Practical tips on where to find your niche, how to setup your online platform, market, and fulfill your orders.
Starting and running a side hustle can be a rewarding adventure — and we’re not just talking financially. Yes, having a business on the side can put extra money in the bank (particularly during troubled times like what’s happening with COVID-19) but in many cases, side hustles also allow entrepreneurs to express their passions, build communities, and help others.
There are several ways to start a side business. Some people become freelancers who sell their services. Others develop digital products like courses or apps. Then there are those who sell physical goods.
In this post, we’ll be focusing on the third type of side hustle: selling physical products. Below, you’ll learn the key pillars of a product-based online business and you’ll discover the steps you should take to successfully start one.
Let’s dive in.
1. Decide on what products to sell
There are countless options out there when it comes to which products to stock and sell, so you have to be smart about narrowing down your choices.
Our advice? Pick an item or category that sits at the intersection of your interests and the demands of your market.
Tap into your interests
Let’s start with your interests. If you’re going into business, you will find the process more meaningful and enjoyable if you’re selling something that you’re genuinely interested in or passionate about.
Make a list of your hobbies, talents, and interests. What do you do for fun? What are you naturally good at? Take note, and when you have a good list in front of you, think about how you can create a business out of the things you’ve listed.
For instance, if you’re into fitness, maybe you can start selling gym gear. If you love illustrating, perhaps you can put your creations on a canvas or even on products like T-shirts and mugs.
See what’s trending
Selling a product you're passionate about is great, but to maximize your income potential, you need to make sure that there’s enough demand for the items you want to sell.
One tool that can help you do this is Google Trends, a free site that gives you insights on the popularity of particular search terms. You can enter your product or category onto the site, and see if people’s interest in it is growing overtime.
Going back to our gym gear example above, if you’re a fitness enthusiast who wants to sell gear for people who like going to the gym, you could start by entering a term like “leggings” into Google Trends to see its performance.
In this instance, the term “leggings” seems to have gained popularity over the past several years:
You can also use Google’s Keyword Planner to see the search volume of terms in your chosen product category. If many people are searching for your products, then it may be worthwhile to sell them. Keyword Planner also sheds light on related terms that people are searching for, which can give you even more ideas.
2. Determine how you’ll source products
Another factor to think about is product sourcing. Are you creating products yourself or will you rely on a third party? Let’s look at your options and what each route entails.
Create your own products
This option is best for artists and crafty people who prefer to sell handmade items like jewelry and art. If you decide to create your own items, you’ll have full control over the product. This is good if you like things being done a certain way. That said, DIY products can be time-consuming and labor intensive.
Working with wholesalers or manufacturers
If you’re selling something that needs to be manufactured — like T-shirts or tech gadgets and accessories — then you either have to purchase products wholesale or work with a manufacturer.
Essentially, you will have a supplier from which you purchase products, and you will sell those items for a profit.
If you don’t like the idea of stocking inventory, then you can dropship items instead. With dropshipping, you’re in charge of marketing and sales, but you don’t actually have to buy an item from your supplier until you have a confirmed customer.
When a shopper buys from you, their order will be sent to the supplier, who will then handle the fulfillment of the order.
Dropshipping is a hands-off approach and you won’t have to deal with product sourcing, inventory management, and fulfillment.
That said, profits are generally lower and you won’t have much control over the customer experience.
There’s no one best way to source your products. If you like having a say in product development and the customer experience, then you’re better off creating the items yourself or working closely with your suppliers and handling order fulfillment. But if you prefer having a hands off approach, then dropshipping may be the better option.
3. Set up your sales platform
Now let’s talk about selecting a platform on which to sell your merchandise. You have a number of options here, and the right solution depends on your products, preferences, and business model.
Let’s look at the different platforms you can use in your business:
General ecommerce platforms
This is a great option if you want to build a branded “home” for your products. These platforms allow you to create websites and experiences from the ground up, so you can control the look and feel of your site.
Here’s an example from Sugarhouse Ceramic Co., which makes small batch ceramic products. Sugarhouse sells online on their website, which was built using Squarespace.
