How to Start a Business

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The 16-Step Guide to Evaluating the Viability of Any Product Idea

When it comes to building a highly profitable ecommerce business, choosing the right product is without a doubt…

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When it comes to building a highly profitable ecommerce business, choosing the right product is without a doubt the most important piece of the puzzle.

A critical first step in making sure you’ve picked a winner is evaluating the market demand, existing competition and viability of the product itself.

Get this step wrong and you run the risk of wasting your time and energy, or worse, sinking a bunch of money into inventory you can’t move.

Get it right and you set yourself up for sales and success.

To help you determine if you’ve got a viable and profitable product idea on your hands, we’ve put together this comprehensive guide that shows you exactly how to take a look “under the hood” of your market and your product to make sure you’re building your business on a strong foundation.

Let’s dive in.

Note: In this post we’re going to show you how to analyze a variety of factors to better understand the viability of your product idea is. We will do this by using our own product choice, a coconut oil hair care product, as a case study.

As we mentioned in our last post, no single factor can give you 100% confidence in your product choice, rather it’s a combination of many factors that will help you paint a more complete picture and will allow you to make the best possible decision.

Make, Manufacture, Wholesale or Dropship

Before we get into our evaluation, we first need to recognize that there are several ways we can build a business around a coconut oil for hair care product. The first step is to decide how we want to build this business, and we have a few options:

  • Make - We can make a coconut oil based hair care product relatively easy. We were quickly able to find recipes and ingredients available online to make our own unique hair care product. We’re lucky in that a product like this doesn’t require sophisticated processes or hard-to-find ingredients. Making a product like this would be relatively easy and inexpensive. Purchasing in small quantities to make our initial product means our margins will be smaller but as a new product and brand, we would also have full control over the pricing and a lower inventory risk.
  • Manufacture - This would consist of working with a manufacturing partner to develop a coconut oil based hair care product. Because of the relatively simple nature of the product we're creating, this option doesn’t make much sense until we get to a point that we cannot keep up with demand on our own. This costs associated with manufacturing a product like this would be much higher than if we were to make it ourselves due to minimum order quantities set by manufacturers, likely in the thousands of tens of thousands of units range.
  • Wholesale - Purchasing wholesale means purchasing commercial and independent label coconut oil hair care products and reselling them on our own site. Typically your margins for reselling products are around 50%, so a product that costs us $10 to buy wholesale would retail for around $20. When buying wholesale, you’ll have little control over pricing as the prices are usually established by the manufacturers and expected by the market. 
  • Dropship - If we didn’t wan’t to carry any inventory ourselves, we could go the dropshipping route. If we were to work with dropshipping partners, we would be looking at a much smaller margin, usually around 20%. This means that we wouldn’t have any startup costs for our inventory. Instead we would list the product on our site and when we make a sale, our dropshipping partner would charge us and ship the product on our behalf.

For this evaluation we have decided to evaluate the viability of building a business around making our own coconut oil hair care conditioner product. Remember, when choosing a business type of your own, you can always go back an reevaluate other business models if your first choice doesn't meet enough of the criteria below.

How To Evaluate Your Product Idea

For each evaluation criteria below, we’re going to briefly explain it and then use it to evaluate our product idea. Many of the decisions are arbitrary and you may have a slightly different opinion for each criteria. For many of the points there won't be perfect answers, rather educated guesses. Each of these criteria are meant to help you better understand your own product choice and all the factors of building a business around it.

You can use these 16 questions as a framework, substituting our product choice for your own in order to get a better idea of your products potential and to avoid dangerous potential pitfalls.

Market Based Criteria

The first thing we want to look at is market based criteria. These are criteria that are usually external facing like market size, target customer, trending trajectory and so on. We covered these throughly in our last post but are recapping them here as well.

1. What is the potential market size or demand?

Gauging market size and demand can be difficult but you’re going to want to have some sense of the potential market size and demand before investing any significant amount of time, money and energy in your venture. It can be as simple as using a service like Topsy to better understand how many people per each day are talking about your potential product. Perhaps the most popular tool is the Google Keyword Planner Tool which will help you determine how many people each month are searching for keywords related to your product idea.

Evaluation: We determined in our last post that search volume for coconut oil hair products is extremely high. Using Google’s Keyword Planner Tool we were able to determine that there are over 73,000 searches per month in the USA and Canada for coconut oil for hair and similar keywords.

Using Topsy, we were also able to determine that there were approximately 150-250 Tweets per day mentioning our main keywords.

This information doesn’t give us 100% certainty that our potential products will have a market of buyers but it's a vote of confidence that if we do launch a coconut oil for hair product, there are likely people with with interest in learning more. 

2. Who are your competitors?

It’s always good to know who you’ll be competing against if you choose to start your business. The more you understand about the competitive landscape before you start your business, the less potential surprises you’ll face later.

Evaluation: From our analysis and as we mentioned in our previous post, there are three areas of competition in the coconut oil hair product market:

  • Pure Coconut Oil - Pure coconut oil is the main ingredient and from our research does a great job on its own of moisturizing and repairing hair. Pure coconut oil is readily available online and locally.
  • DIY Coconut Oil Recipes - Do-it-yourself recipes are available online. All recipes obviously include coconut oil as the base ingredient, but also combine various other ingredients to improve the effects of the final product or to help change its core function/texture. For example, hair conditioner vs. hair mask.
  • Commercial Coconut Oil Hair Products - These are products produced by businesses large and small and contain a proprietary blend of ingredients to create a unique and perceived better final product.

We didn’t find any true market leaders for our coconut oil for hair products rather a very fragmented market of manufacturers and retailers. 

3. Is it a trend, fad, flat or growing market?

Just as important as knowing your potential market size and demand, is also knowing which direction the market is going. The last thing you want to do is spend a lot of time, money and effort to create a product and establish a business just to find that you missed the boat and the market is rapidly declining.

Evaluation: We know from Google Trends that the search interest has grown significantly over the last several years.

“Coconut Oil”

 

"Coconut Oil for Hair”

 

 

Even though coconut oil is trending high right now, the beauty industry is always going through massive marketing shifts that highlight and push new key ingredients as “breakthroughs” to stimulate sales. It’s important to recognize that in time, one of these marketing shifts may overshadow that of coconut oil and cause a decrease in demand.

4. Can your potential customers buy the product locally?

If your product is readily available locally, there's one less reason for people to seek your product out online.

Evaluation: We know that coconut oil on its own works well for hair repair, moisturizing and as an anti-frizz. Coconut oil as a raw ingredient is pretty widely available online and offline, we were easily able to find it at our local GNC as well as our local supermarket. However, coconut oil based commercial hair care products are much more scarce offline and would likely require a specific trip to find it.

5. Who are your target customers?

Before you fully decide on a product, it’s important to get a sense of who your potential customer are. You don’t want to find out too late that all the people that would be potentially interested in your product live somewhere you can’t ship to or can’t purchase (i.e. kids without credit cards).

Traditionally if there were some major players in the market, we could use channels like Quantcast, Alexa and Compete to find out more about the demographic information of our potential target market. It’s difficult in our case because there aren’t really any major competitors with websites to analyze. As we mentioned before, the market for coconut oil hair care products is currently pretty fragmented. 

To get a better idea of our potential target customers, we took to Twitter. From our last post we know that everyday there are approximately 150-250 Tweets that mention the keywords “coconut oil for hair” so we took a closer look at who exactly these people are that are talking about coconut oil for hair. From this analysis, and as we expected, the people on Twitter talking about our product idea were overwhelmingly female. Based on credible profile images, we can assume the average age is 18-35.

We also know from Google Trends where our target customer predominantly live:

In the USA

In Canada

From this information we know we can easily reach our potential customers and in general, we know this particular demographic isn’t adverse or shy about spending money online.

Product Based Criteria

Now that we have reviewed our market based criteria and feel confident in the market, the direction it’s going and our target customers, it’s time to consider factors surrounding the actual product itself.

Product based criteria deal directly with the product’s viability. These criteria can help you get a better understanding of what your product’s strengths are and potential pitfalls to be aware of.

6. What is your potential selling price?

The lower the price, the lower the the potential profit per unit. This translates into more marketing dollars to find more customers. It has been generally accepted by many top ecommerce entrepreneurs that products that sell between $50-$150 hit a certain sweet spot where you can make a respectable amount per unit but isn’t too high that customers are hesitant to purchase online or expect premium services like phone support.

Evaluation: We looked at approximately two dozen coconut oil and coconut oil hair care products from a variety of brands. After looking at average cost per millilitre we determined that we would be able to charge approximately $9-$20 per 120ml unit depending on the positioning of the brand. This low price point means our margins will be small and can make it difficult to use paid advertising channels, especially when we first start out.

7. What is your potential markup?

Markup is the amount over the cost of the product. This amount is what will cover your overhead and be your profit. Remember, when looking at potential markup, you may also want to consider how it may change as your business grows. For example, if we start out making our own coconut oil hair care products, we would likely be starting with a relatively small quantity of raw ingredients. However, as we grow and our purchase volume goes up, our costs for ingredients goes down. This is also the same for manufactured goods, as your order quantity goes up, your pricing goes down.

Evaluation: From our analysis of potential selling price, we know we can comfortably sell a premium coconut oil based hair care product for $9-$20 per 120ml.

We were able to find Raw Coconut Oil for $80.00 for one gallon (3,785ml). We were also able to find various other essential oils and extracts that have a proven track record of helping damaged hair for a relatively low price averaging $10 per 60ml.

If we assume our product will contain mostly coconut oil, with several other additional oils and extracts, we can assume our total price would be $110 for 3,965ml (3,785ml + 60ml + 60ml + 60ml). We divide this by 120ml, which would be the size of our final product and we get 33 total units. If we take our total cost ($110) and divide it by our total units (33) we get a cost per unit of $3.33.

Taking into account a 120ml jar would cost approximately $2.00 and $0.50 for a label, our total cost per unit becomes $5.83. At the lower end of our potential selling price this would be a bit of a concern but if we sell our product for $13-$20 with can enjoy a pretty healthy markup. 

8. How many SKU’s will you have to stock?

In general, more SKU’s (types or styles of product) mean more potential headaches. Typically, this can become an issue when you get into things like sizes and colors. As an example, if you plan to sell jeans online you’re going to have to stock many sizes for each style. This increases your costs for inventory, storage as well as increases potential for shipping mixups.

Evaluation: Our product choice would likely begin with just one or several SKU's. You could likely do well with just several of your own products or a dozen or so curated coconut oil products.

9. Can you offer a subscription?

Far from necessary to build a successful online business, however the ability to offer a subscription for your product is very desirable as it helps increase your lifetime customer value, provides you the ability to spend more to acquire customers, and decreases the number of customers you need to build a successful business.

Evaluation: It’s doubtful that customers would purchase a hair care product on a subscription basis as a product like this wouldn’t likely be used on a regular basis, rather it would be used as needed.

10. What is your product's size and weight?

The size and weight of your product can have a big impact on your sales and bottom line. If your product is oversized or heavy, costly shipping can deter potential buyers and squeeze your margins. Size and weight can also be a costly factor in warehousing and storage.

Evaluation: Shipping coconut oil isn’t light but at the unit sizes we would likely be selling our product at, we don’t expect the packages to be that heavy. For the average order, most shipping companies would consider it a small package and it should fall well below the weight limits for small packages.

