How to Uncover a Niche Market (Plus 8 Niche Ideas to Inspire You)

niche market and product example of pet parent wearing their dog on their socks

Ever hear the expression, jack of all trades, master of none? It essentially means that a generalist can do everything decently, while a specialist does one thing extremely well. The same holds true when you’re selling online.

Carving out a niche market and positioning yourself as the go-to brand for a specific audience not only establishes your credibility over competing generalists but also results in a more focused business, from your unique value proposition to your content marketing, that makes it easier for the right customers to say, “This is for me.”

If you’re racking your brain trying to think of your first product idea, starting with a niche is a great place to begin. There are countless niches you can pursue, with the opportunity to niche down even further. The key is to identify a niche market that you can master and has a viable audience of customers.

Below, we’ll go over what a niche market is, how to identify one and find in-demand products to serve it, plus eight niche market examples (including niche product ideas) that are ripe for new players.

Table of Contents

  1. What is a niche market?
  2. How to find a niche market
  3. 8 niche market examples
  4. How to evaluate a niche market
  5. Moving forward with your idea

A definition: What exactly is a niche market?

A niche market is a segment of a larger market that can be defined by its own unique needs, preferences, or identity that makes it different from the market at large.

For example, within the market for women’s shoes are many different segments or niches. Shoes for vegan women would be a niche market, as would shoes for plus-sized women, shoes for nurses, and shoes for transgendered people. These are all niche markets within the larger market for women’s shoes.

Nearly every market can be further refined, or divided, by the particular needs and preferences of its constituents. Some of the most common ways to define a niche are based on:

  • Price (e.g. luxury, moderate, discount)
  • Demographics (gender, age, income level, education level)
  • Level of quality (premium, handmade, economical)
  • Psychographics (values, interests, attitudes)
  • Geographics (residents of a certain country, city, or even neighborhood)

Choosing to focus on a niche is a strategic business decision to serve a certain customer base better than competitors who target the larger market.

How to find niche markets in 2019

For both new and established ecommerce entrepreneurs looking for a niche market and product to sell, you’ll first need to establish an overview of the larger market and drill down from there. Your niche will be a subset of that market and will help define everything from:

  • The product features you aim at your market’s needs
  • The price range for your products
  • Production quality
  • Your positioning/branding
  • Your marketing strategy

Choosing a niche gives your online business a competitive edge from the get-go. If you try to launch your online store in a crowded product category or market, you’re going to face a tough uphill battle against the established competition. Focusing on a niche helps you compete not by selling different products necessarily, but by doubling down on a specific part of the market.

Although there’s no single way to choose a niche, there are many methods you can employ. From simple Google searches, to building a mind map to using keyword research to help uncover great niches, there are many ways to build a list of possible niches and find product ideas.

Start with Google searches

The best place to start brainstorming niche ideas is to understand what other online retailers are selling in a product category or to a certain audience. Starting your niche selection with basic Google searches is a great way to get the lay of the land. Let’s use “cruelty-free makeup” as a starting point; from there, we’re able to find a goldmine of potential angles and rabbit holes to go down, from “vegan skincare” to “not tested on animals”.

google search for the cruelty free makeup niche

Through trial and error, you can explore different angles and trends, until you find an underserved audience or demand in the market. Keep in mind that even if a competitor is targeting your niche, you can still compete by doubling down on a more specific segment of that audience. Remember: It’s about being a specialist, not a generalist.

Build a mind map

A mind map is a great way to discover niches for your chosen product. Since mind maps mimic the way our brains think, they’re an intuitive way to organize your thoughts and expand on ideas. Building a mind map for your product ideacan generate ideas quickly while also encouraging you to explore different niche paths. You can use a free online tool like Text2MindMap to create a simple but effective mind map.

Here’s what we came up with for our cruelty-free product idea:

niche mindmap

Use Google’s suggestions

Ever notice how when you start typing something into a Google search, it shows you suggestions before you even finish typing your query? These are Google’s most-searched-for related queries, which you can use to your advantage to find a niche for your product category.

google suggestion to find niche market examples

Google will only show you a few suggestions, so you may want to use tools like Keyword Tool or Answer the Public to gather and organize all of Google’s suggested searches.

We plugged in “cruelty-free” which returned suggestions we could pull a potential niche from. Here’s a small sample of the results:

cruelty-free make up in answer the public

Drill down with keyword research

This next method for uncovering a niche uses Google’s Keyword Planner tool. Keyword Planner is a resource from Google’s advertising platform, Google Ads. The Google Keyword Planner is similar to the Google suggestion tool we discussed above but more advanced and customizable.

To use this tool you need to have a Google Ads account (you can sign up for free). Log in to your account and select Tools from the top menu (it’s the wrench icon) and select Keyword Planner.

google keyword planner for cruelty free makeup

Enter your main niche idea and see your results. You can adjust your location settings on the left to make sure you’re targeting areas you want to reach. You can also add filters, remove branded keywords, and see suggestions for other recommended terms to look into.

Searching through these results can give you a good idea of potential niches related to your original search term, and sometimes even the demand for specific popular products you might want to consider. Don’t be afraid to dive deeper and try a variety of related search terms.

Alternatively, you can use the Keywords Everywhere browser extension to see search volume directly under your Google searches, if you don’t have a Google Ads account.

Look for passionate communities online

The internet is pretty good at organizing itself into communities based on shared interests, passions, and hobbies—in other words, into niches.

You can consider specific communities that you yourself belong to or hunt for ones that show promise by:

  • Sifting through the most visited Wikipedia pages under “hobbies”
  • Digging through the most active subreddits to look for passionate audiences and listening in on their discussions
  • “Listening” to community-oriented hashtags on Instagram and Twitter, like #vegansofig and #vegancommunity to find opportunities to niche down.

8 niche market examples (and niche products you can sell)

While you might have specific trending product ideas already in mind, you can increase your odds of success by starting with a niche market and then drilling down to find niche products with a possible market-fit. Here, we’ll explore eight larger markets to show you how they each contain their own niche markets and product opportunities.

Keep in mind this list of niches and new product ideas for 2019 is simply a place to start your search for a niche market—you can always go in a completely different direction or find other niche opportunities within each category.

1. Conscious consumers

Sustainability has become a hot topic among consumers of late. According to a survey by Neilson, 48% of U.S. consumers say they would “definitely” or “probably change” their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment.

The rise of the conscious consumer has paved the way for vegan, eco-friendly, and cruelty-free variations of conventional products. If there is a product that is frequently purchased by the mass market, there is likely a niche of conscious consumers that will embrace a greener alternative.

In the past, companies looking to appeal to this niche market might donate a portion of proceeds to a cause, but now most consumers care about how the products are sourced and produced as well.

Bee’s Wrap, for example, is looking to replace plastic wrap with options made from beeswax. The natural alternative to food storage is not only environmentally friendly, but also more cost-effective for consumers because they’re reusable.

bee's wrap is an example of a niche market business

More niche product ideas for conscious consumers

  • Reusable drinking straws
  • Cruelty-free cosmetics
  • Vegan-friendly apparel
  • Menstrual cups

2. Pet owners

Total expenditures for the pet industry in the U.S. alone is an estimated $75.38 billion in 2019. There’s a lot of opportunities to develop a niche within this market, across different types of pets, lifestyles, and more.

Patricia’s Couture has carved its own niche in this market—they sell personalized kaftans, pillows, pajamas, blankets, and other items you can plaster your beloved pet’s picture on. patricia's couture lets you print pictures of your pets on their productsWhile most people own fish, dogs, or cats, there are also unique pets like horses, lizards, turtles, and even chickens, each with their own potential opportunities.

More niche product ideas for pet owners

  • Pet cameras to watch and interact with pets while you’re not at home
  • GPS pet trackers
  • Personalized products with pets’ photos
  • Organic pet food and treats
  • Pet accessories and clothing

3. The LGBTQ+ community

The LGBTQ+ community is huge, and these consumers have unique shopping habits. Per Nielsen, they go shopping 10% more than the average American consumer—and they’re also willing to spend about 7% more.

Brands who make authentic connections with this market are in the best position to serve this niche. Just ask TomboyX, an underwear brand that started in this market. Originally a T-shirt brand, co-founder Fran Dunaway saw the opportunity to hone in on a specific consumer group’s needs to sell underwear “for any body”.

tomboy x serving the lgbtq+ niche

More niche product ideas for the LGBTQ+ community

  • Makeup specifically designed for certain skin types
  • Pride-inspired designs
  • Clothing made for certain body types

4. Travelers

Online sales in the travel industry increased by more than 10% in 2018, amounting to $694.41 billion spent. Coupled with the declining cost of air travel over the last three decades, a more mobile consumer means tons of niche audiences to tap into, from the frequent business traveler to the remote worker struck with wanderlust.

Even the way consumers approach traveling is evolving. In fact, travelers are becoming more environmentally conscious. According to Booking.com, more than half seek sustainable options but have difficulty finding them.

This gap represents a massive opportunity for brands to step up to the plate and support eco-friendly initiatives through sustainable products. And travelers are seeking more than just green options. They also look for authentic local experiences, convenience, and long-term trips.

CNN reports that by 2020, nearly half the UK and U.S. workforce will be freelance, and at least 40% more children were home-schooled in 2017 than in 2014. This opens the doors to longer, more immersive trips, especially for remote workers who leverage their flexible careers to see the world.

Nomatic is a luggage brand geared towards travelers, but especially digital nomads that prioritize functionality. You can see this audience focus represented across their entire business, from their product to their copywriting.

nomatic as an example of a business targeting a niche market of travelers

More niche product ideas for avid travelers

  • Smartphone accessories for traveling content creators
  • Practical and comfortable athleisure for frequent flyers
  • Scratch maps for people who love collecting travel experiences

5. Gamers

“Gamers” is a catch-all term that contains a variety of subsets: mobile gamers, PC gamers, console gamers, table-top gamers—the list goes on. There are more than 2.3 billion active gamers across the globe, and nearly half spend money on their hobby, amounting to an industry worth $137.9 billion in 2018.

Shazim Mohammad launched his online store, Glorious PC Gaming Race, with products specifically aimed at PC gamers. It’s become a 7-figure business that basically runs on auto-pilot.

selling to a niche market of pc gamers

Mobile gaming, in particular, is taking over, accounting for 91% of the market. Plus, more females are entering the market than ever before, a trend which doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

Within this category, you can also niche down based on popular genres (like first-person shooters), or consoles (like the Nintendo Switch).

More niche product ideas for gamers

  • Ergonomic products for long gaming sessions (controllers, chairs, blue-light blocking glasses)
  • Decals to personalize consoles, controllers, etc.
  • T-shirts referencing aspects of gamer culture
  • Accessories for mobile gamers

6. Homeowners

Home ownership is changing. What used to be the norm is no longer the case, and the percentage of U.S. consumers who also own homes is decreasing. There are many reasons for this, such as the rise in the cost of living and salaries that can’t keep up.

home ownership trends
Source: Advisor Perspectives

As such, not only is home ownership on the decline, but the definition of being a homeowner is also changing. Homes are increasingly being turned into investment properties or shared spaces which generate additional passive income thanks to the advent of home sharing via Airbnb and VRBO.

This paved the way for August to launch its own line of keyless entry and home security products for homeowners. One of the main features is guest access, allowing hosts to grant access to renters for specified time periods.

august targeting home owners

More niche product ideas for homeowners

  • Home security cameras (in-home, doorbell, smart home devices, etc.)
  • Furniture/home decor for small apartments
  • Home solutions for renters (like no drill blinds)

7. Remote workers

The rise of remote workers is largely thanks to two influences: more self-employed contractors and more companies open to the idea of dispersed teams.

There are many reasons for this. For one, allowing employees to work remotely increases job satisfaction and productivity. These workers are also more engaged and two times more likely to work more than 40 hours a week. And those who go the self-employed route are typically seeking more freedom and a better work-life harmony.

Freelancer At Work is an example of a company serving this niche market of freelancers with products that can help attract potential clients. They sell laptop decals that advertise what you do wherever you choose to work.

example of business in remote work niche

Keeping these remote workers’ motivations and lifestyles in mind can help you identify product ideas to help them and the companies that employ them to achieve their goals.

