Ecommerce 101 - #3 What are you going to sell?

This is a big one, and it's where most businesses fail right at the start. People are generally told to "follow their dreams" and "sell things that you love" and they completely miss the point and sell things nobody cares about because only they care about them.

It's a very good rule to "sell things you love" because there are several advantages when you sell things that you care about - you know your product, you won't mind spending countless hours researching more similar products, and you'll be surrounded by it all the time and you'll love it.

Things that you can make yourself are the best things to start selling

The problem is when people confuse this and sell a very specific thing only they like but there really isn't a market for it. Also, a lot of times they are so emotionally attached to it they aren't willing to budge on some changes in order for the product to sell.

This is where you need to learn how to balance love for the product VS love for the business.

In my opinion,

you should first love the business itself, not the product. But then, if you know the business you'll be able to combine both and love the business and the product.

Just think about the logic behind this. Let's say you are a total newbie in e-commerce: you want to start your journey by selling a very specific product you like, or a popular product that sells easily?

I'm going to give you an example using 3 real people with different names so that you can't find them. One of them is me, Miguel. The others let's call them Jack and Jill.

Jack created his own line of baby things. Baby bottles, baby blankets, baby clothes, and baby accessories and baby whatever. They are all familiar products that people use every day but made by him with special made fabrics and materials and patterns and whatever.

Jill creates artwork mostly on canvas. She creates her own original world with her own characters, it's very original and creative. She has a very detailed history behind every character and all the products reflect that and makes you think about life and stuff. It's actually pretty great.

Lastly I, Miguel, started by selling stuff like memes printed on shirts and 3D printed electronics accessories and fan art/references to pop culture stuff (movies, series, videogames, etc).

Who do you think was selling the most and did the best in their business? not only that but in order who did you think did the best to worst?

I'll give you a minute.

Did you guess me? well, that's obvious otherwise I wouldn't be the one teaching you how to start your own eCommerce business to make money online would I?

But why?

Isn't the goal to create something that's awesome, original, and well made as Jill did?

Or maybe isn't the point to create original things but in a line of products that are used every day on a multi-billion dollar industry (baby things)?

Let's dive into more detail to explain this.

There are 3 main thoughts that sum this up:

  1. First there's the following: you may have created the best product in the world and put it for sale at a very reasonable price, and still get no sales, ever.

  2. Some specific niches are way too flooded with competitors and are hard to get in. Plus, most people go to the same product within that niche (for example, there are millions of different TV series out there, but everyone wants Game of Thrones, all other series are competing for scraps).

  3. Nobody cares about your original art, especially if you are starting out.

Now the third one is a little harsh and maybe untrue sometimes. It can possibly be terrible advice if you misinterpret it.

I'll say it again: nobody cares about your original art especially if you are starting out. But if you are already established in the market, you can start pushing your original art and if it sells (means it's good and people want it), you can start taking the less original products out of your store and one day you'll be selling your own art full time. I'll get into this strategy is much more depth in the near future.

So these 3 points go along with one of the first statements I made here: "you should love the business itself, not the product". This is where Jill went wrong. She assumed her art was so good she was bound to get recognized eventually. All she had to do was work really hard every day to build up a brand and promote her work. She is still doing it today, with no success whatsoever. I have told her countless times she wouldn't succeed because she's going about it the wrong way, but she didn't listen. Now Jill is stuck in the "Sunk Costs Fallacy"

Assuming you watched the video to learn what it is, because it's very important, Jill is always assuming her success is just around the corner. I would love to believe that, but I really don't.

If her products are really good and reasonably priced, what's the problem?

It's easy, people do not always want good products. Sometimes they rather have bad products that everyone else has, or cheap products just to fulfill that need to purchase something, or they just have poor taste in stuff.

