If you’re reading this, chances are that you are contemplating starting your own online business. Marketplaces like Flipkart, Amazon and Snapdeal are giving tremendous opportunities to young students, housewives as well as small shop owners to scale their businesses and earn good money. However, there are various factors that one needs to look at before starting up an online business. Without these in mind, one could dig deep into losses.
My only motive in writing this article is to promote the spirit of entrepreneurship and share my experiences on what I did that made me succeed in my online business. What worked for me may not work for you, but I can assure you that if you follow the 10 principles listed below, chances are, you will not lose any money.
Let’s start with the obvious. There are 10,000 bags and 20,000 T-shirts already listed on marketplaces. If you start out with these products and think that your design is better than the designs of those already listed, chances are you’re wrong. It will be difficult for you to even get discovered. Find a product category that is yet untapped, and make sure your product is unique compared to other sellers’ products.
When I searched for umbrellas online, all I could see were boring black and floral umbrellas. I wanted to change it. I wanted to see cool doodles on the umbrella that could make one feel connected to the rains. No one in India had done this before. But the idea connected to the audience.
Think of a commonplace product - could be anything around you and then work on how you could make it different so that it is more valuable than other sellers reselling it. Invest in good design as it has the power to turn something that was once just practical and impersonal into something meaningful and captivating.
No one knows you exist online. Customers buy from a 'Flipkart' or an 'Amazon.' They search for the product they want and are given a bouquet of options, based on various factors and codes, search keywords being an important one. Getting into the mind of the customer by figuring out what you would search forif you wanted to buy something is a good way to go about it. Based on that, list as many search keywords as you can, including typos.Use everything related to your product.
For our product, we used 100s of keywords. Some of them include: umbrella, umbrella, umbrellas,designer umbrella, designer umbrellas, unique umbrella, monsoon umbrella, strong umbrella, designed umbrella, long umbrella, short umbrella, light umbrella, big umbrella, unique designed umbrella, uniquely designed umbrellas, and so on.
Don't underestimate the power of search keywords.
Majority of startups that set up shop online expect the listing process would be immediately followed by hundreds of orders. But, there is no magic to make that happen. You have to make it happen. You have to stand apart and be discovered in a heavily crowded virtual mall. It’s very difficult to market your product on marketplaces as you actually don’t interact with your customer. You have to think smart and focus on making your products visible. Do this by taking utmost care and listing every minute detail about the product while filling excel sheets at the time of listing. Go through seller help guides on each marketplace. Make a detailed plan. Invest in an ace photographer, as photography is all you have to lure your customers in. Make photography your differentiator. Ninety per cent of your marketing will be done when you’re at the stage of listing the product.
Investing in the right resources is crucial in beating your competition. Think about what your competitors think. Go a step ahead and beat them at it.You have to compete with existing sellers. You know what it is being online. Majority of the sellers on marketplaces are shopkeepers who have a set pattern and employees. These are the ones who may not invest in design and photography as they do it as a business on the side and follow a more traditional approach. You shouldn’t: use innovative ideas and disrupt the traditional sellers. Use social media to your advantage. Make use of the digital knowledge you have, that your competition doesn’t.
Be realistic. Not every girl you meet will like you. Likewise, not every business meeting will be a successful one. As you may move on from one failed love interest, do the same while dealing with business as well, by focusing on the next sale instead of mourning the failed previous one.
There will always be roadblocks but one must learn to skirt past them and move on. The road has not been smooth for me. I have faced a lot of failure. Once, after intense persuasion, I managed to crack a meeting with a category manager from a reputed e-commerce company. After a long wait, I managed to meet her, but the margins and commissions the company was asking for along with the minimum quantity it required were astoundingly huge. The deal failed. It was a big company and I was just a person with an idea that needed to be executed. Likewise, I have got huge orders confirmed via mail but the buyer chickens out at the last moment. I was frustrated but realised I couldn’t control the situation. I focused my attention on sellingmy stock through some other channel.
Don’t pay extravagant sums of money to bloggers, in the hopes that they will sell it to the audience. Instead, aim at them making recommendations. Make people who are influential speak about your product. Gift them what you make. Make them like and believe in your idea.
For my product, I got free press and got featured in leading dailies such as DNA, Mid-Day, HT Café, Free Press Journal etc. I didn’t sell them my product. I sold them my story. The press always looks for good stories. Package your story with a bit of masala and hand it over to them. Be persistent, but not clingy. Find journalists online and mail them your storyand pictures of your products. Do follow-ups, especially at lunchtime, which is when you are most likely to get a response. Don’t be disheartened if you don’t get any. Focus on making a better story if rejected. If you don’t go after what you want, you’ll never have it. If you don’t ask, the answer is always no. If you don’t step forward, you’re always in the same place.
Business is accounts. Keep accounts for everything, right from the little things like the tape used to package the product, to the train ticket you bought to make a cold call in person. Recovering your costs is of primary importance. Don’t sell too low with the hope of getting more orders. Getting 20 orders where you earn Rs200 per order is better than getting 50 orders where you earn Rs100 per order. Don’t underestimate the cost of returns. Add 10 per cent of your selling price to your cost price as cost of returns while calculating the total cost of your product. Be frugal. It is very important and difficult to keep track of payments. Even if your sales are good, if you don’t keep track of payments, you’ll lose money. We have worked hard to create a system in our accounts that tracks the payment of each and every order. Don’t be lazy in doing the same. You should know where your money comes from.
People who judge you do not pay your bills. So shrug them off
Don’t get affected by people who judge you. Do what you believe in and brush away all the negativity. When I wasn’t successful, some people used to laugh behind my back, think I’m crazy and humiliate me. Now the same people call me and ask for tips on how to make it big online.
Pray and do good karma
You never know who your next client is. You haven’t seen, shaken hands, negotiated or interacted with him/her. When a notification suddenly pops up on your phone,informing you that someone has placed an order, it’s one of the best feelings ever. You must wait for it. You have no control over it. Meanwhile, do some good karma. I had a faith-strengthening experience in the first half of June. The sales wasn’t picking up. The roads were flooded due to heavy rains due to which I couldn’t make it to the office. I was very stressed out and hadn’t slept well for days. I just got out of my house, without an umbrella, like a seven year old, wanting to dance in the rain. I looked above, thanked the heavens for the wonderful rains and for giving me the opportunity to live my dreams.
When I had got out of the house, at 2 pm, I had 20 unfulfilled orders. When I came back at 4 pm, I had 245 unfulfilled orders. This is the magic of e-commerce.
About the author:
Pratik Doshi is the founder of Cheeky Chunk umbrellas which sells designer umbrellas through various marketplaces. He is a startup and entrepreneurship enthusiast with varied interests like writing, travelling and gaming. He wants to improve everyday life by innovating and introducing different products and solving problems through creativity.