11. How durable is your product?

A durable product is always more ideal. Product durability will decrease your overall shipping costs and prevent costly breakage during transit.

Evaluation: Most coconut oil hair care products come in either a glass or plastic containers. This makes them relatively durable but if we plan to use glass containers, it’s important to consider additional shipping costs to properly and safely ship the the glass containers as to avoid breakage.

12. Will you face seasonality swings?

Seasonality refers to swings in purchasing behaviour over the course of a year. For example, Christmas Trees have extremely high seasonality with almost all of them being purchased in the months of November and December.

Seasonality swings are important to keep in mind because of the effect they can have on cash flow and the overall viability of the business.

Evaluation: We used Google Trends to look at some of the main keywords surrounding our product idea to better understand if we would potentially suffer from seasonality swings.

We can see that there are subtle spikes in searches around January that we assume can be caused from people searching for an aid to help with dry, or frizzy from the winter. Other than that, there doesn’t appear to be much in the way of seasonality affecting out product choice.

13. Does your product serve a passion or solve a pain?

Products that solve a pain point or serve a passion are much easier to find and acquire customer for compared to a product that is just a “nice-to-have”.

Evaluation: It’s fair to say that our product choice can definitely solve a pain point for customers, including dry, brittle and frizzy hair. Arguably it also serves a passion as well as women typically tend to go to extraordinary lengths to keep their hair healthy and beautiful.

14. Is your product consumable or disposable?

A consumable or disposable product is good from an business perspective because it provides you a better opportunity to earn the trust and repeat business from your previous customers. Overall this can help you lower your marketing costs and increase your average customer lifetime value.

Evaluation: As a hair care product, our product choice definitely falls under the consumable category.

15. Is your product perishable?

Choosing a perishable product can be a recipe for disaster if you find yourself struggling to find your market and make sales.

Evaluation: Coconut oil, along with several other ingredients we've researched for our product (other oils and extracts) have an approximate shelf life of three years or longer. This should give us more than enough time to sell our product and give the customers ample amount of time to use the product.

16. Are there any restrictions or regulations on your product?

Restrictions and regulations are a part of life for many businesses and products. However, it's best to learn about these before investing time and money into your business. Understanding these things ahead of time will help you plan accordingly, and likely save you a lot of time, energy and money. 

Evaluation: As far as we have been able to determine, there are aren’t that many regulations or restrictions for our product other than labelling requirements.

Conclusion

After looking at and taking into account all market and product criteria, we feel pretty strongly about our product idea and the potential market for it. Some highlights that really stand out to us are the low cost to start this business, strong search demand, trend trajectory, and low competition keywords that we feel we could rank well for in Google over time.

However, we do have a few concerns that prevent this from being a slam dunk. Some of the biggest concerns include a low product price point and the competitive landscape.

A large part of the potential success of our product idea would come from being able to develop a product that is notably better than just coconut oil on its own, building a brand around it and ranking high for the keyword opportunities we identified.

What are your thoughts? Based on the criteria above, how confident or unconfident are you in our product choice? 


About The Author

Richard Lazazzera is an ecommerce entrepreneur and Content Strategist at Shopify. Get more from Richard on Twitter.

How To Evaluate Market Demand For Your New Product Idea

Over the last few weeks we've been posting a series of articles to help you figure out what…

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Over the last few weeks we've been posting a series of articles to help you figure out what to sell online. In our first post in this series, we learned eight strategies for finding your first product, in the second post we discovered 10 places entrepreneurs go to find product ideas, finally in our last post, we shared 10 product ideas that are currently trending.

Let’s say you've implemented the advice from our previous posts and you've come up with a few of your own ideas. How do you go about evaluating those ideas and determining if there is potential to build to build a profitable business around them? 

In this article we evaluate the potential demand for a product we choose from the previous post, look at niche opportunities that exist around it and get an idea of demand for that niche.

Validating an idea or product is important because it helps you get a sense of the potential market or, lack of market, for your product idea before spending a lot of time and money on it.

In our last post we looked at Google Trends to see how the products were trending. Google Trends is a good start but only tells you a small sliver of the story. If there was one person searching for a product last year and 10 people this year searching for it, the trend is increasing but the market is still insignificant to enter as a business. 

Note: Although we always recommend validating your product, we recognize there are many successful online businesses created by entrepreneurs that just went with their gut or that created demand where no demand existed prior. No single approach is appropriate for every person, product and business. We recommend you decide what you think is best for you. All validation tactics are done to build confidence before investing your time and money. There is no single test that can give you an answer, rather it’s a combination of everything, including your gut feeling, you should rely on.

Market/Demand Evaluation vs. Product Evaluation

In this post we're strictly going to be conducting a market based evaluation to get a better idea of potential demand and competition for coconut oil. In our next post, we'll be conducting a product-based evaluation, which will focus on the viability of the particular product including potential margins, restrictions and regulations etc.

The Product

Out of the 10 products we looked at in our last post, we’ve decided to choose coconut oil as a product to further validate. We picked coconut oil partially because it seemed like an interesting and versatile product but also because when we compared all 10 trending products to each other, coconut oil by far had the greatest search interest. We determined this was the best start point.

*Note that Google Trends only allows you to compare up to five products at one time, but we did check all of them.

Where It Began

If you remember from our last post, we originally discovered coconut oil as a potential product when we came across a Pinterest pin on 30 ways to use coconut oil. Here’s that pin again:

 

With 934 re-pins and 105 likes, it seems that this is a popular product. However, this is just one pin on Pinterest. We need to learn more to know for sure. 

Let’s take a look again at Google Trends to see if in fact coconut oil is trending upwards, how big the trend is and when exactly it began. 

Looking at “Coconut Oil” in Google Trends, we can see that the trend and popularity for coconut oil exists, increasing dramatically since approximately 2011. 

To further validate the popularity, appeal and usefulness of coconut oil we decided to look at some product reviews. On MakeupAlley, a review site for all types of skin and haircare products, coconut oil had an average rating of 4.5 stars out of 5 based on 834 reviews and 90% said they would purchase it again. Very favorable feedback for the raw ingredient. 

Although we didn't find much in the way of negative comments for coconut oil, looking at negative comments in reviews can help you find deficiencies in current products that you can capitalize on. Read: The Amazon Whisperer.

We also decided to check out Amazon to see how well coconut oil is selling.

 

So now we know that coconut oil is indeed trending and people are purchasing it. However, the question still remains, how many people are actually interested in coconut oil?

Keyword Evaluation

To take things one step further, let's look at “Coconut Oil” in Google’s Keyword Planner Tool. The Google Keyword Planner Tool allows you to search for keywords to determine how many searches per month are being made for that term, how much competition there is competing for it and related search terms.

To use this tool you need to have a Google Adwords account which you can sign up to for free. Login to your account and select Tools from the top menu, then select Keyword Planner. On the next screen, click Search for new keyword and ad group ideas.

On the next screen enter your product idea. Double check your settings under Targeting to make sure they're to your liking, in particular the locations you want to target.

 

On the next screen, it will be on the default tab Ad Group Ideas, change that to the tab labelled Keyword Ideas.

The first column will list the keyword you searched for as well as the various search queries related to the keyword you entered. The second column shows you the number of searches being performed each month in the geographic area you specified. The third column is the level of competition for each keyword.

After looking through the results, a few things stood out, noted below:

  1. As we already knew from the original Pinterest pin, coconut oil has many uses. From the keyword planner though, we can see uses for hair, skin, recipes, dogs and face. Going through the full list uncovered even more.
  2. The main search term “Coconut Oil” has a lot of search interest. 246,000 searches per month in the USA and Canada. Unfortunately, it also has high competition. This means that there are a lot of other people already advertising and competing for that particular term online, making it more difficult for you to compete effectively.
  3. There are many other search terms that still have high search volumes with less competition. That roughly translates into opportunity.

Filtering out the keywords with high competition, it appears there's still a lot of keywords with high search volume that are less competitive. Noticing a few of them had the word “hair" in them, we created a new search for “Coconut Oil + Hair”.

Here’s what we found (Results have been color coded by competition difficulty):

The search volume for many of these terms are pretty strong and all have low to medium competition. The top term “coconut oil for hair” in particular has extremely high search volume.

What Type of Content Is Ranking in Google (Content Competition)

Let’s take a look at the largest search term, “coconut oil for hair” in Google to see what type of content is currently taking the top spots. This will give us a better idea of what we would be competing against.

We can see from this Google search that almost all the top 10 positions on Google for the search term “coconut oil for hair” are one-off articles. There doesn’t appear to be any one person, company or domain that is dominating for this search term. We found similar results when we searched for the other keywords as well.

This means that if you were to try and compete for this term, your chances of ranking high in Google is much greater than if you were trying to outrank established major brands or businesses.

Overall things looks extremely positive. We know that there's likely opportunity with a coconut oil product for hair. Exactly what type of products or niches can this be turned into though? To get a better idea of products, we went back to the original Pinterest pin that started it all. Following the link through to the website, we took a look at the 30 ways to use coconut oil. We did a search to highlight the term “hair" to see how exactly coconut oil can be used for your hair.

It turns out that four out of the 30 uses for coconut oil were for some type of hair treatment, including taming frizz, conditioning, deep treatment repair and removing gum from your hair. Each one of these is a potential product opportunity.

Geographic Validation

We know that people are searching for coconut oil information and products for their hair but who are these people? Sometimes products and trends can be very specific to a geographic region. We need to make sure that the people that are searching for the terms we discussed previously are living in a area that we're able to sell and ship to.

Let's jump back into Google Trends will help us answer these questions:

Which countries are searching for these terms:

 

What cities in particular have the highest number of searches for “Coconut Oil Hair”:

 

Social Media Validation

We already know coconut oil is pretty popular on Pinterest, after all, that's where we discovered it in the first place, however, there are other channels we can use to get a better understanding of the market and demand. Twitter is an effective source for looking at market potential and product interest. We used Topsy to search for the volume of tweets per day mentioning the words "coconut oil", and "hair" in a single tweet.

From the Topsy graph we can see that everyday approximately 150-250 people are tweeting our keywords. To get a better sense of what exactly they were tweet about and the sentiment of their tweets we also did a search on Twitter.

Here were just a few examples that in particular, hinted towards buying intent:

Using social media to research your product not only reveals the volume of conversation surrounding your product idea but it also helps you discover the language your potential customers are using. This can be helpful when creating ads or writing product descriptions down the road. 

Competitor Evaluation

From our analysis, there are three areas of competition in the coconut oil hair product market.

  1. Pure Coconut Oil - Pure coconut oil is the main ingredient and from our research, does a great job on its own of moisturizing and repairing hair. Pure coconut oil is readily available online and locally.
  2. DIY Coconut Oil Recipes - Do-it-yourself recipes are available online. All recipes obviously include coconut oil as the base ingredient, but also combine various other ingredients to seemingly improve the effects of the final product or to help change it’s core function/texture. For example, hair treatment/conditioner vs. hair mask.
  3. Commercial Coconut Oil Hair Products - These are products produced by businesses large and small and contain a proprietary blend of ingredients to create a unique and perceived better final product.

Overall market demand appears to be fulfilled maybe even saturated with the various types of coconut oil products available online. However, as it relates to commercial products, there doesn’t appear to be any one product or brand that is dominating the market. 

