About three weeks ago, I started a Shopify store that has given me $1872.07 in revenue, about a third of which goes to ads and a third of which is pure profit (so about $600-ish). For every $1 I put in, I get about $3-4 back.
I posted onto the Ecom Ninjas Facebook group to see if people wanted a detailed step-by-step guide to how I did it. I saw an overwhelming response, so here is that blog post, just because people really wanted it. So here it is.
I’m not a big fan of “making money online” blogs that don’t give you specific advice that you’ve probably already read about. I’m writing this for you, a reader was just like me until recently – lots of ideas and desires but not really sure how to actually make money online, and wanting a more solid plan to success that will actually work, without ridiculous amounts of fluff.
A quick introduction to the principles behind my approach
I’d been trying e-commerce in various shapes and forms for a few years now, and I’ll be honest – most of my projects weren’t successful. I’d tried a huge number of online courses that tried to teach me how to make money online, read a ton of books, and yet could only ever make a few dollars at most. But financial freedom is important to me, so I wanted to keep trying, because I thought I would crack it eventually.
In the end, I came up with my own principles and plan, because I wanted to make a series of steps that would inevitably lead to that goal, preferably with hard numbers to tell me at each stage whether I was successful or not – or at least, some sort of objective proof. I think that it’s incredibly important to learn by experimentation.
My approach ended up being really different to anything taught elsewhere. But, to my surprise, the first part of my plan actually worked, and I made my first sale a few days later.
Anyway, that’s enough backstory. I’d like to share this approach with you as it just straight up worked really well for me. It will work for any non-digital product, and – unlike other approaches – you’ll know it has a good chance of working before you even start a website.
The big plan towards making money at scale
Here is the big plan. These steps must occur in order.
- Find product-market fit i.e. find something that people will buy, where you’ve proven people will actually buy it instead of just guessing
- Create a small but beautiful website to experiment with, focusing only on the most important details and building it as quickly as possible
- Test many different traction channels (e.g. Facebook ads) and send traffic to your website. The end result of the experiment is that at least one will succeed. You’ve succeeded when you can literally put $1 in and get at least $1.01 back. Do NOT scale yet, as you only want to find out which one works – not to create a huge amount of work for yourself just yet.
- Automate parts of your business so it can basically run automatically, no matter how many sales you make.
- Then scale – with either more money put into the successful traction channel, or by expanding to other traction channels.
This is a working plan in progress, but this is how I plan to do it.
What the purpose of this blog post is
This blog post is Step 1. It’s the most important step, because without it every other step is a waste of time and money.
In the overall plan of making money, the absolute first thing that you need to achieve is product-market fit. In simple terms, this means one thing only: you need to prove that 1. a specific audience somewhere will 2. buy your specific product.
I will emphasise this extremely strongly: you don’t need a website yet. You must prove, in isolation, that people will buy your product. Your website comes after, but the problem is that if you try to sell a product on your own website to start with, then you won’t know for certain whether it’s the product/audience that’s the problem OR whether it’s actually the website that’s the problem.
How I used Facebook Marketplace to launch experiments that proved my product would sell
Facebook Marketplace is a part of the Facebook app where you can buy and sell goods, kind of like eBay but much easier. It’s only unlocked if you’ve had Facebook for a while, and is accessible via the Marketplace icon.
Below is what it looks like. As you can see, it’s really easy to sell things on there.
What we’re going to do is sell a product on there that you want to eventually sell on your Shopify website. But the purpose of putting a product on Facebook Marketplace is different! Your end goal isn’t to actually sell anything (that’s a place), but to see how many people ask to buy what you are selling.
Here’s how you tell if you are successful: people will contact you directly on Facebook messenger to ask about your product
If you get more than 9 people asking you for your product in 24 hours, that’s success. For me this has correlated with a roughly 2-3% conversion rate on my website for people that will buy that particular product.
It was actually ridiculous when it happened and I knew I was onto something. I got about 20+ conversations from people interested in buying my product over two days.
I told this to a friend and he got 40+ conversations of people asking for a different product in two days!