These ecommerce platforms are also quite flexible, so whether you’re creating your own products, buying merch at wholesale, or working with a dropshipper, these solutions will work for you.
If you’re not up for building a website from scratch, you can set up shop in an online marketplace.
These websites allow you to create a seller’s profile and then list your products. The marketplace attracts visitors, who can then browse and purchase your products.
One example of an entrepreneur that sells products on a marketplace is Annie @ Blossom Art Avenue. Annie sells handmade art featuring floral designs and gorgeous hand lettering, which people can buy on her Etsy page.
4. Invest in marketing
Starting and running a side hustle requires… well, hustle. This is particularly true when it comes to marketing.
Listing your products on your website or marketplace and expecting people to just naturally find your store will yield little (if any) results. You need to do the legwork in order to generate eyeballs, interest, and sales.
We’ve discussed marketing tactics in more detail in our Marketing Inspo series, so we highly recommend you check it out!
But if you need some quick ideas, here are a few tactics to get the ball rolling:
- Tap into your network. Tell your friends and family about your side hustle and encourage them to support you.
- Set up your social media media accounts. Get on Instagram and/or Facebook and post high-value content to grow your following.
- Build an email list. If you have your own website, be sure to set up an email marketing system that lets you capture people’s information. That way, you can get in touch with them and drive sales down the line.
5. Iron out order fulfillment
You’ve put your products out there and you’re starting to get orders. Now let’s talk about getting those items into your customers’ hands.
If you’re dropshipping, this isn’t something you’d be actively involved in, but it’s worth understanding how your suppliers are handling order fulfillment. If possible, work with your dropshipping vendors to ensure that your customers have a good experience.
Choose the right tools
If you’re shipping orders yourself, one of the first things you should do is arm your business with order fulfillment software so you can manage and track orders with ease. Your ecommerce platform may already have built-in fulfillment tools, but depending on your catalog and process, you may need help from a third party add-on.
Pro tip: If you’re using additional fulfillment tools, choose solutions that integrate with your ecommerce platform or marketplace. This ensures that sales and product data flow smoothly from one system to the next, so you won’t have to deal with double entry and admin work.
Get the best shipping supplies and materials
Next up, you need to purchase shipping supplies. This can often be an afterthought, because many entrepreneurs put all their focus on the products they’re selling. However, your packaging and shipping efforts can have a significant impact on your costs and even your brand, so you’ll want to invest the time in selecting the best materials for your business.
For starters, pay attention to size and weight, as they factor in greatly into shipping costs. The key is to use materials that are big and durable enough to handle your products, but not too much that they increase your costs unnecessarily.
Sustainability is also something to keep in mind. More and more consumers are choosing to buy from companies that practice sustainable practices. By being eco-friendly, you’re not just doing Mother Earth a solid, you’re also doing your business a favor.
Check out this example from Hippie Baby Co, which sells artwear apparel for babies, kids, and adults. Hippie Baby Co. ships its products using 100% compostable packaging, so customers can shop guilt-free.
You should also consider customizing your packaging. It’s an excellent way to promote your brand, create a unique unboxing experience, and encourage social shares.
When UK-based artist Mélanie Johnsson sent out the first issue of Spellbound magazine to those who pre-ordered, she wrapped the item using custom tissue paper and tape.
“I’m always thinking about the little details and the little extra touches that could make someone jump from joy when they receive a parcel, so of course, I wanted to bring lots of colour and fun to each Spellbound pre-order,” she wrote on Instagram.
If you already have a side hustle?
If you've already launched your side hustle or business and need to pivot your offering to the current climate you can check out some of our tips in our post on navigating COVID-19 as a small business.
You can still apply many of the tips we have covered above, especially if you need to introduce a new product to your existing range.
You can also undertake a re-brand (and this can be as simple as an updated logo or brand color palette) to refresh and relaunch your offering. Read more about 3 things you should consider when designing your brand.
Running a new marketing campaign with some fresh imagery and copy can help show your products off in a new light!
Ready to start hustling on the side?
Whether you’re doing it to earn extra money or you want to dive into a business that you’re passionate about, selling products can be a worthwhile adventure. Hopefully, the pointers and examples above inspire you to hustle on the side and build your own business.