What We Learned

When we started, all we had was a product idea that we got from Pinterest.

With a bit of research and using free online tools we were able to find out quite a bit about demand potential of coconut oil. From the Pinterest post we knew coconut oil had many uses. By using Google’s Keyword Planner, we were able to uncover several search terms with low to medium competition and high search volume. It was these search terms that lead us down the niche path of coconut oil for hair applications, including a hair conditioner, hair mask, deep root conditioner and frizz taming. 

We learned from Google Trends that coconut oil for hair is trending and has been since approximately 2011. We were able to identify the countries and even the specific cities that are searching for our potential keywords. 

The Google Keyword Planner told us that there are at least 74,070 searches in the US and Canada by people looking for information or products related to coconut oil for hair every single month. Moreover the keywords that are being used don't have a lot of competition so there is potential to rank well for them in Google over time.

In Topsy we learned that there are approximately 250 tweets every single day that are talking about coconut oil as it relates to hair. Looking at some of these tweets directly, we can see that many of these people have buying intent for a coconut oil hair product. 

Conclusion

We now have a much better understanding of this potential opportunity. We've seen some very favorable results in regards to potential demand and we've uncovered some great keyword opportunities. All of this so far looks great but we’re not ready to call this yet. In the next post in this series, we're going to carefully look at several product-based criteria to get an even better understanding and gauge of this product's potential.


About The Author

Richard Lazazzera is an ecommerce entrepreneur and Content Strategist at Shopify. Get more from Richard on Twitter.

What To Sell Online: 10 Interesting Product Ideas Trending Right Now

With thousands of products available to sell online, narrowing one down can be overwhelming. Recently, we learned eight…

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This is the third post in a series of articles that will detail the process of determining what to sell online and getting started in ecommerce. In the coming weeks we'll be posting further in-depth articles on other aspects of evaluating products to sell online.

With thousands of products available to sell online, narrowing down your choices to a single product can be overwhelming. In our first post in this series, we learned eight strategies for finding your first product and in our last post we discovered 10 places entrepreneurs go to find product ideas.

Since then we've gone through all of those resources ourselves and have selected 10 products – one product from each resource category that looked interesting and caught our eye. As a very quick product demand test we cross checked all of them in Google Trends. All of the 10 product ideas we selected have a strong upwards trend.

Making this list is just a starting point. In our next post in this series we're going to choose one of these products and go through a complete evaluation process to determine demand and product potential.

Let’s get started.

Disclaimer: Keep in mind, these are not suggested products to sell online, there are merely items that caught our attention and are trending upwards according to Google Trends. Before selling anything online you must first do your own due diligence to determine market demand and potential.

1. Paleo Bars

The only industry that may have more trends than nutrition, is fashion. The nutrition and health industry is always changing and there’s always opportunity for new products to cater to the latest fad or diet. One of the bigger trends in the last few years is the Paleo diet. If you don’t know, the Paleo diet is a modern nutritional plan based on the presumed diet of Paleolithic humans that lived 15,000 years ago.

Here in the Shopify office we have a handful of employees on the Paleo diet which originally sparked the idea.

Taking a look at Paleo energy bars in Google Trends, we can see a massive spike beginning at the tail end of 2010.

Check out the graph below:

Manufacturing a food product can be tricky with food laws and regulations but with a bit of searching we came across YouBars. As a protein bar manufacturer YouBar has a wide range of options for people interested in wholesale and private label protein/nutrition bars and will handle all the manufacturing and labelling required by law. 

2. Bow Ties

The fashion industry thrives on ever-evolving trends and that means ever-evolving opportunities for entrepreneurs. Men’s bow ties is one item we've seen become increasingly trendy in our community, especially in mens fashion window displays.

From Google Trends we can see that we aren’t just imagining this trend. Searches for “mens bow ties” have almost tripled over the past three years. This three-fold jump illustrates a growing trend of men who are thinking about not just bow ties, but also how they dress and look in general.

The nice thing about men's fashion products is that there's also an increasing trend of men that purchase online in general. Forrester Research notes that total U.S. online retail sales are expected to hit $370 billion by 2017. This is good news for men’s retail and ecommerce as it presents a significant business opportunity for a specific audience.

3. Pocket Squares

After checking out the trend for bow ties, we got a little excited about the men's fashion accessory market and wondered if there might be other product opportunities in men's fashion products. We turned to some fashion experts we follow on Twitter to see what products they have been recently tweeting about.

It turns out that bow ties aren’t the only mens fashion accessory enjoying a strong comeback. Pocket squares are also commanding some strong attention lately.

Checking out pocket squares in Google Trends, it looks like they are garnering even more interest than bow ties over the last several years.

Pocket squares are not only great because they're trending but they're also a product that with some hard work and practice you can make yourself. With some pocket squares fetching upwards of (and even higher than) $60 from some brands, the margins can be pretty stellar as well.

Another nice thing about accessories like pocket squares and the aforementioned bow ties is that they generally don’t have sizes and fits like pants or shirts. This makes them very easy to shop for and sell online.

4. Wood Sunglasses

Who would have thought? We originally spotted wooden sunglasses on Alibaba while browsing the popular section. A search for “wooden sunglasses” in Alibaba returns 22,603 Products from 555 Suppliers. With all these suppliers, there is likely strong demand. 

To verify our suspicions, we took to Google Trends. It appears that wood framed sunglasses are a fairly new product but have seen consistent growth almost every year since inception.

Keep in mind though, a product like sunglasses suffers from seasonality which you can clearly see reflected in the Google Trends graph below. Regardless, it’s an interesting product.

5. Wood Watches

After finding the wooden sunglasses on Alibaba, we thought about the trend in general for wooden accessories. We've seen many wood accessories before on Kickstarter so we started our search there and pretty quickly came across wooden watches.

Looking at the trends graph below, we can see that wood watches have been around for much longer than we realized. From Google Trends, it appears they came into existence at the end of 2004 and has recognized a slow but steady climb in interest up to 2012. However in the last two years we can see the growth has flattened a bit with the exception of a single large spike. Is there still opportunities for wood watches or has this product reached its plateau?

6. Leggings

We've looked at a lot of men’s products and accessories but we have also come across a women’s product that has seen some tremendous growth in interest over the last few years. 

We subscribe to and regularly read product review blogs like Uncrate and Outblush. Browsing Outblush is where we came across a few listings for women's leggings, especially ones with bold patterns.

Check out the screenshot below:

 

Except for the strong seasonality of demand for the product, the trend for leggings seems very strong, growing considerably every year.

7. E-Cigarettes

E-Cigarettes are big business. E-Cigarettes are a self-contained electronic “vaping” device. Sometimes referred to as a personal vaporizer or digital vapor device is a battery-powered device which simulates tobacco smoking.

E-Cigarettes are everywhere these days. We have seen it in the news and our community but it really jumped out to us as a potential product idea when we read the article Why Electronic Cigarettes Are About to Explode on Forbes

While E-Cigarettes are an interesting product, it’s a pretty new market and it’s just starting to get the attention of regulators. A market like this may become more difficult to enter and restrictive in the coming years.

The Google Trends graph matched our other thoughts for this trend exactly.

8. E-Liquid (Refill for E-Cigarettes)

While looking at more information on e-cigarettes we decided to head to Reddit to see what people were saying about them. To our surprise, we found a subreddit dedicated specifically to the creation of your own unique blends of the liquid refills in e-cigarettes. 

As we imagined, the growth in the trend for e-liquid matches the growth for e-cigarettes closely. Overall strong growth and what appears to be a great potential business opportunity.

9. Coconut Oil

While browsing Pinterest, Coconut Oil images kept popping up. Apparently coconut oil is a great all-in-one healthy oil that can be used for cooking, as a lip balm, moisturizer, shaving cream, deep treatment conditioner, makeup remover, body scrub, bug bites and the list goes on.

Looking at the trend graph, the upwards trend is undeniable since 2011. 

Coconut oil is an interesting product because because it appears to have a multitude of uses. Each one of these uses could be a niche opportunity to explore on it's own.

10. Matcha Powder

While browsing through our Instagram feed we came across an image someone posted of matcha powder. Matcha is finely milled powder green tea and has become increasing popular along with the tea category in general. Supermarket tea sections have exploded from carrying Red Rose and Tetley to a variety of hundreds of brands in recent years.

The trend for matcha powder has been increasing every year since 2009 and just recently, seen a massive spike in search interest.

What’s Next?

There you have it. We used our resources list to scour our thoughts, community and the internet in a strategic way to come up with 10 initial ideas that may make for interesting products to sell online. In next week's post, we're going to choose one of these products for a full evaluation to determine potential demand and viability.

What products or trends have you noticed lately? What would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments below.


About The Author

Richard Lazazzera is an ecommerce entrepreneur and Content Strategist at Shopify. Get more from Richard on Twitter.

The Malcolm Gladwell Guide to Starting a Business: Lessons From Impressionists, IKEA, and Goldman Sachs

Malcolm Gladwell’s most recent book is called David and Goliath, published last October. It features the roundup of…

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Malcolm Gladwell’s most recent book is called David and Goliath, published last October.

It features the roundup of interesting stories and psychology research that we’ve come to expect from Gladwell. David and Goliath gives plenty of examples of how qualities we perceive as strengths may actually be vulnerabilities, and vice versa.

Though Gladwell rarely gives concrete advice for running a business, his books are often categorized as Business books. But even if you can’t really use his books to understand how to calculate discounted cash flows or how to register for incorporation, you might use his books to think about operations at a high level.

And so if The Tipping Point can be used as a business strategy guide, David and Goliath might be used as a guide to figure out the type of business you want to start.

Gladwell writes about a dozen stories in David and Goliath around a theme of “deceptive strengths.” We pick out three of these stories because we think that they’re particularly useful for learning about the type of entrepreneur you can and want to be.

First, the story of the French Impressionists

Who are the French Impressionists? You’ve heard at least some of these names: Monet, Cézanne, Renoir. And you’ve seen their paintings, hanging either in a museum or above a couch in a living room.

(Impressionism, Sunrise, by Claude Monet, at the Musée Marmottan Monet)

But they haven't always been famous. In fact, most of them spent the prime years of their lives in obscurity and poverty before becoming the best-known artists in the world.

Before they were known as the Impressionists, they were a bunch of artists who spent most of their non-painting time discussing art in a Parisian café. None of them had been particularly well-known, and could barely find anyone to buy their works.

That’s because the market for painting was regulated, and the official taste was set by the Académie des Beaux-Arts, which ran an annual exhibition called the Salon. The Salon had very rigorous standards for what it considered to be good art: “Works were expected to be microscopically accurate, properly ‘finished’ and formally framed, with proper perspective and all the familiar artistic conventions.”

Translation: Paint huge scenes of battle or portraits of beautiful ladies, in realistic detail and set in an ornate frame.

The Impressionists didn’t like that. They wanted to paint differently, and of different types of scenes. Their brushstrokes were short and broken; they used unblended colors; and they rendered shadows and highlights in color. Gladwell describes their paintings this way: “They painted everyday life. Their brushstrokes were visible. Their figures were indistinct.”

