Have you ever been tempted by one of these online “Get Rich Quick By Following My Course” scams? C’mon, be honest! I have. In fact, I have a pretty good selection of ebooks, courses, special reports, white papers, and all manner of digital flim-flam buried somewhere in the dark recesses of my hard drive. Most of the stuff is garbage. But something changed when I opened my little Etsy shop.
Some years back, I started an e-commerce site selling dropshipped fair trade gifts. I did my research, and spent weeks searching for a good, reputable supplier. I found a guy in Florida who spent his time travelling around Asia, Africa and South America, creating partnerships with local makers and craftspeople, and buying and shipping their goods to a warehouse in Florida.
Now, if you aren’t familiar with dropshipping, it’s a business model that allows someone to promote, advertise and sell products via their own website, and partner with another business that handles the inventory, fulfillment and shipping to the customer.
At that time, maybe 8 or 9 years ago, most people had never heard of dropshipping.
Moreover, dropshipping was a great way for someone to get into an online business with very little capital outlay. All one needed was a website with a payment gateway, and a partner with the products to dropship.
Here Come The Gurus
Unfortunately, it also became a way to deceive people about what they could actually achieve with an online business. The internet was filled with so-called “Gurus” promising almost overnight success. Most of these people had never walked the walk, but were happy to tell the gullible or desperate how to do it, all while ripping them off with courses and products that didn’t actually work.
And so, people hoping to create a dropshipping business to escape their 9-5 jobs, or to find a way to feed their families in places like India and the African continent, and even here in North America, dumped what little money they had into someone else’s dream.
How Not To Sell Junk Online
I saw this everyday when I worked with Shopify, a Canadian e-commerce platform. Clients would call us, looking for feedback or advice for their dropshipping website. It was heart-breaking talking to some of these folks. Their horribly designed sites filled with junk Chinese products were never going to get customers. But how do you tell someone from a rural village in India or Gabon or South Africa that they wasted their money?
So I didn’t tell them. Instead I would spend 40 minutes going over ways for them to improve their site. I told them things their “gurus” weren’t telling them, because they didn’t know either. Market research. Figuring out who their ideal customer is. Finding a way to reach those people.
I only stayed with that role for 8 months. It burnt me out, but that’s another story for another time.
I even sold a few products on my own site. But the problem was, being a business in Canada with an American supplier was costing me more for shipping and currency conversion. Already my profit margin was almost nil. Factoring my marketing costs and the monthly website fees, and I was losing money. American websites were selling the same products, at considerably lower prices. I couldn’t compete. So I shut it down.
I looked into other online income streams. Creating books on Amazon Kindle. Selling coffee (another dropshipping idea), website design, freelance researcher, freelance writer, English teacher, and affiliate marketer.
Then, about three years ago, I did an online course on Udemy learning about “Print On Demand”, or POD.
Print on demand is similar to dropshipping, but the difference is, you get to sell products of your own design. You create a website with images, or mockups, of your product, such as tee shirts, or wall art, or stationery. Then, when someone visits your site and purchases an item, you pay a print on demand company to create that product. And they ship it directly to the customer. Brilliant!
Now I’m no artist, but the course showed me a way to create simple designs using a mobile app, and transferring the designs to the POD platform. From there I could select products to place my designs on, and show them on my website. No money changes hands until a customer chooses and buys one of my designs. Customer pays me my asking price, and I turn around and pay the POD platform to place the design on the product and ship it to my customer. The difference between the retail price and my cost to the POD was my profit. Easy-peasy, lemon squeezy!
My Little Etsy Shop
Have you heard of Etsy? Of course you have! Etsy is a huge online marketplace that sells handmade and vintage products, recycled and upcycled clothing, and craft supplies. In 2022, Etsy boasted more than 100 million items on its marketplace, and generated over 13 billion dollars in sales! This ain’t no community yard sale!
And so I started a shop on Etsy. What did I sell, you ask? Mugs! Here’s my little shop of mugs.
I mean, who knew that so many people bought coffee mugs? In 2021, the coffee mug industry was valued at $21.39 BILLION! And that’s projected to grow to $44.2 billion. Of that, $39 billion will come from print on demand. This market is HUGE.
I followed the instructions from the Udemy course (sort of), and put up some mug designs. I set up my shop with a seller description, an “About Us” section, and some policies. Then I waited. Nothing happened. For weeks. Then months.
And one day, when I wasn’t thinking about it, I got a notification on my phone. I made a sale! Hurray! Some nice lady in the Eastern United States purchased one of my mugs. So I sent the order off to my print on demand supplier and they did the rest. Four days after she purchased my design, she received her shiny, new mug. In three pieces…
My First Sale, Not As Planned
I got an email from the customer that same day. She opened her package to find her mug broken. Crap!
I apologized profusely and asked her to send me some photos. The print on demand company was very helpful, and promised to send out a new mug right away. Considering how well they package their mugs, the delivery service must have thrown the mug against a brick wall!
So I sent follow up emails to my customer, assuring her a new mug was on its way to her. And she had the replacement in 2 days. But sadly, no 5 star review for my first sale on my little Etsy shop. Crap!
The entire process stressed me out. Imagine, the excitement of my first sale, crushed into little ceramic pieces.
What’s Happening In My Little Etsy Shop?
And so I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and did nothing. Yup, I more or less left my little Etsy shop hanging out there, hiding anonymously amongst the millions of other Etsy shops. Almost forgotten, if it wasn’t for the weekly “My Etsy Shop Performance” emails, cruelly mocking me with weekly visitor stats. Most of the time, I’d get one single, solitary visitor to my shop. The odd week, two people would visit.
And for almost 2 years my little Etsy shop has sat there, neglected, sad and forlorn, waiting patiently to be cancelled. But I’m not going to do that. You see, the other day I woke up to a notification. I made a sale on Etsy! What!!??
Oddly, over the past few weeks, those annoying weekly emails were showing much higher visitor counts. Something must have changed on Etsy’s algorithm, because I certainly didn’t change anything. But sure enough, I had sold a mug.
Unfortunately, my print on demand supplier didn’t receive the order, as should have happened. Sometime during the past couple of years, my little Etsy shop was disconnected from the supplier’s site. Good thing I checked, as I was able to manually send the order and get it created and shipped to my customer, way over in the UK.
My Little Etsy Shop, Reinvented
So my interest has been renewed in my little Etsy shop. I’ve learned quite a bit the last couple of years about optimizing my products, and my print on demand supplier has expanded their services. I’m going to be spending some time working on Muggsie Studio, and maybe I can get a few more sales.
Another career change? Hardly. But it doesn’t hurt to have more than one iron in the fire. And creating an almost passive income is a great way to prepare for life in retirement.
I’m under no allusions of getting rich from this. I’ve always had an interest in online marketing, and I continue to learn new things around the process. Someday I’d like to bring in a decent income from internet marketing. Call it my retirement plan. But in the meantime, I’ll work on my little Etsy shop.
I might even expand my products to Frazzledad. Who knows? Setting up a shop section on this website is a relatively simple process. Maybe my little Etsy shop will move here. Keep an eye out. I’ll warn you if it happens. And if I do, it’ll be pretty soon…
But right now I sit here, impatiently waiting for my mug to be delivered. Sending it positive vibrations, but not too strongly. Don’t want those vibrations to break the damn thing…
So what are your thoughts on creating an online business? Have you tried it? Maybe you’re earning a living from it right now! I’d love to hear your thoughts. Drop a comment and let’s discuss!