How to sell products online: a step-by-step guide

Selling online is a great way to drive revenue quickly at relatively low risk. Without an expensive brick-and-mortar store, you can skip the substantial costs and risks that come with renting the property, setting up a storefront, and relying on foot traffic to stop in. 

It’s much more cost-effective to sell products entirely online, allowing you to keep overhead low and a higher portion of your revenue, all while reaching a larger audience outside of your immediate zip code. 

If you’re not sure where to start, that’s okay! This guide will walk you step by step through the online selling process so you can boost sales and increase revenue while you keep your costs low. We’ll help you identify which products you should sell online, go over how to handle the technical and legal side of the business, and talk about how to create a successful digital selling strategy.

Step 1. Find a product to sell online

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When you’re trying to determine what products you want to sell, there are multiple factors to consider. Think through the following elements to identify what your online store will offer

#1. Narrow it down to a niche

Niching allows you to focus your products and messaging on a small segment of your overall potential audience. A watch retailer, for example, could niche down and only offer athletic-friendly watches that are prone to harsh hits and that track steps. 

When you’re in a narrowed-down niche, it can actually be easier to excel and set yourself apart. A business selling candles, for example, doesn’t really stand out, but one that offers organic, handcrafted slow-burning soy candles absolutely does. 

#2. Weight passion vs. profitability

Some products will naturally be higher-value and may sell for higher profit margins. You may be more passionate, however, about other products. 

Sourcing items from higher-quality vendors who handcraft their items as opposed to finding them through dropshippers, for example, may have a narrow profit margin, but you may be more passionate about them. Decide which is right for you. 

If still, you’re uncertain of what to sell, you should consider other ways to find a product to sell, such as: :

By looking at the customer reviews for brands and marketplaces that you love. See what their customers have to say, both positive and negative. Check out their best-selling items, and see what they’re promoting most heavily. This may help you assess what’s new, what’s high-value to them, and what sells the fastest.

Or, by conducting professional keyword research based on your industry. Hiring someone to do keyword research can benefit you immensely. If you know, for example, that you want to sell kitchen aprons but aren’t sure which ones to stock, finding out what search queries people are using to find products like yours is important. Look at the number of searched volumes and the competition for those keywords to find products that have high demand but fewer competitors. 

What should you do once you determine which products to sell? 

There are two important things you’ll want to do once you decide which products you’d like to sell.

1. Identify your brand’s niche so you can convey it to customers. This is a specific quality or characteristic that your target audience is looking for that sets you apart from more generic products. For example, selling camping supplies is very broad, but you could sell camping supplies for extreme temperatures to appeal to more intense outdoor enthusiasts. 

To identify a niche, look at the products you want to sell, and think about the audience they benefit from. What is unique about this audience? If you’re having trouble, you can use the research tactics from the previous section to help identify possible niches. 

2. You’ll want to ensure there is a market for your chosen products. The best way to do this is to hire a freelance market research specialist to assess the demand for your products. 

The top trending products of 2020
– Pet beds and sofas, particularly high-quality, orthopedic options 
– Minimalist-style jewelry, including both costume and fine jewelry
– Beard products, including beard oil, straighteners, and grooming kits
– Shapewear, including options for extended sizes
– Athleisure wear, particularly high-quality options for both men and women
– Face masks, including those designed for comfort and improved protection for wearers
– Smartwatches, both for men and women
– Infant, baby, and toddler items, including carriers and home entertainment options. 

Since this varies heavily by industry, consider doing some market research. In 2020, for example, plenty of people are staying home more due to COVID-19. Home activities like backyard inflatable pools, gardening, home cooking, and board games have likely increased, so the corresponding products will, too. 

Step 2. Products sourcing options

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Now that you know which products to sell, you’ll need to figure out how you want to gain access to and supply the products that you’re actually going to sell.

There are three primary sourcing options here: Do it yourself option (DIY), dropshipping, and purchasing from a wholesaler. Each has its own pros and cons. 