More niche product ideas for remote workers

  • Desk toys/decorations
  • Decor for home offices
  • Laptop accessories for people who like coffee shop work sessions

8. Locals

Even the world’s biggest brands are adopting local marketing approaches through targeted campaigns. And rightfully so: They’re competing with a consumer-driven movement to support local businesses.

But if you’re only selling online, it can be difficult to establish a local presence. Luckily, there are ways for ecommerce sellers to get in on the movement by looking at their city or country as a niche market.

Apparel company Peace Collective, for example, was founded in Toronto and around Toronto pride. The brand has expanded to appeal to Canadians nationwide and to fans of various NBA teams.

peace collective as an example of a location-based niche market

More niche product ideas for locals

  • T-shirts with slogans specific to a culture or city
  • Prints/photobooks of a certain cityscape

How to evaluate your niche market ideas

Now that you know what to sell online, you need to make sure there’s an audience for it. At the start, your niche market and products are just ideas—a hypothesis of what you think will resonate with your target audience.

While targeting a niche as your focus will make it infinitely easier to find potential customers and convince them to buy from you, you need to be sure there are enough buyers in that niche to make it viable. If you determine your niche is too small to generate reasonable interest and profit, consider pivoting to a different audience within that niche or promoting a different product. You won’t really know what will resonate until you try.

Even if you do achieve success early on, niches change and it’s up to you to evolve with your audience and adjust your positioning over time. You might even introduce new products to your line as new opportunities present themselves.

Here are some ways to evaluate your niche market idea:

  • Build your audience first. Kickstarter campaigns generate buzz and awareness about products before they’re even developed. While this may not be the route for you, you can still introduce your idea and gain followers before the idea has come to fruition through email opt-in pages, social media campaigns, and other online tactics. This way, you’ll have an engaged group of potential customers ready and waiting for when you do launch.
  • Test before you invest. Start with a small batch of products and run a campaign to your targeted audience. Solicit feedback from customers who’ve made the first purchases, or send a few out to influencers and ask them what they think. It’s important to get feedback early on, especially if you’re developing a new product, so you can perfect it before it goes out to the rest of the world.
  • Dig deeper into your niche. You already did the keyword research to identify your niche market, but you can go even more in-depth. Analyze blogs, social media, influencers, and other key areas in your niche to gain insights. Can you solve a problem that repeatedly comes up?
  • Research consumer trends in your market. It’s important to be up-to-date with what’s happening in your chosen niche. Resources like Facebook IQThink with Google, and Nielsen consumer research will help you understand consumer pain points, desires, and breakout trends. Set up Google Alerts for related keywords and regularly monitor social media conversations to stay on top of what’s trending.

When it’s time to actually market your product, remember to hone in on your specific audience’s needs and commonalities. What makes this niche market different from the broader market, and how can you appeal specifically to their wants, needs, and preferences?

Handbags offer a huge market, for example, and there are many niches with many different uses for a handbag within it. You might have new moms who want a handbag that can be used as a diaper bag, you might have college students who need a bag to hold their books, single women in need of an evening bag to hold their phone, keys, and credit cards, vacationing moms who want a large beach bag to hold their family’s gear, and many more.

Understanding the unique needs of each niche makes it possible to speak directly to them in your marketing—you’ll have a greater chance of attracting a buyer’s attention and winning their business by making it clear that your product is specifically for them.

Moving forward with your niche market opportunity

Now that you know how to choose a niche market and generate product ideas your target audience will buy, it’s time to turn it into a reality. Here are a few resources to get started, whether you plan to make it yourself, work with a manufacturer, or dropship:

Which products or trends have you noticed lately? What would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments below.

Print on Demand: A Low-Risk Way to Sell Custom T-Shirts, Books, and More

what is print on demand and different services you can use

Whether you’re an artist, writer, designer, or entrepreneur, physical products can be the perfect canvas for monetizing your creativity.

From t-shirts to posters, backpacks to books, you can put your own original spin on everyday products and sell them online. However, if you go the traditional route of buying and holding your own inventory, you may be left with a pile of products that aren’t selling.

Print-on-demand services offer an alternative way to bypass the time, investment, and risk associated with managing inventory, letting you go from creating to selling custom products at a fraction of the cost.

What is “print on demand” and how does it work?

Print on demand is a process where you work with a supplier to customize white-label products (like baseball hats or tote bags) with your own designs to sell them on a per-order basis under your own brand.

That means you don’t pay for the product until after you’ve actually sold it, so there’s no need to buy in bulk or hold any inventory yourself.

Plus, with print-on-demand services everything after the sale, from printing to shipping, is handled by your supplier. Once you’ve set everything up, it takes only a few clicks to fulfill an order once you’ve made a sale.

You can use print-on-demand services to:

  • Test a business idea or new product line for an existing business without the risks that come with buying inventory.
  • Monetize an audience you’ve built. Printing on demand is a great option if you’re a YouTuber, cartoonist, or social media influencer who wants to spend your time creating content instead of fulfilling orders.
  • Create original products for a niche of customers. For example, apparel for people who are passionate about gaming.
  • Easily print one-off items—t-shirts, books, shoes, bags, wall art, phone cases, clocks, laptop skins, mugs, and so much more. You can send these as gifts or keep them for yourself and your team.

The pros and cons of print on demand

Print on demand sites can be used to build a business based on a dropshipping model—where the products and shipping are all handled by a third party. It’s one of the most accessible ways to source products or start an online business, but you should know the perks and limitations before you dive in.

Pros

  • Create products quickly: Once you have the design, you can create the product and put it up for sale in minutes.
  • Shipping is taken care of: Shipping and fulfilment is out of your hands and in your supplier’s. After the sale, you’re just responsible for customer service.
  • Low investment, lower risk: Since you’re not physically holding any inventory, it’s easier to add or remove products, test ideas, or pivot your approach.

Cons

  • Lower margins: Naturally, your costs per item will be higher than if you buy in bulk. On-demand products may yield thinner profits, depending on how you price them and acquire customers.
  • Less control over shipping: Shipping costs can get complicated as it often varies for different products. Your options may also be limited if you want to create a standout unboxing experience.
  • Limited customization: Your ability to customize products depends on the vendor and the product. You’ll have to weigh base costs, customization options, printing techniques, and available sizes when deciding on which products to customize.

Print-on-demand services for creating custom products

While many print-on-demand services might seem similar at first glance, you’ll have to carefully consider the ones you choose based on the products you want to create, where you’ll be shipping them, and the retail prices you want to offer, among other factors.

For example, a low base cost for one product might make it an obvious choice, until you realize that it would take 21 days to reach customers with your most affordable shipping option.

Exercise due diligence when you’re evaluating the right platform for you. To help you out, I put together a quick overview of some of the most popular services that cover a variety of scenarios. All of these services are free to set up (you only pay when you order a product), plus they integrate with Shopify.

This list is by no means exhaustive. For more print-on-demand options, check out the Shopify App Store.

1. Printful

Printful is a popular choice among print-on-demand services because of its wide selection of products and brands (Gildan, American Apparel, etc.), easy-to-use mockup generators, and options for adding your own branding to the unboxing experience via stickers, package inserts, and custom notes.

For apparel products, in particular, Printful offers a number of printing techniques. Here are some that you’ll want to be aware of:

  • Direct to Garment prints ink directly onto the material, which is especially good for simpler designs (i.e. witty t-shirts). You can only print on certain areas of the product as a result.
  • Cut and Sew is sometimes known as “all-over print”. The article of clothing is printed on in pieces for maximum coverage and then sewn together for a seamless print across the entire piece. While the base costs may be higher, this lets you create a more premium product that you could sell for more.
  • Embroidery is perhaps the most complex printing technique because the final product is actually a threaded design with a 3D effect. This is best for simple designs that involve only a handful of colors, and for products like hats that traditionally feature embroidered designs.

You should also be mindful of how additional customizations affect the price. Printing on the sleeve, for example, will usually mean paying a nominal fee on top of the base cost.

Besides apparel, Printful also offers mugs, pillows, framed posters, beach towels, aprons, and more.

printful print on demand service for t-shirts and other products

2. Lulu Xpress

Lulu is a self-publishing platform for printing and distributing your own books and ebooks.

Lulu Xpress  is its print-on-demand offering and lets you choose from a wide selection of book sizes, binding types, and page/print quality to build your own book product.

While there is no built-in editor to design your book, Lulu Xpress does offer downloadable templates to get you started. It even has a transparent pricing calculator to help you cost out your project, including various shipping options.

There are also discounts available if you’d like to order in bulk.

lulu print on demand service for books

3. Gooten

Like Printful, Gooten  offers a wide range of products that you can customize with several that are unique to its catalogue, such as calendars and dog beds.

However, since Gooten uses an international network of vendors to print their products, there’s also a lot more variance between their items in terms of quality and shipping. But that means you’re likely to see lower product and shipping prices as well.

Gooten also has an intuitive image editor that gives you a good sense of what your final product will look like.

gooten print on demand service for a wide range of products

4. Printify

Printify  is another print-on-demand service that features the usual selection of t-shirts and hoodies.

What’s notable about Printify is that its international vendor network enables a number of unique white-label products you’re not likely to find elsewhere, such as jewelry, clocks, shoes and water bottles. In fact, the platform boasts over 200 products you can print on.

While Printify is free to use, a premium subscription is available that gives you 20% off of all products for $29 a month, which is a solid option if you’re looking to scale up later and improve your profit margins.

printify print on demand service for t-shirts, jewelry, and more


Start free trial

Designing products when you’re not a designer

It goes without saying that design plays a crucial role in creating successful print-on-demand products. But you don’t need to be a full-time designer to source original designs. There are many ways to commission or produce your own designs, as long as you understand a few key concepts that will help you work effectively with designers.

First, we need to talk about preparing your print file. When working with designers, you should specify that your design is for printing. This tells them that it should ideally be 300 digital pixels per inch (DPI or PPI), have a transparent background, and other nuances of designing for print vs. web.

Note that print file specifications will change depending on the printer and printing technique used. When in doubt, send the designer the print specs for the specific product and any printing guidelines so they understand the full context.

The designs you upload should be large enough for the printing area of the actual product, or larger—resizing a smaller image to make it bigger will likely result in a loss of quality. If you don’t have access to Photoshop, you can use Pixlr (free), or one of these photo editing tools.

Where to find design ideas and designers

In the best case scenario, you’re a designer or know one you can work well with. But don’t be discouraged if you don’t have immediate access to design talent. That’s what outsourcing is for.

You can find designers to work with on Behance99 Designs, or other freelance sites who can produce usable designs as long as you provide clear instructions. Here’s how you can add clarity and context for a design project:

  • Share insight into your audience. Tell them what it’s for and who your audience is. Showing them your website, if you have one, can also help.
  • Clearly explain what you want. Use your initial pitch and subsequent revisions (you should get at least 1 or 2) to over-communicate what you’re looking for and the guidelines to follow, and try to provide concrete feedback every step of the way.
  • Provide examples for inspiration. Give them a reference to base the design on or point to past work that you liked.

There are a lot of talented designers, so you should be able to find someone to bring your ideas to life. The tricky part is figuring out what you want to design in the first place.

This will depend on your target audience for the product, but you can find design inspiration on:

You can look for content, messaging, or styles that already resonate with your target audience to brainstorm ideas worth pursuing. Just be sure you’re not infringing on anyone else’s work.

Social media is also a great place to litmus test your ideas. If you’re looking to turn the internet into your focus group, try the following:

  • Post to your personal network on Facebook or to groups
  • Use Instagram’s Poll and Question stickers to solicit feedback
  • Share a rough version of your design idea with a relevant subreddit

Tips for starting a print-on-demand business

Using a print-on-demand service might be easier than managing your own inventory, but there are some considerations unique to this approach that you should be aware of. Luckily, for most of the challenges you’ll face, there are creative solutions.

1. Always order samples

Quality assurance is essential when you’re using print-on-demand services to sell online. It’s always possible that something gets lost in translation from the design you see on your screen to your printed product. But you can just reach out to your vendor’s customer support for advice on how to fix any issues.