(Avenue de l'Opéra, by Camille Pissarro, at the Pushkin Museum)

The Salon didn’t like that. Unfortunately for the group, the whole world paid attention to the painters who were selected to exhibit at the Salon. Those who were selected saw their reputations and the value of their paintings soar. The rest found their works and themselves ignored.

The Impressionists could not get their paintings into the Salon. That meant that they could not sell their paintings. They leaned on each other for more than emotional support. Monet was so broke that Renoir once had to bring him bread so that he would not starve.

Then things changed, suddenly.

After years of trying and trying to get placed into the Salon, the group changed tack. Instead of trying so hard to get into the Salon, they held their own exhibition in a few small rooms of the top floor of an office building.

It was nearly an instant hit. The Impressionists found that they were no longer shackled by bureaucratic taste, and their creativity let several art movements flourish. Each one of the original group is famous now. If you wanted to buy the paintings in that exhibition today, it would cost more than a billion dollars.

(The Rehearsal, by Edgar Degas, at the Fogg Art Museum)

Here's what you can learn from the Impressionists

Gladwell tells the story of the Impressionists to make the point that it’s better to be a big fish in a small pond than to be a small fish in the ocean.

When everybody wants the same thing, think perhaps an award, or a degree from a particular school, or a position of power, the race gets insanely competitive.

And that race is potentially destructive. Sure, the prestige is nice if you’re one of the winners, but few people win when there are so many players. What's worse than competing yourself to exhaustion and then winning nothing at the end?

Try to apply the lesson of the Impressionists: Question the race, and don’t be caught up trying to get the same things that everybody else wants.

So how does that apply to your business? Well, perhaps you should avoid the trends that are big and established now. If you’re a small business, then maybe you want to look beyond running a coffee shop or a yoga studio. Or if you’re selling online, maybe the fashion space is overplayed.

Of course, this may not apply if you feel that you’ve discovered a big secret that no one else is capitalizing on. But most of the time, people start these businesses because they believe that the public is more familiar with them, so that it’s easier to get customers or interest from investors.

In practice, because you have so many competitors, it’s hard to distinguish yourself. Are you really sure you want to start the business that every day a few dozen other people are starting?

Take the story of the Impressionists and try to see if you can find your own niche. Imitating others is not always a winning strategy. Find a space that’s underplayed, where you have some expertise, get in there, and try to dominate it. And if you discover something that can grow, it may be a big pond one day.

Besides, you can take solace in the fact that artists have a great number of places to display and sell their works. They no longer need the stamp of approval from an official authority to get the public’s attention.

So, if you’re an entrepreneur, don’t go into fields that are popular by consensus. Figure out fundamentals and try to get into a space that people haven’t yet discovered.

(Mont Sainte-Victoire by Paul Cézanne, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art)

Next, IKEA’s Ingvar Kamprad

Ingvar Kamprad founded IKEA at the age of 17 in a small village in Sweden. He decided at an early age to be an entrepreneur after selling matches.

With roots in dropshipping, his business grew quickly. He thought that rural Swedes were paying too much for their goods, and wanted to outdo the bigger businesses in delivering goods to customers. Soon he was established in multiple countries.

In the mid-1950’s, though, Kamprad got into trouble. His fellow furniture manufacturers were angry at his low prices and flat shipping, so they stopped making products for IKEA. Kamprad faced ruin.

How did Kamprad respond? By outsourcing significant parts of product across the Baltic sea, to the Communist-ruled Poland.

It was then the peak of the Cold War, and Kamprad was roundly condemned for the act. Even now Kamprad faces criticism for the move. But he stuck through it, and continued to build IKEA. We all know how very distinctive the store is today.

Gary Cohn, President and COO of Goldman Sachs

Gary Cohn grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland. He had dyslexia, and struggled in class. It was hard for him to catch up to other students, and his parents took him from school to school. Cohn says that his mother cried a fountain of tears when he managed to graduate from high school.

When he was 22 he found a job selling aluminum siding and window frames for U.S. Steel in Cleveland. One day he got a day off so that he could wander down Wall Street.

He was by the entrance of the World Trade Center when he saw that someone well-dressed needed a cab to LaGuardia Airport. The well-dressed man looked important. Cohn went on a whim and decided to talk to him; he didn’t need to go to LaGuardia, but asked whether they could share a cab.

The stranger happened to be high up on Wall Street, and was that week hiring people to buy and sell options. Cohn had no idea what options were, but neither did the well-dressed man, really. Somehow Cohn managed to talk his way into a job offer to be an options trader.

When he got home he studied options like he never studied before. And when he finished several books on option theory, he went on to trade. And he was good at it. Cohn rose through the ranks and today he’s the president of a company that now manages $912 billion in assets.

Lesson: Don’t be afraid

Why are we putting together the stories of Gary Cohn and Ingvar Kamprad? They demonstrate Gladwell’s lesson of “disagreeableness.”

Disagreeableness is not often thought of as a virtue. But this book revolves around the idea that strengths may not be what they seem.

Gladwell explains:

“Crucially, innovators need to be disagreeable. By disagreeable, I don’t mean obnoxious or unpleasant… They are people willing to take social risks – to do things that others might disapprove of.

This is not easy. Society frowns on disagreeableness. As human beings we are wired to seek the approval of those around us. Yet a radical and transformative idea goes nowhere without the willingness to challenge convention.”

Most people would not think of moving production to an enemy country during the Cold War. Not many can face the social disapproval that would result. But Kamprad didn’t mind. He was a pioneer in shipping furniture flat, didn’t mind being ostracized by his associates in the furniture industry and dared to face public opinion in shipping production overseas.

And c’mon, how many people could jump in the cab with a stranger and emerge out of it with a job offer to work as an options trader?

These are difficult tasks for any of us. It’s not just courage at work here. It’s courage and the ability to disregard conventional opinion.

If you want to start a new business, don’t be constrained by conventional opinions. Think about how you can make your own mark.

For example, ask yourself what kinds of ideas no one wants to build a business around. Consider that no one wanted computers in the home before Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs started building personal computers. And ask whether certain ideas may have been abandoned because previous attempts were just too early. Facebook is not the first social media site: Friendster was earlier, and before Reid Hoffman joined PayPal and founded LinkedIn, he started a failed dating site in 1997.

(Young Girls on the Riverbank, by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, private collection)

Conclusion

The Impressionists defied the officially-defined boundaries of good taste, went against the crowd, and founded whole new movements in art. Ingvar Kamprad defied public opinion and built one of the largest and most distinctively branded companies in the world. And Gary Cohn totally ignored social conventions to get a start to rise to the top of a huge investment bank on Wall Street.

These are all forms of entrepreneurialism. Take a close look at your assumptions and beliefs, and maybe you’ll find a few that are out of date. See what new type of business that you can plunge in to. Remember, it’s often much better to be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond.

Have an idea you've been sitting on? Join the Shopify Build a Business competition and try out for a chance to win funding and mentorship.


About The Author

Dan Wang is a Content Specialist at Shopify. Get more from Dan on Twitter.

The 10 Best Places Ecommerce Entrepreneurs Go To Find Product Ideas

Coming up with a great idea for a product to sell online will occasionally strike when you least…

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This is the second post in a series of articles that will detail the process of getting started in ecommerce. In the coming weeks we will be posting further in-depth articles on other aspects of finding and evaluating products to sell online. For the first post in this series, click here

Coming up with a great idea for a product to sell online will occasionally strike when you least expect it. Many times though, it’s something you need to be proactively on the lookout for. The internet contains a wealth of ideas and inspiration, but as a new entrepreneur, where do you begin? Aimlessly searching online will only get you so far so we have compiled a list of the best resources to give you direction and get you started.

As you go through all the resources listed in this post, it’s vital to keep two things in mind:

  1. While searching for new product ideas, make sure to look beyond the products themselves. It may sound cliche but as we learned in the last post, there is heavy competition in the most common and popular product categories. Choosing a different or unique angle can be instrumental to your success. Try not to just look at products, rather look for potential in the product category. Consider new markets, new features and new ways to use the products.
  2. Don't be afraid to look at smaller product categories and niches. Even though a niche is a smaller subset of a larger category with less potential customers, it makes up for that by way of less competitors and a more targeted audience. Less competition makes it easier to get to the top of Google, and is usually more cost effective and efficient to advertise to your customers.

In this post we will go into detail about the best places to look for product inspiration and ideas. We’ll start with some broad ideas to get your head in the right space to start your search and then get into more specific resources closer to the end of the post.

Let’s get started.

Make a List

As you go through this post and the list of resources, it’s best to capture all of your ideas on paper. Once you have all of your brainstormed ideas recorded, you will be able to return to them later and evaluate them for viability and potential.

1. Start With What You Have

Before you begin searching the depths of the internet and the ends of the earth for product and niche ideas, it’s always best to start with the ideas you already have. Maybe it’s a product or idea you have had for years. Maybe it exists in a half written business plan sitting in a folder somewhere on your computer. Even if you’ve discounted it at some point prior, it’s worth taking a fresh look at it. At one point you thought it was a great idea right?

Here are a few questions to consider when making your list:

  • What products, niches or industry you are particularly passionate about or interested in?
  • What products, niches or industries are you friends passionate about?
  • What pain points do you have in your own life?

Example: Max had a big issue with his unruly, messy hair in the morning. Short of taking a time consuming shower every morning just to be able to style his hair properly, he set out to fix the pain point with his product, Morning Head. Morning Head is a shower cap with an absorbent towel liner that you can soak with water, place on your head and rub around for a minute to get your hair ready for styling.

2. Local Community

Sometimes, you don’t need a new idea at all. Traditional brick and mortar businesses have been around much longer than their ecommerce counterparts. Paying attention to trends in brick and mortar retail and adapting them to ecommerce can be just the ticket you need to create a profitable and unique business. Look around your community and take note of what new or interesting retail concepts people are talking about. Your local newspapers can also be a great resource for this type of news and information. 

Example: Yummy Tummy Soup Company is a perfect example of someone that saw an opportunity to take a brick and mortar concept and put it online. The Yummy Tummy Soup Company sends healthy homemade soups, cakes and pastries in a thoughtful care package to someone you love, giving them the tools they need to heal whatever ails them. They cook and bake all products daily and send them coast to coast in temperature controlled containers.

3. Online Consumer Trend Publications

A great place to start your search for product ideas is to look at some top consumer product trend publications. Following trend publications is great way to begin getting a sense of the direction consumer products are going and the ideas other entrepreneurs are introducing to the market. Following these publications can also expose you to new product categories and industries that you previously didn’t know about. Following what’s trending can help you to dream up new goods, services and experiences for your online business.

There are several popular trend publications online including, but not limited to:

Trend Watching - Trend Watching is an independent trend firm that scans the globe for the most promising consumer trends and insights. Trend Watching has a team of thirty professionals in locations like London, New York, São Paulo, Singapore, Sydney and Lagos all looking for a reporting on worldwide trends.

Trend Hunter - Trend Hunter is the world's largest, most popular trend community. Fuelled by a global network of 137,000 members and 3,000,000 fans, Trend Hunter is a source of inspiration for aspiring entrepreneurs and the insatiably curious.

Jeremy, the founder of Trend Hunter says, "Like many of us, I was an entrepreneur at heart, but I didn't know what idea I wanted to pursue. I chose careers that I thought would lead me to my business idea... but after years of searching, I was still hunting for inspiration. It was then that I started Trend Hunter - a place for insatiably curious people to share ideas and get inspired."

