How to start selling online, full guide for beginners

LaunchCategory
18 min read
Zoe Ashbridge

Is selling online over-saturated? No way! It’s still very doable to make money from anywhere with a laptop.  

You just need to learn how and have the dedication to make it work. 

This guide will give you proven methods for selling products and services online with insights from people who are making money on digital platforms. Plus, we’re sharing tips for building your own website and the secrets to selling with social media. 

How to start selling online

Popular places where you can sell products online

Trust the process when selling online

Selling online FAQs

How to start selling online 

Before jumping in and making your first sale, you need to know:

  • What you are selling Woman taking photo of makeup products on cell phone
  • What need your product satisfies/what problem it solves 
  • How it delivers value 
  • Who is your target audience 

Through market research, you will find the answers. 

Related: Top 10 trending products to sell online 

Do market research 

Once you’ve brainstormed the products or services that you’d like to sell online, you’ll need to see if there’s a market for those products. 

To do this, there are online market research tools that you can use.  

Market research involves gathering information about your target market, competitors and industry trends.  

The goal is to determine whether or not your ideas are likely to make money. And if they are, how you can reach an audience interested in buying from you. 

Market research includes: 

  • Competitor analysis to see what others are doing and what works for them. You need to look at where you fit within the market, what makes you stand out and what you can offer that competitors don’t. 
  • Analysing online forums where your buyers hang out to build a picture of who your audience is and what they need so that you can target them better. 
  • Look for trends to discover products people are looking for now. 

Top tip: When it comes to identifying trends, you can use Google Trends, which is a free tool. You can explore what the UK is searching for right now. Indeed, you can select any other country or even see global internet trends. Search the product or service you’re considering selling and see how interested people are. 

For example, a search for ‘buy selfie stick’ shows that searches for this product peaked in 2018 and have steadily declined in search volume. So, selfie sticks are probably not the product for you right now. 

Searches for air fryers, on the other hand, increased in 2020 and have remained relatively stable ever since. 

A little bit of research can put you ahead in business! 

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Choose a niche and product 

If you’re starting your online selling venture from scratch, it’s best to start with a niche product or service. 

A “niche” is a smaller subset of a particular product category. 

Niching allows you to cater to an audience that is looking to solve a specific problem. You will get to know your buyers deeply and understand what truly matters to them. This will help you zero in on the reasons why your chosen product or service is their best choice. 

For help coming up with a niche of your own, check out these online business ideas that are trending now. 

Top tip: It will help if you genuinely like and believe in what you’re selling — especially if you’re going to sell on social media (more on that later). 

Editor's note: Need help coming up with a niche of your own? Check out these 30 work from home online business ideas.  

Choose a platform or create an online store 

The key to choosing a platform — or platforms — is not to spread yourself too thin. If you’ve done your market research well enough, you will already have an idea of where your likely customers are hanging out online. 

If you’re in need of a good hosting package for your digital shop, GoDaddy has a range of options that can meet your business needs. Or simply build your store with GoDaddy’s all-in-one Online Store builder, which comes with hosting. 

Top tip: Consider your time. You are better off managing a website and one social account well than covering many ineffectively. You can always add more later. 

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Market and sell 

Once you’ve chosen a platform or launched an online store, it’s time to make a marketing plan.  

Prioritizing your opportunities

You’ll need a plan that considers all the steps a buyer goes through before making a decision (aka the funnel). 

Think about the content you need to create to persuade prospective customers to buy from you (e.g., a website, social posts, videos). 

Be honest at every step. You will also want to build trust as part of your marketing strategy.  

For details on the three steps to creating your first marketing plan, read Preparing a marketing plan for your small business. 

Hoping to start simply? Read How to build a professional identity without a website. 

Top tip: Sites like Reddit and Quora are free and provide insight into your audience, their product needs, their issues with competitors and so much more. The same applies to Google’s ‘People also ask’ feature. 

Sticking with the idea of selling air fryers, a quick search of the word ‘air fryers’ returns commonly asked questions about their pros and cons. 

Affiliate marketing 

With a combination of your website and social media, you could sell products online without actually owning or stocking a single item. 

This is an ideal scenario for someone who craves ultimate freedom.

With affiliate marketing, you take a percentage of sales made via your channels using trackable affiliate URLs. Every time a reader clicks on a link, you earn a small commission. 

You can: 

  • Drive traffic to these links from your social media following 
  • Build an email list of subscribers 
  • Earn commissions by promoting products through TikTok and blog posts 
Mia Steele website

The key to success is having a compelling free lead magnet and consistently producing high-quality content to bring people to your offers. 

Mia Steele drives traffic from her social media following of 20,000 to her website. She registered a domain name with GoDaddy and started her journey into affiliate marketing. 

“Within just seven months,” Steele says, “I had joined more than 15 affiliate programs, built an email list of over 3,000 subscribers, and earned over $90,000 in commissions by promoting products on TikTok and through my blog.” 

The key, Steele says, is “Building your email list from day one. I underestimated the power of an email list until I ventured into affiliate marketing, and I regretted not starting earlier. 

