As a followup to “How to escape the corporate prison“, I will now explain to you one of the many ways you can make money with nothing more than a laptop and internet connection from anywhere in the world. Here’s all you need: an online store, a product(s) to sell and a good fulfillment company or a supplier that drop ships. What’s that you say, you don’t know anything about e-commerce, computers and web design? Don’t worry, you will know everything you need to know by the time you’re done reading this post.
First thing is first though. You need to find something to sell. You have three basic models to choose from (in order of time and money investment required): resell someone else’s shit, private label somebody else’s shit with your own brand name, create your own product.
Let’s look at these models in detail:
Reselling somebody else’s shit: This is the easiest and requires the least commitment of time and money, however it’s also the least likely to make you any significant amount of money. This is the only way you will likely have the option to “drop ship.” The big drawback is that there is very little barrier to entry, if you are successful, somebody else is going to come along and compete with you because it’s so easy.
Private label somebody else’s shit: This is the second easiest option. You would be surprised how many companies will be willing to sell you their shit with your name on it with relatively small minimum order quantities. The benefit is that you can develop a brand name that’s yours and yours alone without having to go through the hassle of product development. The drawback is that you’re likely going to have to plunk down some more cash and stock more inventory than simply reselling somebody else’s shit. There is time and cost involved in private labeling for the manufacturer and they will always want a higher minimum order quantity for a private label order than for their own product with their own name on it. Minimums vary depending on the product and the supplier, I’ve seen as low as 12 and as high as thousands.
Develop your own product: This is going to be the most difficult and it will require the largest investment of time and money, however it will also have the largest potential payoff. How to develop your own product from scratch is beyond the scope of this article, however if you are the type of guy that has the wherewithal to complete such a project you are probably smart enough to find the resources you need to do so. A great example of this is the DODOcase. I personally think it’s kind of stupid, not at all unique and competing in a totally saturated market. Just goes to show you that sometimes it’s easier than you think. I know this guy is making bank because he won a “build a business” contest where the goal was to start a business from scratch and have the highest grossing store within 6 months. I don’t know how much he sold but it must’ve been significant because there were hundreds of competitors, in addition to whatever money he made selling his stupid iPad cases he got $100,000 for winning the contest.
Now you need to decide what to sell. Let me ask you a question: are you or could you be perceived as an “expert” in anything? Are you a musician? A personal trainer? A psychologist? A photographer? Are you good enough in your field that you have been quoted in the media? If so great you’re off to a head start. You don’t need anywhere near as creative an idea if you are perceived as an expert in a field. Why? People like to buy shit from people they trust. Oprah, Dr. Phil, random celebrities hawking random shit on informercials, etc. You can find examples everywhere. If you have that going for you choose some products related to your field and start blogging. But write quality material, don’t just try to hawk your products. If you are an expert this is a great opportunity to create a line of niche products related to your field with your name and face on it. If you have a special trade or skill of any kind you know there are tricks of the trade… develop one of those tricks into a niche product.
The $14 steadicam is a great example of a niche product but very poorly executed as a business. I would have cleaned this up a little more and focused on selling it as a reasonably priced product rather than giving instructions on how to build it for free and then giving up on selling my deluxe version because costs rose a little. I would have happily paid $200 for this thing! But instead of raising his prices the designer said “I give up because I can’t make it for $39.95 anymore.” How stupid! Ugly though it may be, the $14 steadicam provides the same functionality as other steadicams costing hundreds if not thousands of dollars.
“But Boris, I’m not an expert in anything.” No problem. What you need to do is look for niche products in a field that you’re interested in. As you research products start reading up on the field. Become an expert if you aren’t already. When you feel competent enough in the field start blogging. Call up manufacturers of potential products and ask them these questions:
1.) Do you have a wholesale price list?
2.) Do you drop ship?
3.) Do you private label and if so what are your minimum order quantities?
4.) Can you send me a sample? For free? For wholesale price?
