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I’ve seen this story play out so many times before — Someone gets that entrepreneurial fire blazing inside them only to have it quickly burn out when they run into indecision, or fear, or the lack of direction or simply any proof-of-concept that a profitable, life-changing business is possible for someone with no prior business experience.
First, let me say that experience isn’t a prerequisite for starting a business… But the willingness to learn and get uncomfortable is. And if you’re looking for proof-of-concept to stoke that entrepreneurial fire, let me direct your attention to the incomparable Alison Prince.
From a scrap pile of arts and crafts supplies to multi-million dollar businesses, Alison proves over and over again what’s possible when you start an online shop. She helps people uncover what they can sell, how to sell it without a massive social following, and the brilliant ways you can carve out time in the most overwhelming schedules.
This conversation is the guide for anyone who is ready to start and scale a product based business online with our fearless leader, Alison Prince.
Where it All Started
Alison was living the paycheck to paycheck life with four kids… And it wasn’t fun. In an effort to break that cycle, she decided to start an online business. Her very first sale came from the literal garbage. She cut a pile of old black vinyl into strips (by hand, no fancy machine), listed it online, and made her first few hundred dollars.
Now the following few days she didn’t make a single sale, and so she was ready to close the doors on that short-lived business and celebrate her few hundred dollar win. But something told her to keep going — A sign from God, as Alison tells it.
On the fourth day, she made another sale. Two years later, it was a multi-million dollar business. “When we’re on the right path, we need a reminder that we’re on the right path. We get filled with so much doubt in our heads and we have to just keep going back,” Alison encouraged.
Why an Online Store?
The way Alison shares her story and educates her students makes starting an online store sound so approachable and realistic for anyone. What about this type of business is so accessible?
“Everybody’s got stuff,” Alison began. “We can take those products, used products, and we can put them up online and there’s so many marketplaces to help you get started, so you can learn the process without having to invest a lot of money.”
Many people want to launch into business with a huge, overwhelming idea. But Alison instead encourages people to start practicing with what you have so you can get good at the process of listing and selling. “That first product doesn’t determine what you’re going to do for the rest of your life, it just gives you the base,” she explained.
When your kids get started in sports, do you buy them the best equipment on the market? Probably not. You use hand-me-downs, borrow and make do with what you have so they can practice. Starting a business should begin in the very same manner, in Alison’s view.
How You Can Get Started
First off, stop telling yourself that a successful business only comes from a Shark Tank-worthy invention. That idea can stall you from actually getting started. “If we give ourselves permission to practice,” Alison explained, “We’re going to build the confidence to start investing in other products.”
Alison shared that starting with a “practice” product gives you the benefit of two things — your face doesn’t have to be attached to what you’re selling, so a failure (or learning experience) doesn’t have to feel as public, and two, you don’t have to start shouting about it on social media at the very beginning.
“Just get on some marketplaces and figure out what you’re comfortable with,” she said. Figure out what shipping services you like, test out different marketplaces, and experiment with selling strategies.
Keep it Growing
“After you sell all of the crap out of your house,” Alison laughed as she continued, “Start looking at what’s trending out there.”
Now Alison cautions anyone from hearing this as “stealing” product ideas. This is not about stealing ideas and selling products as your own. Instead, she explains, “It’s about looking at the trends. Like tie dye, I’m seeing tie dye everywhere. Could you put tie dye on a pillow case? On notebooks?”
An online store starts by using what you already have and it grows by leveraging trends. Like the necklaces in my store, as Alison pointed out, there’s nothing new about necklaces, but they sell well because they’re on trend with self-affirming phrases and dainty design.
More than a Product
One thing that Alison demonstrates so well is that it’s not just the thing you’re selling, it’s the vision and possibility you can paint for someone.
Alison once sold $9000 worth of blocks of wood. Plain, blank blocks of wood. She explained that if they had been presented as just blocks of wood, maybe they wouldn’t have sold as well as they did. But instead, when they’re presented as the backdrop to an adorable photo of your baby that would bring joy to grandma, then they become an item worth buying.
Even More Beginner Help
What if you have no idea what you want to sell? Alison advises making a list of your top 5-10 favorite stores and visiting their websites. What are the top rated products on those sites? Do any of those top-rated products speak to you? How can you learn from those trends?
Okay, so say you decide you want to sell journals. What’s the best way to source those journals to sell? “Pinky promise me you won’t go out and buy huge inventory,” Alison began as she advised, “Start with someone local.” Using a local supplier typically takes the risk of huge inventory off the table, which means you can test out your product idea on a smaller scale.
Once you have that proof of concept, you’ll probably want to start a more focused marketing effort to boost sales. Your first thought might be that you don’t have a strong social media following, so how are you supposed to sell?
“If you don’t have a following, you know people who do have a following,” she began. Alison recommends starting with micro influencers in the 5000 to 10,000 follower range and ask if they’ll share your product with their followers.
Learn More from Alison
Ready to learn more from Alison Prince? She shared the other seemingly random items she’s sold online, the make or break it tips for product photography (even if you’re not a professional photographer), the most important things your product based business needs to have in order to succeed, and how her daughters launched a business that made $100,000.
Alison prepared a special Idea Book for you to get you thinking about products you could turn into your business. Get it right here.
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