You want to ensure your physical product looks and feels as you intended, and the best way to do that is to be your own customer so you can experience first-hand what it’s like to receive your products. Some services, like Printful, even offer a sample discount of up to 20% off or free shipping, so be sure to take advantage of that if it’s available.

Beyond ensuring product quality, samples are also good to have on hand for taking your own product photos for your website and social media profiles.

2. Be strategic about shipping

Even when you’re not shipping products yourself, shipping still offers some complexity in the form of shipping times and costs, and setting the right expectations with customers.

You’ll want to be sure that you’re accounting for printing times when it comes to shipping. Whatever the shipping times are, be sure to add anywhere from 2 to 4 days for production, or more depending on the product.

Always be upfront about shipping times or you’ll wind up with a support inbox full of shipping questions. Outline what to expect on your FAQs page or consider creating a separate Shipping page to explain shipping to customers.

If you can, try to partially or fully absorb your shipping costs into your retail price. Year after year, studies show that surprise shipping costs added at checkout can deter customers from buying. On top of that, free shipping bolsters a number of your other marketing efforts:

  • Free shipping is a great sales sweetener, even if you can only offer it for specific regions, and provides customers with one more incentive to buy.
  • Conditional free shipping (e.g. “Get free shipping when you spend $30 or more”) encourages customers to add more to their cart to reach the threshold and usually helps you achieve a better total shipping rate by shipping everything together.
  • You can use free shipping to justify longer wait times. Many consumers will wait a bit longer for an order if they know it will save them money on shipping.

free shipping for print on demand

3. Create mockups that show off your products

While models can help you snap compelling photos of your products, mockups are also an effective alternative and will be a prominent part of your product pages.

Many print-on-demand services can help you create your own mockups, showing your products on a person or as a flat lay. But there are other services and plenty of free mockup templates that can also bring your products to life.

These mockups are what will sell your products to customers, so it can literally pay to go the extra mile. PlaceIt is an easy-to-use mockup generator that lets you create photo and video mockups for $8 each. Or, if you know the basics of Photoshop or other photo editing tools, you can browse Mockup World or Behance for templates.

4. Focus on a niche to make marketing easier

Marketing is what ultimately determines the success of your business. But if you’re targeting everyone, you’re not really marketing to anyone. That’s why focus is so important, regardless of the tactics you employ.

Having a clearly defined audience (e.g. dog owners) can actually help you create products that are in demand, lower the costs to acquire customers, and maximize your potential profits because your targeting decisions will be that much more precise.

Better yet, if you can build an audience of your own through marketing, you can create a permanent asset for your business even if your products change.

There are countless possibilities for marketing, but here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Start an Instagram account and create/curate content for your target audience. Get followers and build relationships among your prospective customers.
  • Run Facebook ads targeting the interests of your target customers. You can also use Facebook ads to test out your designs for as little as $10 to see which ones resonate with your audience.
  • Collect emails from visitors so you can continue to market to them for free.
  • Get your products into the hands of influencers who can contribute some of their clout and help you make sales.

Growing an audience of your ideal customers is a must for building a long-term business, print-on-demand or otherwise.

 

Design, test, sell, and grow

Print-on-demand services offer an accessible source of inventory for new entrepreneurs or for anyone who just wants to test an idea before they invest in it.

If your business idea pans out and you start to generate a meaningful number of sales, you can always graduate from using a print on demand site to holding your own inventory or continue to use these services while finding new ways to grow your audience. The choice is yours.

How to Find a Manufacturer or Supplier for Your Product Idea

How to find a manufacturer or supplier for your products

If you’ve been reading about how to start a business, you may have brainstormed some ideas of your own. This is an interesting time for an entrepreneur, as momentum begins to build and excitement grows the more you think about your ideas.

However, time and time again, many entrepreneurs find themselves hitting a brick wall and losing momentum when it comes time to actually source products. Whether it be manufacturing your own product or finding suppliers to purchase wholesale from, they aren’t always easy to find.

In this post, we’re going to look at the basics of sourcing a supplier for your next project. We will look at some places to search, how you should approach them and what to ask.

Table of Contents

  • The basics: What are you looking for?
  • Domestic vs. overseas suppliers
  • Where to begin your search for a manufacturer
  • Other research tips
  • Requesting a quote
  • Negotiating minimum order quantities
  • Have you found your supply partner?

The basics: What are you looking for?

For the purpose of this post, when we refer to suppliers, we’re referring to anyone who has the capability to provide you with products and inventory. This encompasses manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors.

There are a ton of helpful resources online which you can find on Google. But before you begin, there are a few things you should know and decide.
First, you should determine what type of supplier you’re looking for. This will help determine the terminology you need to use in your research. Check out our post on Make, Manufacturer, Wholesale, or Dropship to help you get started. There are several options, the most common being:

  • A manufacturer to produce your own product idea.
  • A supplier (who may also be a manufacturer), wholesaler or distributor to purchase already-existing brands and products.
  • A dropshipper to supply products and fulfill orders of already-existing brands and products.

Domestic vs. overseas suppliers

When looking for suppliers if you plan to manufacture or wholesale, you’ll need to decide whether you want to source domestically or from overseas. Overseas can refer to any location abroad.

Typically, and for the purpose of this post, overseas suppliers are located in Asian countries like China, India and Taiwan. That’s because it’s often cheaper to source your products overseas, especially in these countries. But there’s a lot more to the decision than just the upfront investment and cost per unit.

Both domestic and overseas sourcing have their advantages and disadvantages:

Domestic sourcing

Advantages

  • Higher manufacturing quality and labor standards.
  • Easier communication with no language barrier.
  • Marketing appeal of being made in North America.
  • Easier to verify reputable manufacturers.
  • Faster shipping time.
  • High intellectual property right protection.
  • Greater payment security and recourse.

Disadvantages

  • Higher manufacturing costs.
  • Less product choice (there are many items that just aren’t made in North America anymore).

Overseas sourcing

Advantages

  • Lower manufacturing costs.
  • High number of manufacturers to choose from.
  • One-stop services like Alibaba have made it easy to navigate suppliers.

Disadvantages

  • Lower perceived quality from customers.
  • (Usually) lower manufacturing and labor standards.
  • Little intellectual property protection.
  • Language, communication and time zone barriers can be difficult to navigate.
  • Difficult/costly to verify manufacturer and visit on-site.
  • Longer shipping time.
  • Cultural differences in business practices.
  • Product importation and customs clearance.
  • Less payment security and recourse.

Where to begin your search for a manufacturer

Now that you have a better idea of exactly what you’re looking for, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of domestic vs. overseas sourcing, where do you begin your search? Naturally, the internet is the best place to start, but there are a few places in particular that can help with your search:

  • Directories
  • Google
  • Local library
  • Referrals

Directories

Some of the best sources are free online supplier directories. These directories contain profiles for hundreds or thousands of manufacturers, wholesalers and suppliers. Below, we’ve listed a few of the most popular ones for both domestic and overseas suppliers:

Online domestic directories

Online overseas directories

Find a manufacturer for popular products

Google

Over the last handful of years, we’ve become accustomed to being able to easily search Google and find what we’re looking for in the first few search results. However, many suppliers haven’t kept pace with the internet or Google’s algorithm changes. Their websites are usually old, sparse on information and not search engine optimized.

So how do you find suppliers on Google? For possibly the first time ever, you’ll need to explore page two of Google search results and beyond. You’ll also want to use a variety of search terms. For example, words like wholesale, wholesaler and distributor may be used interchangeably, so you should search for all of them.
It may help to make yourself familiar with Google’s search shortcuts to improve the quality of your searches, thus the results.

Use Google to help find a manufacturer for specific products

Local library

You may also want to consider heading to your local library. Many libraries pay monthly subscription fees for online business and manufacturer directories that you normally wouldn’t have access to, or you’d have to pay for. These directories contain profiles for many manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors in North America, depending on the exact directory.

Give your local library a call ahead of time and ask if they have access to these types of private directories. For larger libraries, you may need to chat with the business and technology department.

Referrals

Some of the best leads can come from referrals. Don’t be afraid to ask connections in your professional networks if they have any recommendations, or if they know someone who might. Look for individuals who’ve found success in an area you’d like to pursue and see if they’re willing to share their contacts.

Social networks have made it much easier to get the word out so make sure to use these channels. Join Facebook groups and other online communities of ecommerce business owners and see if anyone there has a glowing review.

As you do start to uncover suppliers, even if they aren’t the right fit for you, be sure to ask them if they can point you in the right direction. Being in the industry means they’ll likely have great contacts and would be happy to refer you to an option that might be a better fit.

Other research tips

Another possible way to search for product suppliers is by searching for your products by their NAICS code.

NAICS is the North American Industry Classification System, and pretty much every single industry and product you can think of is attached to a NAICS code. Sometimes manufacturers and suppliers may list their products by the NAICS code which can make your product manufactures and suppliers easier to find, especially if you’re using professional directories.

The NAICS directory can be found at your local library or online. Here is the link for the United States’ NAICS code, and the link for Canada’s NAICS code.

You’ll also want to make sure you properly vet your potential manufacturer. Once you’ve narrowed it down to a few possibilities, dig deeper in your research to make sure they’re credible.

Check the Better Business Bureau (BBB) to make sure there haven’t been any complaints filed, browse their Facebook page reviews, and use those Google search tricks to query the company name + reviews to see if any red flags come up.

Requesting a quote

Once you’ve found a suitable supplier, it’s time to approach them. The biggest question you’re going to have is “how much?” but before you hastily send the supplier your request for quotation (many times referred to as an RFQ), plan what you want to say and the questions you need to ask.

Requesting a quote can help you find a manufacturer that fits your budget

Planning your initial inquiry can increase your chances of receiving a response and the correct information. Here are a few important questions to consider for your email:

What is your minimum order quantity?

Also referred to as a MOQ, you want to make sure the minimum order quantity is manageable for you, and that you can afford them. This minimum order quantity can vary wildly depending on the product and the supplier, so it’s important to ask upfront.

What is your sample pricing?

You’ll likely want samples to inspect before making a full order. Sample pricing ranges, depending on the product and supplier. Some suppliers that receive many requests may charge the full retail pricing, others will offer you samples at a discounted rate, and some may even send you samples for free.

What is your production pricing?

One of the most important questions is how much your products will cost. You’ll probably want to ask for pricing for several quantities to get a sense of if and how they do discounted pricing for bulk orders.

What is your turnaround time?

Knowing how long it will take to produce your order is an important consideration. Depending your exact business, time can be critical.

What are your payment terms?

Many suppliers will require new businesses to pay for the full order upfront. This is important to know since inventory is a major cost for ecommerce startups. You may want to also ask if they provide payment terms on future orders.

Suppliers get bombarded with email quote requests all the time from flaky buyers that are just ‘kicking the tires’ so it’s not unusual for many suppliers not to reply to every request. A lack of supplier responsiveness is a common complaint from new ecommerce entrepreneurs.

So how do you avoid being ignored? There are a few things that you should avoid when you reach out to suppliers for the first time:

  • Long emails: Your first email to a manufacturer should be clear and concise. Avoid telling too much about your story and background. The first email should purely assess potential fit at a high level. Focus on what suppliers care about the most, like the details of what you’re trying to source.
  • Asking for too much: Requests aren’t always easy for the supplier to produce. It’s important to ask for a few prices for multiple quantities, but avoid asking for too much or too many quotes. Stick to asking for what you absolutely need to assess fit between you and the supplier.
  • Asking for too little: If you ask for a quote well below the supplier’s minimum order you risk being met with silence. If you’re unsure whether your request is too small, consider giving them a quick call or send a one-question email prior to ask what their minimum order is.

Finally, if you’re contacting a supplier from overseas, keep in mind that in many cases, they may be using programs to translate your email as well as their reply. Keeping your emails short, concise, well-formatted and error-free will not only help the manufacturer but ultimately provide you with better replies and answers.

Also, when asking your questions, it’s best to number them. This way, they can easily reply to each number, keeping the questions and communication clean and organized.

