the blog The Art of EntrePreneurship

Being a Material Girl in a Digital World: How to Succeed Selling Physical Products Online

I first started attending online marketing conferences to learn how to sell more of my clothing and home decor goods online. I could already see the potential, and I was eager to learn from the experts how to leverage this brave new world.

I’ll never forget attending my first conference with a fellow ecommerce owner in 2008 — and being baffled by the fact that we were the only people there selling physical products.

Everyone else sold “information online.”

As I listened to the presenters, I was infuriated when I realized that none of these people who were teaching online business had any ACTUAL EXPERIENCE running a real business.

Sure they had businesses selling courses on how to run businesses, but I was baffled by where their actual experience came from.

You know that expression “those that can’t do, teach”? Ummmhmmmm.


It was right then and there that I decided that I needed to put a stop to all of this madness.

At that point I had already taken an idea and turned it into a multi-million dollar apparel business and I had learned A LOT along the way.

I wanted to share what had taken me years — and a lot of money — to learn, so that other business owners could become successful faster.

Are you frustrated by having to take online courses that teach people how to be a coach, or create programs because their are no programs for people who sell physical products?

You should be.

I know from firsthand experience that running a business creating and selling physical products is very different from running a business selling services, coaching, and digital programs.
Inside my program, Business Class, I share systems and strategies from my ACTUAL physical product businesses. Businesses that are still alive and well, that I successfully run from all over the world.  Click here to learn more about Business Class and how it can benefit your business.

How to Succeed as a Physical

Product Seller In a Digital World

1. Embrace strategies from other industries.

One of the smartest things that you can do as a business owner is to take what’s working in another industry and try it out in yours. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. If it’s working for someone else, with a few small tweaks, it will probably work for you.
A great example of this is creating a lead magnet on your website that entices people to give their email address and sign up with you.  This strategy was developed by the online information industry, but it works just as well for physical products. I have an entire Destination Guide in Business Class dedicated to putting together your lead magnet, but as an example, you might create an ebook around your subject, best tips and tricks for using your product, checklists for getting the most out of your product, or many other easy ideas.

2. Be careful who you learn from.

As mentioned above, do not take advice from “experts” without any real experience. Now, I’m not saying that you can only learn from other people with physical product businesses, but realize that physical and information product businesses have very different scalability, challenges and profit margins.

As a matter of fact, I think this is true no matter what you sell: the caliber and experience of your teachers and mentors matters. Be selective about who you follow and whose advice you take. If someone appears out of nowhere and seems to be an overnight sensation, ask yourself why. It’s very common in the Internet marketing space for people to inflate their numbers or only give you part of the picture.
Of course, I try to give you an honest picture of how my businesses work, and I do truly believe that I’m one of the few people out there selling advice for marketing physical products online who has actually done it.

Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 6.59.59 PM

Joy Davis, owner of Day Three Bath & Body told me, “Being a product based business, the value of my Business Class membership is the weekly and monthly access to so many components that are key to establishing and maintaining a successful business. Being a member helps me to excel in each one AND with a practical, easy to follow Guidebook of information that is not only priceless, but vital and RELEVANT! Relevance is a plus for me. The information is in alignment with current business trends and practices! Love it!”
Of course, there are other valuable sources of information out there, which brings me to:

3. Go ahead and take online courses intended for information sellers.

I constantly speak with physical product sellers, like myself, who wish for programs created for them —  and them alone. But here is the thing, I learned some of my most innovative and successful online marketing strategies for my product business FROM courses created for online information sellers.

There are not many physical product sellers who are truly cutting edge when it comes to online marketing. This is your chance to think outside the box and create some BIG wins.

In fact, I think this is a mindset issue more than anything else. Those people who can’t see how to make a piece of advice apply to their unique situation don’t really want to! They want everything handed to them on a silver platter. But the people who can brainstorm how to apply a piece of advice to themselves will be the real winners.
The key is to remember to look at everything from your product-centric worldview. If someone is talking about automating their distribution of e-products online, how can you automate your distribution system? Take the nuggets of wisdom you can from every opportunity and get creative around how to apply it to your own business.