#1. DIY products

Making your own products allows you to have truly unique products that you are passionate about. It’s a special touch that can really make you stand out from your competitors. This can be time-consuming, however, and when you stop working, you have to stop selling unless you’re hiring workers to help. You also will need to order raw supplies to create your own products, which can increase your production costs and reduce profit margins. 

#2. Dropshipping 

Dropshipping is easy and convenient, allowing you to sell items that are made by someone else and shipped directly from them to the customer. You don’t need to physically hold the items or ship them yourself, so there’s a lot less labor involved on your end and no need for storage space.

With dropshipping, however, you don’t have original products (though you can sometimes brand them yourself), and you aren’t in control of quality. If there are delays in shipping, this is outside of your control as well. 

#3. Buying inventory from a wholesaler

When you purchase from a wholesaler, you’ll buy a batch of products, have them shipped to you, and then list them in your store, increasing the price for a wider profit margin. You do need storage space, and you’ll pay for shipping, but you get to inspect the products yourself. 

You can use a combination of different supply options. A jewelry store, for example, may manufacture their own pieces from scratch to create unique offerings, but also sell cleaning cloths and extra earring backs that are sourced from a wholesaler.

Step 3. Choose the right domain name for your eCommerce

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Your domain name is the address that users can access your website online, and it often involves your brand name. It’s important, therefore, to choose a strong domain name because it can impact the buyer’s perception of you.

Domain names should be short, memorable, and clear. Remember that the shorter they are, the easier they are for users to spell and remember.

Step 4. Apply for an eCommerce business license

You may be required to have certain licenses or permits, depending on your business’s location and your particular industry. To determine what your requirements are, you can contact your local business office licensing department. For U.S.-based companies, you can contact your state business license registration.

Certain regulated industries will often have additional licensing that you’ll need to acquire before legally being able to sell to customers. This may include those selling medical devices, for example, or food or alcohol. 

In general, the sale of handcrafted items doesn’t require additional licensing. 

Step 5. Define your eCommerce target audience

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Once you know what you want to sell and how you want to supply it, it’s time to determine who your target audience is. This will shape everything from your site to your marketing strategy and your branding, so it’s important to take a significant amount of time here to do your research. The market research and keyword research you used to choose your products and define your niche will be really helpful in defining your target customers. 

#1. Create buyer personas

To start, create target buyer personas that will help you really understand who your target audience is and what audience segments you can appeal to. 

Buyer personas are meant to act as fleshed-out representations of what members of different segments of your audience may actually be like. To create buyer personas, you’ll want to determine the following:

  • Demographic information, including age and gender
  • Location, if relevant
  • Lifestyle, including online shopping behaviors, education level, job title, and household income
  • Interests

You’ll also want to consider what pain points and motivations your target audience may have. Think about why your product could benefit different types of customers, and use that to segment your audience accordingly. 

If you’re struggling to create buyer personas, keep in mind that there are plenty of freelancers who can help with this

#2. Figure out where they’re hanging out online 

Once you are familiar with your target buyer personas, you’ll want to determine where your audience spends time onlineThis helps you set up marketing campaigns on the channels with the highest chance of reaching your target customers. 

This is most significant when determining which social media platforms to use in your marketing strategy. Social platforms often have very specific demographics that favor them. Pinterest users, for example, skew heavily females and are typically over age 25. If you’re marketing to Gen Z, you’re more likely to find them on TikTok than on Facebook. Look at your specific audience’s demographics and do research to discover where they’re spending their time online

Tip: Consider checking out niche forums or industry sites. Writing guest posts for high-authority publications or participating in forums can be a great way to attract new traffic to your website. 

#3. Assess how your product will solve your customer’s pain points

As you’re marketing your products, it’s important to understand your customer’s pain points. Do your products actually solve their problems and address their needs? 

Remember that each audience niche will have its own pain points. Identifying pain points and applying them to the right audience segments is key to creating valuable content that solves your customer’s problems and persuades them to make a purchase. 

Step 6. Places for selling your products online

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When you’re getting closer to sell your products online, you’ll want to assess the different online channels that you can use to list your products and process sales. You can use multiple platforms for maximum reach, leveraging the benefits of each.

Your main options are going to be your website and different online marketplaces. 