Negotiating minimum order quantities

If you’re looking for a supplier for the first time, you’re going to quickly learn about minimum order quantities (MOQs). It’s not uncommon for a manufacturer to require a commitment to purchase hundreds or even thousands of units for your first order depending on the product and manufacturer.

MOQs make it difficult when you have limited funds or want to start small and test the market before making larger purchases. The good thing is that MOQs are almost always negotiable.

Before you negotiate, understand why the supplier has imposed a minimum. Is it because there’s a lot of work upfront? Or maybe it’s because they prefer to work with larger buyers. Understanding the reasons behind the minimum will help you better understand their position and allow you to negotiate and propose to best counter offer.

After you have a better understanding of your supplier’s position, you can offer a lower order quantity. Compromises can include giving the supplier a deposit for a larger order, but just producing small amounts at a time or paying a higher price per unit.

Have you found your supply partner?

Sourcing suppliers and manufacturers is a unique process, and for many, a new experience. Trying to locate suppliers that are a good fit is a critical decision for your new business and aren’t always easy to find.

It’s easy to get frustrated when you hit dead ends or brick walls but in most cases, it just requires a little more patience and perseverance to find the perfect partner for your new business.

How to Develop a New Product (From Concept to Market)

product development process

Bringing your vision for an original product to life is frequently one of the biggest hurdles for aspiring entrepreneurs.

The product development process can seem almost mysterious, and when you hear the origin stories of other great businesses, the journey to a finished product rarely resembles a straight line.

Tina Roth-Eisenberg, for example, realized that semi-permanent tattoos were lacking when her daughter brought some home, and mobilized her community of fellow designers to create Tattly.

David Barnett, on the other hand, had to teach himself how to use 3D design software so he could prototype PopSockets, the now-popular phone accessory.

On their own, these inspiring stories don’t provide an end-to-end blueprint for product development, but the similarities they share reveal some of the steps founders consistently take on the road to starting a business and shipping a finished product.

The new product development process in 6 steps

New product development is the process of bringing an original product idea to market. Although it differs by industry, it can essentially be broken down into five stages: ideation, research, planning, prototyping, sourcing, and costing.

Here’s how to develop your own original product idea and what to consider at each stage.

1. Ideation

Many aspiring entrepreneurs get stuck on ideation, often because they’re waiting for a stroke of genius to reveal the perfect product they should sell. While building something fundamentally “new” can be creatively fulfilling, many of the best ideas are the result of iterating upon on an existing product.

The SCAMPER model is a useful tool for quickly coming up with product ideas by asking questions about existing products. Each letter stands for a prompt:

  • Substitute (e.g. fur in faux fur)
  • Combine (e.g. a phone case and a battery pack)
  • Adapt (e.g. a bra with front clasps for nursing)
  • Modify (e.g. an electric toothbrush with a sleeker design)
  • Put to another use (e.g. memory foam dog beds)
  • Eliminate (e.g. the middleman to sell sunglasses and pass the savings on to consumers)
  • Reverse/Rearrange (e.g. a duffle bag so that it doesn’t wrinkle your suits)

By asking these questions, you can come up with novel ways to transform existing ideas or even adapt them for a new target audience or problem.

If you’re still looking for your “aha!” moment, we also put together a list of sources for coming up with your own product ideas, from analyzing online marketplaces for inspiration to reinventing historical trends.

2. Research

With your product idea in mind, you may feel inclined to leapfrog ahead to production, but that can become a misstep if you fail to validate your idea first.

Product validation ensures you’re creating a product people will pay for and that you won’t waste time, money, and effort on an idea that won’t sell. There are several ways you can validate your product ideas, including:

  • Talking about your idea with family and friends
  • Sending out an online survey to get feedback
  • Starting a crowdfunding campaign
  • Asking for feedback on forums like Reddit
  • Researching online demand using Google Trends
  • Launching a “coming soon” page to gauge interest via email opt-ins or pre-orders

However you decide to go about validating your idea, it is important to get feedback from a substantial and unbiased audience as to whether they would buy your product. Be wary of overvaluing feedback from people who “definitely would buy” if you were to create your theoretical product—until money changes hands, you can’t count someone as a customer.

Validation research will also inevitably involve competitive analysis. If your idea or niche has the potential to take off, there are likely competitors already operating in that space.

Visiting your competitors’ website and signing up for their email list will allow you to understand how they attract customers and make sales. Asking your own potential customers what they like or dislike about your competitors will also be important in defining your own competitive advantage.

The information compiled from doing product validation and market research will allow you to gauge the demand for your product and also the level of competition that exists before you start planning.

3. Planning

Since product development can quickly become complicated, it’s important to take the time to plan before you begin to build your prototype.

When you eventually approach manufacturers or start looking for materials, if you don’t have a concrete idea of what you want your product to look like and how it will function, it’s easy to get lost in the subsequent steps.

The best place to begin planning is with a hand-drawn sketch of what your product will look like. The sketch should be as detailed as possible, with labels explaining the various features and functions.

product development sketches for hidden radio
Product sketches from the crowdfunding campaign for a bluetooth speaker by Hidden Radio.

You don’t need a professional quality drawing since you won’t be submitting it to a manufacturer at this stage. However, if you are not confident that you can produce a legible diagram that will make sense of your product, it is easy to find illustrators for hire on DribbbleUpWork, or Minty.

Try to use your diagram to create a list of the different components or materials you will need in order to bring the product to life. The list does not need to be inclusive of all potential components, but it should allow you to begin planning what you will need in order to create the product.

For example, a drawing of a purse design could be accompanied by this list:

  • Zippers (large and small)
  • Silver clasps
  • Leather straps
  • Protection pouch
  • Embossed label
  • Interior wallet

Along with the components, you should also begin to consider the retail price or category your product will fall into. Will the product be an everyday item or for special occasions? Will it use premium materials or be environmentally friendly? These are all questions to consider in the planning phase since they will help guide you through not only your product development process but also your brand positioning and marketing strategy.

The packaging, labels, and overall quality of your materials should be considered as well before you continue to the sourcing and costing stages. These will have an effect on how you market your product to your target customer, so it’s important to take these aspects of your product into consideration during the planning phase too.

4. Prototyping

The goal of the prototyping phase during product development is to create a finished product to use as a sample for mass production.

It’s unlikely you will get to your finished product in a single attempt—prototyping usually involves experimenting with several versions of your product, slowly eliminating options and making improvements until you feel satisfied with a final sample.

razor prototypes
Several prototypes for the Angle Razor by Morrama.

Prototyping also differs significantly depending on the type of product you are developing. The least expensive and simplest cases are products you can prototype yourself, such as food recipes and some cosmetic products. This do-it-yourself prototyping can also extend to fashion, pottery, design and other verticals, if you are lucky enough to be trained in these disciplines.

However, more often than not, entrepreneurs will work with a third party to prototype their product. In the fashion and apparel industry, this usually involves working with a local seamstress (for clothing and accessories), cobbler (for shoes) or pattern maker (for clothing). These services can usually be found online by Googling local services in the industry.

Most large cities also have art, design or fashion schools where students are trained in these techniques. Administrators from these university or college programs can usually grant you access to their internal job board where you can create a request for prototyping help.

For objects like toys, household accessories, electronics, and many other hard-exterior objects, you may require a 3D rendering in order to make a prototype. Artists or engineers who are trained in computer-aided design and drafting (CAD) software can be contracted to do this, using UpWork or Freelancer. There are also user-friendly online tools such as SketchUpTinkerCad and Vectary, for founders who want to learn how to create 3D models for themselves.

trifecto infininity pen
A 3D rendering for the Trifecto Infinity Pen.

To get a 3D design turned into a physical model, makers used to have to get molds made for each part. Molds are typically expensive and involve set up fees, for things like tools and dies, that are used to cut and shape pieces of plastic and other hard materials.

Luckily, with the innovation of 3D printing, designs can be turned into physical samples at a much lower cost with a quicker turnaround time.

Chris Little, the founder of Wintersmiths, prototyped his line of barware using Quickparts, and explains that he was able to do so on a budget and within a few days time. Alex Commons of Bulat Kitchen recommends 3D Hubs, which he used to prototype a knife, paying around $30 per 3D-printed model.

3d printed knife product prototype
A 3D-printed Bulat Kitchen knife design by 3D Hubs.

5. Sourcing

Once you have a product prototype you’re satisfied with, it is time to start gathering the materials and securing the partners needed for production. This is also referred to as building your supply chain: the vendors, activities, and resources that are needed to create a product and get it into a customers’ hands.

While this phase will mainly involve looking for manufacturing-related services, you may also factor in storage, shipping, and warehousing into your choices at this stage.

In Shoe Dog, a memoir by Nike founder Phil Knight, the importance of diversifying your supply chain is a theme that is emphasized throughout the story. Finding multiple suppliers for the different materials you will need, as well as different potential manufacturers, will allow you to compare costs. It also has an added benefit of creating a backup option if one of your suppliers or manufacturers doesn’t work out. Sourcing several options is an important part of safeguarding your business for the long-term.

When looking for suppliers, there are plenty of resources both online and in person. While it may seem old-fashioned, many business owners choose to attend trade shows dedicated to sourcing. Trade shows like Magic in Las Vegas, provide the opportunity to see hundreds of vendors at once—to see, touch, and discuss materials and build a personal relationship with suppliers, which can be valuable when it comes time to negotiate prices.

During the sourcing phase, you will inevitably come across the decision of whether to produce your product locally or overseas. It is a good idea to compare the two options, as they each have their own advantages and disadvantages.

The most commonly used sourcing platform for overseas production is Alibaba. Alibaba is marketplace for Chinese suppliers and factories, where you can browse listings for finished goods, or raw materials. A popular way of using Alibaba to find a manufacturer is to look for listings with similar products to your own, and then contact the factory to see if they can produce your specific design.

6. Costing

After research, planning, prototyping, and sourcing is done, you should have a clearer picture of what it will cost to produce your product. Costing is the process of taking all of the information gathered thus far, and adding up what your cost of goods sold (COGS) will be, so that you can determine a retail price and gross margin.

Begin by creating a spreadsheet with each additional cost broken out as a separate line item. This should include all of your raw materials, factory set up costs, manufacturing costs, and shipping costs. It is important to factor in shipping, import fees, and any duties you will need to pay in order to get your final product into the customers hands, as these fees can have a significant impact on your COGS depending on where you are producing the product.

product development costing spreadsheet
A product costing example. You can view it in full or copy and adapt this spreadsheet to create your own.

If you were able to secure multiple quotes for different materials or manufacturers during the sourcing phase, you can include different columns for each line item that compares the cost. Another option is to create a second version of the spreadsheet, so that you can compare local production vs. overseas production.

Once you have your total COGS calculated, you can come up with a retail price for your product and subtract the COGS from that price to get your potential gross margin, or profit, on each unit sold.

Product development in popular industries

The product development process will naturally vary by industry, so let’s take a brief look at what you might have to consider across three of the largest and most well-established industries: Fashion and Apparel, Beauty and Cosmetics, and Food and Beverage.

These three industries have relatively straightforward paths to product development thanks to the many well-documented case studies that can be used for inspiration.

Fashion and Apparel

In the fashion industry, product development usually begins the old school way: with a hand drawn sketch, or the digital equivalent using a program like Procreate.

A sketch is then developed into a sample using a pattern maker or seamstress. During the prototyping phase, a size set is created, which means a range of samples with different measurements for each size you want to sell. Once the size set is finalized, it is put into production.

Rather than make the product, some fashion and apparel businesses choose print-on-demand to produce their clothing in the beginning. Print-on-demand allows you to upload designs to a third party app, that connects your store with a warehouse and screen-printing facility. When an order is placed online, your design is printed on an existing stock of t-shirts, sweaters and various other items on offer, creating a finished product without the need to design the entire garment.

Other factors to consider:

  • Hang tags: the branded tag that hangs from a garment and usually contains information like price, size etc.
  • Labels: the fabric tags sewed or stamped into a garment that usually contains information about fabric contents and care instructions
  • Wash tests: putting your product through wash tests to understand whether it holds up over time and how it should be cared for

Beauty and Cosmetics

The beauty and cosmetics industry includes a wide range of products that is constantly expanding due to wellness and self-care trends. From makeup to bath products and skincare, many beauty brands are focusing on all natural ingredients and sustainability, which makes it easier to prototype a product on your own using everyday ingredients.

