12 min read
Have you noticed that more and more influential creators are opening online stores?
This is no accident or fast-fading trend. As creators amass larger audiences, they often look to other income streams to help them diversify their income (which is basically the holy grail of business sustainability).
If you have an audience, are creating consistent content, and building trust with your readers, ecommerce success is possible. But does that mean it’s the right fit for you?
If you’re one the fence, you might want to check out how to start affiliate marketing.
When you get ready to monetize your blog with physical goods, there are two main ways to do so. One is by creating and selling your own unique product and the other is by marketing products that already exist.
Depending on your vision for your blog growth, you may be swayed toward one business model or the other. Before you make your decision, let’s go into the pros and cons of each.
One of the greatest benefits of creating and selling your own physical goods is that you have full control over the final product. Everything from the strategy to the design to the customer experience is defined by the creator. For some, this responsibility may feel overwhelming but others will embrace the full freedom of this opportunity.
If you have a new product idea that you haven’t seen on the market, you’ll also have a chance to bring something to life that hasn’t existed before. When you meet a need that hasn’t been fulfilled, it gives you a new sense of purpose behind the work you create.
However, if your product idea places you in a saturated industry but solves a growing need in a more optimized way (aka building a better mousetrap), you can also be more innovative with how you want to create and market the product when you create it on your own.
Another benefit of selling physical products online is that you don’t have the added cost of doing business in a brick and mortar office or store. As you grow, you may need to invest in growing manufacturing costs and facilities for employees, but if you want to keep your ecommerce shop small, you can get started in your basement or a garage.
You also have full control over how you want to offer discounts or other incentives for repeat customers. This can be a huge way to make extra sales and breed loyalty among your customer base. If you don’t sell your own products, you don’t have as much say in pricing or sales.
While it may be fun to watch the latest episode of Shark Tank and dream about pitching your idea to some of the world’s top investors, there’s a lot more to successful ecommerce business than selling your idea. Next comes all of the work that’s involved with getting a new product off the ground.
You’ll be collaborating with manufacturers, retailers, wholesalers, and potentially investors. That’s in addition to all of your in-house employees that will be helping you with different areas of your business. If you envision yourself as a solo entrepreneur, ecommerce won’t be a great fit.
Also, it can take a larger investment upfront to get started with building enough inventory to sell your ecommerce products online. Some ecommerce shops work on-demand but most need some level of stocked inventory in order to fulfill incoming orders.
You will likely have multiple rounds of prototypes so it’s important to anticipate what that looks like from a cost and timeline standpoint.
In a vulnerable vlog, Aileen of Lavendaire walked her subscribers behind-the-scenes of what it looked like to launch her first physical product. She found herself scrambling to fulfill orders in enough time to ship products out before the holidays, leaving Aileen and her family to pack envelopes on Christmas Eve.
She even opens up in the video about customer service complaints and criticism. Since it was her first product, she admitted that she was having to learn in a trial-by-error fashion. It’s a great watch for creators who want to see what it really looks like to transition into selling physical products.
Much like Aileen, many influencers have made the jump from blogger or vlogger to online shop owner, but it comes with sacrifices. The best way to prepare for running an ecommerce business is to do ample research before you get started and create a game plan before you jump in.
After reading through some of the articles in this Tradecraft issue on running an ecommerce business, you might be feeling overwhelmed with all of the processes and systems that are needed to build a sustainable product-based business.
Between working with supply chains, creating product prototypes, and fulfilling shipment orders, your time to devote to other projects will be limited. For some bloggers, this transition into a blog-supported ecommerce business is well worth the trade-offs because of how they get to serve their customers.
For other bloggers, they don’t like the idea of putting nearly all of their energy and time into creating a unique physical product
. Instead, they find themselves dreaming of ways to strategically market products that already exist through the personal brand platform they’ve already built.
If this sounds like you, affiliate marketing may be your most natural fit.
You may have heard this term before, especially among popular bloggers who primarily use advertising to monetize their high level of website traffic, but what actually goes into affiliate marketing?
Affiliate marketing is simply the practice of promoting products that another company makes so you can get a percentage of the sales. Think about some of your favorite bloggers. Whether they blog about food, fashion, lifestyle, or the topic of blogging itself, chances are they have affiliate links embedded into their blog posts.
Here are a few pros and cons to help you determine if affiliate marketing is right for you:
We mentioned this briefly above but you don’t have full control over the product you are selling when you become an affiliate. If a blog reader follows your affiliate link, purchases a product, and has a bad customer experience, they could reflect that negative sentiment onto you for introducing them to the company.
