses, “prescription sunglasses” and “discount Oakley sunglasses” would be examples of long-tail variations. These are important because your primary keyword (“sunglasses,” in this example) will only provide a small fraction of your traffic. Even with a #1 ranking in Google, you'll be lucky to receive 30% of the phrase's traffic! 

Realistically, most ecommerce sites will receive 80 to 90% of their traffic from long-tail keywords. So the more long-tail variations associated with a primary keyword, the more potential traffic you can generate. As a rule of thumb, I like to see at least 3,000 exact-match local searches for a niche's primary keyword, and ideally a dozen or so long-tail variations. Without sufficient search volume, I won't even bother evaluating a niche on other criteria.

Can You Effectively Compete?

You'll need to weigh market demand against the strength of the entrenched competitors. Keywords like “netbooks” and “baby clothes” will have tons of searches, but competing against legions of established businesses in these markets would be extremely difficult, especially for a new business. 
 
            

To measure competitive pressures, I recommend looking at three metrics for the top 10 businesses listed in Google for your niche.

Inbound Links: Using a site like Open Site Explorer, you can see how many other domains are linking to the competition. Top competitors in any niche worth entering will have at least a few hundred inbound links, and this shouldn't scare you away. But if every business has upwards of 1,000 inbound links, you'll need to seriously consider the commitment required to compete.

PageRank: All links aren't created equal, and PageRank is a metric that takes into account the quality of inbound links. It's also a representation of how much authority a page has. You can use a number of browser plugins to measure PageRank, including PageRank Status for Chrome and Search Status for FireFox.

Homepages with PageRanks of 3 and 4 are fairly standard and will likely be the minimum point of entry for most viable niches. Trying to outrank sites with PageRanks of 5 or higher will require significantly more work and an SEO campaign dedicated to getting quality backlinks.

Quality of Site: This metric might be the most important of the three. Browse the competition’s websites and ask yourself: 

“How likely would I be to purchase from this site?” 

If most of the businesses have poorly designed sites with little information, you have an opportunity to compete. But if the niche is flush with professionally designed sites adding loads of value, you're going to have a hard time differentiating your site. Also check out these 8 tools to research your competition.

Sourcing Your Products

Having reliable and competent suppliers is a crucial element of launching a new ecommerce store and needs to be a key consideration in the niche selection process. This is especially true if you'll be drop shipping, as your supplier will be doubling as your warehouse and fulfillment agency. A bad supplier will cause an endless supply of headaches from botched shipments to perpetually out-of-stock items. 
 

 

I strongly recommend having at least two suppliers for any new ecommerce store. Why? 

  • You're not 100% dependent on a single supplier;
  • Higher fulfillment rates and fewer out-of-stock issues with two warehouses;
  • Better pricing when suppliers are competing for your business.

Wait! Passion IS Essential

I may have been too hasty when I warned against following your passion. Doing something you're passionate about is crucially important to achieving success. The mistake new ecommerce entrepreneurs often make is focusing their passion on the products they sell instead of the process of building a thriving, profitable business.


It doesn't matter if you sell diapers or dentures; if you've built a successful ecommerce business around a niche, I promise you'll become passionate about it.

Further Learning

Also check out our post "How to Find the Perfect Product" - a comprehensive guide on how to find a product to sell


This is a Guest Post by Andrew Youderian. Andrew quit his corporate job to become an ecommerce entrepreneur and now runs numerous online businesses. To learn more, download his free eBook on building a successful ecommerce businessor check out his blog at eCommerceFuel.com.

45 comments

  • Ben
    Ben
    June 27 2012, 09:26AM

    This is an excellent resource for those thinking about selling online.

  • Andrew Youderian
    Andrew Youderian
    June 27 2012, 10:36AM

    Thanks Ben! Glad you found it useful.

  • Nathan
    Nathan
    June 27 2012, 12:12PM

    Great way to encourage more spam affiliate marketing sites, private label business and me-too clones. You can already buy pretty much whatever you want online, what we need are places that make you happy about having to shop for XYZ. Your advice will help a few more people make money at the expense of the quality of the internet. Sounds like a great trade-off to me.

  • Eric
    Eric
    June 27 2012, 12:30PM

    Sure, it’s easy to find a niche related to something you like but the point of the article is that – if you want to build a profitable business – your personal interests shouldn’t be the barometer by which you make a decision.
    Instead, you should look for a product/niche/problem that is well suited for building successful business around.

  • Luisa Lawson
    Luisa Lawson
    June 27 2012, 12:48PM

    I don’t think its very hard to find a niche in something you really like,but yes you’re right that your personal interests / passions shouldn’t, as Eric says, “be the barometer by which you make a decision.”

