Getting Started

Getting Started

The beginners' guide to starting a business selling things online


So you’re interested in selling stuff online, eh?

Perhaps you have dreams of quitting the rat-race to start your own eBay or Amazon business (which obviously involves waking up at 10am, working in your pajamas, taking long weekends whenever you like, and answering to nobody because you're the boss...)  

Or perhaps you just want a few extra bucks in your back pocket.

Whatever your reason for wanting to get started, eCommerce offers huge opportunities for anyone with an internet connection. Of all the ways of making money online, it's perhaps one of the easiest to understand and get started with.

Our ten-minute guide to the world of online selling will show you where to start, and how to do it right!

Like everything, however, there are pros and cons you should know about.

First, let's start with the good stuff…

What Makes Selling Online So Great?

While working from home in your pajamas is definitely a plus, there are plenty of other amazing reasons to work from home while building your own eCommerce business:

  • You can work from home, make your own hours, and choose how far you want to take it. The possibilities are endless. Want to make a few extra bucks to save? Want to create an online eCommerce empire? The choice is yours for the taking! There's no glass ceiling, which means, no boss to suck up to. It's pure freedom.
  • It's something you're probably already familiar with! If you’ve bought or sold something online, you basically understand how it works. Which ultimately, makes selling online an easier skill to grasp than many other home business options.
  • You can follow your own interests. Are you passionate about fly fishing? Cake decorating? Refurbishing antique dolls? When you start selling online, you can often turn your passions into a profitable business.
  • It’s not as difficult or risky as starting a "traditional" business. You don’t have to invest a lot of money when you’re first getting started (not to mention, you won’t have to worry about buying or leasing a physical property). It has a very low barrier to entry, which means practically anyone can give it a go! What’s stopping you?
  • You don’t have to worry about storing inventory if you don’t want to! (Hint: It’s called dropshipping, and I’ll get to that later!)
  • It’s fun! At least, we think it is. By the end of this guide, we’re sure you will, too!

So, What Are The Downsides?

Like anything in life, selling online comes with a few downsides. It's important you're aware of these before you get begin, so you set yourself realistic expectations.

  • It takes time. It may take you a month or two to start seeing some consistent results. The chances of you accumulating over $100 worth of sales on your first day is, well, highly unlikely.
  • There's a learning curve. If you’ve sold a few things online before, you’re already one step ahead of your competitors! However, you’ll need to step up your game to sell online professionally.
  • You wear all the hats. As a business owner, you’re an incredible team of one (at least starting out). You’ll take on the roll as the accountant, marketer, web designer, as well as everything else. This also means that you shoulder all the responsibility. If something goes wrong, you can’t blame anyone but yourself.
  • It's not all passive income. You'll hopefully be dealing with regular sales, regular shipments, and regular customer inquiries. Which means, you’ll be very involved in your business. That is, until you can afford to hire staff! Even then, you’ll want to remain involved in everything that happens.

To simplify, this isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme.

But if you're happy to spend a little time building a reputation, developing your brand, and optimizing your processes... the sky's the limit.

Ready For A Challenge?

We had a feeling you would be! Brace yourself, you’re about to embark upon an amazing journey.

With enough elbow grease and a little bit of persistence, you could be handing in your two week notice at your regular job, and taking on your online business full-time.

So where do you even start?

Getting started: Selling Things Around The House

The first thing we recommend you do is to jump on eBay (or your local equivalent) and try selling some things you have lying around the house.

Why should you start by selling household bits and bobs, rather than diving straight in with the stuff you really want to sell?

There are a few good reasons to do this first:

  • You'll get some feedback as a seller. People are often wary of new sellers, and this will give you some notches on your belt so people will feel more comfortable buying from you!
  • You'll get experience. You’ll learn how to create listings, take photos, and deal with customers in a positive manner.
  • You'll get some extra cash. You can put these earnings towards your first “real” stock purchase!

Let’s talk about how you can get your first few sales under your belt.

Step 1: Find The Things You Want To Sell

You might not think you have anything around the house worth selling, but don't be so hasty. One man's trash is another man's treasure, as they say. If you're not sure where to start, check out our article on what you could sell on eBay.