Option1. Your own website

Having your own website is a good choice for many businesses, with the following advantages:

  • Hosting costs are relatively low. This can keep your overall expenses down, especially since you don’t need to pay to upload listings on your own site.
  • It’s accessible. There a large number of e-commerce website tools and platforms that make it easy for you to set up your online store. You can also hire a freelancer who can make this even easier for you. 
  • You’re not paying for listing fees. Many third-party platforms require you to pay to list every single item, and they might require additional fees for product variations. Some even require you to “renew” listings after a set amount of time.
  • There’s more customization. On your own site, you get full control of what’s on the site, how it’s set up, and what it looks like. This can allow you to have a more unique, branded site.
  • Your SEO work brings customers directly to you, not a third-party. When you work hard on SEO on an online marketplace, it may still be for naught: they might show users similar products from your competitors, instead of allowing you to show other featured items to your customers.

There’s really one key disadvantage with only hosting on your own website:

Reach is more difficult. Customers are already coming to Amazon and eBay and Etsy to look for products they want, and you may have an easier time appearing there. A small shoe company, for example, might have an easier time on a marketplace site instead of competing against a major retailer in search engines.

Option 2. Online marketplaces

Online marketplaces are third-party sites that allow sellers to create listings, essentially creating huge databases where customers can find products from a number of brands and sellers all over the world. 

There are now over 100 different online marketplaces that you can use to reach customers who are researching and completing purchases. Amazon, EtsyWalmart, eBay, and even Poshmark are all examples of online marketplaces designed to facilitate online sales.

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There are a number of advantages to consider:

  • You can expand your reach significantly with their large customer bases. Plenty of users will turn to their favorite e-commerce platform when they want to purchase instead of Google or other search engines. 
  • It’s a fast, easy way to get your products in front of shoppers. Online marketplaces are full of high-intent searchers, and they’re looking to make a purchase soon. If you can appear in relevant searches here, it can introduce new users to your brand while also driving sales.
  • They have well-established programs that can benefit you. Many online marketplaces have strong marketing, selling, and/or shipping programs that can benefit you as a seller. Amazon and eBay, for example, have marketplace warehouses that can select, pack, and ship inventory on your behalf, reducing your labor overall.
  • You don’t need to worry about site infrastructure. If you really don’t want to manage your own website, online marketplaces can work. You don’t need to worry about site security, managing customer bases, or even maintaining hosting fees or finding a domain name with online marketplaces. 

There are also some disadvantages to keep in mind here, too:

  • Online marketplaces may have additional fees that can eat into your profit. These fees can range from 6-25% depending on the marketplace, which is often more expensive than selling on your own.
  • You may be pitted against the competition. Plenty of online marketplaces will show users recommendations for other, similar products from competing sellers when they’re viewing yours. This can reduce your number of sales.  
  • It’s harder to set your brand apart. You can still have brand and seller pages on different platforms, but you don’t get to create a unique branded experience. Customers may purchase without ever paying attention to who they’re buying from. All of this may prevent you from driving repeat business on additional purchases.

In many cases, online sellers and businesses may choose to have their own sites to create a more branded experience and keep costs down overall while also venturing out into online marketplaces for increased reach. 

Tip: Consider adding a note or card in purchases from online marketplaces, thanking the customer and offering them 10% off their next order when they purchase from your site. This can help you funnel traffic from the marketplace platforms to your blog.

Step 7. Level up your digital selling strategy

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You need a clear strategic plan in place that considers how you’ll increase reach, which content will perform well on the channels you’re using, and how to increase traffic and purchases. 

However, there are several crucial components to a successful sales strategy that you must be aware of and understand well before starting building your digital strategy plan.