I highly recommend you find something you can private label. It’s much better to build your own brand than to build someone else’s. Read some books on marketing. Or if you have a great idea you can always see about developing your own product. I can’t stress the word niche here enough. Virtually every single extremely successful person I’ve ever asked for advice in business has said either: find your niche or even create your niche! Go talk to any rich guy you know and ask him about his secrets to success. I bet you he’ll mention the word niche and not quitting. That’s about all there is to entrepreneurship – find a niche, don’t give up.
Of course you’re going to have to do some test marketing and make sure you can sell your product profitably and all of that shit, but if you create a reasonable formula for doing that (one is described in The Four Hour Work Week) and persevere sooner or later you’re going to find something that works. Before moving on I will give you one more solid piece of advice. Don’t get involved in anything that you can’t buy in small quantities and resell for a minimum of double what you paid for it and make sure there is a clear path to cut your cost to 20% of the selling price (or less) through volume discounts as your business grows. Sure there are exceptions but these are good rules of thumb to ensure smooth sailing and minimal growing pains.
Ok now let’s assume you have a product to sell. Great. Now all you need is an online store. If you’re the geeky type you can develop your own custom platform. If you’re a layman I’ll give you a few recommendations:
These companies provide e-commerce platforms as a service. You pay higher monthly fees than if you hosted your own custom platform but if you aren’t a web designer or a computer programmer this is totally the way to go. I have the most experience with Shopify and I know for a fact you can have your store online and open for business in about an hour (assuming you don’t have a ton of products). These companies will charge you significantly more than the typical $5/month web hosting package but the convenience factor is worth every penny. Among other things you have a team of IT professionals ensuring that your store is up and running. You give up some control and ability to customize (although it’s still pretty good with many of these options) but you can always develop your own e-commerce platform later when your sales are high enough to justify it. The better “e-commerce as a service” providers also have content delivery networks (CDNs) which ensure that your online store is redundant and will load quickly and reliably all over the world.
Another benefit of using a hosted e-commerce solution is that you also have the option of using a lot of plugins or “apps”. My favorite is Vurve, just choose a monthly advertising budget and let them manage the rest. Managing pay per click ads like Google adwords can be a real pain in the ass, but not if you let somebody else manage it for you. I setup Vurve once and I have never touched it since. They take a well deserved 15% cut of your advertising budget, but since they are experts in pay per click advertising they will likely get you more bang for 85% of your advertising dollars than you will with 100% unless you really know what you’re doing.
Ok so now you’re up and running, you have an online store, business is booming but it sure is fucking difficult to travel when you have to be at home packing boxes all day. Packing boxes SUCKS! This is a big problem right? Wrong. There are companies out there devoted to solving this problem for you too. What you are shopping for is called a “fulfillment company.” Their job is to store shit until someone buys it and then pack it up and mail it to the customer. I’ll give you three names:
There are many other smaller players out there but in my experience they aren’t cost competitive. Plus Shopify (and probably some of their competitors) directly integrate with Amazon, Webgistix and Shipwire so your products are shipped automatically with just a couple of mouse clicks. This also provides fully integrated inventory management between your online store and your warehouse.
Have you followed all those steps above? If so congrats, you’re totally mobile. You can work from anywhere in the world with just a laptop and an internet connection. In fact you can probably even pull it off with only an iPhone for short periods of time. Basically your only job besides calling up your suppliers and keeping your warehouse stocked is to login to your online store and accept your orders every morning. You can work as little as 15 minutes per day.
One last hot tip for you. In order to facilitate mobile accounting and the ever dreaded yearly tax filing, use Quick Books Online or some other similar competing product. I spend no more than a couple of hours a month doing accounting.
If you’re actually really trying to put this into practice and have questions I’ll be happy to help you out, just e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you expect free advice please make sure your question is clear and concise, otherwise if you need something a little more involved I provide consulting services for companies that want to start selling online in record time at a fraction of the price your typical web design firm will quote. If you have your own online store and sell a cool Single Dude friendly product, I will be happy to plug it here for you if you will link back to us.