A quick word of advice: If you find something you think might sell but you're not 100% sure, check eBay to see if someone else is selling it. Chances are if someone else is selling it, you can too.

But, even if they’re not, it’s worth a shot! Experiment with different products to see which one sells the best. You may even find your niche by doing this!

Once you've rustled up your quality second-hand goods, move onto the next step…

Step 2: Take Pictures!

The foundations of a good product listing are the pictures! After all, a picture is worth 1,000 words.

The best part about taking pictures of your items is: they don’t have to be taken with a top-of-the-line camera, and you don't need a fancy studio setup.

The camera on your phone will work just fine! The most important thing is that the images are clear and people can see what they're buying.

And for this you just need a little common sense…

  • Use a plain-colored background. If you have other things in the background of your pictures, it can be distracting and very off-putting. Keep the focus on the product itself by minimising background distractions.
  • Keep the camera still! Blurry photos are the worst, not to mention, completely unprofessional. Normally this happens because you don't have enough light, which means every tiny shake of your hand will blur the photo. You can solve this by putting your camera on a steady surface, using a tripod, or moving into an area with better lighting.
  • Take pictures from every angle. The best way to show off your products is to capture them from each side. This helps customers build a picture of the product in their mind.
  • Show the product being used. For example, if it’s a used shirt, take some shots of someone wearing it rather than just laying it flat. This will help customers see how well it fits, which will ultimately affect their purchase decision.

For more information on how to take great stock photos, check out our guide to taking photos for your listings.

Step 3: Write A Kickass Description For Your Items

Now that you've got your products and your photos, it’s time to write a kickass description to seal the deal.

Don't be stingy with your product description — Just saying "Used, good condition" probably isn't going to cut it.

Remember that people are buying your product without getting to see it or hold it, so make up for this with a detailed description. Try to mention…

  • What it’s made out of. If you’re selling a necklace), let your visitors know it’s real sterling silver, real gold, or costume jewelry! Tell them exactly what materials are in it.
  • How big it is and how much it weighs. Include the dimensions of the item as well as the weight for context. You don’t want people returning it and complaining it’s not as big as they thought (or that it’s far too heavy for them).
  • Are there any flaws or damage? This is particularly relevant when you're selling used goods from around the house. Make sure you show these flaws in your photos when possible. This way, your customers don't get a nasty surprise and return your item (or worse... leave you negative feedback)!
  • What the benefits are to the buyer. Your visitors don’t care about “how amazing this product is”. They want to know what's in it for them! So make sure your "features" are closely followed by the "benefits".
  • Emotion-filled wording. Evoke strong emotions in the visitor. Don’t just tell them it’s made of sterling silver. Tell them it’s made of "dazzling sterling silver, to make you the envy of everyone in the room"!

For a detailed discussion of how to write listings that sell well, see our guide to writing powerful product listings.

Step 4: Create Your Listing On eBay (Or Your Local Equivalent)

With a pile of items, pictures, and descriptions ready, it’s time to list them for sale online!

The actual nitty-gritty details of how you list something in an online marketplace really depends on which marketplace you’re using, so we won't bog you down in details right here.

If you’re selling on eBay and you want a step-by-step guide, check out our guide to listing your first item on eBay.

Step 5: Make Those Sales!

Once your listings are created and online, it's just a matter of waiting to see if they sell. If they don't sell, re-list them with an updated price (or product description).

If your products do sell, package those goods well and send them off to your customer as soon as you can.

This is your chance to wow your customer with your careful packaging, swift shipping, and great customer service. Remember that part of your mission here is to earn some good feedback, so be as courteous as possible!

If you’re able to, shoot your customers an email to ask them how they liked the product. If they haven’t written feedback yet, ask them if they wouldn’t mind writing one.

I'll usually send my customer an email like this:
Hey, [their name]!
Thanks for purchasing [your product]!
I just wanted to reach out to you to make sure it arrived on time and in good shape. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to get in touch.
Also, if you found the process easy, I'd really appreciate it if you give me a review by going to [link to review].