    Great article! Thanks for sharing Andrew!

  • Andrew Youderian
    Andrew Youderian
    June 27 2012, 12:54PM

    @Nathan – I think you may have missed the point. The most important thing I emphasize at the beginning of the article is picking a niche where you can ADD VALUE. By definition, this means not creating another “me too” site with cheap, spammy affiliate links.

    @Eric – Thanks for reading, but I think you may have lifted that comment. I just left it myself over at HackerNews. ;-)

    @Luisa – Thanks! Yep, picking a niche isn’t difficult. It’s finding one that you think can be profitable. And if you can find one that you initially are passionate about AND has a great chance at being profitable, you’re in fantastic shape.

  • Janelle
    Janelle
    June 27 2012, 12:57PM

    Great advice to find a good product to sell!

  • Andrew Youderian
    Andrew Youderian
    June 27 2012, 01:28PM

    Thanks Janelle! Hope it’s helpful.

  • Alex
    Alex
    June 27 2012, 02:47PM

    What an excellent resource, pulling in all the relevant info without overwhelming the subject with endless details.

    Clipped this to my evernote for later reference!

  • Steve
    Steve
    June 28 2012, 12:39PM

    Your point 2 basically contradicts the core theme completely. So you need to zero in on your customer’s passions, but your own aren’t worth considering? Surely your passions are very likely to intersect with the passions of a customer base? The example of Star Wars figurines is an outlier chosen deliberately to make the point, but things aren’t as clear cut as that.

    Some of the best products are those that solve your own problems or cater to your own passions, so long as those passions/problems are common enough to support a business.

    Maybe a better rule is “follow your passions, so long as you share them with lots of other people who are willing to spend money on them” ;)

  • Andrew Youderian
    Andrew Youderian
    June 28 2012, 01:25PM

    @Alex – Thanks and very glad it made the Evernote cut!

    @Steve – I’d respectfully disagree, because the goals of the two parties (business owner & hobbyist) are different. We’re trying to create a successful business, and are intentionally structuring it around a proven demand in the market. The hobbyists are simply following a passion because they enjoy it. Our goal is to build a profitable enterprise. Their goal is enjoyment.

    But I DO agree with this following 100%:

    “Some of the best products are those that solve your own problems or cater to your own passions, so long as those passions/problems are common enough to support a business.”

    And if you can find a passion that can support a viable business, that is the ideal situation! But if you can’t, I’m simply arguing that if your goal is a profitable business then a successful one based around a product you may not be enamored with is much more desirable than a failed business built on your passion.

  • Gavin
    Gavin
    June 28 2012, 01:51PM

    This is fantastic, thank you Andrew. So much to take from this. First shopify store is launching early August.

  • Tommy
    Tommy
    June 28 2012, 06:18PM

    Inspiring article. Thanks for sharing. Gives some food for thought.

  • Derek
    Derek
    June 29 2012, 09:16AM

    Here’s what I did:
    1) Sold a lot of different stuff on ebay over the years
    2) Found a theme of that stuff that met the following criteria:
    a) The theme of this stuff sold quickly in the Buy-It-Now selling format
    b) Got a good number of bids in the auction format for this kind of stuff
    c) Got over-the-top feedback from buyers after the transaction for this stuff and emails from buyers through ebay saying how much they’re thrilled to have this stuff they bought (just as I wrote this, I received another one through Amazon)
    d) Found reliable suppliers for this stuff

    3) Had no qualms about being the go-to person for this stuff, enjoy doing research on it, keeping up with the trends and competing with other websites that sell this stuff.

  • Shawn Graham
    Shawn Graham
    June 29 2012, 09:57AM

    The biggest takeaway for me is that launching a product requires a lot of strategy. Just because you think your homemade salsa is to die for doesn’t mean you’re going to automatically sell millions of jars the second you create your online storefront. Before you go to market, you have to have a firm grasp of the competition, what makes your salsa different from everything else on the market, and be ready, willing, and be ready, willing, and able to promote the hell out of that salsa using some of the strategies you mentioned.

  • Andrew Youderian
    Andrew Youderian
    June 29 2012, 10:31AM

    @Gavin & Tommy – Thanks guys! Glad it was helpful.

    @Derek – Very cool model! I love how you focused on what worked and systematically created a business strategy using that information. And I’ll definitely second the importance of your criteria d – ‘finding reliable suppliers’. For any eCommerce business, this is enormously important. Congratulations on building a successful model!

    @Shawn – Great point, Shawn. I often tell new store owners that even with an in-demand product, 90% of your success, especially early on, will depend on how effectively you can market your product. And if you’re selling a proprietary product that’s unknown, you better be able to effectively differentiate as well.