Springwise - There are millions of business ideas spanning the globe that operate in a specific way, have their own style, and market in a unique fashion. It’s not always possible to travel the world searching for these ideas to bring home though. That’s where Springwise comes in. Sources such as Springwise travel the world for you, on the search for new entrepreneurial ideas, trends, and stories. Springwise publishes a daily and a weekly newsletter, which you can subscribe to for free.

Example: A great example of someone that noticed a trend from another country and brought it home is Dan and his product, Inkkas. Inkkas are beautiful, unique shoes using authentic South American textiles. The idea came about when Dan noticed the trend for these style of shoes in Peru. Determining this was a great product that would also do well in the North American market, he brought the idea home and successful funded his Kickstarter project, raising over $77,000 in pre-orders.

4. Industry Leaders

If you know the industry or niche you would like to be in you can use various tools to discover the influencers in the industry. Following the right people on social media can help inspire new ideas via a constant stream of carefully curated content from the people in the know. It’s up to you to uncover the opportunities.

There are several online tools you can use to discover the influencers online for a particular industry or niche:

5. Product and Trend Discovery Review Sites

Product review and discovery sites can also be a fantastic source of ideas and inspiration. Sites like Uncrate (men’s products) and Outblush (women’s products) are great ways to see new curated product trends daily. What better way to get inspired than to get a daily glimpse into the new and interesting products other entrepreneurs are bringing to the market.

Here are just a few examples of popular consumer product blogs to get you started:

Don’t just look at the big and popular sites but explore niche reviews sites as well. Consider what types of products and niches you're particularly interested in and search for consumer product review blogs in those niches.

6. Social Curation Sites

Pinterest and other similar image curation sites can be a goldmine for product and niche ideas. Many of the images contain interesting, new and trending consumer products. Using the built in social signals you can sometimes get a sense almost immediately of their popularity. This could be your first clue if there is a market for the product or niche.

Several of the larger social curations sites are:

  • Pinterest - Pinterest is the fastest growing social network with over 50 million monthly users. Don’t forget to check out the popular section for what’s trending.
  • Polyvore - Polyvore is a new way to discover and shop for things you love. Polyvore's global community has created over 80 million collage-like “sets” that are shared across the web.
  • Fancy - Fancy describes themselves as part store, magazine and wish list. Use Fancy to find a gift for any occasion and share your favorite discoveries with all your friends.
  • Wanelo - Wanelo (Want - Need - Love) describes itself as a community for all of the worlds shopping, bringing together products and stores in a Pinterest like product posting format. You can start by checkout out trending people. 

7. B2B Wholesale Marketplaces

What better way to get product ideas than right from the source. This has been a popular option amongst ecommerce entrepreneurs for a while and this list wouldn’t be complete without it. Wholesale and manufacturer sourcing sites like Alibaba exposes you to thousands of potential products and ideas. It can be easy to get overwhelmed with the sheer amount of product available so take it slow.

Some of the more popular B2B wholesale product sites are:

  • Alibaba - You’ve likely heard of Alibaba. They are one of the biggest ecommerce companies in the world, up there with Amazon and eBay. Alibaba connects consumers all over the world with wholesalers and manufacturers from Asia. With hundreds of thousands of products, there’s not much you can’t find on Alibaba. 

Although it’s generally accepted that Alibaba is the largest online wholesale and manufacturer database, there are many other sites similar to Alibaba you can use for inspiration and to find product ideas.

Some of the largest competitors of Alibaba include:

8. Online Consumer Marketplaces

Another rich source for product ideas are online consumer marketplaces. Million of products is probably an understatement so you may want to begin your search with some of the popular and trending items and branch out into other interesting categories that catch your eye from there:

eBay - eBay is the largest online consumer auction site. 
eBay Popular - A list of some of the most popular product categories on eBay.

Amazon - Amazon is the largest internet retailer. 
Amazon Bestsellers - Amazon's most popular products based on sales. Updated hourly.
Amazon Movers and Shakers - Amazon's biggest gainers in sales rank over the past 24 hours. Updated hourly.

Kickstarter - Kickstarter is the largest crowd-funding website.
Kickstarter Discover - Browse all projects by popularity, funding, staff picks, as well as many other options.

Etsy - Etsy is a marketplace for handmade items.
Etsy Trending Items - Check out the current trending items and listings on Etsy.

AliExpress - AliExpress is a new consumer wholesale marketplace from Alibaba that allows you to order in small quantities. 
AliExpress Popular - The most popular products being bought on AliExpress.

9. Social Forum Communities

Reddit is the largest social media news aggregator. It describes itself as the front page of the internet and is enormously influential. Reddit has thousands of “subreddits” which are sub-sections or niches that cater to different topics and and areas of interest. It’s within these subreddits that you can find lots of inspiration for your next product or business idea. 

If you have an idea for a particular industry, niche or product category, it’s worth doing a search and finding a suitable subreddit community to join and actively become a part of.

There are also many product focused subreddits that are packed with ideas.

Here are a few examples:

There are also several subreddits for curated Amazon products, make sure to check out the following:

If you're active on Reddit and pay close attention, occasionally you have come across interesting posts like these:

No matter which approach you take, Reddit is has been and continues to be a valuable source of entrepreneurial ideas and inspiration, coupled with a great and supportive community.

10. Instagram

Instagram isn’t just pictures of food and dogs, it is also an interesting option for inspiring product ideas. Because it’s photo based, it makes it easy to scan through many ideas and photos quickly.

There are a few ways you can use Instagram to search for product and niche ideas:

  • Hashtag - Once again, if you have a particular interest in a product category or industry, you can try searching for applicable hashtags. Another great option is to do a search on Instagram for applicable hashtags that insinuate buyer interest and intent like #want and #buy.
  • Product Curation Accounts - There are many accounts on Instagram that post curated product content. Like many other examples above, you'll likely want to search for and find accounts within the niches you are particularly interested in. As an example, Shopify curates interesting and unique products from Shopify’s 90,000+ online stores. It might just provide the idea or spark for your next product.

Next Week's Post

Surely with all these resources, you’ll be able to come up with a great list of initial products ideas to start. In the next post in this series, we are going to look through all of the resources ourselves and share some interesting product ideas with you.

This is the second post in a series of articles that will detail the process of getting started in ecommerce. In the coming weeks we will be posting further in-depth articles on other aspects of finding and evaluating products to sell online.  


About The Author

Richard Lazazzera is a an ecommerce entrepreneur and Content Strategist at Shopify. Get more from Richard on Twitter.

What to Sell Online: 8 Strategies for Finding Your First Product

For new entrepreneurs, deciding to start an online business is exciting but it’s also new terrain that can…

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For new entrepreneurs, deciding to start an online business is exciting but it’s also new terrain that can be intimidating and difficult to navigate. One of the biggest challenges aspiring ecommerce entrepreneurs face is figuring out what to sell online - whether it’s a single product or multiple products that occupy a niche in a market.

Coming up with product ideas can be tough and it often feels like everything has already been done. Not to mention there's a lot of competition online these days. Consumers are just a click away from online giants like Amazon, Walmart, Zappos and Best Buy, who also happen to be extremely difficult to outrank in the search engines. 

But, there are still golden opportunities out there and new, successful products are being launched all the time.

So, how can you get in on the action? We’ve put together a list of eight strategies and opportunities that you can use to help you start generating product ideas. 

Product and Niche Opportunity Types

Below is our list of eight potential opportunities to help you find your own product or niche. Each involves a different mindset and approach.

  1. Find Opportunities in Keywords
  2. Build an Interesting/Captivating Brand
  3. Identify a Customer Pain Point
  4. Identify Customer Passions
  5. Go With Your Passion
  6. Look for an Opportunity Gap
  7. Consider Your Experience
  8. Capitalize on Trends Early 

Let’s take a look at each opportunity in more detail:

1. Find Opportunities in Keywords

It’s no secret that organic search traffic is a massive marketing channel. Looking for keyword opportunities involves strategically looking for a product or niche online based on the search queries people are using, volume and competition for those searches. This approach is fairly technical and involves a strong understanding of keyword research as well as SEO. Finding opportunities in keyword searches can be an effective strategy for capturing consistent organic traffic from Google. This strategy is particularly useful if you plan to dropship products, as margins on drop shipped goods are thin making it difficult to use paid advertising channels effectively.

Example: When Andrew Youderian first got into ecommerce, his goal was to build a business that would generate income and provide him with flexibility. Because of this, the viability of the business was more important to him than being passionate about the product he sold. Because of this he took a technical approach in picking a niche that he felt had the highest chances of success, basing his niche selection on careful keyword research. Andrew Youderian found an opportunity to rank for keywords in the fishing equipment industry as well as CB Radios.

In the image above, you can see that Andrew has been able to rank in the 3rd position on Google for “Vehicle CB Radios”.

2. Build an Interesting and Unique Brand

Taking a brand building opportunity approach is very different from an SEO approach. This involves developing a superior understanding of your customers, crafting a unique brand and carving out a unique place in your customer’s mind. A brand building approach can be particularly effective at setting you apart if margins are slim or competition is fierce.

Examples: dbrand produces precision cut skins for smartphones, laptops and game consoles. In a little over a year they have been able to build their brand to 64,000 Facebook fans with their unique culture and communication with customers. Tapping into the meme culture, reddit and adding a unique sense of humour has catapulted dbrand to the top of the industry.

For example, take a look at this interaction with one of their customers:


A big part of building a successful brand is choosing a product or business that you can position in a new or unique way. An example of a retailer who has done this well is DODOcase, an iPad case manufacturer. They operate in an extremely crowded and competitive space however their cases are handcrafted using traditional artisan bookbinding techniques in the city of San Francisco. And if that’s something you want, you can only buy from them.

3. Identify a Customer Pain Point

Solving a customer pain point has always been a great way to get sales. Tylenol wouldn't be in business if a headache didn’t hurt. A customer pain doesn’t always have to be physical pain though, it also accounts for frustrating or poor experiences.

Example: Jing understood the pain people get from grinding their teeth. Not only physical, but in time constant grinding can lead to expensive dental bills. Knowing this was a pain point that many people would seek out a solution for and happily pay money to solve, he created Pro Teeth Guard. Pro Teeth Guard makes custom moulded teeth guard to prevent you from grinding your teeth while sleeping.

Active Hound is another great example of a brand that solved a pain point in the market. After talking to other dog owners at their local park they found that a major gripe among pet owners is that dog toys are expensive and they don’t last. Understanding this inspired them to create a line of ultra durable dog toys that can take some serious chewing and rough play. Taking a minute to think about pain points and little annoyances in your own everyday life could be just what you need to come up with the next great product idea.

4. Identify Customer Passions

Almost as good, maybe even better than solving a customer pain point is catering to a customer passion. When consumers are passionate about something they will often spend more money. Golfers are notorious for spending thousands of dollars to lower their score by even one stroke. Additional benefits can include deeper interaction and loyalty with your brand as passionate consumers are generally more involved in the industry and the buying process.

Example: Black Milk Clothing was started In 2009 after the community of the founders blog, ‘TooManyTights’ exploded. Noticing the passion and opportunity around women's tights he created Black Milk Clothing. Today Black Milk is a multi-million dollar company that’s grown to over 150 employees and distributes its products globally. They do a great job of piggybacking on pop culture with their designs which allows them to tap into passionate audiences and customers from a range of different areas.