[your name]


Once you've made a few sales of things from around the house, you'll have a taste of what it’s like to be an online seller.

You’ll have received some feedback from your customers (which builds trust with future customers), and will have learned some good lessons about what works (as well as what doesn't work) for you.

How To Take The Next Step And Start Selling Professionally

Are you feeling the buzz, yet?

If you're loving the process of selling things online, and you feel like it's something you might want to do for a living, it's time to get serious and start building your own online business.

Here are a few simple steps to get you started:

  1. Find a product to sell. While selling an abundance of random items may get you up and running, this won’t work well in the long run. It’s time to start thinking about which niche you’d like to be involved in. Whether you choose to sell clothes, makeup, shoes, or sports gear, keep your listings somewhat similar. This will help you brand your store (which will attract loyal customers to you).
  2. Find a supplier. SaleHoo offers an abundance of suppliers who are all 100% verified! After you’ve found your niche, take a look at our wholesale suppliers and reach out to a few you’re interested in.
  3. Make sure you’re doing everything legally. To ensure you’re selling 100% authentic products (and following the rules), be sure you watch this free course we’ve provided for you!
  4. Choose which channels you’d like to sell on. If eBay isn’t for you, that’s 100% okay! You can choose from Amazon, Etsy, or even the Facebook marketplace.

Choosing A Product To Sell

As you can tell, there’s a big difference between selling stuff from around the house and selling professionally.

Deciding what to sell is often the hardest part of the entire process, and certainly the most time-consuming. Of the billions of products out there, how do you know which one to sell?

For the full run-down on choosing a product to sell, see our “What to sell?” article. But in general, you're looking for a product that meets these requirements:

  1. You can make a profit on it. This one is pretty obvious. Don't forget to factor in things like shipping, packaging, and marketplace fees!
  2. There’s reasonable demand for it. One of the common mistakes new sellers make is diving into selling a particular product without checking demand. Don't be that person stuck with is a garage full of things you can't sell!
  3. The competition is not too intense. Competition can really drive down your profits, particularly when there isn't enough demand to meet it. When a bunch of sellers are competing for a small pool of buyers... things can get ugly.

Finding A Supplier

Once you have an idea of what you’d like to sell, the next step is to find a supplier for that particular product.

Finding a supplier is probably the second most time-consuming part of selling online, and also comes with a raft of boobytraps to avoid... so be careful.

There are two main ways to look for suppliers:

  1. Wholesale directories. Like SaleHoo! Directories maintain lists of wholesale suppliers, often categorised and searchable. This makes it easier to find suppliers for whatever you’re looking for! Good directories will do background checks on suppliers to make sure they’re not going to run away with your money. Many will charge a membership fee, too, but this can be well worth the cost with the time and money it will save you money in the long run!
  2. Google search. This method is free, but can be labor-intensive. If you search for "[product] supplier" "[product] wholesaler", or "[product] manufacturer" you'll probably turn up a lot of results to wade through. This is where it gets tricky, though. Often, the best suppliers aren’t very good at marketing themselves (and their websites will look pretty terrible), so they can be hard to find. Plus you have to be wary of slick-looking scam artists. Proceed with caution when looking for a supplier that isn’t verified!

Check out our “Finding a Supplier” article for a detailed guide to finding the right supplier for you.

Contacting A Supplier

Once you've identified some prospective suppliers, it's time for you to reach out!

We highly recommend that, whenever possible, you always opt for a telephone call. Email is OK, but it doesn’t give you that personal interaction which can help you determine the legitimacy, expertise, and professionalism of potential suppliers. Which are all things you need to know when you're giving someone a bunch of money.

If the idea of calling up a supplier gives you the willies, see our guide to contacting a supplier. In this article, we talk about what to expect, what to ask, and red flags that might indicate the supplier is no good.

Negotiating With Suppliers

Found a suitable-looking supplier? That’s great! Time to get down to business and negotiate your deal.

Remember: your goal is to be able to source your products for less than what you'll eventually sell it for. Every little discount you can get will count towards your profits — and it can really add up!