The essentials behind a successful online selling strategy

  • Understanding the sales funnel: A sales funnel helps you reach cold traffic, engage with them, and eventually drive sales with individual customers. There are different types of customers and they all come with different needs and reasons to buy your product. To offer a personalized buying journey and build a profitable conversion funnel from start, create different buyer personas with different sales funnels.
  • Choosing the right key performance indicators (KPIs). It’s essential to choose key metrics that you track for each platform you’re using to help you determine the success of your campaigns. For content marketing, this may be time spent on the page, while for PPC ads it might be the ratio of clicks to conversions. Use what you learn from your metrics to optimize your campaigns further. 
  • Having a clear understanding of your value proposition. Do you offer the best prices around? The best quality? Something with unique features? A brand based on sustainable and ethical practices? Think about what makes your business and products unique, and focus on that in your messaging.
  • Content and messaging that spans the entire sales funnel. As we discussed early on in this post, creating content that appeals to users at each stage of the digital sales funnel is essential to nurturing conversions.
  • Strong audience segmentation. Each business will have multiple distinct audience niches that each have its own pain points and needs. A business selling reusable silicone bags may have one audience niche that is worried about sustainability, and another who cares more about the fact that the plastic bags they use break too easily when sent in their kids’ lunchboxes. You want to understand your different audience niches, what motivates them, and where they are online. You’ll likely need to create different campaigns for each niche, but this will increase their effectiveness.
  • Presence on multiple sales channels. Having several touchpoints across different marketing channels is essential to keep users moving through the funnel. Consider writing blog posts, having a presence on several social media platforms, setting up strong email campaigns, and optimizing each product page for SEO. PPC campaigns can also help you extend your reach quickly. 
How to use content for each stage of the sales funnel.
Use outbound marketing strategies like pay-per-click ads, referral marketing, content marketing, and affiliate marketing to connect with cold audiences. Use messaging focusing on introducing customers to what your products can do. 
Research & Consideration: Have an FAQ page on your site, feature plenty of reviews and testimonials on product pages, be transparent on social media, and create high-value blog posts that address user questions and build trust. 
Intent: Send out emails and retargeting PPC campaigns with offers for discounts and free shipping. Mention that you offer free exchanges or returns if you do. 
Purchase: Send your customers “abandoned cart” emails when they add something to their cart but don’t complete the purchase. 
Loyalty: Use email, social media, and retargeting campaigns to reach out to past customers showing them complementary products that you think that they’d love, or to reminding them to reorder. You can also create more in-depth blog posts that entice them to make further purchases.

Step 8. Create your online store 

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It’s time to finish setting up your online store for your e-commerce business

Set up an SEO-friendly website architecture

Your site architecture is essentially the layout of your site, and it determines how Google crawls your site and how users navigate it. Your site should be simple and scalable, with your broadest product categories listed in the top navigation and more specific subcategories stemming from those. You’re also going to want to keep every page three or fewer clicks away from your homepage. More than that and the site is too complex. 

The must-have website pages

We always focus on the product pages, but there are other pages that you’ll need to excel when selling online

These include:

  • A strong homepage that establishes your unique selling and value proposition.
  • An “About Us” page that talks about you, your brand mission, and lets the customer feel like they know you better.
  • An FAQ page, detailing information about return and exchange information, product manufacturing, or anything else they may need to know.
  • Contact page, so that users can get in touch if they have any questions or concerns at any point in the buying process. Encourage users to share feedback here, too. 
  • Product Category pages, which allow you to display relevant items in the same category together

The must-have eCommerce features

In addition to must-have pages, there are also some must-have features that will significantly increase your sales potential.

These include:

  • Streamlined checkouts, ideally with instant payment options. 
  • Accessibility, allowing all users to access your site even if they have a disability that requires relying on screen readers or other tools.
  • Mobile-responsive layouts that work on all types of devices and loading quickly on each.
  • User-generated content and reviews, particularly on product pages. Bonus points if they include images from the customer.
  • Urgency-driven notifications, like “low stock” or “only three left” alerts on fast-selling products.
  • Featured products, which can showcase similar or complementary items to increase upselling or add-on purchases. Either way, you can increase your average order value.
  • Wish lists, which allow users to save their favorite products when they create a log in. You can use these lists in your digital selling strategy as part of a retargeting campaign. 

Step. 9 Ecommerce SEO

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You want to optimize your entire e-commerce website for SEO so that your business and products are able to rank well for relevant customer searches. You want each individual product page to be optimized for search engines.