This is how you I know I achieved something that looks like product-market fit. This method is actually amazing, because it essentially means:
- You can test as many products as you want, for free
- You can experiment with product, pricing, descriptions, and pictures – so if it doesn’t sell, it is only because of one of those four things – and NOT your website
- You find out within 1 or 2 days whether your product will sell. No conversations? Then people won’t buy it no matter how many tricks you throw in your website
In fact, I actually met up with someone who bought the product in person from me. To be fair, he ripped me off (we negotiated from $40 down to $25, and then when we met he only gave me $20!) but I still made a tiny profit and a big leap forward in terms of having concrete success/proof my product will sell.
So it a complete game changer. Try it today. It only takes about 20 minutes or so, and then less once you’ve done it before.
Putting an item up for sale on Facebook Marketplace – the variables to tweak
Ideally, pick something that has sold a lot in the past. This may be a product on AliExpress with 2000+ orders, or a product on another person’s website with 250+ reviews. I won’t go into detail here because it’s enough for another blog post, but comment below if you’re interested in a more detailed article about selecting the right product.
You’ll probably have ideas for products in your mind already. You need to have a product that has a high return on spend – I’d recommend that the price you’ll ultimately charge is about 3-4x the cost of your product, because you will need some of that for ad spend. Yes, people will pay $50 for something that costs you $10 – it’s counterintuitive, but the nature of things is that people will pay what they expect to pay, rather than what you think it’s worth.
Even one paragraph will do. Say what your product is, don’t exaggerate how good it is or anything, and include the reason why you’re selling it. Obviously, Facebook Marketplace is usually for people who actually buy stuff second hand from each other, so you can just check other people’s descriptions for examples. Don’t look like a business, look like a person just selling their own stuff.
Crucially important. I tested two different photos of the same product and got vastly different results. Your photo should represent the product well and look good. I don’t have much more to say than that.
Questions I’ve been asked
To try and make this post even more useful, there were a few Qs I got when I tell people about this technique. I hope to try to answer the most common of them.
Should I direct people to my website via Facebook marketplace?
No! The whole point of this is that you want to experiment for product-market fit, and nothing else. By directing people to a website, if you don’t get a sale, you’ll have no idea whether it’s the website’s fault, the audience’s fault, the ad’s fault, or the product’s fault.
By using just Facebook marketplace with just your product, the only four variables that could go wrong are the “variables to tweak” I mentioned above.
Did you post on your personal account?
Yeah, I did. I’m just a regular ol’ Facebook user and I didn’t want to be a “business”. People are more likely to trust other people to start with, rather than businesses, so – like the question above – I wanted that to not be a potential reason why my product wouldn’t sell. I wanted the only reason it wouldn’t sell to be the ones I can tweak – product, price, description, pictures. That’s it!
Did you use Facebook ads?
Nope. I’ve found Facebook ads aren’t particularly good for return on investment, as so far I’ve always lost money on them (as of Dec 2018). This may change in the future as I figure it out, but Facebook ads are a really easy way to lose money fast without results. On the contrary, this is entirely free and takes only your time.
This way takes a lot of effort for a little bit of traffic, is it sustainable?
Again, the aim of this is NOT necessarily for the traffic. It’s to prove people will buy your product. Once you have that proof, you can then pay for traffic, and know that your ad dollars have a reasonable shot at success (as opposed to shooting in the dark and guessing).
I don’t use Facebook. Is there any other way to do this?
Try Craigslist, Gumtree, or whatever other second-hand marketplace you can get proof from. This is just one example that you’ll be able to adapt to your own needs.
I wanted to be transparent about how I did all this, as I’d been trying to make money online for years without much success (having a full time job). This turned out to be the first successful step, and you won’t find this guide anywhere else (at the time of writing) because I invented it myself in November 2018.
I’ll be writing more blog posts if people are interested, the next one being Step 2 – building a Shopify website that converts visitors into sales, with the winning products you’ve identified (with proof that they will work) in Step 1. If you found this valuable and would like to keep up-to-date with my blog posts, subscribe to the email newsletter below and I’ll send you the blog post as soon as I publish it.
At some stage, I might sell a course because these take a lot of effort to write and produce, and also that I think that this information is worth an incredible amount of money despite the fact that I’m sharing it with you for free. I come from where you came from, wanting to make money yet not finding much success from what everybody is teaching online. If it makes you even a little bit of money, then I feel it will be worthwhile.
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I came across a Facebook post in the ‘Ecom Ninjas’ Facebook group from a gentleman named Danish K, who supposedly...