Step 10: Check out competitors using analysis tools

One important part of checking if there’s a market for your business is to look at competitors and brands that are already ‘in your space’.

One easy way to check out your competition is to look at how many people are searching for what you’re selling. If there are millions of searches for ‘coffee subscription service’ then you may want to think again unless you’re keen to slog on and make your new / small voice heard in a very noisy market (unless, of course, you believe you’re offering something truly unique and different to everyone else).

If there are too few searches for ‘fluorescent knitting needles’ then your bright idea (geddit?) may need some further questioning – eg are people not searching for this product because they’re unlikely to buy it? Or are they just not aware of such a unique product because no brand currently offers this edgy product and could actually be temped to buy if they were exposed to it?

Also, have a play with Google Trends (https://trends.google.co.uk/trends/) to see when these searches rise and fall, so you can get an idea of when sales may rise and fall throughout the year (you can also filter results by country and other factors).

If you’re up for some deeper research you could also use some of the tools in Google Adwords (its advertising platform) to deep dive into very specific insights about what keywords people use to find certain products. Google’s free tool ‘Keyword Planner’ lets you search for keyword ideas, get historical statistics, see how a list of keywords might perform, and even create a new keyword list by mashing up several lists of keywords together. Keyword research is useful to consider when it comes to writing some of the titles and headings on your product website or deciding which products to focus your efforts on – which is all part of Search Engine Optimisation or SEO – but more on that later.

Don’t fret about using these tools – they’re easy once you get stuck in. As Google says itself – ‘Whether you’re new to online advertising or an experienced pro, you can use Keyword Planner to lay the groundwork for a successful campaign.’

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Step 9: Selling on Amazon Marketplace

Like eBay, Amazon Marketplace lets small outfits get noticed by millions of users. There’s also different levels of service when it comes to setting up shop.

As with eBay, you can ‘sell one like this’ as a private trader or you can set up a Pro account and get a better deal for selling more items.

If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably already familiar with how to sell the odd item on Amazon as a private seller – namely you ‘sell one like this’, Amazon takes a fee for each item sold, and it processes the payment for you. It even collects the postage costs and credits these for you to post the item on. So far so good (if you’re selling physical items that can be sent via post).

For a business looking to sell higher volumes than the odd AC/DC Deluxe singles CD Box Set (no idea if this is a real thing), it may pay to look at an Amazon Professional account which charges a monthly fee (around £25 + VAT) instead of per item. Because you’re benefitting from the passing traffic of Amazon’s millions of users (so to speak), you’ll also be charged a ‘referral fee’ depending on what you sell. For example, if you sell computers, you’ll be charged 7% while jewellery is 25%. There’s often a minimum referal fee of 40p. On top of that there’s something called a ‘Variable Closing fee’ but only for high volume stuff like books, DVDs (remember them?), music and video.

Amazon provides the following example:

Book sold: £10

Domestic shipping cost: £2.80

Total: £12.80

Amazon Referal fee: -£1.50

Amazon Closing Fee: -£0.43

Total fees: -£1.93

Total credited to your account: £10.87

Granted, the referal fees might be more than you expected but – and it’s a big but – sell via Amazon and you’ll be visible / able to sell your goods via five of Amazon stores including www.amazon.co.uk, www.amazon.fr, www.amazon.de, www.amazon.it and www.amazon.es.

Find out more at https://services.amazon.co.uk

Step 8: Selling on eBay

So you’re thinking about opening up an eBay store rather than just list items yourself under your own profile.

That makes sense – an eBay shop can look very professional and do wonders for your credentials when it comes to new customers. Depending on what you’re selling, customers can feel more at ease when browsing through an official looking store. You might happily take a risk buying cheap unwanted protein milkshakes from a guy in Swindon –  but would you buy a big ticket item like a £500 iPad Pro from a private seller? Compare that to a computer and tablet store with lots of products and a dedicated page on customer satisfaction.

All that passing traffic on eBay (millions visit the website each day) is a huge incentive – but remember you’ll have to pay for it.

An eBay store can cost over £20 with fees for each sale not too far off a private seller (unless you sell fixed price items – these don’t incur an insertion fee). Then there’s something called a Final Value Fee which is a percentage of your product’s (potentially up to 10% but often lower if you’re a business selling via a basic shop and depending on what you sell). Then you need to add Paypal payment processing fees (usually over 3%), postage etc.

How does that compare to the set-up and ongoing fees of an ecommerce website like Shopify or Bigcommerce?

It sounds obvious, but makes sure you spend some time doing a bit of digging and estimate what your costs would be based on a typical (realistic) month’s sales. Do all this before you commit to see which platform best suits the product / service / tool you want to sell.