So, how do you get a better deal from your supplier? Simple! You could:

  • Order in bulk. The more you order, the better the price you can negotiate. If you’re just starting out this might not be such an option, but it's something to consider for later, if this product seems to be working out well for you.
  • Develop a relationship with your supplier. As you work with your supplier and show them you’re serious and consistent, most of them will help you out by offering discounts and other bonuses. If they don't offer... try asking. If your business is valuable to them, they'll try anything to keep you happy!
  • Buy from the source (the manufacturer) if possible. If you can afford to order in bulk, buying directly from the manufacturer of the product (rather than a wholesaler) will get you the absolute best prices. If you're not in a position to buy a whole bulk order, consider splitting the cost with other sellers. You can sometimes find partners on wholesale forum sites (like SaleHoo's members' forum) and arrange to split a shipment.

Now that you’ve decided on what product you want to sell and who you’re going to buy it from, it’s time to make everything official and legal!

Making It Legal

It's important to check the legal requirements in your country or state for small businesses selling online. You might need to register a business name (or file a "DBA" in the U.S), as well as additional licenses when dealing with suppliers.

See our “Business Basics” article for more on getting your business set up. Some things you’ll want to do include:

  • Choosing A Business Name. Make sure it’s something you feel comfortable broadcasting via your social channels as well as in person. For example, don’t name your business “Miss Kay’s Underwear Store” even if you’re selling underwear. Who’s going to want to share (or even click on) a store’s social page if they think it’s a joke?
  • Apply for a tax ID or reseller license. This is important to stay legal.
  • Choose the right business structure. Make sure your business is something you take pride in. It’s your empire, after all.

Choose Which Channels You Want to Sell On

Now that you know what you’re selling and you’re set up legally, it’s time to choose where you want to sell.

The two big marketplaces most people start with are eBay and Amazon. Why? We’re glad you asked:

  • eBay - You’re probably already familiar with eBay being the big daddy of the online auction sites. eBay is great for selling all kinds of products, such as used goods, and great for one-off items you've purchased from liquidation sales (that's when a store is getting rid of a bunch of old stock, or going out of business). The thing with eBay is that prices can be pretty low, and for many products it can be hard to make a profit. You’ll need to make sure you're choosing the right product when dipping into the eBay marketplace.
  • Amazon - Amazon is a bit more “high end” than eBay, mainly because they have a rigorous screening process you have to go through just to sell on their platform. That said, you can sell products at a much higher price than eBay. They also have more site traffic and people will see you as an actual store, rather than just a Regular Joe selling bits and bobs from around the house. Let’s not forget that Amazon has their FBA (fulfilled by Amazon) program which you can use to have them store and ship your products for you. This can allow you to grow your business without needing to hire more staff to help you pack and ship goods.

Even though eBay and Amazon are the big players, there are quite a few alternative marketplaces you might also want to look into.

One last option is to set up a store on your own website...

Having your own store gives you greater freedom, less competition and no seller fees, but it's a little trickier to set up. See our article, setting up your own webstore, to figure out whether this is something you want to do.

Where To Go From Here

Now that you’re set up and selling, it’s time to focus on marketing and growing your new store. You need to develop your brand and show people what you’re about and give them a reason to buy from you rather than your competitors!

Look into our advanced strategies for increasing your eBay sales or your Amazon sales.

You may also want to start considering your pricing and shipping strategies.

Finally, if you’re selling on your own webstore, you need to focus on social media, email, and content marketing to get customers to your store and keep them coming back.

Now that you’re up and running, here are some additional resources to help you out:

Additionally, here are some other great blogs to follow that frequently post content to help you along your online selling journey:

We hope this guide has helped you understand the basics of selling online! If you follow the tips and tricks we’ve shared, we know you’ll be an eCommerce mastermind in no time

eCommerce is a fantastic (and fun) way to make some extra cash online — and potentially build a full-time income. It also gives you the freedom to be your own boss while doing something you really love.

If you’ve found this article helpful, be sure to share it with your friends! As always, thanks for counting on SaleHoo to provide you with the tips and tricks needed to create your dream store.

Happy selling!