The other factor is that her products aren't searchable. If she created a line of products based on a character of her own creation called "WillyNilly Monkeytowns", who is searching for that if that doesn't exist anywhere else? Even if she prints that character on a t-shirt, if you search for "t-shirt" how are you going to find her products amongst the literally millions of others that are more popular?

Her products will forever be deeply hidden within tons of layers of the internet on top of it.

Make no mistake, there are a bunch of artists that make it from the day they release their artwork. There are always exceptions, but you need to be really lucky to be at the right place at the right time.

My idea is, it's best to just go through the best practice for success and then push whatever product you want than to try and get the lottery all at once.

Now onto Jack. Jack has some sales, but not a lot. Just enough to keep him going but not really enough to call it a viable growing business. In order to keep afloat, Jack needs to hide away from taxes, and do all sorts of trickery to avoid business expenses. Jack is doing his business twice as long as me and he is deep into the sunken costs fallacy.

His problem is that in some months some opportunities come by, some months have great sales and induce him in error that from now on those numbers are going to stay. But even though Jack has a much better business plan than Jill, he needs to make drastic changes to the way he does his business. If after 8 years his brand isn't making its mark, it's time to move on. That is if you want your business to grow. If you make enough to pay your bills and you are fine with that, just keep doing whatever makes you happy. But I know that's not Jack's case, he is still waiting for his lucky break. That lucky break may come someday, or not. I have no idea.

Jack sells baby products, a niche that is so crazy big with so many people buying every second that with enough diversity ranking for search online he'll get a few sales here and there. If he pays for promotion a few people should find his products just adorable and will make him some sales. Plus, he is able to rank in search with more specific tags so that he sets himself apart. For example, instead of just "baby blanket", since he makes his own artwork with different things he might rank for "cute dinosaur baby blanket". Now he is going to compete for dinosaur combined with baby blanket, which should have severely fewer people competing than just baby stuff in general. On the other hand, Jill ranks for keywords nobody is ever going to search (her own characters and stuff she made it) combined with keywords that are way too vague (shirt, notebook, mug, etc). That's why Jack has a leg up on Jill.

Now for me, I was selling pop culture reference stuff and electronic accessories made with 3D printers. Those have a huge amount of people searching for, and even though the competition may be tough, since I'm not creating super original artwork, it takes me less time and effort to create a diverse catalog, therefore I can have a huge array of products that are highly searchable (everyone loves pop culture and memes and stuff) and always get high ranks in search.

The more I sell, the better my products will rank, and I'll snowball away to success.

Now, what Jack and Jill have to say about my store? stuff like this:

"Your art isn't original, you are just making things out of quotes from movies"

"You didn't make that character, that's a meme online you are just printing it on a shirt and selling it"

"you are just selling other peoples intellectual property and you should get banned"

"You have no morals selling that kind of thing"

And usually my response is something like this:

This is the part of the article where people will be in a rage, going on to facebook and telling me off, saying I'm a scammer and blablabla.

Hear me out first before you start judging me.

First of all, what I started by selling and I recommend people to do it too, is selling public domain/royalty free stuff.

Memes are often in that category, a lot of them can't even be traced back to their source, and a lot of them are remixes of other things. Memes are a lot of times created "by the internet" and not a single person.

Secondly, I'm not saying you are selling those memes directly like prints or something stupid like that. I'm saying what you are selling is actually the service of printing such memes on shirts or something similar. So your item's price should also reflect that, you aren't charging for the artwork, you are just following trends and offering people your labor and materials.

The other thing I was selling was pop culture reference stuff. So for example, let's say you do a minimalistic illustration or a design using a non-trademarked quote from a movie. It could be something like "Say hello to my little friend" from Scarface (I have no idea if it's trademarked or not, it's just an example).

This is kind of a harsh example because it can be on a real fine line between getting a copyright strike or doing something that's OK.

