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Online Business: The Underground Railroad for Corporate Escapees

By Michele Schermerhorn
Posted Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Millions of people everyday spend eight hours or more in a small padded cubicle. The curious thing about it is they choose to do that. They willingly sacrifice a quality of life because they believe it is the only way to support their families. That may have been true 10 years ago but it isn’t any longer.

Starting an online business can be the salvation for which many want-to-be corporate escapees are looking. Unlike starting a brick and mortar business, the start-up costs for an online business are very small. Initially, an online business needs only a part-time owner. Corporate prisoners by day can build their underground railroad by night.

There are three key components to running a successful online business. They are determination, profitable products, and marketing skills.


Of the three critical components, only “determination” can’t be taught. Not everyone is suited to be an astronaut or a truck driver. And, not everyone is suited to run one’s own business. Determination is a single-minded drive that moves one beyond the minor setbacks of the learning curve. If you tend to start but never finish projects, an online business is not for you. An online business takes staying power.

Profitable Products

Many people have tried their hand at online sales through eBay. After many unsuccessful attempts at finding profitable products, they give up. Finding profitable products can be learned but there are tricks of the trade.

Knowing this, many people get sucked into paying some “eBay guru” thousands of dollars to do it for them. Unfortunately, they find out quickly that they have to find the products themselves. An individual who wants their own online business wants to find their own products. But how?

Depending upon your financial situation, there are six proven ways to find profitable products to sell online. They start with those requiring no investment and end with those requiring thousands of dollars of investment capital. Regardless of the price of the product, the higher the investment, the lower the unit cost of the products. The lower the unit cost of the products, the higher the profit margin. The higher the profit margin, the more money the company makes.

Many people attempt to start an online sales business at the bottom of the product acquisition food chain, with dropshipping. Dropshipping requires little or no initial investment. With dropshipping, you sell someone else’s product. When you sell the product, you pay the supplier to drop-ship the product to your customer with the fee coming out of your profits. Typically, the profit associated with dropshipping is very small or non-existent.

A better alternative for those people with little money to invest is consignment selling. Consignment selling is where you sell someone else’s product, but you collect a fee of between 10% and 25% of the final sale price. Sounds good, right? It is but it takes a person who is a real self-starter and can negotiate with people. Family, friends, neighbors, local crafters, local businesses without a web presence are all candidates for consignment sales.

With your profits from consignment sales, you can move on to acquiring bulk and surplus products. Working with surplus brokers requires some initiative and internet surfing skills. There are hundreds of surplus brokers on the internet. Choosing the right one is a problem and requires some research skills. However, the profit margins are higher on surplus goods than the other two techniques discussed above. For instance, a Janome Memory Craft sewing machine was acquired at surplus for $99.00 and sold on eBay for $430.00, a very nice profit.

In addition to the three product acquisition methods discussed above, the biggest profit margins and more reliable supply of products is achieved by working with wholesalers or importers. Working with wholesalers, they require you have a legal business and a resale certificate from your state’s taxation board. Working with imported goods is more difficult. If you attempt to go directly to the source in China, as a novice, you can lose a great deal of money very fast. Consider working with a reputable customs broker if you choose to acquire product in this way.

All of these acquisition skills can be learned; but without determination, you will not succeed.

Once you have acquired your product, marketing skills are needed to successfully sell your product.

Marketing Skills

Two people with exactly the same product for sale will not experience the same success. The one who wins will have superior marketing skills. Marketing skills include the ability to find customers and then motivate them to buy your particular product.

Marketing starts with identifying the particular customer you will sell to. You do not sell a skateboard to a 13 year old with the same conversation you sell that same skateboard to his mother, or grandparents. Marketing requires you get into the mindset of your customer in such a way that you start to think like them. Without knowing their motivations and concerns, you will never sell them anything. Great marketing is targeted to a specific group of people.

After a thorough understanding of your customer is achieved, you need then to design your offer in a way that appeals to them and encourages them to buy now. All of these skills can be learned and must be learned to run a successful business, online or not.

With a great offer in hand, you need to find customers. Where does your targeted group of customers hang out? What do they read? Where do they go on the internet? You must get your offer in front of their eyes. They won’t find you.

There are literally hundreds of methods for communicating your marketing message online and via traditional methods, like advertising. The only ones that will work will be those that find your target market. You can send marketing messages all day without success. If your potential customer is tuned into some other location, you’ll miss them.

Marketing skills can be learned. Acquiring profitable products can be learned. But both of these critical skills rest on a foundation of determination. Can you teach an old dog new tricks? Certainly! If the “old dog” is determined to learn.

An online business is not for everyone. However, it can be your way out of corporate America. Never again will someone else set your work hours for you. Never again will you miss a child’s recital because you couldn’t get away from work. Never again will you sweat making your next house payment. Ready? GO!

About the Author
Michele Schermerhorn is the president of Online Business Institute, Inc. – Creating successful online business owners one person at a time. Online Business Institute can be found online at (


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