White labeling is also popular in the beauty and cosmetics industry, which is the process of finding an existing product or manufacturer, then packaging and branding the products they already produce. Whichever route you decide to take, mass manufacturing for cosmetics is usually done by working with a lab and a chemist to make sure quality stays consistent at scale.

Other factors to consider:

  • Labels and warnings: identifying all materials used in the product and any potential reactions
  • Laws and regulations: researching FDA regulations and how they pertain to your product and packaging, both where they are produced and where you intend to sell them
  • Shelf life: conducting tests and adding necessary expiration dates to products

Food and Beverage

Food and beverage products are among the easiest to start developing at a low cost and from the comfort of your own home. Creating a new energy bar can be as simple as buying ingredients and tweaking the recipe in your own kitchen, like Lara Merriken did when she started Larabar.

In order to move from recipe to packaged goods you can sell in stores or online, you will need to find a commercial kitchen that is licensed to produce food and has passed a health and safety inspection.

These kitchens are usually set up with large ovens and cooking equipment to accommodate large batches, but if you are considering mass production and packaging, a co-packer or co-manufacturer might be a better option. These are manufacturing facilities that specialize in processing raw materials and producing food and beverage products at scale.

Other factors to consider:

  • Labels and warnings: ingredient lists, nutritional information to display
  • Laws and regulations: many countries have regulations around dietary information, allergen warnings, and health claims that you will need to comply with
  • Expiry dates: understanding your product lifetime and how you will produce, package and stock the product to accommodate this

What will you bring to the market?

During product development, each journey to a finished product is different and every industry has its own unique set of quirks involved in creating something new. If you find yourself struggling to figure it all out, remember that every product that came before yours had to overcome the same challenges.

By following these steps as you undergo your own product development process, you can break down the overwhelming task of bringing a new product to market into more digestible phases.

No matter what you’re developing, by putting in all the necessary preparation—through researching, planning, prototyping, sourcing and costing—you can set yourself up for a successful final product

Spice Girls: From Hobby to Family Food Business

The family of founders behind food business, Jaswant's Kitchen

When Nimi Kular and her sisters left home to attend university, they had no idea how to cook like their mother. “I would try to make, like, aloo gobi and it wouldn’t be the same,” she says. As kids, Nimi, Roupi, and Simi were urged to focus on their studies, while their mom, Jaswant, spent hours each day cooking traditional Indian dishes for the family.

Jaswant wanted to make Indian cooking easier for her now grown daughters—and ensure that Indian culture was passed on to the next generation. So, she began formulating spice blends in her own kitchen. What started as motherly love turned into a family business and an anti-retirement plan. And Nimi can now cook like her mom.

Back in 2010, Nimi and her sisters suggested that their mom’s spice mixes might actually have a market. After all, didn’t they know other people trying to pass down Indian cooking to their Canadian-raised kids? Jaswant’s Kitchen earned its start at a local food show—and the response was outstanding. Though all of the women still worked, and Jaswant was then 60, the show’s success validated the decision to make a real go of the business.

Nimi Kular and her mom Jaswant working on a laptop at the Jaswant's Kitchen food production facility.
Nimi Kular (right) says working with family could be hard but that they “complemented each other.”

The women built Jaswant’s Kitchen online, layered on wholesale, and eventually grew out of a shared space and into a dedicated production facility. The transitions, however, didn’t always go smoothly. The glass bottles that worked for online sales didn’t pop visually on grocery shelves, nor did the label have room for enough information. Nimi says the family purchased 10,000 units of updated pouch packaging only to discover too late that the labels were peeling off on the shelves.

Despite the setback, the demand increased enough for Jaswant to stop working at her husband’s medical practice and dedicate herself to spices. Nimi, too, quit her day job. Nimi says she always thought she’d have her own business but didn’t identify with the word “entrepreneur.” Her professors in school would describe entrepreneurs as risk-takers, while she considered herself more calculated.

Yet, Nimi spent three years building Jaswant’s Kitchen with her family before returning to work full-time in 2017. Differences with family prompted her to step back. Working with them was sometimes challenging, she says, but she also valued starting a business with people she trusted, people with whom she could be vulnerable. “We all had different strengths and weaknesses, too,” she says. “We complemented each other.”

Nimi Kular, co-founder of Jaswant's Kitchen, working on her laptop at Toronto's Shopify office.
Nimi spends her days as a product marketing manager at Shopify.

Older sister Simi and Jaswant now manage the business full-time. “I don’t think my mom really believes in the idea of retirement,” Nimi says of the 68-year-old. To Jaswant’s peers, who tell her that their time is up, she says, “I’m just getting started.” Nine years after its launch, the company’s namesake is still at the helm, still running daily production. The family hopes to move to a co-packer to take the matriarch off her feet and back to a creative product development role.

For Nimi, who spends her days as a product marketing manager at Shopify, the family business isn’t her last attempt at being entrepreneurial. “You can’t shake it,” she says. She still consults in the business, taking tactics from her 9-to-5 to her family as they scale up. She’s learned a lot in the nine years since that idea in her mother’s kitchen. Jaswant’s Kitchen thrived, for example, when the family asked for help. “Your inclination is to say ‘I can do this on my own,’ but don’t do that,” Nimi says.

Her next venture? She’s still not sure. But to her future self, she says, “You can make an impact. If you think that something needs to be done, if you see a need, you can be the one to do it.”

How to Make Money on Instagram (Whether You Have 1K or 100K Followers)

how to make money on instagram

You’ve probably heard stories of Instagrammers who are cashing in on the pictures they snap and share every day. You might’ve even looked at your own sizeable following and thought, “Maybe I can do that too”.

Just like bloggers, YouTubers, and anyone who’s amassed an audience around the content they produce, Instagrammers have reach and influence figured out—two things many companies struggle with.

Together, these two things offer the opportunity for Instagram creators to explore multiple streams of potential revenue, whether they want to build an empire or just earn some extra cash and free stuff.

How many followers do you need to make money on Instagram?

If by now you’re wondering how many followers you need to make it happen, the short answer is “not as many as you think”.

The long answer depends on factors that range from:

  • What niche you’re in and how easily you can directly tie it to a product category (fashion, food, beauty, and fitness are popular niches, based on top hashtags)
  • How engaged your followers are (100K fake followers won’t amount to much).
  • Which revenue channels you explore.

Naturally, the more engaged followers you have, the better.

While top Instagrammers make thousands per post on the photo-sharing platform, even those with a smaller-but-engaged following of 1000 have the potential to start making money.

How to make money on Instagram in 2019

Depending on your unique brand of Instagram content, your audience, and your level of commitment, you can make money on Instagram in the following ways:

  • Doing sponsored posts for brands that want to get in front of your audience.
  • Becoming an affiliate and making a commission selling other brands’ products.
  • Creating and selling a physical or digital product, or offering a paid service.
  • Selling licenses for your photography or videos.

The beauty here is that chasing one revenue stream doesn’t necessarily rule out another.

So let’s start with the most common approach to Instagram monetization: partnering with brands as an influencer.

Work with brands on sponsored posts

The term “influencer” gets thrown around a lot these days.

An influencer is basically anyone who’s built themselves an online reputation by doing and sharing awesome things online. To their audiences, influencers are tastemakers, trendsetters and trusted experts whose opinions about certain subjects are respected.

Many brands just can’t compete with that and so they partner with influencers instead for sponsored posts that help get the word out about their products.

But it’s not just the size and reach of your Instagram account that brands want. It’s your audience’s trust and engagement with your content.

It can be hard to balance your revenue as an influencer and your integrity as a creator, but if you’re not relying on your Instagram income to stay afloat, you always have the freedom to be selective about the brands you work with, just as brands will be selective about the Instagrammers they work with.

brands looking for influencers
Brands of all kinds are using influencer marketing to get their products out there (via Fohr Card). 

How to decide what to charge as an influencer

Typically these influencer deals involve the creation of content—an Instagram post, video or Story—and will sometimes include permission for the brand to use this content on their own site or in an ad.

Most of these deals are negotiable and can involve a single post or an entire campaign in exchange for a fee, a free product, a service, a gift, the promise of exposure, or some combination of these.

Keep in mind when negotiating that you’re not just offering content but access to your audience, a potentially large reach on one of the most popular social platforms around, and usage rights too.

In a survey of 5,000 influencers, around 42% said they charged $200 to $400 per post—just to give you an idea of what some brands are willing to pay, and how to negotiate based on the cards you’re holding.

Finally, it’s important as an influencer to also know your own audience.

What is the make-up of your audience and what is your engagement rate (total engagement divided by your number of followers)? You can dig up numbers to back this up in your Instagram Analytics report, if you’ve switched to a business account. This will help you be prepared when it comes time to negotiate.

How to find brands to work with

If you’re big enough, chances are brands will find you. But you can also look for brands to work with that are on a similar level in terms of personality and values, so your audience won’t feel like you’re “selling out”.

You can reach out to them directly to try to work out a deal, but you can also list yourself on one of the many influencer marketplaces out there to increase your chances of being discovered:

  • Fohr Card: Connect your Instagram, blog, YouTube channel, and other social platforms to create an influencer “card” that shows your different profiles and total reach for brands shopping around for a partnership. You also get access to a list of brands and their wants, so you can take the initiative to reach out too.
  • Grapevine: If you have 5000 or more followers, you can list yourself in the Grape Vine marketplace for the opportunity to work with like-minded brands.
  • Crowd Tap: Do small content creation tasks to earn rewards. This is great if you’ve got a smaller audience. Available in the U.S only.
  • indaHash: Brands put up campaigns that you can participate in. Post a picture with the specified hashtags on Instagram and get paid. You need 700 engaged followers to be eligible.

The rules vary when it comes to sponsored content, but to be on the safe side and respect your audience’s trust, consider adding a #sponsored hashtag to indicate sponsored posts. If you need reassurance, about 69% of influencers in one report said that being transparent about sponsorships didn’t affect how consumers perceive their recommendation.

You can find examples of sponsored posts and how Instagrammers integrate brands into their story by searching up #sponsored on Instagram, like this one from How He Asked, an account that shares wedding proposal stories and partners with a jewlery business:

Instagram also has a “Paid Partnership with” tag that prominently identifies sponsored posts, which some brands might require you to use to disclose your relationship with them.

Become an affiliate

Unlike an influencer, an affiliate is more invested in making sales for the partner brand—not just generating awareness—in exchange for a commission.

This is typically done with a trackable link or unique promo code to ensure clicks actually translate into sales. Since Instagram doesn’t yet allow links anywhere outside of your bio, you can only focus on one product at a time if you choose to rely on affiliate links, making promo codes a better option for Instagram since you can actually incorporate them into your posts.

Note: Instagram has plans to roll out links for Instagram Stories, which will open up new opportunities for you as an influencer.

Consider reaching out to one of the many online merchants that offer affiliate programs that you can participate in. Or you can also explore popular marketplaces like:

  • ClickBank: An affiliate platform with a tier-based commission that’s open to everyone.
  • RewardStyle: An invitation-only fashion and lifestyle influencer network that offers 20% commissions.
  • Amazon’s Affiliate Program: A popular option that pays out a 10% commission.

Though it sounds like a numbers game, affiliate marketing is also an art, and you’ll have a better chance at success if you have a plan going into it and expand your online presence to include a website and other marketing channels.

Tip: Affiliate links can be long and ugly, so I recommend a URL shortener like bit.ly, especially if they’re going in your Instagram bio.

Open your own online store

By now it might sound like the only way for an Instagrammer to make money is to sell out and work with other brands.

But creators of all kinds are also in a good position to “sell out” with their own products: physical goods, services, or digital items that can be an extension of their brand, building a business with an audience at its center.

You need to invest some time upfront, but in today’s world it’s almost natural for creators to make the leap into entrepreneurship.

Just look at Doug the Pug, one of the biggest Instagram dog-preneurs of his time.

doug the pug making money on instagram

By selling your own stuff, you  don’t need to worry about integrating messages from other brands into your posting strategy. Better yet, you can get your own brand out there on the products you sell.

