Note: this article was previously published in August 2013. I updated and republished it because I think the lessons I shared here is still relevant and valuable today. And oh, I'm no longer in the business of importing and selling used laptops.
I love to try new things; especially in business. Many times it works against me and I lose. A few other times, I celebrate.
Trying importation and ecommerce was one of those new things that brought a mix of failure and celebration.
My first few months of starting importation business in 2013 were characterized with outright failure. I learned my lessons.
Then followed another year of breakthrough.
I didn’t intend to run the business full time because I’m yet to find that thing worth sacrificing my writing and ICT business.
I just needed a side source of income.
How I sold 83 imported laptops on Facebook in Six Months
After learning from my previous mistake, I took a more strategic approach:
- Identify who I want to sell to
- Carry out a market research to identify what these people will want to buy
- Find a good product supplier (it’s a lot harder than you think)
- Import the product
- Attract and sell to customers through Facebook commerce – they land on our page, see what they like, come over and buy.
Six months in, I had 8,000 fans on our Facebook business page; real people who found and liked the page. Not by bots, scripts, spamming or any of those sleazy ways of getting thousands of people to like a page. Real people who found and liked the page because of what we offer.
And we sold only 83 laptops.
Imagine; 8000 prospects, only 83 products sold in six months.
That is like 1% of the audience. And if you include the fact that some customers bought 2 to 3 of the items, then we're talking about less than 1%.
So is this a good or bad result?
Here are seven lessons I learned after selling 83 imported laptops on Facebook in the first six months.
Business is a game of numbers
Each of the laptops we (my partner and me) sold cost at least N30,000 (up to N58,000), the most of which go between N40,000 and N50,000.
It’s not every day people go out, wanting to spend that amount of money on a product. But we squeezed out 83 sales in six months (the bulk of which happened in the later two months).
Fact; business is a game of numbers. If you want to succeed, you must play it to your advantage.
Think about it; it took 8,000 unique eyes on our products to sell 83 pieces. Of course we could have sold a lot more products if this was a fulltime business and if products where consistently available. But we obviously wouldn’t have done up to that if we relied solely on offline retailing.
Lesson learned: Your business will succeed by the proportion of traffic it attracts. The more the number of audience you can reach, the more likely your business will succeed.
Gardening is better than hunting
Retention and repetition is a key success factor in business.
Do you wonder why brands like MTN, Dettol and Indomie continue to spend lots of money on advertising despite having a large customer base?
During the world cup, did you often get annoyed at half time when the match commentator calls for commercial break after every two sentences?
They understand the power of repetition on human mind.
Before we could sell this number of products, we had to retain access to reach our prospects as often as we could. So that we can get our products in front of these unique eyes several times over. Some customers saw the product once, some 2 or 4 times before they decided to buy. Some end up buying after one month or more of finding us.
Compare that to;
- A business that hopes to survive by only ‘stray’ customers.
- A brochure type website that has no user retention circle
- A writer who publishes a book, has no existing audience and expects to become a best seller
- A coach, trainer or consultant who has no email list of prospects or subscribers
These examples have one thing in common; they only get the chance to market once and for all to each customer.
That is a classical example of business as ‘Hunting’. If they don’t kill a game, they wait for another stray beast or no food.
I prefer the approach of business as ‘Gardening’. You attract those who need your product or service, get access to them, nurture and market to them over and over again (without coming off as a snake oil salesperson).
If they don’t patronize your business today, they may patronize you tomorrow.
Lesson learned: No matter what you are selling (physical or digital goods), don’t limit yourself to hunting for customers. Cultivate your business by attracting, nurturing and retaining your customers and prospects. And keep your sickle ready for the harvest.
Establish within your limits
Most of our buyers are based in Lagos, whereas over 73% of our prospects live outside Lagos.
Not many people are willing to pay 40k to 58k to a bank account before they receive the goods paid for; a product they are not even sure of its working condition.
There is currently no adequate delivery system in Nigeria that can help handle pay on delivery. And for a small business, we can’t afford that either. So we practically lost over 70% of potential buyers.
Lagos remained our target market; despite that over 73% of audience inquiries and page engagement are from people outside Lagos. We had to concentrate on serving the audience within our reach.
Overtime, we get people outside Lagos entrust their money to pay before delivery. But a mountain size height of reluctance still exists.
You don’t blame them.
Lesson learned: Don’t wait until you can get everything right. Start from where you can and move from there.
When you plug in your business to the internet, miracle happens
I have been doing business on the internet since 2008 (the first year was actually ‘busyness’). Looking back through the years I can rightly say that it would have been almost impossible to get to this point within the time frame without internet leverage.
If you have not been using the internet to your business advantage, I want to encourage you to start today.
Lesson learned: Don’t fight it. Befriend it.
You can sell [almost] anything online (on Facebook)
We sold laptops to friends and ‘stray’ customers who visit the store but 95% of sales came from our Facebook business page; 83 laptops within six months; for products that cost tens of thousands of naira.
Most business people think the only products that sell on Facebook are digital and information related products. But that is not true.
Online retail stores like Jumia, Konga make massive sales through their Facebook business page selling just about anything. Your business can also benefit from Facebook commerce.
Lesson learned: You can sell [almost] anything on Facebook
Plan for the best as well as the worse
I didn’t expect much success from selling used laptops on Facebook. I just wanted to try and see how it works.
With the turn of the table, we ended up not meeting customers demand consistently. We go in and out of stock incessantly. And this creates a wrong impression because prospective buyers begin to assume unseriousness.
Today, the Facebook page has over 24,000 real human fans, and I get at least 3 phone calls every day from prospective buyers. But due to the high risk of selling used products, I prefer to keep it as a part-time business.
I still have a stock of faulty laptops. I’ll rather not sell a faulty product to my customers. So that accounts to lost money for the business. Part-time is just fine.
Lesson learned: Plan ahead.Learn from experience.
Don’t walk it alone
This is where most entrepreneurs have failed – I included. I have learned the hard way that business succeed better with synergy.
Fortunately, I did not get caught in the solo-preneurship trap when I ventured into importation and ecommerce. My partner made life a lot easier.
I concentrate on importing, marketing online and sending prospects to the store while my partner, the store owner, stock the products and close the sales.
Lesson learned: Life is a lot easier when you never walk alone.
That makes seven lessons I learned from selling physical products on Facebook.