This article was excerpted from Weekend Entrepreneur: 101 Great Ways to Earn Extra Cash, available from Entrepreneur Press.
In January 2004, Jennifer Fallon and her husband, Brad, launched their first online store using a $50-per-month Yahoo! Store. After they built the store and entered their initial products, they sold more than $10,000 during their first month. By April they had more than $80,000 in monthly sales and had to find a warehouse to hold their inventory. In May, sales had reached $132,000, and by June they were bringing in more than $150,000 per month and had to upgrade their warehouse. Now they have a full-time staff of six, and Jennifer still works at home. Their gross sales have already reached $1 million for www.myweddingfavors.com
One thing they discovered was that despite the setbacks of the 1990s, you can still open an e-commerce business and have it become a huge success. But Jennifer says there are some factors to consider when you're getting started.
Step 1: Find a high-demand niche market.
When Brad and Jennifer were married in May 2003, Jennifer wanted to be able to have children and stay at home without giving up her income. But she had a corporate software sales job that included a lot of travel. The initial idea for the new business came to her when she was planning her own wedding and was looking for placecard holders for their reception. As she surfed the web, she thought, "What a great internet business--wedding favors. People are looking to purchase large quantities for the entire guest list, and you can't exactly walk into a store and buy 150 personalized candles. Plus, there are so many items on your wedding planning checklist that it's ideal to be able to go to the internet on a Sunday night in your pajamas and knock an item off the list."
She decided to do more research on this online market, and using the free "Search Term Suggestion Tool" at www.overture.com, Jennifer found that more than 100,000 people per month were searching for the term "wedding favors." Jennifer says, "I knew it had potential. In addition, my husband had experience in search engine optimization. So it seemed that an online business selling wedding products was going to be a great fit."
Step 2: When you have what people want, make sure they know about it.
How are you going to find 100,000 people a month who may be searching for what you are selling? That's where Jennifer and Brad began to strategize with the new business. Brad had been experimenting with different techniques to get a website a higher ranking in the search engines. He put into practice some theories he had developed as one of the leading experts in the search engine field. They started moving up in the search results almost immediately.
At first, they were coming up on page 3 of Google, so they kept working at it. The next thing they knew, myweddingfavors.com was coming up in the No. 1 slot on Yahoo! and No. 2 on Google when somebody searched for "wedding favors."
Very shortly thereafter, profits started to soar. They went from six to 10 orders a day to 50 to 60 orders a day, selling more than $160,000 per month. Their little side business was now a million-dollar enterprise. Jennifer went from having a few products in their basement and using her retired father to help with shipping to a large warehouse with six employees.
Jennifer attributes the success of her company to search engine marketing, "Think about it--people perform a web search for a product when they are ready to buy it. It's the best form of targeted marketing there is. In our case the word 'wedding' is the fifth most commonly searched phrase on the internet. It is searched for more than 3,000 times a month on Google alone. And out of more than 822,000 listed websites that sell wedding favors, our site comes up well ahead of our competition."
The power of advertising using search engine marketing has proven to be so powerful to Jennifer and Brad that it's now their primary form of marketing and advertising. And Brad has gone on to start his own company devoted to creating high search engine rankings for websites, SEO Research.
Step 3: Know when to outsource.
Jennifer originally started this business as a sideline endeavor. It quickly started to take over her life. One of the first lessons she had to learn was that if her business was to remain a success, she couldn't do it all by herself. Orders were piling up, but there was no way she could handle order processing, shipping, bookkeeping, and still maintain a high level of customer service. Jennifer had to delegate some of the day-to-day duties to continue to grow.
"Now that I have a staff to handle the more labor-intensive details, this is quickly becoming the work-at-home opportunity I dreamed of," she says. "I have the freedom to do the things I want in life, and the satisfaction of owning my own business. If you're looking for a homebased business with a high-yield potential, then I highly recommend e-commerce as the way to build your path to success."
For more ideas on businesses you can start on the weekend, read Weekend Entrepreneur: 101 Great Ways to Earn Extra Cash.