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How to Start an Online Business: From Product to Packaging

Packing orders for online business

Working for yourself. Bringing your vision to life. Enjoying what you do for a living. These are just a few of the reasons why people decide to start an online business. It’s not easy. But when done right, running an online business can be both profitable and enjoyable. 

In this post, we’ll show you how to start an online business from the ground up. We’ll cover how to find products with potential, share unique packaging ideas, suggest the best online platforms to sell on, and explore how to get the word out about your business. 

What to Sell Online

There’s no magic formula for choosing the right products to sell — but there are a few things to consider to help determine which products are a good fit for your business. 

Brainstorm Your Interests

Having prior knowledge of the market segment you’re getting into can be a big plus. Start by listing out your hobbies and the types of products you’re passionate about. Have you had difficulty getting a hold of certain types of products? Perhaps others with similar interests had the same experience, too. If so, this may be a good place to start. 

Colorful sticky notes on a wall with brainstorming notes.

Decide on Commoditized vs. Niche Products

There are two main product types: commodities and niche. Commodities are products everyone uses, no matter what their individual interests are, such as clothing, food staples, and toys. Niche products, on the other hand, are specialty offerings that will only appeal to a smaller number of consumers. These items are sometimes handmade or produced in small quantities. Fair-trade clothing, micro-batch bath salts, and all-natural, gourmet dog treats are all examples of niche products. 

Some e-commerce sellers do a brisk business selling branded products they’ve sourced directly from the manufacturers or distributors. They’re not producing anything — they’re just connecting consumers with brand-name products. You can also use a wholesaler or private label company. It’s nearly impossible to compete with massive online retailers like Walmart and Amazon for common, everyday items. So if you want to go this route, think creatively about products that big retailers may not stock but that have a loyal customer base. 

Consider What’s Trending

Spotting current trends and setting up an e-commerce business to cater to changing consumer demands can be a good way to get started with an online store. Trends in clothing, hobbies, or diet and nutrition products grow and evolve over time. If you have a talent for spotting the next big thing, riding the ever-changing waves of consumer trends can be highly profitable.

Learn more: 7 Trending Products for e-Commerce in 2021

A worktable with multiple sketches and a prototype of product packaging.

How to Package Products

Starting an e-commerce business doesn’t only involve deciding on what to sell — you must also consider how to present your products to consumers. Choosing the best product packaging for your online business will depend on if you’re reselling already branded products or selling new ones you’ve produced yourself. With branded products, all of the product packaging decisions have already been made by the manufacturer. The opportunity here is in how you package the products for mailing. A unique unboxing experience can go a long way in building up a loyal customer base. 

If you’re selling products that you’ve produced, your packaging options are much more diverse. Start by identifying the target audience most likely to buy your product. All of your product packaging choices should be made with them in mind. Each layer of product packaging — including the label, container, and outer packaging — should be designed in a way that gives the product a consistent feel. For example, if you’re selling small-batch dog treats, a recycled kraft paper label placed on an eco-friendly container may be a good choice. Chances are an environmentally conscious option is more likely to appeal to someone who’s also interested in bespoke, high-quality dog treats. 

Which Online Sales Platforms are Best?

Identifying the best online sales platform is an important choice when considering how to launch an online business. Finding the right fit will depend on the type of online business you have. Here are the top places to consider selling your wares.

  • Amazon  — The world’s largest online retailer doesn’t just limit themselves to sales of their own products. Individual sellers can register to sell on the platform, too. Amazon takes a cut of each sale in exchange for instant exposure to the millions of visitors it attracts each day.
  • Facebook Marketplace — You can sell products directly on Facebook. Their shop function allows users to make purchases on the platform. Instagram, a Facebook company, allows the same thing. 
  • Etsy — This well-known site for makers is the place to be for people who create handmade goods. From t-shirts to bird feeders, if you can make it, Etsy can help you sell it.  However, this popular website isn’t just for handcrafted items. Etsy lets you sell some types of manufactured products on their site, too. 
  • Your Own Website — All of the online sales platforms mentioned above take a percentage of each sale. If you can channel buyers to your own website, you get to keep 100% of each sale. An e-commerce platform like Shopify can help you get an online shop up and running quickly.
A team of people looking over marketing analytics.

How to Market Products Online

Starting a successful small online business involves a well-developed marketing plan. If your potential customers don’t know you’re there, your business will fail. While there are myriad ways to market your online business, here are three effective strategies that you’ll want to consider and explore further.

  1. Pay-per-click advertising — For a fee, Google will place your website at the top of its search results for the keywords you select. You’ll set a budget and pay a fee for each click searchers make to visit your website from the ad.
  2. Social media advertising — If you’ve ever scrolled down your Facebook or Instagram feed and seen an ad for a product that matches your interests, you’ve been targeted for an ad. Social media platforms offer advertising programs that allow you to target your ads based on user interest. So you’ll only pay to advertise to the people most likely to buy your product.
  3. SEO — By creating content that answers common questions potential customers have and getting that content to rank in the organic search results of Google (and other search engines), you’ll attract people to your website.

Starting an Online Business 

Starting an online business is an exciting endeavor, and the decisions you make early on are critical to your success. Online businesses with the right mix of products, packaging that appeals to the target audience, and strategic marketing have a strong foundation to build on.

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