Sell more with shopping on Instagram

Start tagging products in your posts and stories to turn engagement into purchases with the shopping on Instagram sales channel.

=

Fans can show their love and support your work by buying from you—a purchase they can feel good about.

There are a few ways to do this:

  • You can use a print-on-demand service to print and ship your own t-shirts, pillows, coffee mugs, wall art, and more.
  • You can sell services such as photography or consulting, using your bio to direct interested people to a contact email or a link to your professional website.
  • You can sell digital products such as courses, ebooks, or design templates.
  • You can use your Instagram account to launch a business selling your own original products, or even a book.

If you plan on selling several items in your own online store, you can also make purchases through Instagram possible on your website using one of the available Instagram gallery apps.

 

making money on instagram with product tags
Source: Child of Wild

Sell your photos online or on things

Someone might get famous on Twitter by telling 140-character jokes, but Instagram is a photo-sharing app at its core. And photos are assets that can be licensed, printed, and sold in a variety of ways.

If photography is what got you into the Instagram game in the first place, you can list your photos in marketplaces like 500px or Twenty20 where brands and publishers might license them.

However, you can also sell your photos as prints and on other physical products using a similar methods described in the last section. Services like Printful and Teelaunch can let you put your photos on posters, phone cases, pillows, and more, taking care of fulfilling orders and customer service so all you really need to worry about is making sales.

Take the story of Daniel Arnold who went from “eating toast 3 meals a day”, according to an interview on Forbes, to making $15K in a single day by offering to sell prints of his popular-but-controversial photos. If you’ve already got the demand, all you need to do is take the initiative and offer your audience the opportunity to buy your photography from you.

Do it for the ‘Gram (and get paid)

What started as a hobby—making people laugh, doing silly photoshoots with your dog or sharing pictures of food—can snowball into the chance to turn Instagram into a source of income fuelled by your engaged following.

There’s a world of possibilities out there as a creator with a large online audience made up of people who can’t help but stop when they scroll past your post in their feed. It’s this special appeal that you have that opens the door. You just have to walk through it.

Instagram Influencers: How Do I Find People Who Are a Good Fit For My Brand?

Instagram has quickly become the go-to platform for store owners who are looking to connect with new audiences, and influencer marketing on Instagramhas become a top way to do it. When you work with the right people, it can be a huge boost to your brand and your sales.

Question:

I’m interested in trying out influencer marketing on Instagram for my store. I’ve never done it before, and the one thing that’s been on my mind is making sure I’m working with the right people for my brand who have real, engaged audiences. Is there anything I should be doing ahead of time to make sure I’m working with the right influencers?

Answer:

To help you figure out whether you’re working with the right influencers for your store, we spoke with Neil Waller, co-founder of Shore Projects, a 2015 Build-a-Business winner, and co-founder and CEO of Whalar, a tool to help you streamline and manage your influencer marketing.

“First, take a step back and say, “Why do you want to work with influencers?” Because the output that you can get from working with influencers is a few different things, so the lens through which you’ll choose to vet them could be different based on your business goals.”

Neil outlined three main benefits of working with influencers, each of which is a great standalone objective.

  1. Tap into their knowledge of a platform and what works, to create content for that platform
  2. Access their audience
  3. Work with them as consumers, to get their feedback and perspective on your product

But even though choosing a priority is important, Neil also points out that it’s not to the exclusion of the other outcomes.

“You can achieve all three, but you’ve got to know what your primary goals are before you can start the vetting process.”

As for that vetting process, it really boils down to two key questions. Does this person fit with your brand, and do they have a solid engagement rate?

Are they a brand fit?

Before you start to look at anything quantitative, like follower counts or engagement levels, it’s important to build a list of influencers you think would be a genuinely good fit for your products and your brand. This might be an intuitive process if you have a good sense of what your brand represents, or you might need to define what makes someone a good fit, but this is the best first step you can take.

“In terms of vetting, when we did influencer marketing with Shore Projects, the first thing we said was, “Does the influencer we’re going to work with seem like someone we would want to be a customer, and would they actually use or wear our stuff?”” says Neil. “Because if they don’t, frankly what the point in going about it?”

The intersection of your brand and an influencer’s content is going to be different for every business, but Neil offered an easy mental model to help you think through the selection process.

“At their best, influencers are like magazine publishers. If you picked up a magazine, you’d have a sense of voice and tone, what the magazine stands for, and what the magazine writes about. And with magazine publishing, that’s how you would choose whether to associate your brand with that magazine. Apply the same process to influencers.”

Based on their Instagram feed and their stories, you should get a clear and consistent sense of who the influencer is, what topics they create content about, and their general style. If those factors match up well with your brand and your products, you can then check out their engagement rates.

Do they have good engagement rates?

Once you’ve found someone who seems to be a good fit for your brand, it’s time to sniff out whether they’ve got the community that they’re promising.

It all boils down to engagement rates. While tools like Whalar can help you determine if an influencer has the engagement you’d expect on their posts, you can also figure it out based on the public information on their Instagram profiles.

“You can work this stuff out by taking a quick glance. Look at the post, look at the average amount of likes on each post. Take the last 4 to 10 posts, add up all the likes, divide them by the number of posts to get the average, and then divide that by the total followers.

That will give you what we call the engagement rate,” advises Neil. “As long as the engagement rate is anywhere from 2-3% or up, that’s a good mark of engagement. People with smaller audiences might have 8, 9, 10% engagement rates, which are really strong.”

Since Instagram isn’t just about the likes, you can also take a peek at the comments on each influencers posts to see what kind of conversations they’re having with the community. If the comments seem real, and not just a stream of single-word sentences, that’s a good sign they’re for real.

Keep your goals in mind

As you’re working through the process of vetting influencers, it’s important to keep the three key outcomes you can get from these collaborations in mind: content that works on a specific platform, access to new audiences, and feedback from a well-aligned customer.

Whichever one is your key priority, it’s important not to lose sight of the eventual outcome you hope to gain from the collaboration, and to remember that at the end of the day, your marketing efforts should lead to work you’re proud of.

“All roads lead to the work,” shares Neil. “If the end outcome of any collaboration, any terms of marketing and communication isn’t great work that is representative of your brand, your brand values, and what you’re wanting to communicate to people, then what was the point in doing it in the first place?”

Ensuring that you’re working with people who align with your brand, and have solid engagement on their platform, are just two ways to make sure that happens.

Life Gave ’Em Lemons. They Made Laundry

Ithica Laundry

A middle-aged homeless man lays a plastic bag bursting with clothes in front of a van in downtown Athens, Greece. “Come back in about two hours,” says a younger man to the older one. “They’ll be waiting for you, clean and dry.” Inside the van, along with the young volunteer? Two washing machines and dryers.

Ithaca Laundry, the country’s first free mobile laundry service, will wash about 25 bags of clothes today. Due in part to the Greek debt crisis as well as a steady influx of refugees, there has recently been an increase in people without homes in Athens. But where there is disaster, there is also opportunity. That’s what Thanos Spiliopoulos, founder and CEO of Ithaca Laundry, discovered.

Illustration of homeless men with overflowing baskets of laundry next to the Ithaca Laundry van.
Ithaca Laundry washes about 25 bags of clothes for the homeless population per day.

Homelessness is not unique to Greece, of course, and social enterprises around the world are tackling the problem in their own neighborhoods. Whether through art-related programs like Wrap Up Homelessness, which supports those transitioning out of homelessness, or projects such as SucSeed, a community garden that provides meaningful work to at-risk youth, these businesses are striving to make an impact. In Washington, D.C., three young brothers initially founded the candle company Frères Branchiaux to make money to buy video games, but they balanced it with an important cause—10 percent of the proceeds from their store supports local shelters.

In some ways, Thanos’s journey to make a difference began in December 2014. Then 22, he was completing his bachelor’s degree in management science and technology at the Athens University of Economics and Business. His options were dismal. He could have stayed in Greece and risked joining the over 50 percent of youth under 25 who were unemployed at the time, while competing to find a job for 500 euros a month (less than $600 USD, the starting salary for employees in his age group). Or, he could have fled the country, like many of his peers were doing. One day he read an article about Australia’s Orange Sky Laundry, the world’s first free mobile laundry service for people without homes. “It dawned on me that this was what Athens was missing,” Thanos says.

He shared this epiphany with friends Fanis Tsonas, a chemical engineer, and Andili Rachouti, a graphic designer. His friends liked the idea; in no time, they had formed a trio to run their nonprofit.

Procuring funds during a financial crisis wasn’t exactly a walk in the park. Their big break came in 2015, when the trio approached Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, a former director of Athens’s 2004 Olympic Games and an ambassador for the Clinton Global Initiative. She provided them with 10,000 euros (less than $12,000USD) in funding, Thanos says. But it wasn’t enough to fully form a sustainable venture, so they entered—and won—two contests aimed at entrepreneurs, securing another 18,000 euros ($20,000USD). Then they struck a deal with multinational electronics company LG, allowing them to buy a van and transform it into a mobile laundry service. Georgia Stavropoulou, marketing manager of LG Electronics Hellas, says the company tries to “embrace and support” Ithaca and is “committed to contributing as much as possible to create opportunities for dignity and a better life.”

Illustration of three silhouetted figures against a round cut out of the Greek flag, above a white Ithaca Laundry van with washing machines and supplies.
Ithaca Laundry’s founder enlisted friends—a chemical engineer and a graphic designer—to help run it.

They launched a pilot operation at just one spot in 2016, and nearly a year later they hired their first employees. In 2018, they were visiting five different spots per week and “continuously expanding,” says Ithaca’s operations manager, Dimitra Kountourioti, who joined the team in 2017. Dimitra, who is in her 30s, is one of a few paid employees—others have included former recipients of the service—and they have helped around 350 people per month. Though she had been paid more in her role as a manager at a fashion label, Dimitra says what gives her job meaning is assisting others in restoring their dignity.

So far, in addition to LG, Ithaca has attracted sponsorships from brands including Cosmote (the largest mobile network in Greece) and global charitable organization Hellenic Initiative. Meanwhile, multinational consumer goods firm Procter & Gamble supplies the team with detergents, pharmaceutical company Sanitas provides gloves and bags, and automobile manufacturer Nissan has even given the team a car. Recently, Dimitra was approached by accounting giant Deloitte about enlisting their staff as volunteers. “There is a change in companies, mostly in companies that make profit. They want to give back but also to improve their public image,” says Dimitra. “This makes a great form of social advertising.”

Though the idea for Ithaca Laundry emerged out of a somber state of affairs, Thanos is beginning to see a brighter future for himself and the people for whom Ithaca was created. They’ve attracted patronage, employed socially vulnerable people, and set up a team that can continue to create social impact. Now that the company is running smoothly, Thanos says, the core trio can concentrate on setting future strategy and finding ways whereby those on the streets of Athens can find their own Ithaca, their own way home.

What Should I Name My Online Store?

Find a catch brand name for your online store

Having a strong brand name gives you an immediate advantage when you’re first starting your business. As Marty Neumeier writes in The Brand Gap, “The right name can be a brand’s most valuable asset, driving differentiation and speeding acceptance. The wrong name can cost millions… in workarounds and lost income over the lifetime of the brand.”

It’s important to find the right name when setting up your online store to help it stand out from the crowd. Here are a few pointers on how to find that killer name.

Table of Contents

  • Tips for choosing a catchy business name
  • Examples of great business names
  • What’s in a name?

Tips for choosing a catchy business name

  1. Keep it short and simple
  2. Be different
  3. Consider your online presence
  4. Get creative with your domain name
  5. Be original
  6. Find new inspiration

1. Keep it short and simple

Having a short, snappy name is great for several reasons: It’s memorable, easy to pronounce, and effortlessly fits in the header of your online store’s homepage.

Finding one can be challenging, though. Brands are launched every day, and names that are appealing to you will undoubtedly appeal to someone else, too. Fortunately, it’s a big world and there’s plenty of room for creative, compelling brand names.