4. Know your numbers.

Businesses that create and sell physical products operate with very different overhead, costs and profit margins. If you have a bricks and mortar store, you’ll even have different line items in your budget than someone operating an online-only store. If you use a manufacturer or distribution service, your expenses and costs will be different than someone creating and mailing everything by hand.

Now is not the time to guess.

This is one area in which you need to get specialized advice. Look for mentors and team members — like business managers or accountants — who understand the ins and outs of running a physical business.
Put systems in place so that you can accurately monitor both the money going out and coming in. In Business Class, I share systems you can adopt for social media, email marketing, content marketing and more — all straight from my business.

Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 7.06.48 PM
Tessa Hartnett, owner of Forever Fascinators, explained to me how understanding her numbers changed her marketing strategy: “We did a pop up (following your perfect pop up guide in Business Class) and experimented with a ‘secret sale’. We had never tried this for our ecommerce site. We were super happy with the results. We did it last minute, so the numbers were low, but the conversion of those numbers were high. We had no sign up before, and now we have kept one up using your tips in other Destination Guides. We now have a steady sign up and I am looking forward to creating a new sale.”

5. Focus on a flagship offering.

I’ve found that many ecommerce owners try and offer too wide of a selection instead of focusing on creating a unique and innovative offering.

I don’t mean that you need a totally unique product. Unless you’re a genius inventor, in all likelihood you’ll be selling a product that is similar to others out there. What you need, however, is a unique selling proposition (USP) that differentiates you from the crowd.

Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 7.00.18 PM

When Devin and I started Greek Threads, there were certainly other companies out there selling Greek branded apparel.  In fact, there were big, mega-companies that had contracts and licenses with different sororities and universities to provide their apparel.

But what they didn’t have was much style or pizazz. Our designs were younger, hipper, more stylish, and more exciting to our target market — and that unique selling proposition differentiated us in the market.

We could have plastered Greek names and symbols over all kinds of products — from coffee mugs to bumper stickers — but we decided to focus on making our mark on the apparel market.
That kind of focus will help you infiltrate and dominate a market.  You can always expand your product line at a later date!

6. Try It Before You Buy It

Take advantage of the dropshipping model (marketing and selling products created and fulfilled by someone else) to build an audience and test potential types of products before you invest in developing them yourself.
This is an excellent way to dip your toes into becoming an online seller.  It offers a wide variety of benefits including:

  • Less initial investment
  • Easy to get started
  • Low ongoing expenses
  • #workfromwherever
  • Wide selection of quality products
  • Easy to scale

Of course, it’s not a perfect option for everyone, and there are challenges as with any business model. But I often recommend it to business owners looking to get started or expand their product lines without doing more of the physical creating themselves.

7. Create Content To Enhance Your Brand and Stand Out Online.

Too few physical product sellers understand the power of creating engaging content around what they sell. Connect with your customers, put them front and center and build a brand that people want to tell their friends about.
Society Social is one of my favorite examples of a brand that’s doing it right when it comes to creating engaging, customer-driven content.

Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 7.00.08 PM

Their blog is an engaging mix of personal stories from the company’s founder and CEO (right now she’s giving an inside look at how she’s decorating her new apartment) and beautiful, glossy-mag worthy stories about how customers are decorating with their furniture and decor.

It’s one part inspiration, one part collaboration, and a big dash of personality and style that sets this brand’s blog apart.

Remember: Your content should never be 100 percent about your products. Think about the other things your customers are interested in, and weave those topics into your content as well.  Society Social isn’t just blogging about their furniture or pillows; they’re blogging about style, interior design, and other topics that interest the people who might buy their products.

The point is, you can have massive success in the online world selling physical products — I know, because I have done it with two separate businesses.  That’s why I created Business Class to be the resource I wish I’d had when I was starting my online businesses.

If you’re seeking the relevant, specific, timely advice you need to make the most of online marketing and grow your product based business, click here right now to learn more about Business Class and what this thriving community of likeminded business owners can do for you!


Share the love