  • Andrea von Moeller
    Andrea von Moeller
    July 02 2012, 11:27AM

    Keyword Search

    I am sometimes confused with the words “tags” and “keywords”. Do these keywords have to be incorporated in the text? how often do they have to show up in your shop,

  • Leslie Nicole
    Leslie Nicole
    July 10 2012, 05:29AM

    I do think that all of your points are true, but after spending a lot of time researching my niche, doing Google keywords,(including analyzing the niche with Market Samurai) looking at the competition – if I had been “smart” I would have given up on my chosen niche that is based on passion.

    I decided to go for it anyway. I decided to count on the fact that I’m a part of a passionate hobby/profession community. (Photography)

    To be fair, I will say that my niche isn’t a turn-key niche. It took me a year of very hard work to build it to a point where I’m starting to make a fairly decent salary (and I continue to grow). I am doing exactly what I want in life, though and that’s very valuable to me.

    So I do agree that if your main goal is to quickly start a profitable business, just passion isn’t enough. However, if you’re willing to do a lot of hard work and be more patient, it is possible to make a go of your passion.

  • Karen
    Karen
    October 26 2012, 09:40PM

    Thank you for your direct comments. Your article not only helped me understand the drop ship business, it also helped me make the decision to pursue my dreams.

  • Chris Odell
    Chris Odell
    December 01 2012, 12:13PM

    I think you can do both. Your passion doesn’t need to be 100% of the business but it should be a part of it. If your loves can’t fit into your business maybe you shouldn’t be selling things.

    Andrew said “And if you can find a passion that can support a viable business, that is the ideal situation! But if you can’t, I’m simply arguing that if your goal is a profitable business then a successful one based around a product you may not be enamored with is much more desirable than a failed business built on your passion.”

    I’d argue that if all you care about is having a successful business, even if you care not about what you are producing, then why bother to live? I followed two of my passions when I started Datsusara, I didn’t spend time on complicated MBA style market analysis or research to see how things would go….

    “Some of the best products are those that solve your own problems or cater to your own passions, so long as those passions/problems are common enough to support a business.”

    I’d say you don’t need the second part of that statement, after all this is the age of the internet and if you like it you can find 10k others that do at least. I’d argue the Star Wars example would even work, just might not be a million $ biz. But who wants money if you don’t love what you do or the products you sell. Not me.

    Doing all the strategy and research kills things for me, I simply make a quality product and take care of my customers the old fashioned way, and it works.

    Now there is a ton of great advice in this article and it’s well written, good job Mark. But I simply couldn’t disagree more with the main premise and I think MC is full of it if he claims to believe what he said in the quote.

    I say “follow your bliss” (Joseph Campbell), but don’t force it.

  • Georgina Terry
    Georgina Terry
    January 02 2013, 12:14PM

    Hi, I like the tips and guidance provided, however, I truly believe that you have to have passion for the product/service that you are providing and also passion for the things you will to do in order to have a thriving business.

    I agree that you must ensure that what you are passionate about, has a market.

    The reasons I believe Passion is important are:

    1) Starting a business and turning it into a thriving business takes alot of work, thus if there is no passion for for the things you have to do (sales, marketing, accounts etc), the new entrepreneur will struggle and possibly give up to soon.

    2) If you are not passionate about the product, service or the problem you are intending to solve, then selling will be hard!

    3) When the going get tough, the passion pulls you through and keeps you determined to succeed.

    Live YOUR Passion

    Georgina

  • Scott
    Scott
    January 06 2013, 01:22AM

    Great way to encourage innovation. Understanding the internet market can help innovators/creators to decide where to focus their energies to fill demand. Yes, there are a lot of items available on the internet, but all things have not been invented. This should encourage those who have stand-out ideas to follow through with them. Great cost-effective method to market a new product to thousands of potential buyers.

  • Drew (@passionfuelbiz)
    Drew (@passionfuelbiz)
    January 06 2013, 10:56AM

    Interesting article. Finding a niche that you are passionate about AND that has “demand” is a way to increase your chances of success. I know personally that some of the products/ideas that I thought were good businesses lacked one thing. For me I found that since I was not passionate enough about the idea I lost focus and went on to the next “big thing”. Sustainable passion is key for me and for others. I say follow your passion but make sure you do your research to make sure that there are customers/clients in your niche before you jump in with both feet.

  • sonia paquette
    sonia paquette
    January 29 2013, 11:12PM

    thanks alot Andrew,
    this was very helpful information i learned alot and i am looking forward to starting my own Ecommerce as well.

  • sonia paquette
    sonia paquette
    January 29 2013, 11:13PM

    thanks alot Andrew,
    this was very helpful information i learned alot and i am looking forward to starting my own Ecommerce as well.