5. Go With Your Passion

Some people consider choosing a niche based on your own personal passion to be a recipe for disaster but that’s not always the case, and can prove to be extremely profitable. Building an ecommerce business is a lot of hard work and you’ll likely hit some bumps in the road on your journey. Passion tends to be one thing that always helps to carry you through the hard times. For some people the passion of building a business alone can be enough to drive them but for others to succeed they need to be passionate about what they are selling and their industry. Staying motivated is key to building and carrying a business through the difficult periods. They say if you love what you do, you’ll never work another day in your life.

Example: Eric Bandholz began BeardBrand as a blog discussing business and sales strategy. Slowly, his passion for beards crept into the blog and in time he turned his passion for the bearded lifestyle into a separate and successful ecommerce business selling beard grooming related products.

Moorea Seal is another example of someone that turned their passion into a successful online business. In 2010 Moorea, a full-time artist living in Seattle, became self-employed via her various creative pursuits: blogging, running her own jewelry business, freelance illustration, and graphic design. In late 2012, she took an early retirement from design to spend more time on her passions and narrow her focus. In 2013, Moorea opened a store on Shopify. The Moorea Seal shop is a curated selection of beautiful accessories and objects, highlighting handmade from artists in the United States. Each of the designers have been hand picked by Moorea herself with intention, and 7% of all proceeds from the store benefit non-profits that are close to her heart. The Moorea Seal Store has achieved massive success in less than a year, and has been featured in several blogs and publications including The Huffington Post, Design Sponge, and Babble.

6. Look For an Opportunity Gap

Finding an opportunity gap involves looking at a particular product, niche or industry and identifying a problem or deficiency that can be capitalized on. What can you do different or better from what everyone else is currently doing? An opportunity gap may exist in the form of an improved product feature, an unrealized market by your competitors, or even in your marketing capability. 

Example: Chaim Pikarski is a perfect example of someone that seeks out and capitalizes on opportunity gaps. Chaim started out by scouring Amazon ads and thoroughly reading the comments section looking for deficiencies and feature gaps buyers posted. Using this information he sourced a manufacturer in China and made the product better. He has repeated the process thousands of times over.

Hipo shower radio is one such product Chaim has manufactured:

7. Consider Your Experience

Have you worked in a particular industry and know the in’s and out’s? Maybe you have a skill or a particular set of experiences that makes you an expert on a particular topic. Turning your expertise into your own online business is a great way to enter the market with a leg up that may not be so easy for others to duplicate.

Example: Jonathan Snook is an expert in web design and development. He used his years of experience and knowledge to write a self published book on web development and CSS called SMACSS, Scalable and Modular Architecture for CSS.

Jillian Michael from The Biggest Loser took the same approach and used her expertise in fitness and weight loss to develop and sell a line of products, including DVD’s, books and fitness equipment.

8. Capitalize on Trends Early

Capitalizing on a trend early enough can be massive for a new business. It allows you to carve out a place in consumers minds and establish yourself as a leader before others have a chance to. Jumping on a trend early can also have some big impact on your SEO and allow you to climb to the top of search rankings easier and quicker.

Example: Flockstocks noticed the trend for feather hair extensions very early on. Before spending any money or buying inventory, founder Sophie Kovic tested the market by quickly mocking up a test website. The results? 11 sales in 4 hours. Knowing there was a huge opportunity she built out her site, ordered inventory and even ended up winning the 2012 Shopify Build A Business competition in the Apparel & Jewelry category.

Which Opportunity Do You See?

Keep in mind that because of heavy competition in the most common and popular product categories, choosing the right niche can be instrumental to your success. Don't be afraid to look at smaller product categories and niches. Even though a niche is a smaller subset of a larger category with less potential customers, it makes up for that by way of less competitors and a more targeted audience. Less competition makes it easier to get to the top of Google, and usually is more cost effective and efficient to advertise to your customers.

The niche and products you choose will shape your entire business, the activities you do, and the difficulty you’ll face. Selling food related products is very different from selling products like smartphone cases and there will be unique challenges involved in each.

Understanding each of the eight opportunities above should get the gears turning and help you find the perfect first product or niche.

This is the first in a series of posts that will detail the process of getting started in ecommerce. In the coming weeks we will be posting further in-depth articles on other aspects of finding and evaluating products to sell online. 


About The Author

Richard Lazazzera is an ecommerce entrepreneur and Content Strategist at Shopify. Get more from Richard on Twitter.

6 Lessons Every Entrepreneur Can Learn From Flappy Bird (R.I.P.)

Regardless of where you turn or what website and social network you find yourself on, it’s unavoidable to…

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Regardless of where you turn or what website and social network you find yourself on, it’s unavoidable to come across a mention of “Flappy Bird” right now. What started as another indie-game project by a lone developer in Vietnam has managed to become a global sensation causing an unbelievable amount of buzz, controversy, mystery, confusion, estrangement, and outrage. 

Was any of it intended in the least by the game’s creator Dong Nguyen? Not in the slightest. With the dust settling after the storm, Nguyen broke his silence after pulling the game from both iOS and Android app stores by saying he did it for the sake of people playing the game, afraid it was too addictive for their own good. Hypothetically speaking, not a bad problem to have for a game developer. 

But pulling back the lens a little bit, I think there are some invaluable lessons for budding and current entrepreneurs across the board, not just indie game developers looking to create the next Flappy Bird. With that, let’s pay homage to the deceased bird by remembering what it taught us, and how we can carry that legacy forward by applying some of its teachings.

1. Keep It Simple

There is a slight chance that maybe for some odd reason, you haven’t played the game yourself (if this is the case, you can play it here). Essentially, there are three basic rules the drive the game: 

  • Your bird gains downward speed as it falls and will flap up by the same height
  • Your bird’s horizontal speed stays constant
  • The pipes that your bird must fly through have different heights but have a constant vertical clearance and horizontal distance

These were the game mechanics that were reportedly earning Nguyen $50,000 a day. So how does this apply to you starting a business? 

Let’s imagine a common scenario, you’re listening to a significant other rant about a product they can’t stand and how they wished it might be instead. You then go out for a stroll and you get hit with that “eureka” moment. The clouds part and it’s as if the heavens were placing the next billion dollar business idea right on your lap. You can’t believe it, in fact, you become paranoid and start worrying about someone stealing your idea.

What happens next? We all know because we’ve all be there. We start doing research, we start thinking about the competition and the million moving parts that all need to be set in motion for the idea to be a success, and after pitching the idea to a friend and hearing how stupid it is, we give up. That’s right, before taking a single step, the stroke of genius fizzles out.

The problem is that we get bogged down in detail and get intimidated by the complexity of it all. Nguyen could have added 100 other variables in an attempt to make the game interesting, but he kept it to a simple “tap” gesture. Similarly, you could do yourself a favor and take note from the likes of Tim Ferris when he suggests micro-testing the demand for a product before investing or Eric Ries when he cautions against going all in without first building a minimum viable product (MVP) to get feedback. In fact, it's highly plausible and advisable to start a business without spending any money at all.  

So for your next brilliant idea, remember the timeless truth gleaned from good old Flappy, keep it simple stupid (KISS).  

2. Strike a Nerve

This is where Flappy Bird may have taken the cake. The game was ridiculously hard to play, taking first time players (myself included) several minutes just to make it through the first couple of pipes. People began hating the game, hating the person who recommended it, and venomously hating the people gloating about their scores on Twitter and Facebook (see point 4). But with that hate came an enormous amount of attention and more importantly continued drive to keep playing with the maddening rush players would get after passing each successive pipe and increasing their score. Take a look at this tweet below:


Striking a nerve your audience is something Guy Kawasaki recommended in his book “The Art of the Start” and something Seth Godin has embedded as a staple for good marketing and product development with his idea of creating the “purple cow.” 

In fact, some of the most successful stores on Shopify are entrepreneurs selling products you couldn't help but stop to take a second look at. Some of the items you’ll find are:

3. Create Compulsion

Following-up from the point above, no matter how hard it was to navigate or “flap” the bird through those darn pipes, people couldn’t put the game down. Again, as noted above, the compulsion amongst players was a driving factor in Nguyen pulling the game in the first place.

In fact, the addiction behind Flappy Bird was best explained in an article I read in the Guardian: “One good way to ensure compulsion is to make the operator believe that they can always do better, and if they don’t, that failure makes them angry enough at themselves to trap them in the loop.” 


The game design of Flappy Bird appears to be so ridiculously simple that people can’t believe they can’t get a score higher than 2.

One of my favorite books that breaks down habit formation is The Habit Loop, in which the author breaks down any habit as consisting of a cue, routine, and reward. Flappy Bird did just a great job elongating the distance between routine and reward, resulting in players taking every chance they got to play the game. 

Traditionally, entrepreneurs have attempted to tap into that craving to consume more through a number of means, including drip email campaigns, promotional discounts, limited time offers, and pre-orders. Getting your target demographic to become addicted to your products and content requires several posts in its own right, but start thinking about how you can get your customers hooked.

A great example is Blue Goji, a wearable technology company that allows anyone to turn any piece of cardio equipment into a game and is taking the fitness world by storm by building compulsion into physical activity (and sales). 

4. Social Proof Increases Virality

One of the driving factors noted for the game’s virality was the bashing, gloating, and moans of frustration players were sharing with their respective networks. It all started with Nguyen’s own tweet upon the early release of the game sharing his score. Getting players to share their scores, statuses, or achievements has been a traditional staple in the field of game design and gamification, but there’s a great deal here that anyone looking to start a business can learn from. 


Perhaps, one of the easiest and quickest ways online stores pull feat off is by integrating photos shared on social networks like Instagram and Facebook onto their product pages and therefore increasing the virality factor through demonstrating social proof. You can also offer incentives such as products, discounts, or exclusive giveaways in contests or campaigns asking your audience to share images of your products. 

5. Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

Now there’s been a lot of talk about the pipes and other graphic elements being “borrowed” heavily from Mario Brothers, a game that’s been close to gamer’s hearts for more than three generations. There’s even further talk about the game ripping off older titles like Piou Piou and the Helicopter game. However, if we were to look back at the history of video games, it could be said to be filled with cases of plagiarism and we’d have to tell all block-sorting puzzlers that they should leave that realm to Tetris.

The fact of the matter is that a lot of entrepreneurship, or innovation for that matter, is incremental and built off existing ideas rather than something that people start from scratch. How does this help you in your quest to build a million-dollar business?

Find something that sells, find out what people hate about it, and build something better or “slightly” different. 

A great way to gauge demand and get product ideas is to use Google’s Keyword Planner tool. Pick an industry, brainstorm some keywords and plug them in the tool to analyze search volume.  Then go to Google Search and see which company’s consistently ranks on the first page. From there, see if you can identify any “gaping” holes and fill them in with some smart and genuine solutions. 

6. Keep Them Guessing

The best part behind the rampant success and rise of Flappy Bird in the app store chronicalled to the smallest detail in a great article by Mashable is how adamantly game developers and journalists wanted to know the secret behind Nguyen’s success. They guessed at everything from cross-promotion with other addictive games to Nguyen using bots to game the app store through fake reviews. All of which led Nguyen to the same response “The reason ‘Flappy Bird’ is so popular is unclear to me.” 