Also, did you know that the videogame industry has arrived at the conclusion that videogame piracy actually helps the industry? The same applies to fan art. Fanart can be a great way to keep the fanbase going - but they do monitor the marketplaces for stuff that crosses the line from "fan art" to just stealing their IP (intellectual property). You'd be surprised at what some companies think it's acceptable - some even let you print their actual logo on a shirt and get nothing in return because they don't do that themselves so they let you do it. Of course, this isn't recommended because companies aren't really going around saying "hey guys you can sell my stuff if you want". If you use this concept for your store, you'll get banned in the first month.

Some amount of research has to be done to determine what is OK and what is not. Some people will judge you either way like some might be judging me right now. But who are you to judge me? Let me get this straight: I'm making my own design using a joke/quote/ meme / whatever that's inspired by a movie or series or videogame. The people that own that intellectual property are OK with it, in fact, I sold countless items to the companies that made some of the things I was selling, but YOU, someone completely random that has nothing to do with it are judging me for "stealing"?

You need to get this buried very deep in your head so that you don't forget it:

You have no business meddling in other people's stores.

You don't know if they paid for a license to sell, you have no idea if those specific designs/phrases are copyrighted or trademarked, or free to use (royalty-free). Copyright is a very complicated subject that pertains only to the owner and whoever is infringing on it.

If you are reading this and getting a little angry or have any negative feeling, consider this:

Are you angry because you actually think it's immoral, or because you know you can't sell your products as easily so you are jealous and frustrated?

It sucks, I know, I've been there.

It kind of reminds me when I'm playing fighting videogames like Tekken and people complain "you are pressing the same button repeatedly, that's not fair" - if doing that on the game makes me win, do it too, or do something else better than me. I can guarantee you that if I win this way means you suck at Tekken because I suck too.

You are creating truly original stuff while other people just take stuff from the internet and make more money than you every single day. If you ask me, I'd be happier if everyone that creates original artwork would be successful - but that's not how the world works is it?

I rather make money selling this "easy no brainer stuff" than struggle financially, be miserable and attack the other people doing it.

I'm not going into detail on this subject on this post, but I'll sum up the basis here:

  • If you actually steal other people's designs, karma will get you. It's very easy to get banned on marketplaces, and usually, stores that do this don't last very long, so there's no point attacking those people because they will get what's coming to them, trust me;

  • It's actually very hard to actually stay within the "copyright gray area" where you aren't stepping on anyone's toes and at the same time ranking for those keywords. It takes a tremendous amount of creativity to do transformative work (fan art that stays within the fair use arena );

  • It's can also be very difficult to sell stuff using public domain/royalty-free things, if you don't know what you are doing, because there is a tremendous amount of competition.

Lastly, does this mean you should start selling royalty-free stuff with no originality whatsoever?

Of course not. You should always be original otherwise what's the point?

If you are still reading this at this point you are one of the good ones. I can guarantee you a lot of people got lost somewhere along the way and went to facebook or something to warn people I'm trying to tell people to sell other people's intellectual property.

The good information will come next, and those people won't get it. They will keep crying and attacking others on facebook because misery loves company. We'll stay together and build something great that is original, awesome and sells.

All of this that I mentioned before is to give you context and understanding of how the market works. That's how I learned. I got a few problems with copyright, I learned from it and now I know how to sell whatever I want. I think it's important to give you the same context so that you can understand what's coming next.

This course will give you the tools you need to complete the following strategy - whatever you want to sell, you'll know how to go around and build up a business doing something similar that ranks better in search and boosts up your store, until one day you are selling your own work exclusively (granted your work is good).

You will be able to choose whatever you want to do, sell public domain stuff forever is an option, sell your artwork is an option, reselling stuff is also an option. The amount of choices you have is pretty insane, and that's why this business is so amazing.

Hopefully, by some point, you'll send me a link to your booming store and even I want to buy stuff from you.

On the next post, I'll be explaining why you should be creating your own items to sell instead of reselling (at least while starting out) and giving you a list of easy entry-level crafts that you can master within a week, and start earning some money by the end of the month.

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