Here are a few strategies you can try to get your gears turning:

  • Try different combinations of short words. Two short words that rhyme or that are alliterative (e.g. “Snack Shack”) can be more memorable.
  • Make up a word or tweak an existing one. Tech brands like Google, eBay and Skype have instantly recognizable names, even though they aren’t real words.
  • Use a word with personal meaning. It might be a nickname you have for your significant other, your pet’s name (a smart idea if your store relates to furry friends), or even your own name. Using a personal name makes your store easier to identify with on a personal level—though note that stores built on personal brands can be more difficult to sell.

2. Be different

Conduct market research to discover which names are taken by your direct competitors and try to come up with something completely different.

The challenge here is to come up with a name that reflects your niche and the type of products you’re selling, without your business name mirroring your competitors. By definition, if you want to be different you have to ‘zig’ when others ‘zag’.

For instance, if you’re selling electronics and technology products, you might have competitors who use words like “electronics,” “technology” and “future” in their names. Avoid using similar words. Instead, think differently and stand out.

3. Consider your online presence

Once you have a list of options for your store name, find out if your chosen domain—preferably a .com—is available to be registered. This might be a bit difficult, given that .com is the most popular top-level domain (TLD) and has been for a long time.

Having a custom domain name for your store is mission-critical, though you shouldn’t let your search for the mythical “perfect” domain name cause you to procrastinate—everything is open to change, including your domain name. However, there is value in picking a solid domain name that properly represents your brand from the start, so it’s a decision that warrants some thought.

You might also consider selling on Amazon, eBay, Etsy or another third-party marketplace in addition to your own online store. Even if that’s not in the plan, it’s a good idea to check your business name idea on popular ecommerce sites to make sure the names are available to you, and so that customers don’t confuse you with another existing business.

4. Get creative with your domain name

If the .com for your chosen name isn’t available, don’t fret: You still have the option of using a different TLD. The reason .com is the gold standard is that everyone recognizes it, but that doesn’t rule out other TLDs, which are becoming more commonplace as great .com options continue to dwindle. And you can always grab the .com after your business has generated some traction.

When they first launched, Shopify store Tattly decided to go with a .ly domain making it http://www.tatt.ly. Since then, they’ve been able to purchase tattly.com, which is where their site currently lives.

Tattly online store

While some search engine experts believe Google isn’t as friendly to lesser-known domains, you should still be able to rank just as high as a .com if you have a high-quality site with a good user experience. Plus, going with a snazzy domain is far more unique.

Modifiers to consider:

  • [YourBrand][Main Product] (e.g. helmboots.com)
  • Shop[YourBrand].com (e.g. sandytoesshop.com)
  • Get[YourProduct].com (e.g. getflow.com)
  • [YourBrand]co.com (e.g. shopmeekco.com)
  • [YourBrand][industry].com (e.g. lifeinspirithome.com)
  • [Verb][YourBrand].com (e.g. wearpepper.com)
  • [My/Your][YourBrand].com (e.g. mybillie.com)

TLDs to consider:

  • .store
  • .shop
  • Based on the product you sell (.shoes, .art)
  • Continuation of your brand name (e.g. muvo.health for “Muvo Health Supplements”, or feugo.clothing for “Fuego Clothing Co.”)

Learn More: Ready to register your online store’s domain? Try our automated setup.

5. Be original

Make sure you’re legally allowed to use the business name you’ve come up with. For store owners in the U.S., start by checking The United States Patent and Trademark Office. They have a free database that’s a pain in the butt to search, but it’s well worth the effort.

Also note, the U.S. doesn’t have a centralized national register, so trademarks can be made in another country, or even another state. In Canada, you can search through the Canadian Intellectual Property Office website, which is also pretty confusing. The only safe way to be 100% sure is by consulting a lawyer.

Once you’ve determined your name is available, go to Google or Bing and see if the names on your list show up. Could you potentially make it to the top of the first page? If you choose a generic name, you’ll have a tough time ranking very well.

It’s also important to check Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites you’ll want to use for availability.

6. Find new inspiration

If you’re short on business name ideas, you might want to give yourself themes to think about. Maybe you look for a business name that has nostalgia or speaks to a trend. Other languages can provide plenty of ideas, too.

Inspiration can strike anywhere. Listen to conversations around you, survey your surroundings, and even consider your usual expressions and mannerisms.

Examples of great business names

  1. Death Wish Coffee
  2. Super Ink Clothing
  3. The Sock Market
  4. Cotopaxi
  5. Coffee Joulies
  6. Fuego Box
  7. Conquest Maps
  8. Star Cadet
  9. Storq
  10. United By Blue

1. Death Wish Coffee

A name like Death Wish Coffee can only mean one thing: This is some of the strongest coffee you can buy. The name sets the tone for the brand experience, as does the copy on their website and other marketing channels. It positions the product as some of the strongest stuff on the market, and customers will have to try it to find out if it lives up to its promise.

Death Wish Coffee's online store

2. Super Ink Clothing

Super Ink Clothing sells printed clothing and accessories to a very specific demographic. “Our paradise lifestyle was made for creative individuals who constantly live in a state of wanderlust!” their About page states. To create their compound name, the brand combined the word “super,” which is associated with positivity and quality, and “ink,” which brings in the idea of the ink printed on the clothing. If you’re stuck between two ideas or words for your store name, you might not have to choose one over the other.

3. The Sock Market

The Sock Market has taken a more literal approach to their brand name. The online store sells socks for people of all ages, from babies to adults. Built on the philosophy of bringing high fashion to the sock industry, the name for the online store indicates that it is “the” place to go to for all your sock needs.

4. Cotopaxi

There are two meanings for the word “Cotopaxi.” One is a sacred and active volcano in the Andes Mountains in Ecuador. The other is an online store that sells outdoor gear. Rather than inventing a word or coming up with a name from scratch, Cotopaxi borrowed the name from a famous landmark that’s relevant and interesting to their customer base. They even share the story behind the name on their site.

Cotopaxi store name

5. Coffee Joulies

Coffee Joulies are fake coffee beans that are thermodynamic, so when you place them into your cup of coffee, they’ll help get it to the perfect temperature. So where did the word “joulies” come from? “Joule is the SI unit of energy; Joule… Joulie… Joulies!” the founders explained in a 2011 article. They found a word that embodied the science they put into the product, and tweaked it to make it their own and more memorable for customers.

6. Fuego Box

Fuego is the Spanish word for “fire,” which is quite fitting for an online store that sells hot sauce subscription boxes. The subscription box industry has grown exponentially. Worldwide subscription ecommerce sales increased 4,461% from 2011 to 2016. Many of the most popular brands in this category have box in their name: BarkBoxBirchbox and NatureBox, to name a few. Fuego Box plays on the familiarity of the word box, and a foreign language to hit on the product.

7. Conquest Maps

Conquest Maps sells beautiful and unique maps, their core product being the pin board map which is popular among people who love to travel. Keeping the name of the product, maps, in the store name, they added a descriptor in front to convey the brand identity and the journey that the products represent. A conquest is a trip, and customers are reliving their trips through Conquest Maps products.

8. Star Cadet

Star Cadet is the result of a series of media, retail and ecommerce business ventures, dating back to 2010. Star Cadet’s brand story is quite long and eventful, with several failed and successful businesses along the way. Formerly called Olan Rogers Supply, a name derived of the founders name, the online brand changed its name to Star Cadet, which also works for the business’s production aspirations for the future. Here’s what founder Olaf Rogers has to say about it:

Star Cadet brand name

9. Storq

Storq sells products for pregnant women and new moms. Pronounced like “stork,” it’s a unique take on spelling the word. Storks are associated with childbirth, which makes for a fitting and memorable brand name. Plus, the letter Q lends itself to fun branding and design treatments.

10. United By Blue

United By Blue is more than just a brand; they’ve created a movement around sustainability and protecting the earth’s oceans and waterways. They sell products designed for enjoying the outdoors. Their customers are quite literally united together and with the brand by their passion for the ocean, rivers, lakes and streams. It establishes a sense of community and reiterates the brand’s philosophies.

United By Blue brand name

What’s in a name?

Finding the right brand name can feel like a daunting task. But it’s absolutely crucial to put time and thought into naming your online store. That’s how customers will come to know, recognize and talk about you — and if the name’s too difficult to remember, you’re missing out on loads of word-of-mouth marketing that doesn’t cost you a single penny.

Question: Which businesses out there have you seen with awesome names? What business names have you been toying with?

How to Get More Followers on Instagram: 13 Reliable Ways to Grow Your Audience

How to get more followers on Instagram

Instagram can be a highly-targeted, visual marketing channel for your brand and an opportunity to build a loyal audience that grows with your business.

In fact, over 500 million Instagram users browse the app every day, making it home to some of the most engaged audiences around.

But like any social network out there, there are the right ways to use your Instagram profile, wrong ways to use it, and clever ways to use it.

In this post, we will show you how to most effectively use Instagram to increase engagement and grow a massive following over time—one that’s full of real fans, not inactive fake accounts.

How to Get More Followers on Instagram

There are 13 tactics that will help you reliably get more followers on Instagram:

  1. Use the right hashtags
  2. Use the right filters
  3. Post at the right time
  4. Steal your competitor’s followers
  5. Pay for sponsored posts and product reviews
  6. Use geotags to boost local discovery
  7. Organize your Stories into Highlights on your profile
  8. Ask new users who engage with you to follow you
  9. Be consistent
  10. Hop on trends
  11. Run a giveaway
  12. Monitor your following closely over time
  13. Use the Instagram tools at your disposal

Let’s dive deeper into how to implement each tactic to get more Instagram followers.

1. Use the right Instagram hashtags

Your goal on Instagram is to engage your current audience on a regular basis while also growing your number of real followers. Posting new, interesting and engaging photos will satisfy the first requirement, but to begin growing you’ll find hashtagging your photos to be extremely important. Hashtagging your photos makes it easy for people to find your photos that are searching for those specific terms.

So which hashtags should you use? Just like with Twitter and other social sites, users on Instagram use certain hashtags over others. If you use popular hashtags within your photos, you’re much more likely to reach new users and be discovered.

Here are the current top 20 hashtags on Instagram:

  1. #love (1,271,692,015)
  2. #instagood (742,795,562)
  3. #photooftheday (507,358,504)
  4. #fashion (487,010,088)
  5. #beautiful (463,668,566)
  6. #happy (427,528,663)
  7. #cute (418,686,470)
  8. #like4like (417,887,839)
  9. #tbt (413,049,020)
  10. #followme (392,011,012)
  11. #picoftheday (380,504,677)
  12. #follow (371,102,705)
  13. #me (348,193,980)
  14. #art (343,874,151)
  15. #selfie (337,204,715)
  16. #summer (324,498,110)
  17. #instadaily (323,307,593)
  18. #repost (309,603,537)
  19. #friends (307,567,075)
  20. #nature (303,040,276)

If you looked at the list above and said, “But none of those apply to my products or brand”, you’re likely correct.

Using hashtags is one thing, using the right tags is a completely different thing.

Popular tags like the ones listed above will likely net you additional engagement and likes, however they will not lead to increased long-term engagement, new interested followers, and most importantly, sales.

If you want to tag your photos properly, you’ll need to find and use the most relevant hashtags. This means doing the appropriate research to make sure you’re using hashtags that not only describe your brand, but are also being searched for on Instagram.

To find relevant hashtags, you’ll want to use a free online tool like IconoSquare or Websta to start.

Below, I used Websta to find relevant, related and popular hashtags for my men’s accessory brand by searching for key hashtags that are closely related to my brand.

As an example, searching the hashtag #MensFashion, I was able to pull the following list of additional keyword hashtags along with the number of times they have been used (popularity).

how to find menswear instagram hashtags

You can also find more related hashtags and their popularity if you search for any of your target keywords directly in the Instagram app.

You’ll want to go through this exercise trying different keywords that describe your brand and products, building out your hashtag keyword list as you go.

Keep in mind that Instagram allows for a maximum of 30 hashtags per post. Additionally, the popular words will change over time, so make sure you revisit your hashtag keywords every few months to make sure you’re using the best possible terms.

You can also steal hashtag ideas from competitors or similar accounts that have the kind of following you aspire to have, but you ultimately want to create your own groups of hashtags to use that relate to your specific account.