“Having a compelling free lead magnet and consistently producing high-quality content to drive traffic to your offers will be the key to your success.” 

Related: How to make money with affiliate marketing 

Email marketing 

Email marketing is a cost-effective way to reach your target audience and promote your products. Done well, every email you send can make money. At least, this is the case for the team at Siligrams.  

Arlene Battishill, Chief Marketing Officer, says, “Our email marketing is killing it with an average 55% open rate. Every email makes money. A recent email marketing campaign – a series of 10 daily emails – had an average 63% open rate because the campaign was nothing but stories and bad jokes and had absolutely nothing to do with our product!” 

The secret to Battishill’s campaigns is consistency and humour; not every email is a sales plea that likely contributes to the sales success. Siligrams choose to humour and engage their audience instead of going for a hard sell. Remember, people buy from people. 

Read 13 email marketing questions answered for expert tips on using email successfully. 

Top tip: You can create and send stylish emails in bulk and manage all your social posts and business listings using GoDaddy’s Digital Marketing Suite.

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Now that you’ve got your marketing sorted, it’s time to choose a platform for selling online. 

Sell on your own online store 

You can’t sell online without a digital store or platform. While you can sell on social media (more on this later), you won’t have direct access to your customers’ emails on social. A channel you own like a website can become an asset over time.  

Plus when you sell from your own web store, you keep more of the profits. 

If you're wondering how to build a website in a weekend, check out our handy guide. 

1. Choose a domain 

You can’t have a website or a custom email address without your own domain name.  

So, your next step is to check that your desired domain name is available and register it online. Your domain name should be the same as your business name. It should be catchy, easy to spell, and relevant.  

For a business with a local reach, it’s an excellent idea to choose a .uk or .co.uk domain name. These domain endings are instantly recognisable and tend to look more credible in the eyes of potential customers here at home. 

Find out right now if the name you want is available 

2. Create your store 

Create an online store using GoDaddy’s easy Online Store builder — just choose a pre-built template and add your own text, product names and photos. 

Note that GoDaddy’s store builder automatically: 

  • Writes product descriptions for you based on your photos 
  • Creates Instagram and Facebook ads to sell your products 
  • Pens customer service messages based on your previous conversations with your customer 

You can take payments and ship your products anywhere in the world. 

3. Add payment processing 

If you’re using GoDaddy’s Online Store builder, all you need to do for this step is decide which options you’d like to offer — all major credit cards, Apple Pay and/or Google Pay. 

If you’re using another builder, you may need to add a payment gateway to accept payments. The gateway you choose comes down to personal preference, terms and conditions and transaction fees. 

It’s free to add PayPal to your site but you may be charged a higher rate per sale. 

However, if you want to test your ecommerce store before committing to a gateway like Stripe, PayPal can be a good start. 

4. Manage inventory 

Inventory management is crucial for any ecommerce business, especially if you receive orders online. 

If you have physical products, your inventory must match what’s available online. 

You don’t want to disappoint customers by selling products you can’t ship. 

If you’re selling both online and offline, inventory can get more complicated as you must regularly update your online inventory to reflect any offline sales. 

Larger businesses have inventory management systems for this. Inventory management is included with GoDaddy’s Online Store. 

5. Choose a shipping provider 

Person packing a product in a box

Shipping can get rather complex, especially if you’re planning on handling international orders.  

Those using GoDaddy’s Online Store builder just need to decide which options to offer — free shipping with a minimum order, flat rate, percentage per order, weight-based or carrier calculated. Local delivery and in-person pickup options are available as well. 

  • Flat-rate shipping is as it sounds. The business charges the same shipping cost for all packages, regardless of weight or distance. Flat-rate shipping should be carefully monitored. With a flat rate, your business expects to profit on some purchases and lose on others, especially if you’re shipping internationally. Flat rate will only work if the profits and losses are approximately balanced. 
  • Actual cost is a calculation where the business calculates the exact shipping cost for each package and charges this to the customer. This is usually done automatically at checkout using a shipping calculator. The calculation will take into account location, weight, size and more. 

You can incentivise a purchase with free shipping, and you can also offer more expensive shopping options for faster delivery. 

Top tip: Test your shopping experience before you launch your online store. It’s crucial to guarantee that potential customers enjoy a seamless journey — from discovering your business to making a purchase. 

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Sell on Marketplaces 

Marketplaces like Amazon, Etsy, eBay and Craigslist offer excellent opportunities to reach a broad audience and sell your products. Service-based businesses can try Freelancer, Upwork, Toptal and more. 

You can sell on many of these marketplaces as well as your own website.  

You can try the marketplaces and see how they perform. Naturally, each marketplace will take a percentage of the sale so you'll need to factor that in.

Amazon 

Any ecommerce seller should at least try out Amazon. It is a search engine for products, and some people go to Amazon before Google. 

Pros 

  • Amazon is one of the largest ecommerce marketplaces.  
  • It’s simple to set up a seller account and list your products. 
  • Users may use Amazon as a search engine rather than Google, so you’re reaching people who may not find your website. 