#1. Keyword research

Keyword research should be the basis for your e-commerce SEO strategy. The right keywords will help you rank higher in the largest number of relevant searches, increasing your visibility.

Hiring a freelance SEO expert is a smart choice for most businesses. Keyword research ultimately dictates many other SEO-related tasks that you’ll complete on your website, and if the keywords aren’t right, you’ll struggle to see results. 

You’ll want your keyword research to contain a list of keywords for each page that can be used for the following:

  • Head keywords. These will be the primary keywords for each individual page. 
  • Body keywords. These keywords are more specific than the head keywords and often have lower search volume and competition. They provide variation in your keyword set and can be included in the additional text, sub-headings, and product descriptions.
  • Long-tail keywords. Long-tail keywords are very specific keywords that are four or more words in length and may take the form of a question. They have lower competition and can help you connect with users who are in the research stage. They’re great for FAQ sections and blog posts. 
  • Latent semantic indexing (LSI) keywords. These are words and phrases that search engines will view as “related” to your primary keyword. The word “spring” can refer, for example, to a bedspring, a season, or an action. Synonyms and other related words establish context so search engines can rank your page for the correct keywords. 
  • Question keywords. It’s also useful to take a look at the words and phrases that customers use to describe their problems or issues, or the questions they’re asking. This can help you assess pain points, and find ways to answer their questions. These are often long-tail keywords. 

#2. On-page SEO

With the results of your keyword research, you can and must now focus on your website’s on-page SEO.

These are the main on-page elements of a perfectly e-commerce SEO optimized page:

  • Each page (including each product page) is optimized for a unique head or primary keyword.
  • Every page on your site is no more than three clicks away from your homepage.
  • You have straight links from one page to another without redirects.
  • Your pages are able to be indexed by Google, and your links can be followed.
  • You’re using both title tags and description tags on each product.
  • You’re incorporating titles, meta descriptions, headings (h1, h2, h3..), and SEO-friendly URLs for each page. 
Most important questions to ask before hiring any SEO
What strategies do they plan on using to increase your site’s organic traffic? 
Make sure they can offer specific examples, and that it’s tailored for your site specifically.
What are their link building practices? You only want them to foster organic link building and avoid black-hat tactics that can result in penalties from Google.
Do they adhere to Google’s webmaster guidelines? It’s important to abide by Google’s regulations, as they dictate the largest share of online traffic.
How do they measure their progress on the project, and which KPIs are they measuring? Knowing how to monitor, analyze and optimize your website’s traffic is a must to help you grow and develop your online store.

Step 10. Create product descriptions that sell

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Product descriptions can make or break your sales potential. Because of this, unless you’re a seasoned copywriter, it can often benefit you to hire a copywriter with e-commerce experience

You’ll want to make sure that your product descriptions are long and in-depth, answering every question that your customers may have. Ideally, these will include the page’s target keyword at least three to five times and include LSI keywords as needed. 

Make sure you break these descriptions down into easy-to-scan, digestible formats. This will help customers find the information they need quickly.

Step 11. Get professional product images

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Images must be high-quality if you want to drive sales. If not, you risk losing out on potential sales to your competition and looking less reliable or credible.

Make sure that your product images are all clear and in high-resolution with good lighting. You should have at least one picture where the product appears alone on a neutral background. Try to have multiple product images for each item so that users can get a better look.

You also want to optimize your images for SEO so that they can help your site rank better and so that they have a chance of showing up in a visual search. Add ALT tags to all images, clearly stating what the image is and using keywords from your research when possible. This helps the search engine understand the context of the image, and it allows customers using screen readers to more easily understand your site content.

All images should be compressed so that you’re minimizing site loading times on both desktop and mobile. This is crucial for SEO, as a slow loading site makes it harder for search engines to properly understand it—and you’ll frustrate your customers too. 

Step 12. Ecommerce shipping considerations

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Once you start making sales, you need to start shipping. This means you’ll need to choose a shipping career.