  • Dan
    Dan
    February 17 2013, 01:47PM

    Hello. Great article. Thank you for taking the time to educate people. Question about your adwords video around longtail key words. I’m in the process of researching the appropriate products to sell based through google adwords research. If I pick a product and have many variations of longtail keywords should I include all those longtail keywords in my site content to potentially capture that traffic as well?
    thanks much

  • Jules
    Jules
    March 22 2013, 09:33AM

    Best advice I have read yet. I have been trying to find a niche for months and am so eager to proceed. Armed with this approach I think I am far more likely to find something.

  • Mark
    Mark
    April 25 2013, 01:32PM

    Shhh… Andrew keeps giving away all the secrets! Good stuff, as usual.

  • Matthew Newnham
    Matthew Newnham
    April 28 2013, 05:27PM

    Great article, Andrew, but I also disagree with half of your premise [though as a marketer I agree it’s a great hook!].

    In the population of successful 6 and 7 figure entrepreneurs [admittedly, a relatively small club], there are plenty who wake up one day to realise they have no passion for their business. Some even hate it.

    I absolutely agree with your criteria for a successful business. I would just content that if you aren’t passionate about what you’ve chosen to focus on, sooner or later the tank will run dry, in more ways than one. I’d rather have both – all day long…

    Thanks again, and best wishes from Scotland, Matthew

  • lucy
    lucy
    May 07 2013, 10:41PM

    this is a good article,but it is still difficulty to select a good products for selling,as the internationals business becomes much tense than before and if the product is seldom few can be obtained the customer easier than the other industires.that;s what i think

  • Richard
    Richard
    May 11 2013, 01:05PM

    The articles are good, but this website www.richardb51.com, has nice articles on Women’s Fashions, and it has good products to sell, pruducts such as jewelry, cellphones, Iphones, flip-phones, and much more, checkout it out to see if you like what you see.

  • Angela
    Angela
    July 02 2013, 11:09AM

    Great information. Glad i found it.

  • Gansen Naicker
    Gansen Naicker
    July 09 2013, 04:53PM

    I have a great product which I am trying to market and trying to get it across to all countries and people. Joined recently. Fairly new product but doing exceptionally well. The product is WorldVentures. Great concept not only has great holidays but also rewards you. Please advice all contact to contact me if they are interested.

  • Felicia Radford
    Felicia Radford
    July 11 2013, 11:36AM

    I have been trying to start my own business..I have a good product, however I want to expand and find other products to sell along with my current one. I am very excited to have found your site. Thanks for the information! Do you have any sites that you can recommend that I can go to for products to sell on line?
    Thanks

  • amore
    amore
    July 28 2013, 03:37PM

    Hi Andrew
    could you tell me exactly about meaning the first method that explain in this topic(?Accessory-Heavy Niches)?

  • Deborah
    Deborah
    August 14 2013, 11:49PM

    I’m trying to use the Google AdWords tool, but it doesn’t look like the one you are showing. Can you please tell me how to get to that exact tool?

  • Deidra
    Deidra
    August 22 2013, 09:49PM

    Great tips. Thanks.

  • Vicki
    Vicki
    September 23 2013, 09:17AM

    Hello Andrew, Today is my day. I finally sat in front of my computer to learn more about drop shipping. I am so grateful that I come across your site. Andrew, you have given great advice, and have given me confidence in myself to take the first step. thanks again!

  • john
    john
    October 18 2013, 11:48AM

    it’s very nice for a salesman from China. I’d like hear more like this from you.

  • Daryl Cygler
    Daryl Cygler
    November 07 2013, 10:41AM

    Great guide not just for online businesses but for an approach to offline as well. Niche products work online and offline and drive demand.

  • Carla
    Carla
    November 24 2013, 01:48AM

    THANK YOU so much for this post, it is helping a lot.

  • Olusegun Oye
    Olusegun Oye
    March 07 2014, 09:26AM

    Great piece of information. Its enlightening and motivating.
    Thanks a bunch

  • Kathleen
    Kathleen
    May 11 2014, 03:33PM

    Thank you for being a straight shooter. I am looking into this business with some hesitation on trying to find the “perfect” products/niches, but after reading this, I feel a little more comfortable about moving forward.

  • JC
    JC
    July 23 2014, 01:39AM

    Finding the goods to sell at a good price and ones that
    might be hard to find at local stores but be lightweight
    and ship in a flatrate box:)

  • Carlos Rosario
    Carlos Rosario
    November 05 2014, 02:14PM

    I am now a full on fan of Shopify! Thank you for this wonderful resource.

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