Cons 

  • Amazon has over a quarter of a million sellers in the UK alone, so you’ll need good product photography to stand out. 
  • For users to find you on Amazon, you need to know a little about Amazon search engine optimisation (SEO). A little time spent on this will pay off in spades. 

Etsy 

Etsy is a popular marketplace for crafts, handmade and vintage products. But Etsy is also an excellent marketplace for digital products like guides, eBooks and more. 

Business Development Colorful Bird Houses

Pros 

  • If your product is crafty, handmade or vintage, you can know that users are heading to Etsy to find it. 
  • It’s cheap to start selling. 

Cons 

  • It is a busy marketplace with lots of sellers. 
  • You don’t have the same control over your Etsy store as you do your store. 
  • Customers often expect personalisation on Etsy. 

eBay 

eBay is one of the oldest ecommerce marketplaces. By now, most of us have probably sold (or tried to sell) something on eBay. 

Pros 

  • It’s familiar. 
  • You may already have an account with some reviews to build trust. 

Cons 

  • eBay’s UX isn’t as friendly as some alternatives. 

Craigslist 

Craigslist is a classified advertisements website that allows you to sell products locally. 

Pros 

  • There are no fees 
  • You can sell locally, which helps with shipping fees if you want to keep your business geographically small. 

Cons 

  • Local sales only can be limiting once you have the desire to grow. 

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Sell on social media 

Once your products or services are available to buy, your first task is to drive traffic to your online store. Social media is a great place to do this. 

It’s also a good place to build a brand that will attract the right audience. Through social media, a reciprocal understanding develops between you and your audience, fostering a personalized and professional connection. 

TikTok 

TikTok is a platform valued for its generous algorithm that provides account owners with excellent reach. 

TikTok

With upwards of 23 million TikTok users in the UK alone, your audience is certainly out there.

Mia Steele has also been using TikTok since April 2022. She reports great success on the platform.  

Steele says, “In less than six weeks of posting on TikTok and diving into User Generated Content (UGC), I began monetizing my content. I managed to replace my income by creating content and ads for brands. 

“As my TikTok following grew, I even sold my own digital products to my audience.” 

Steele’s top tip for a successful social media account is, ‘Devote time to cultivate and nurture your own audience, so you can capitalise on the traffic to sell your own products.’ 

TikTok also has TikTok Shop that you can access once you have 1,000 followers. TikTok Shop allows you to take a commission from items promoted and sold within your videos. 

Related: 21 benefits of social media for business 

Facebook and Instagram 

Like TikTok, you can grow an audience on Facebook and sell digital products. Facebook and Instagram also have shop functionality to sell 

products directly on their platforms. 

You can automatically post from Instagram to Facebook, and vice versa, to save time. 

Pinterest 

Pinterest allows you to create a shoppable feed to list your products and sell them directly on the platform. 

You can also use Pinterest to drive traffic to your online store or blog. 

Pinterest marketer Kayla Ihrig says, “The best way to make money on Pinterest is by making pins that lead to your services or products. 

“Unlike other platforms where you need to constantly share valuable information to market your product or service, on Pinterest, users are searching for it and just want to be able to find it. 

“Creators need to create images or videos (called pins) that display what they offer and then optimize them for search. Then, when a user searches for a solution to their problem, they find your content and go back to your website.” 

Ihrig’s pin, pictured below, is the perfect example of a pin that leads a user to her service-based site. 

Selling on social media opens a window of opportunity for entrepreneurs.   

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Trust the process when selling online 

Although the online selling path is straightforward, it requires dedication and time. Commit to your business and product, trust the process and be consistent. 

As a budding entrepreneur, you have a lot to explore, and a platform that works for one business may not work for another. So be bold and experiment. 

Related: How to set up an online shop – The complete guide 

Sell online FAQ 

Finally, we’re answering some of the most asked questions when it comes to selling online. 

How do I sell online for the first time? 

Your first online sale is the result of small steps made consistently. Follow the steps in this guide, from idea generation and market research to marketing and set-up, and you will make your first sale.  

What are the most profitable items to sell online? 

The most profitable items to sell online vary based on trends, but some items stand the test of time. These items include SaaS products via affiliate marketing since you earn recurring revenue.  

For physical products, you can explore items in the following categories:  

  • Electronics 
  • Fashion accessories 
  • Beauty products 
  • Home decor 
  • Health and wellness 

Naturally, these categories are also some of the most competitive, and you should consider the challenges. For example, electronics can go wrong, resulting in customer service issues and refund requests. Health and wellness is a challenging field to build authority in, especially if you’re relying on a new, owned website to sell from. 

The legal requirements for selling online can vary, and you must research to ensure you comply fully with laws and regulations. You must consider registering your business, correctly paying your taxes, and customer privacy and security. Advertising online also requires you to adhere to rules and regulations, from product information to the types of images and ad copy. 

What is the easiest platform to sell online? 

Ease of use is a priority for any platform that allows you to sell online. You can set up an eBay, Etsy or Amazon store within a day. The platforms are already geared to helping people like you sell

If you want to own your platform, website builders help you set up shop as quickly and efficiently as possible.

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