Protip #1: Here’s a trick that I use for my ecommerce businesses. For every product and product category for my stores, I have done the research to see which are the most popular Instagram hashtags around those product categories. I came up with 15-20 popular hashtags for each category of products I sell, as well as a base of 5-10 popular tags that describe my brand and product offering overall. Finally, I also created a list of popular local specific hashtags that relate to my brand.

For example:

(Brand Keyword Hashtags)

#mybrandname #mensfashion #mensaccessories #mensgoods #fashion #mensstyle #instafashion #menswear

(Product Category Keyword Hashtags)

#bugatchisocks #happysocks #corgisocks #socks #sockswag #socksoftheday #sockgame #sockswagg #socksofinstagram #happysockday #sockwars #funsocks #happysockday

(Location Specific Keyword Hashtags)

#Toronto #TorontoFashion #TorontoFashionBloggers

All of these groups of keyword hashtags are stored in a page on Evernote. This makes it easy and efficient when I’m on the go to post a new Instagram image, optimized for the most relevant keywords.

I can easily open my Evernote and copy my standard brand, product and location specific hashtags to post with each photo. Some Instagram scheduling tools also let you save caption templates that you can use to store your hashtag groups.

mens fashion hashtags in instagram posts

Doing the work upfront of researching, organizing and saving the most applicable and popular hashtags will save you a ton of time down the road, increase your engagement and help garner new followers.

Protip #2: If you’ve been posting to Instagram for a while and feel like you’ve missed out on all these opportunities to build your audience by using keyword hashtags, fret not. You can still go back and post a comment with your new hashtag keyword lists and watch the likes and followers roll in.

Using hashtags in Instagram stories

Hashtagging on Instagram posts are a given, but you should also be using hashtags in your Stories for the chance to be seen by users who follow that specific hashtag.

You can use hashtag stickers (which can be found in the Instagram Stickersmenu when creating a Story) or just hashtag directly in your captions for a chance to be featured in a hashtag story.

Now that users can follow hashtags, your stories on Instagram have a chance to be seen by both people who are following that hashtag and anyone who’s just checking it out.

2. Use the right filters on Instagram

Keyword hashtags aren’t the only thing you should pay attention to. The Instagram community responds to certain photo filters more favorably than others. Using these preferred filters can have an impact on your engagement.

Here are the 10 current most popular filters on Instagram according to Iconosquare:

  1. Normal (No Filter)
  2. Clarendon
  3. Juno
  4. Lark
  5. Ludwig
  6. Gingham
  7. Valencia
  8. X-Pro II
  9. Lo-fi
  10. Amaro

TrackMaven ran a study on Instagram accounts to see how filters affected engagement and found that Mayfair, Hefe, and Ludwig drove the most interaction.

TrackMaven Instagram data

But more important than the general Instagram community’s favorite filters, are your particular audience’s favorite filters. Consider this custom graph which correlates filter usage to engagement from my own Instagram account:

Iconosquare Instagram filters for likes

You can use IconoSquare to review the performance of your own account to understand what is and is not currently working for you.

3. Post on Instagram at the right times

Beyond adding the appropriate hashtags and using the best filters, you should also be considering the timing of your posts.

A targeted approach is to analyze what has and has not worked for you in the past. By visiting IconoSquare’s optimization section, you can get a detailed analysis of your posting history vs. engagement. This report will also highlight the best times of the day and days of the week to post.

The dark circles indicate when you usually post media. The light gray circles shows when your community has been interacting. The biggest light gray circles represent the best times for you to post.

Instagram posting habits

You can also get a lot of great insight from Instagram Analytics for Business accounts for free, under the Followers section.

You may want to consider using a social media scheduling tool to schedule and automatically publish your posts for when your audience is the most engaged.

4. Steal your competitor’s followers on Instagram

One of the best ways to find and attract a new following is by seeking out your closest competitors’ Instagram accounts and engaging with their audience. These people have already shown some level of interest in the products you carry simply by following your competitors’ account.

So how do you effectively steal your competitors’ followers? You can steal your closest competitors’ followers by engaging with them. There are several ways to engage with Instagram users, and the more work you put in, the more followers and repeat engagement you’ll get out of it.

The three types of engagement on Instagram are:

  • Follow a user
  • Like a photo
  • Comment on a photo

I ran an informal test with my business account to see how my competitors’ followers responded to my marketing advances. I targeted the followers of a close, local competitor. Since I know many of his followers would be local, I added my city to my profile to create a greater sense of familiarity between my brand and the people I am targeting.

I began by simply following 100 of my competitors’ followers. Later, I followed another 100 but I also took the time to like one of their photos. Finally, I followed a third group of 100 and liked as well as commented on one photo from each account..

Here were the results:

  • Follow: 14% followback
  • Follow + Like: 22% followback
  • Follow + Like + Comment: 34% followback

Although the are many variables and the test was far from scientific, the results were clear. The more you put in and engage with people, the more you’ll get out of it.

5. Pay for sponsored posts and product reviews

All this optimized posting to your account is great but if you really want to make an impact, you need to take advantage of influencer marketing on Instagram, exposing your brand to a wider audience.

So how do you do that? First, unlike the tactics above to grow your account this one usually isn’t free. However, if done correctly, it’s good value.

To get started, you’ll need to make a list of large accounts in your niche. For example, if you sell beauty products, you’ll want to find large accounts from beauty bloggers.

You may already be following these accounts, but if not you’ll need to find them. One of the best ways is to use Webstagram (mentioned earlier) and search for some of the closest hashtag keywords you uncovered in the beginning of this post. When you do a search for your keywords, not only will it show you the related keywords, but it also shows you the top Instagram accounts that feature those keywords.

There are a few things to look for in the profiles results:

  • A large following—usually 20k to 200k
  • An email address in the profile

If there is an email address in the profile, it usually means they’re open to sponsored posts or a shoutout in a sponsored Story.

You’ll want to email them and ask them their sponsored post pricing. In general, I have found the average rate to be around $20-$50 per post, depending on the size of their following.

However, if you’re selling a unique and original product, you may also want to consider sending them your product to review and post. The more natural and less advertisement-like the image, the greater the engagement and response usually.

You don’t necessarily need influencers with a massive following, but rather ones with a high engagement rate (likes and comments relative to follower size), which many influencer marketplaces can provide.

6. Use geotags on Instagram for local discoverability

Besides hashtags, you can also make your Instagram posts and Stories discoverable by tagging your location, either the city you’re in or the venue where the photo or video was taken.

Locations not only have their own Instagram feed but also their own Story just like hashtags that you can contribute to when you use the location sticker in your own Stories.

geotagging on instagram

Local businesses can get the most value out of location tags by posting regularly to these feeds and also engaging with posts from prospective customers who are physically in the vicinity.

7. Organize your Stories into Highlights

Whenever a potential follower lands on your profile, you have a short span of time to convince them to follow you.

One way to do this is by using the “Highlights” feature on your profile to organize your Instagram Stories in a way that communicates what your account is about.

Since Stories have a 24-hour lifespan, Highlights can be used to give them a second-life and entice others to follow you so they don’t miss out on more Stories in the future.
story highlights on instagram

Use Story Highlights to:

  • Create trailers that tease what your account is about
  • Organize your Stories into themes (like countries you’ve visited to for travel accounts)
  • Explain your products through pictures and videos
  • Promote your products using swipe-up links (you need at least 10K followers and a Instagram Business account to do this with your Stories)

8. Ask for more followers

It sounds obvious, but it deserves to be said: Don’t be afraid to occasionally ask your audience to follow you.

The same way YouTubers ask their viewers to follow them at the end of their videos, you can also ask viewers to follow you for more content.

Sometimes people might really enjoy what you put out on Instagram, but need a nudge before they actually follow you. Sometimes you just need to remind the users of a platform that they can subscribe to get more in the comments of a post.

You can also do this in your captions or even work it into your content by pitching what your audience will get if they follow you or hinting at content that’s coming up that they won’t want to miss.

9. Hop on trends for more followers

When the opportunity presents itself, aligning your content with trending topics or hashtags can improve discoverability and engagement.

For example, you can ride the wave of a trending topic or event, such as a holiday, in a relevant way to boost your engagement and reach. Or you can participate in one of the many hashtag holidays that exist, such as #NationalCoffeeDay (falling on October 1st in 2018). Mark relevant events in your calendar so you can prepare relevant content in advance.

Be sure to join the conversation in a meaningful way and when in doubt, ask yourself if your target audience would actually pay attention to the trend.

10. Run a giveaway to attract Instagram followers

One of the best kinds of comments you can get on any social media post, not just Instagram, is a comment where one user tags a friend. Not only do these comments contribute to your post’s engagement, which in turn makes it favorable to the Instagram algorithm, but each tag brings you a new audience member who arrived through a recommendation and who you could potentially win over as a follower.

One way to encourage this behavior is by posting relatable content that begs for 1:1 sharing (e.g. A gym meme that asks you to tag a friend who skips leg day). But a more reliable way to get your audience to tag their friends is by running a giveaway that encourages your audience to tag a friend and follow your account.

Be sure to check out our post on running a giveaway for more, as well follow Instagram’s promotion guidelines and any legal requirements for running a contest that apply in your country of operation.

For inspiration, here’s an example of a successful product giveaway from the5th that incentivizes people to follow their account and tag a friend for the chance to win two free products for the both of them.

Example of Instagram hashtags

11. Be consistent with your Instagram posts

Most of your followers won’t follow you for what you posted in the past but for the promise of what you’ll post in the future. Your audience wants to know what they’re going to get if they hit that follow button.

Having a feed with a consistent theme running through, where you publish at a consistent pace, can have just as much of an impact in growing a following as many of the other growth strategies we’ve covered above. Even a simple pattern can entice new followers, as long as it’s communicated at first glance to anyone who lands on your profile.

Consider your Instagram bio and your last 9 posts as your first impression on Instagram. Do they effectively communicate some degree of consistency through personality, filters, colors, or layout?

The layout of your grid is an often underestimated way to get creative with the aesthetic of your feed while adding a rhythm to your publishing strategy and consistency that’s worth following.

In fact, many accounts that adopt this approach are often able to spend less effort on creating content by focusing on converting visitors into followers, producing text graphics or other content with a faster turnaround and streamlining the overall production of their Instagram content.

You can use a tool like Later to easily plan out and schedule the look and layout of your feed in advance. Sonnet Insurance is just one example of how far some brands go with the aesthetic of their Instagram layout.

example of an instagram grid layout

12. Closely monitor your Instagram following over time

It’s not enough to get more Instagram followers if you’re losing them just as fast. Keep an eye on the rate at which you’re growing as well as how engaged your following is overall.

Social Blade is a great free tool for analyzing the growth of your following (or your competitors), showing you followers added and lost over time and on specific days.

SocialBlade for Instagram

With an Instagram Business account, you also get an Instagram Analytics dashboard which offers valuable insight for free that you won’t get anywhere else. You can see how many people are checking out your profile, how many people your posts have reached, what your most engaging posts are, and where most of your followers are from.

You can use this data to diagnose where you’re falling short and where you could do more.

Look for patterns in the posts that were the most engaging and try to replicate that in your future content.

13. Use the Instagram tools at your disposal

There are hundreds of Instagram tools out there that can help you and your Instagram strategy, but I mentioned three key ones to help you build your audience and engage with them over time:

  • Later: Schedule and automatically publish your Instagram posts from your computer or mobile device.
  • IconoSquare: Info, analytics and insights into your account and followers.
  • Webstagram: Find the best hashtags for your posts and people for your sponsored posts.

You can find more in our list of top Instagram tools, as well as some apps to help you with creating and editing your content.

Once you’ve built up a large following on Instagram, you might also want to check out these tactics for making money on Instagram.

Grow an Instagram following that grows your business

In this post we talked about the most effective ways to use Instagram to build a targeted following, but it’s not always a numbers game. As with any social network, the most successful strategy overall is to be authentic and social.

If you focus on engagement, not just followers, Instagram can be a great home for your products and brand that can lead to a healthy stream of revenue for your ecommerce business.