However, what really took the world by storm was Nguyen's decision to pull the game despite the level of virality it reached. I mean talk about striking a nerve (see point 2). 


Was he actually going to do it? Was he serious? Nguyen had the entire mobile gaming world in the palm of his hand guessing at whether he'd actually pull the trigger. Now that's something. 

The one things entrepreneurs can learn from this is that it pays to retain a certain level of mystery, even if there is nothing behind the curtain so as to say. Not only does this lead people to come up with wild, entertaining, controversial, and buzz-worthy rumors about your success, failure, or product development (cue *Apple*), but most importantly, it gets and keeps people talking. 

So before we let modern day myopia completely wipe out the memory of Flappy Bird from our minds, I hope these tips help you with that next big idea or help take that current business venture to the next level. Feel free to share any other lessons entrepreneurs can learn from the whole Flappy Bird dilemma by commenting below. 


About The Author

Humayun Khan is a Content Crafter at Shopify. He writes for the Shopify Blog covering social media, retail trends and ecommerce strategy. He is also the author of The Ultimate Guide to Business Plans.  Follow him @humayunnkhan.

50 Ways to Make Your First Sale

You've got a product. You've taken product photos and written product descriptions. You've designed your website, populated it…

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You've got a product. You've taken product photos and written product descriptions. You've designed your website, populated it with great content and launched it to the world.

Now what?

Now it's time to sit back and watch the traffic and sales come flooding in, right?

If only it were that easy.

For many first time ecommerce entrepreneurs, it can be frustrating to work so hard getting your business ready only to to hear crickets when you finally launch.

Well that's exactly what our latest guide aims to fix. With the help of Sean Work, Director of Marketing at KISSmetrics, we put together this comprehensive guide to help you make your first sale. You can read this guide like a book from start to finish, or feel free to jump into whichever chapter interests you.


Here's what you'll learn in the guide:

Jump to a specific chapter:

  • Introduction: A handy table of contents and overview of what you'll learn in the guide.
Social Media
  • 1. Make Friends on Facebook: Learn how to get started with Facebook marketing - everything from crafting strategic status updates to creating a compelling Facebook page for your store.
  • 2. Network on LinkedIn: Find out how to strategically connect with people, complete your profile, what to post and how to leverage LinkedIn groups.
  • 3. Get Busy on Youtube: Discover how to sell with video, what video software to use, what kind of video content to produce and how to get started with YouTube analytics. 
  • 4. Spark Conversations on Twitter: If you're new to Twitter then this section is for you. Learn how to get started setting up your account and how to strategically engage potential followers and customers. 
  • 5. Inspire with Pinterest: Pinterest can be a huge driver of traffic. In this chapter we show you how to integrate a 'Pin it' button on your site and start inspiring potential customers to start following your pins. 
  • 6. Work It on Instagram: Instagram is quickly becoming one of the best platforms for online store owners to build an audience with. Discover how to post photos that drive engagement, run contests and more. 
  • 7. Tap Into Tumblr: Here's where we show you everything you need to know to get started with Tumblr, from picking a theme, adding content and building links back to your store. 
Search Engine Marketing
  • 8. Stand Out on Comparison Shopping Engines: Price driven shoppers often use comparison shopping engines to make a purchase these days. Here, you'll learn how to leverage these website and get your products in front of more people. 
  • 9. Get On Google Places: Google Places is Google’s answer to the good old yellow pages, and yes even if you haven't made a dime, you're going to want to be found on Google Places. In this chapter we show you how.
  • 10. Leverage the Yahoo! Bing Network: Learn how to use paid search ads on the Yahoo! Bing Network to drive targeted traffic to your store. 
  • 11. Get Search Engine Optimized (SEO): Search engine optimization (SEO) is often considered by some as the holy grail of Internet marketing. In this chapter we show you how to get your site to rank higher in Google. 
  • 12. Learn from Web Analytics: Analytics (for short) will show you what your customers are doing on your site, on which web pages they leave your site, and in some cases how long they have been a customer. 
  • 13. Be Accessible on Mobile Devices: One way to gain an edge on your competition and be accessible by consumers on whatever device they decide to use is to make sure your current website is mobile friendly or create a separate mobile site.
PR
  • 14. Get Product ReviewsThis is the online guerrilla marketing method of PR. There is a unique benefit of getting product reviews from other websites that helps increase brand credibility and trustworthiness in addition to word-of-mouth marketing.
  • 15. Write a Press Release: Learn how to be newsworthy and craft a press release that rises above the noise. 
  • 16. Pull a PR StuntPR stunts are the ancient version of the viral video. They are loads of fun and help bring tons of attention to your brand if executed well.
  • 17. Sell a Unique and Newsworthy ProductStanding out from the crowd is one of the best ways to move merchandise. Especially if you’re in a crowded space where your competitors sell similar, if not the exact same products.
  • 18. Interview an Industry InfluencerA great way to produce easy and very exceptional blog content is to interview someone important and well known in your industry.
Content Marketing
  • 19. Write a Guest PostOne of the most high-impact ways to get some internet buzz for your business is to write guest blog posts for various websites that are relevant to your niche.
  • 20. Create a Viral Video: Discover the five characteristics of viral videos and how to create your own. 
  • 21. Start Your Own BlogStarting a successful blog can be the easiest and cheapest way to attract thousands of new customers. All it comes down to is how well you can create valuable content for your readers.
  • 22. Write a Controversial Blog PostCreating controversy is one way to get your brand to race out in front of the masses and garner some serious consumer attention. But it has to be done carefully and artfully. 
  • 23. Create a Youtube ChannelHaving a YouTube channel can be one of the strongest marketing and sales tools you’ll ever own. Here's how to get started.
  • 24. Build Your Email ListThere's no question how important email marketing is when it comes to adding to your bottom line, in fact, research shows that for every dollar spent on email marketing, companies made on average $40 back.
Paid Ads
  • 25. Advertise on FacebookThis is where the power of your Facebook page will become fully realized, especially when it comes to helping you generate sales. 
  • 26. Pay for Google AdwordsNo other advertising network will give you faster sales results than Adwords. In this chapter we show you how to get started using the platform and generating targeted traffic to your site. 
  • 27. Buy Banner AdsBanner ads can work magic when it comes to selling products online, but like every form of marketing, they have to be done right.
  • 28. Promote Your Tweets on Twitter: Learn how to leverage Twitter's advertising platform to get your content in front of more people and increase your engagement on Twitter. 
Take it Offline
  • 29. Get a Booth at a Flea Market or Farmer's Market: Nothing beats speaking to potential customers one-on-one and selling to them directly, especially early on when you're still building your company and you'll do next to anything to get that first sale. 
  • 30. Engage Your Local Business NetworkIn this chapter we’re going to get into the nitty-gritty of how to effectively network in the real world to get results, and by results we mean sales for your business.
  • 31. Say Hello to Strangers with Meetup.com: Learn how to find meetups in your area and use them to help make important industry connections and ultimately promote your brand. 
  • 32. Sell Wholesale to Other Retailers: Here's where you get an introduction on distributing your own products (or even other products from other companies) to other retailers. 
  • 33. Take Your Business On the RoadA fun and productive way to see the rest of your country while looking to make that first sale is to showcase your business in other locations.
  • 34. Deploy a Sales TeamSometimes getting that first sale is a quick endeavour but sustaining growth in sales quickly makes you realize how tough it can be to be a one-person sales team, especially if your product requires a little more convincing than traditional consumer goods.
Traditional Advertising
  • 35. Get Going with TradeshowsTrade shows can have a profound impact on your business, especially if you’re the manufacturer or source of your own products.
  • 36. Go Door to DoorThis might be one of the most overlooked startup techniques known to earthlings. But it actually can work for digital, subscription and physical products. 
  • 37. Use Print AdsIn the age of online advertising where you can calculate your return on investment to the penny, suggesting print advertising may seem quite unusual. That's exactly why we're suggesting it. 
  • 38. Sponsor an EventSponsoring events is an age old form of marketing that can be really hit or miss. In this chapter we show how to make sure you get a solid ROI for your sponsorship dollars. 
  • 39. Distribute FlyersEven with the popularity of internet marketing, flyers and direct mail are still effective ways to make sales, especially that tricky and often allusive first one.
  • 40. Advertise OutdoorsIf you're really hungry for that first sale and traditional online methods aren't yielding any results, offline methods like billboards can be your holy grail.
Everything Else
  • 41. Tell Family and Friends: Your network of friends and family will mostly likely be your easiest first sales. You may not want to sell to them, but this is powerful way to kickstart word of mouth for your business. 
  • 42. Participate on Forums: Participating in online forums can be an amazing way to get your business in front of the right audience. Here's how to get started.
  • 43. Create a Listing on CraigslistPerhaps the easiest way to launch any business is through Craigslist. Started in 1995 by Craig Newmark, Craigslist has been providing the world a (nearly) free marketplace to sell just about anything.
  • 44. Give Out Coupon CodesCoupon codes can be a powerful tool to attract new and repeat customers. However, it’s important to make sure discounting fits into your overall brand strategy. 
  • 45. Get Others Involved with Affiliate MarketingAffiliate marketing can be an amazing sales channel for an online retailer. A lot of your success has to do with the type of products you sell and how well you pay your affiliates.
  • 46. Build Relationships with Suppliers: Have reliable supplies can make your break your business. In this chapter we show you the importance of supplier relationships and how they con contribute to your sales and bottom line.
  • 47. Demonstrate Trust and SecurityA major hurdle all small online retail businesses have to face when they are just starting out is getting consumers to trust doing business with them. Discover how to increase your sales by making sure your website appears trustworthy.
  • 48. Target Different Languages and CountriesTargeting a user base which speaks a different language or lives in a different geographic region is a powerful strategy to not only get your first sale, but take your business to the next level.
  • 49. Delegate and Get Things DoneWhen you're first starting out, it feels like the entire weight of the world is on your shoulders. Here's where we show you how to decide which tasks to do yourself and which ones you should be delegating in order to run your business efficiently and maximize sales. 
  • 50. Be Persistent: When it's all said and done, sometime it's takes hard work and persistence to make that first sale. In this chapter we show you some strategies to make sure your persistence pays off. 

Click here to read 50 Ways to Make Your First Sale now.

Already running a successful ecommerce business? How did you get your first few sales? Let us know in the comments and help those who are just starting out. 

Feel like sharing? Tweet this guide.

How Three Friends Built A Successful Online Apparel Company By Combining Technology and Fashion

What do you get when you combine hi-tech performance fabrics with mens fashion?  The answer is Mizzen+Main.  Mizzen+Main…

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What do you get when you combine hi-tech performance fabrics with mens fashion? 

The answer is Mizzen+Main

Mizzen+Main is a fast growing men's apparel company that's on a mission to get rid of pit stains with their performance dress shirts. 

The company was started by co-founders Kevin Lavelle, Web Smith and Steven DeWitt who all came from different backgrounds but all bring something different to the table. Mizzen+Main has been featured in Fast Company and Forbes and has garnered key partnerships with NFL players and ESPN. 

We caught up with Kevin to find out how they came up with the idea, how they run their company and what advice they can offer to entrepreneurs looking to start an ecommerce business. 

