By Mel Sim

Planning to start selling online? Here’s how I started my e-commerce business.

Seems like everyone is selling something online, from food to clothes to self-care products and even funny portraits like these. Why not, right? Malaysians are notorious online shoppers, even before the pandemic started! In 2018, the country’s online consumer goods category was worth a total of RM13.5 billion, accounting for 51 percent of total ecommerce spent. Wow, right? That’s nothing compared to the RM279 billion we spent in 2021!

There are so many reasons why selling online is a great way to start a business. It’s literally free (you already have Internet), there are so many platforms to sell on, and you can practically reach just about every customer, from someone sitting right next to you to even someone out of the country.

Like many Malaysians, I spent my pandemic baking a lot. Sourdough bread to be exact. I’ve always been a sourdough baker but with the pandemic, I started baking more and took it a little more serious than a hobby. The idea to start selling came when a friend – who was selling vegetables online from his farm – said “hey, why don’t you sell some bread to me and I will sell it to my customers?”

And so I began my bread business, Bread Winner (yes, really). I mainly supplied to said friend at first but decided since I was already going down the road of selling bread, why not make a real business out of it? Seeing how so many people were selling baked goods online (I’ve bought a few myself), I thought, why not use social media to market my bread?

So that’s really how I started selling sourdough bread on Instagram. I created an account, started taking photos, posted them up, and soon I had people sliding me DMs to order my bread. To be honest, I found the whole experience weird – who would have thought you could sell bread with IG reels, stories and posts. But when I started getting more and more orders, at one time selling up to 200 loaves a month, I truly believed in the power of online. With the right content and of course the right product, you can sell just about anything online and if you put your mind to it, it can bring you a lot of satisfaction too!

Want some tips on how to get started? Here’s my personal experience.

#1 Just take the plunge… but plan your content well!
Want to sell something? Just put it up online! That’s really the gist of an online business but if you really want your business to stand out, you need to plan it out properly. Like any business (online or offline), you need to create some form of branding for it. You can’t just put up any photo and ask your audience to DM for price. By going hard sell, you tend to lose out on your potential customers. Shopping – online or not – is an experience. As a seller, you want to connect your brand to your potential customers. You want the right photos, the right captions, mix up your content a little to first attract potential customers and then hook them to eventually give your product a try.

When I wanted to sell my bread using Instagram, I knew I needed a catchy handle (hence the name) and take A LOT of bread photos. But I also needed to make sure my captions were interesting or else @breadwinner_my would just be an account with lots of bread photos, which can get stale pretty fast. In order words, I needed content that was exciting, interesting and eye-catching. This is the marketing part of your online business, and really, if you get this part right, you’re set to sell.

#2 Stand out!
Think you are selling something super unique online? Think again – there are probably a lot of other online sellers out there selling the same thing! What will make your product stand out more? Again – content, which is really important when it comes to online selling. And if you are using social media, it’s about connecting with your customers, new, old or potential!

I knew that those who followed my Instagram account are first and foremost, people who like to eat sourdough or bake it themselves (or else why follow, right?) So apart from just posting selling content, I also do some tips and tricks content, behind the scene stuff, videos and what have yous. While online is a great way to sell products because of its potential reach, it is also difficult to get the right audience so make sure you create a connection and a hook to retain your audience and get them excited about your product. Go viral!

#3 Engage with your customers
Online selling is not just simply about posting what you are selling online and then waiting for customers to get in touch with you. It’s a lot more than that! Just like any other business, there’s a lot of customer service that goes on behind the scene as well. I get a lot of queries (many of them repeated questions) and while it’s easy to give a standard answer to these questions, it’s of course better to be more personal in your replies.

The beauty of online selling for a customer is that you get to connect with the seller and have direct access to ask whatever questions you have. And the beauty for the seller is to have this direct link to try and peddle off your goods too! So posting things online is to sell is just the beginning; customer service is what comes next and if you are good and consistent with it, people will keep coming back to buy whatever you’re selling because they’ve established a good rapport with you.

#4 It’s a lot of multitasking
You are answering WhatsApp messages, FB queries, IG DMs…. Uploading content on FB, IG and TikTok. Arranging for deliveries and checking on payment status. Be prepared to be glued to your phone with your online business because you’ll be pretty much doing everything out of it, from selling to closing sales to taking in payment and preparing for deliveries! I hope you like doing things using your phone because it will be literally your life line with your online business!

These are really the first few things you need to get right so your online business can start growing. There are many other things to do but it’s all a learning process… even after a year and a half selling bread online, I’m still learning and thinking of new ways to grow! The possibilities are really endless… and if you get it right from the start, then the opportunities are all yours. Good luck!

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

Share this article: