How and What to Sell Online
What are you selling?
The subject of how to sell online wouldn't be complete without a discussion of what it is that you are selling. The basic choices are:
There may be other categories but offhand I can't think of any. So let's talk a little about each of these, starting with tangible goods.
If you have an existing business, or are contemplating creating a new one, that sells tangible goods; your website simply enhances your marketing strategy. It also means that you have either a storefront or warehouse (in the case of mail order) to do retail, wholesale, or order fulfillment. You also probably have, or will need, employees and all the "baggage" that goes with them.
If you are selling flooring, furniture, or other such merchandise, these financial and time-consuming burdens may be unavoidable but if not, perhaps you should re-think your business plan. Maybe you don't need (or no longer need) a "brick-and-mortar" style of business.
Since you are contemplating how to sell online, maybe you should consider taking your business off the street entirely. If this makes sense financially, doing so could vastly improve your profit margins, better serve your customers, and free up a lot of cash that could be invested more profitably. At least give this possibility some thought.
Intangibles are an important category, the most common examples being insurance and travel reservations. Intangibles aren't information; you can't put them in a wheelbarrow yet people buy them all the time. I'm not suggesting you sell online insurance or travel reservations, because if you do you will be competing with big well-established outfits like Geico and Expedia not a good thing to do unless you can find a really good sub-niche that the big outfits neglect. But if the theme of your business allows and a suitable niche exists intangibles are very profitable.
The next category to look at, when deciding what to sell online, is information electronically deliverable information, as most information is. The products in this category could include e-books, e-courses, and subscriptions. If you are going to charge for such products, do yourself a favor make sure they are good ones. Plan to over-deliver on quality, so your customer comes away feeling that they got a bargain. This policy will go a long way toward generating repeat business. The alternative will leave your customer dissatisfied and angry. Not only will they not return but they can, and will, think of ways to hurt your business.
There are several big advantages to this product category as you plan what to sell online:
If there are any disadvantages to this product category, I haven't thought of them. If you think of any, please let me know.
When it comes to selling services online, we're back to the question of whether you personally plan to deliver the product. If you are a consultant, for example, selling your own services, you might include a form on your website (on Tier 3, of course) that allows your visitor to sign your consulting contract or to schedule a telephone meeting or to request more information.
In this and similar instances you should think about how and where you will deliver your services. Will it be over the phone? Will you need to travel? Can you deliver the service over the Internet? Obviously, if you are a dentist, marketing your services online, you will have to answer "no" to these questions.
Whatever the case, think it through. The ideal solution to "what to sell online" is to offer your prospective customers goods and services that can be delivered instantly with no ongoing investment of time or resources on your part. In the past you may have thought of your business as one for which you are always trying to get more work as in dentistry, automotive repairs, house painting, etc. At this time, why not turn that around and think in terms of having a business at which you do less and less work until you have more cashflow than you need AND all the free time you could want?
Another option we mentioned above for how to make money online is referrals. To implement this you need to find service providers looking for more work. They could be dentists, automotive repair technicians, house painters, or what have you. If your niche research supports it, any of these might do but be sure your website is sufficiently specialized for the particular category of service referrals you will sell. Automotive repair might be too broad, while Volvo Fuel Injector repair would almost certainly be too narrow.
You will need to find and contract with service practitioners within your niche being cognizant that some services can only be provided locally while others can be provided by mail, by phone, by email, etc. Again, your website can be a source of these customers they may be searching the Internet for more work and find you. If they register on your website (for free) you have a new customer.
Service referrals can be paid for on a per-referral basis or on a finders-fee basis or both. Collect a small fee for the referral and a bigger fee if a sale results. You decide.
Your referral customers can be either merchants or service providers. Both work once you have an agreement and are set up to find the people looking for the goods or services they sell.
Still another very profitable category to sell online is advertising space on your website. There are several ways to do this some highly desirable - some less so. For a very informative and inexpensive booklet on how to do this, including detailed comparisons of some of the most common and profitable methods check out this site.
How are you selling?
In the parlance of how to sell online, pages containing sales messages are generally referred to as "landing" pages and if you value my advice about how to sell online, these pages should always be on Tier 3 two clicks away from your home page (Tier 1) and one click away from your hub pages (Tier 2).
In the future I plan to include very detailed information about why you should organize your site in this way why the search engines prefer it, and why your human visitors will appreciate it. For now, I hope you'll just take my word for it that this methodology works vastly better than any of the alternatives.
So how do you get your site visitors from your pre-selling "hub" page to your Tier 3 sales message? You do it with a link, of course but what kind of link? The best answer, if you want to sell online most effectively, is with a "contextual link" which is nothing more than a text link embedded in your pre-selling useful informative content.
"Why use a contextual link to sell online" you ask? You do it because the alternatives don't work as well. Yes, you could put a flashy animated banner ad on your Tier 2 page, in hopes of taking your visitor to your landing page or even directly to a landing page provided by the company that is the source of what you are selling. But if you do, you will reduce the effectiveness of your Tier 2 page.
In short, if your Tier 2 page doesn't inspire confidence in you and create an interest in what you are selling, your flashy banner ad will never get the click. In contrast, if you are providing relevant high quality true information on your Tier 2 pages, as well you must if you want to sell online successfully, then those visitors who actually want what you sell will be almost compelled to follow your text link if only to get that extra tidbit of valuable information that the link might provide.
In this article we've discussed the six principle categories of what you might choose to sell online, and the best way to link your pre-selling Tier 2 pages to your Tier 3 sales messages. Next we will take up the subject of how to
sell-online the mysterious "Way of the Tortoise". I know. It sounds hokie. But it really is worth your time to learn this.