Selling online is a growing part of small business.
Offering an online option to consumers is a growing opportunity for small businesses. — svetikd/Getty Images

According to one report, e-commerce is growing 23% each year; yet 46% of American small businesses do not even have a website. By neglecting the growing potential of selling online, merchants are missing out on a portion of the $526 billion online sales industry. There are many ways to sell online that don’t require you to become an expert digital marketer or SEO guru. Here’s how to get started selling online in 2020.

[Read more: How to Choose the Best E-Commerce Platform for Your Business]

Find the right channel

There are a few ways to start selling online, but the three most popular options are to build an online store on your website, to partner with an existing platform or to sell exclusively on social media.

There are pros and cons to each option. Ask yourself these questions when considering what channel will work best for your products:

How strong is my social media presence?

Realistically, selling exclusively on Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest requires a significant budget and an existing social media presence. There’s a specific time and place for social media selling, which we’ll get into in detail in a later section.

How much time and resources can I dedicate to selling online?

An online marketplace like Amazon or Etsy comes with some built-in tools to help you find the right customers. Think about how much time you want to spend designing a store from scratch versus working with an established partner.

What expertise do my team and I bring to the table?

Are you a marketing whiz? Does someone on your team love photography? Maybe you already have the skills and tools in-house to design a beautiful e-commerce site.

Where is my competition selling?

There are pros and cons to selling where your competitors are already listing. If you can tell competition will be too steep on a site like Etsy, it’s probably better to go your own way.

How much control do I want over the design of my online store?

The ready-made convenience of some online stores saves time and resources, but does so at the expense of control. If you are particular about your design, CTAs and branding, it might be best to DIY.

There are many ways to sell online that don't require you to become an expert digital marketer or SEO guru.

Start your own e-commerce site

If you want to retain control over your e-commerce site and aren’t intimidated by building and managing a platform, then consider building your own e-commerce page. There are two ways to build your own online store: through self-hosting on an existing website, or through a hosted online store like Shopify.

[Read more: A Guide to Building an Online Store]


Self-hosted stores are those built on your existing website that use an integration like WooCommerce or Magento to manage product listings, accept payments and manage and ship inventory. This option is one of the less expensive and most time-intensive way to sell online. You’ll be responsible for website design, adding in an e-commerce integration and managing product descriptions. This option also gives you full flexibility and control over the look and feel of your site.

Hosting partner

A hosting partner offers templates that make it simple to set up your site. Hosted options, such as Shopify or Big Cartel, offer a custom online store without the need for technical design expertise. “Tools like these are designed to handle every detail about your own store, one that looks exactly the way you want,” writes the Zapier guide. “Your store will have its own site, complete with product listings and a shopping cart for customers to buy multiple products.” Depending on your business, expect to pay $3.50–$250 per month for a site that’s easy to use, mobile-friendly, fast and able to grow with your business.

Work with an online marketplace

Plenty of small business owners capture online sales by listing on sites like Etsy, Amazon, eBay or Alibaba. Online marketplaces offer the benefit of existing customers who are already in the market for whatever it is you’re selling. The process couldn’t be easier: simply create a profile and go through the site’s prompts for listing your products, adding descriptions, uploading prices and images and more. The platform does the marketing work for you.

The catch? You’ll face high competition from other merchants who had the same idea. Consider working with a niche marketplace, such as Orchard Mile, a luxury apparel marketplace; for family-oriented deals; Houzz for interior design.

Sell on social media

If you’re hoping to sell exclusively through your social media channels, think again. Social media is a great tool for promoting a specific product, building brand recognition or reaching new customers. But most social media users are in the browsing phase of their customer journey, not in a purchase mindset.
There are exceptions to this trend; Instagram is one channel where brands have had success in converting sales. Instagram’s shoppable posts allow you to tag certain products so users can easily click on them and be redirected to a page where they can make a purchase. Studies have shown that 38% of customers frequently buy products they find on Instagram. However, you do need to set up a shop on Facebook with Shopify or BigCommerce before using Instagram’s Shoppable feature.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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