This is why it’s so important only to promote products that you actually use or really believe in. If you become an affiliate for products you haven’t researched, you may find yourself in hot water based on a customer experience that had nothing to do with you. Just be wary before you sign up for an affiliate program!
Another con is that you have to create free content in order to generate these sales. Simply putting an affiliate link in your blog sidebar is not usually enough to entice people to sign up. Instead, you’ll want to create highly targeted blog content that is optimized for SEO so you can consistently generate traffic to your educational resource and make sales from your blog.
While affiliate marketing may seem like a “get rich quick” tactic, it’s anything but. It’s great to use it in order to monetize free content you are already creating but it takes more than a few links to generate a substantial amount of income. You will also want to be strategic about the companies you market because some give you a larger commission than others.
The possibilities behind affiliate marketing are endless, making it one of the most hands-off ways you can earn income through your website. If you are already creating great free content, affiliate marketing is a way to monetize it almost on autopilot.
Even though you aren’t creating and distributing a product through your business, you can still make a hefty amount from strategic affiliate marketing!
Take Pat Flynn from Smart Passive Income. He’s been documenting his affiliate marketing income for years now and it just keeps growing. In late 2017, he made over $61,000 in one month just from affiliate marketing.
The great thing about Pat’s business model is that he doesn’t rely on affiliate income from any one source. He earns the majority of his affiliate sales by promoting software products he uses (like Leadpages, Seva, and BlueHost) but also earns some money through the Amazon program.
Like Pat, the people who are most skilled with affiliate marketing are usually those who create consistent free content that their audience loves. As readers scroll through their content or watch their video tutorial, the content creator will add a unique affiliate link to a relevant product made by another company.
Anyone who clicks on that affiliate link and purchases a product will tell the company to give a portion of the sale to the content creator. That means you can earn income just for marketing someone’s product without having to handle any of the backend work of fulfilling the orders.
You probably love the sound of that (and who wouldn’t?), but there’s more work involved than just putting a few affiliate links into your blog posts and hope it gives you enough to quit your job or freelancing. Let’s talk about what else you need in order to get started.
If affiliate marketing sounds like a fit for your blog and brand, you’ll be happy to know that it’s quite easy to get started. Companies make it simple for a reason: they want you to promote their products as quickly and as often as you can!
Before you jump headfirst into affiliate marketing, here are a few steps to cross off your to-do list so you can start affiliate marketing with purpose and strategy.
Your best move is to choose ecommerce products that are similar to your niche. Bloggers who blog about blogging (say that three times fast!) will be more likely to make sales from online marketing tools like Leadpages or Teachable than they would be with interior design or gardening products.
Try to stay within your niche as much as possible. This will help you establish trust with your audience and convert more of your readers because they know what to expect.
If you need extra ideas for what ecommerce products to choose from, think about the tools you use to run your business, products you use in your home, or things you frequently pick up at the store. You can also look at our list of high-demand ecommerce products for more ideas.
Once you’ve narrowed down the types of products you want to promote, you can start researching which affiliate programs are your best fit. We’ve already done a lot of heavy lifting for you by reviewing 31 of the most popular affiliate programs.
Instead of only looking at the commission they offer you as an affiliate, you’ll want to assess their company values, reputation, and customer reviews. This will help you choose the right companies to align yourself with.
If you haven’t already started a blog, we recommend getting started by creating a simple website using a website building platform of your choice.
Don’t worry about investing in a professional designer yet. You don’t need an expensive website to start generating income with affiliate marketing. A little bit of DIY magic will go a long way.
While you can try to generate affiliate income with your social media accounts, it’s better to invest time and energy into building your own website. If Instagram or Facebook dissolved tomorrow, people wouldn’t know where to find you or your content. This is why it’s important to have a website and email list so you can stay in contact with your audience (and have more places to include affiliate links).
With your website up and running, it’s time to fill your blog with valuable content. You can do this in a few ways. You can write an informative listicle, in-depth case study, or tell an entertaining or genuine story. You can also create podcast episodes and video tutorials that features your affiliate links.
Whatever topic you decide to cover, make sure you strategically think through what affiliate programs naturally fit in. Then you can start including affiliate links into your content. Just make sure to have an affiliate disclaimer on your website to legally protect yourself.
Here are a few ways to promote products:
We challenge you to choose one of these promotion tactics to use on your own website. Tell us which challenge you are taking on below in the comment section. We want to cheer you on!
Download this issue of Tradecraft as a PDF to read and reference at your own pace.