There are several considerations to make when choosing a shipping carrier:

  • Speed: Which carriers can get your products to your customers quickly and on time?
  • Insurance and reliability: Are some carriers better about ensuring your products don’t get damaged en-route? And if not, how much do they charge for insurance if the package is damaged or lost in their care?
  • Cost: Each carrier has different costs. USPS is generally most cost-efficient, with UPS following and FedEx as the most expensive. Certain online marketplaces and even e-commerce platforms, however, offer exclusive shipping discounts for their members.

It’s important to ensure that shipping costs aren’t destroying your profit margins. Look at how much it will cost to ship your products through different carriers, and have those costs built-into your e-commerce platform. You’ll want to account for product size and weight so you can assign the right values to each SKU as needed. You’ll also need to consider whether you’re shipping domestically or internationally. 

Step 13. Ecommerce payment processing: factors to consider

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If you’re selling in an online store (and not just a marketplace), you’ll need to ensure that you’re set up to process online payments.

Most e-commerce platforms have native features that can help with this, but you’ll want to do all of the following:

  • Ensure your site is secure. You should invest in security for your site so that you can protect your customer’s payment and personal information. You can typically pay more for improved security if your site host doesn’t offer this automatically.
  • Set up at least one payment method. It’s best to offer multiple payment methods, including instant payment options like PayPal or VisaCheckout. You’ll also want to accept credit cards when possible. 
  • Establish correct tax rates. Many platforms have tools that can help with this, automatically calculating tax rates based on the buyer’s location. You want to do this upfront to avoid any errors or liabilities. 
Security tips for online payments
Partner with a trustworthy payments provider
Use two-factor authentication
Don’t store customer payment data
Get an SSL certificate

Step 14. Audit your eCommerce website before you launch

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As you’re nearing the launch of your site, it’s natural to be ready to go! Before you do, though, we strongly recommend hiring an expert to conduct a technical SEO audit of your site to make sure everything is in great working order.

They can help you find any of the following problems that could hurt your ranking potential:

  • Title or description tags that are either missing, duplicated, or too long
  • Missing headings on your pages
  • Thin content, or pages that have few words or images and provide no value to readers
  • Broken links or redirects
  • Issues with canonical tags
  • Missing image ALT tags 

Step 15. Complete your eCommerce launch checklist 

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Before you officially launch your online store (or your listings online), you’ll want to do the following:

  • Set up site monitoring. You want to track everything you can about your business. Google Analytics is an outstanding free tool that can help you track who is coming to your site, where they’re coming from, and what’s driving purchases. 
  • Build your social presence. Consider setting up between one and three social media platforms to start with so that you can stay in touch with your audience. Be sure to use platforms that you know are also used by your target audience. 
  • Set up autoresponder email campaigns. When someone signs up for your email list, you want to have your autoresponders ready to go. These should include a welcome email series, an abandoned cart series, and a completed order series. 
  • Back up your site regularly. Start now. Pay for a plan that allows you to back up your site regularly and that will store those backups for you. 
  • Double-check everythingCheck for spellings and typos. Make sure the keyword research is specific and accurate, and that everything is working on both desktop and mobile. Do a trial checkout to ensure that it’s smooth sailing, and check those shipping costs one more time. You want to find errors now, not later. 

Step 16. Ecommerce resources needed to grow your business

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While you may be starting from scratch, you may be surprised how quickly your e-commerce business grows. You’ll likely need to enlist help to do everything from creating specialized campaigns to improving customer retention. 

Here are the experts that we recommend finding as soon as possible:

You can find freelance experts in all of these categories on Fiverr and build a team that will consistently help your e-commerce business grow

Start selling your products online

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Running an e-commerce business and selling products online is more accessible than ever before, thanks to so many incredible platforms and a growing e-commerce sector. Whether you want to sell hand-crafted, made-by-you items on your own website or dropship items with a third-party platform, the sky is the limit for what’s possible.

Take some time to think about what products you want to sell, what you’re passionate about, and the audience you want to reach. These should guide your decisions moving forward, and combined with the steps discussed in this post, can help set you up for success. You’ll be able to start selling products online quickly and start generating revenue without having to worry about overhead costs and the risks of a brick-and-mortar store

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