Enter Kevin.

Describe your business & product.

Mizzen+Main is revolutionizing the apparel industry, starting with our one of a kind moisture wicking, wrinkle free, American made dress shirts.

We have combined the best of performance fabrics, heretofore reserved for athletes on the field, with the refined look of a traditional dress shirt. We’re now introducing henleys, blazers, and accessories, all with a unique approach to combining advanced fabrics and components with an eye on tradition. We are Tradition. Evolved.

How did you decide on your product? What early market research did you undertake?

The idea for our performance dress shirt came from watching a Congressional staffer run into an important meeting in Washington D.C. on a sweltering summer day, soaked in sweat.

We thought we should bring the advances of performance fabrics, previously reserved for athletes, to the world of men's dress apparel and fashion.

After years of researching the market, we decided there was no one even close to bringing this revolutionary product to market.

Athletic apparel companies were only focused on athletic apparel. Men's fashion companies and traditional shirt makers, such as Brooks Brothers, were only focused on standard cotton dress shirts, with little to no innovation.

We spent nearly a year in product development to find the best fabrics, craft a perfect off-the-rack fit, and build the foundation of a strong, timeless, American brand. Our focus was on combining innovation with an eye and respect for tradition.

What were some of the main tipping points (if any) or a-ha moments? How did they happen?

The main tipping point in knowing our company would become a reality was when Kevin's wife saw him in their first prototype and didn't realize he was wearing the first performance fabric dress shirt – she thought he was still wearing a normal dress shirt.

This came as a result of intense product development to create an organic looking shirt people wouldn't see any differently than a traditional dress shirt.

Other big moments have come through major press breakthroughs, such as our profile in Fast Company, and creating custom shirts for the 2013 Reebok CrossFit Games announcers on ESPN. These all came through hard work, perseverance, and demonstrating our products superior characteristics.

Key manufacturing and marketing lessons learned? Tell us a bit about how you organize your business.

The two biggest lessons in manufacturing we've learned are things always take longer than you think and will inevitably go wrong somewhere, and to find partners you can trust and rely on.

If you think something will take four weeks and x dollars, budget six to seven weeks and 25% higher than x dollars. It's just the nature of manufacturing, even if all your partners do their best. It just happens.

When it goes exactly on time and budget, count your blessings and move on knowing it will likely go wrong next time. In this vein, be sure to stay on top of everything along the way, checking in regularly and having back up plans ready to go in order to mitigate any issues and minimize any losses.

This inevitably leads to the second lesson: find the best partners to make your business a success and treat them as partners, not vendors. Trust us on this one – there is no better feeling in running your business than knowing you can rely on your vendors/partners. You will have things go wrong on a regular basis. Reliable partners can help you sleep a little easier at night.

In terms of marketing, there is nothing more important than being authentic. Customers easily see right through corporate phoniness. We have been authentic in everything we do from day one, helping our customers, current and prospective, the media, and vendors/partners believe in and trust the brand we are building.

From our social media, blogs, customer engagement, and interaction with press, we are building a brand bigger than any one of us or any one thing we do. This is impossible without true authenticity.

As a startup, everyone participates in nearly all activities across the company, though we do each have a particular focus.

We are all, of course, focused on building our brand with unity in everything we do, though this is Web's primary area of expertise managing our presence and general branding efforts, from new product development and selection/vision to our social media presence, blogging, copywriting, and external partnerships.

Steven, our Creative Director, is the creator of the beauty everyone sees externally, from our name and logo, to all graphics and creative. He's our self-proclaimed "brand police" to ensure any creative produced is consistent with our brand at every level. Web and Steven work in a magical creative harmony with Web dreaming up new branding material and ways to communicate with our customers, and Steven bringing it to life with his own creative genius. I manage the back office, supply chain, customer service, and financial planning and accounting. This trinity has proven to be incredibly effective.

Any major PR wins or media mentions? How did they happen?

We've had a few tremendous PR wins, including Fast Company, American Express OPEN with Donna Fenn of Inc., and becoming guest mentors for the Wall Street Journal's Accelerators blog along with several others. These have come through our own efforts finding the right points of contact at various publications, being respectful of their time by making perfectly clear why we are worth writing about, and careful persistence balanced with not overdoing followup contact.

There is no greater champion for your business than you.

Mizzen+Main is proud to parter with NFL superstars Chris Ogbonnaya and Malcom Jenkins, provide dress apparel to the broadcasters of CrossFit and the 2013 Reebok CrossFit Games on ESPN, and hard hitting national journalist Thomas Roberts. These relationships were developed through personal outreach and a belief on behalf of these individuals in our story and potential. We're incredibly grateful for these relationships and partnerships.

We also carry a number of fantastic brands alongside our shirts on our website as complementary products for our customers looking to add something unique to their purchases. These relationships began through a number of conversations and demonstrating a commitment to these brands that we will probably

What were your biggest mistakes, or biggest wastes of time & money?

Our primary mistake was not diversifying our product lineup early enough. We were too focused on our initial product. Of course, it's difficult to diversify too quickly with various constraints such as manufacturing requirements, capital, and time. It's a delicate balance.

What software, tools and resources have you found crucial to your growth?

We have been absolutely thrilled with the "E-Commerce 3.0" platform we've built with Shopify at the center.

Mizzen+Main utilizes Stitch Labs for inventory, Ship Station for shipping, Xero for accounting, and various other apps to execute our business with lean efficiency and off the shelf solutions. For more information on this, please read our piece in the Wall Street Journal

One of our biggest mentors and successful entrepreneurs we admire is Gary Vaynerchuk. His approach to customer service, branding, and marketing overall is an example for all to follow, regardless of stage of business or industry.

Any other advice to people starting their first online businesses?

Get out there and do it.

You can waste precious time trying to make everything perfect. Focus on real revenue from a growing list of customers.

Raising capital is not success. Revenue and profits are. (Tweet This)


Do you run a successful ecommerce business using Shopify? Tell us your story here.


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The Science of Working Smarter: 8 Stress Hacks for Entrepreneurs

As an entrepreneur, you're most likely used to juggling some of the following: suppliers, customers, employees, product launches,…

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As an entrepreneur, you're most likely used to juggling some of the following: suppliers, customers, employees, product launches, marketing, finances, growth, operations and more on a day to day basis.

And that's sometimes only a portion of what's on your plate. Add family, kids, rent, mortgage, car payments, health, and diet in the mix and you've got a real soup on your hands. 

So then how do you juggle it all? Where do you draw the line? 

Recognizing the need that busy ecommerce entrepreneurs have for relaxation in their lives, we decided to put this post together to provide easy-to-implement stress hacks proven by science and backed up by plain old common sense. 

Okay, so now that we've got your attention, here we go: 

1. Personalize Your Workspace

Who would have thought that adding things like photos of friends and family, plants, quotes, comic strips, artwork, screen savers, personalized desktop background, and more could help you get more out of your day?

Newly published research in the Journal of Environmental Psychology showed that for people who work in open or shared spaces, a highly personalized workspace meant lower levels of emotional exhaustion and distraction despite the lower levels of perceived privacy. 

In other words making your space your own will help you feel less stressed and allow you to get more done.

2. Do One Thing at a Time

Here's a fact: multitasking sucks. Don't believe me? Well, in 2009 researchers at Stanford asked 262 college students to complete three experiments involving switching tasks, going through irrelevant information, and using their working memory under the assumption that multitaskers would outdo the nonmultitaskers.

What they found instead was that multitaskers were terrible in all three experiments, worst of all they found that when frequent multitaskers attempted to focus on a single task, they used their brains less effectively than non-frequent multitaskers.

You'd be wise instead to abide by what one researcher dubbed the 20-minute rule, which proposes that instead of switching tasks from minute to minute, devote a 20-minute chunk of time to one task and then switch to another. That my friends is beginnings of master the zen art of uni-tasking. 

3. Take Time to Meditate

It's no secret that there's a whole new breed of entrepreneurs obsessed with meditation and there's a lot of research and evidence that supports the fact that those who meditate are better equipped to deal with stress.

One in particular conducted by scientists at the University of Washington and the University of Arizona recruited 45 human resource managers for an experiment looking to gauge the benefits of meditation in the face of stress.

They gave a third of them eight weeks of mindfullness-based meditation training, another third eight weeks of body relaxation training, and the last third no training at all and found that the mindful-meditation group reported less stress performing a stressful multitasking test than the other groups. 

4. Get Enough Sleep

We've all heard that we need at least eight hours of sleep, but the reality is that depending on your age that number can vary between three and eleven hours.

However, if you go too long without your right amount, what you end up with is a steep decline in concentration, energy, and vitality.

One study conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that subjects limited to a mere 4.5 hours of sleep each night for one week reported feeling more stressed, angry, sad, and mentally exhausted. But when they went back to resuming normal sleep patterns, they saw a dramatic shift improvement in their mood. So, figure out your "normal" sleep pattern and stick to it. 

5. Shake it Up

Building daily exercise into your routine can work magic for dealing with everything you have on your plate as a busy small business owner.

According to the the Mayo Clinic, exercise works wonders by pumping up your endorphins to make you happier, helps you get in the flow to boost creativity, improving your sleep (see tip 4) and helping you remain calm regardless of what comes up. Especially when you consider that in the modern workplace, sitting literally is the new smoking.

See if you can find ways to build activity into daily tasks like conducting "walk and talk" meetings or take the stairs whenever possible. 

6. Take a Break from Email 

Here's a "did you know" fact for you:

23 percent of an average professional's day is spent emailing.

It's statistic that got researchers from the University of California to run a study where they cut off 13 employees from email for a total of five days and strapped heart monitors to their chest while simultaneously tracking their computer use. Not shockingly, after being cut off from email they found that employees were less stressed, focused on a single task for longer and cut down multitasking overall. 

7. Plan Ahead

When you run your own business, chances are your day to day involves making decisions left, right, center, and everywhere in between. However, researchers have long observed that we have a limited pool of cognitive resources when it comes to making decisions so it's probably best to reserve such a precious resource on things that really matter.

It might also be the reason why CEOs like the late Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg decide to wear the same thing each day, because it's one less thing in their life they needed to worry about.

Stanford researchers demonstrated our waning decision making powers when students in two groups were given the task of memorizing either two-digit or seven-digit numbers and then asked to decide between chocolate cake or a fruit bowl. Interestingly the students tasked with memorizing seven-digits were 50 percent more likely than the other group to choose cake over fruit. 

In other words, planning what you can ahead of time and leaving yourself less 'on the fly' stuff to worry about will allow you to make better decisions in your business. 

8. Go Analog More Often

There's a whole slew of research demonstrating that our current pace of digital consumption can have us leaning on the edge of technological addiction, depression, stress, sleeping disorders.

And when it comes to social media, it actually has the potential to make us more lonely, jaded and jealous.

Add to that pile the fact that we're constantly connected through our mobile devices after work hours and it all makes for a brain that never fully recuperates from one day's worth of work to get ready for the next.

In case you're wondering what a person's to do in today's digital world, try and find time to switch off, disconnect, and enjoy the simple pleasures of the analog world more often. 

Be sure to let us know if you currently use any of these stress hacks to run your business more effectively. Or, if there are others not on this list that you would whole-heartedly recommend to other entrepreneurs, let us know in the comments below.  


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