An e-commerce mentor gives his 5 tips for dropshippers who want to avoid being a flash-in-the-pan and make a sustainable living off selling products online

  • Neil Patel is a digital marketing expert who helps e-commerce entrepreneurs generate traffic to their online stores.
  • Patel shared his tips for dropshippers who want to elevate their web presence and stand out in a competitive industry.
  • Patel goes against popular dropshipping advice that focuses on quick turnaround sales, instead suggesting people invest in a product they care about selling long-term.
  • By investing in a single product or category, dropshippers can become an expert in the market, and hone their marketing tactics to that category.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

 

 

When Neil Patel was 15 years old he made his first website: a job board. He taught himself marketing and found that the traffic to his site grew exponentially. But, he wasn't great at generating revenue from his site, even though it had tons of visitors. He quickly realized that his expertise was in generating traffic and decided to scrap the idea of making money from the internet. 

"I decided, let me just go be a consultant and help people get traffic," he told Business Insider in an interview. Patel did just that, launching his own agency that went on to help major corporations and one-man-shows get eyeballs on their websites in the competitive online world.

Today, 38% of Patel's clients are dropshippers. He works with them to generate traffic to their store pages and become e-commerce powerhouses by using a long-view approach to an industry that is more typically known for fast results. Below are five of Patel's tips he offers to entrepreneurs interested in doing dropshipping.

Avoid passing fads or "niches"

Dropshippers often discuss how to identify "niches" — that is, a category of products in which to focus selling. Niches are often hyper-specific, and capitalize on categories where there is high consumer demand and not yet much retail competition. For example, at the beginning of the pandemic when many people were in quarantine, at home gym equipment was in high demand, so dropshippers identified that trend, found relevant items on Alibaba (like a weighted jump rope) and advertised them to cooped-up consumers. 

YouTube is filled with videos from dropshipping gurus identifying niches they're capitalizing on in 2020, or during quarantine, or for the month of September. But Patel says that appealing to shorter-term trends, while an extremely popular method in the dropshipping world, isn't a successful strategy for dropshippers who should be thinking about the long game.

"You really want to take all the time and energy to do marketing, and put in that time and effort to market something that's not going to last forever?"

Patel explained that marketing a product to successfully generate sales takes a lot of time and effort, and he doesn't think dropshippers should waste their time chasing passing fads, for which they'll have to create new marketing strategies from scratch each time. While many dropshippers are lured in by the promise of fast cash, Patel says it's not sustainable as a career practice, even if it works in the short-term.

Don't sell items you don't like

Another trap Patel sees dropshippers falling into is selling items they don't care about. Similar to selling products that capitalize on niche trends, Patel thinks selling a product you don't care about is short-sighted and will lead to frustration.

"[Some dropshippers] go out there and try for a week or a month, and it's really hard to build a good business within a month, and they're going to give up when they don't see results," Patel said. 

Patel believes that to successfully sell a product, dropshippers need to be invested in what they're selling. That way, they'll be motivated to understand the market and industry, develop marketing tactics, and spend time growing their expertise in the category and expanding their product base.

"The people who find products they love and are passionate about do extremely well in the long run because they put in the effort and the time and the consistency with their marketing efforts to do well."

And on that note, Patel says all dropshippers should order the product for themselves, try it out, and make sure they actually like it. "If you have a crap product you're going to get terrible reviews and you're not going to do well." 

Create content about your product and category

Patel is a big believer in content marketing, which means creating articles, videos, and social media content related to your product to generate online traffic back to your store. 

"You need to start with that stuff to get traffic," Patel said.

Patel suggests writing review-style roundup articles that link out to products you're selling, like 'Top 10 Water Bottles.'

"Those review sites do really well because people like reading that, they want to buy the best quality stuff," he said. "People love products."

Establishing credibility as a writer isn't an easy task, and savvy consumers typically look to trusted review sites for advice, so this isn't a simple route that will pay off quickly. Patel also suggests enlisting the help of influencers and leveraging video to create content for social media specifically.

"Have influencers talk about your product, show videos of people unboxing your product," Patel said. Patel mentioned that certain social media platforms, like Facebook and Instagram, have features for sellers who want to host live videos about their products.

Don't waste time making your Shopify store look perfect

Shopify, a platform that enables users to easily set up an online store (like Squarespace for e-commerce shops), has automated many of the previously time-intensive aspects of dropshipping. Now, dropshippers don't have to manually handle inventory, shipping, or logistics. 

"That's why it's appealing," Patel said. "You sign up for the platform, pick one of their existing templates and just add your product."

Patel thinks that e-commerce entrepreneurs should embrace the ease of Shopify, and not waste time trying to make their store homepage look perfect. 

"Most people will ask, 'do I need a logo?' You do not," he said. "In most cases, the design of the site doesn't drastically impact conversions."

Instead, Patel suggests dropshippers get the store up and running sooner rather than later, and then spend their time and energy on putting up ads for their product, creating content and videos about their product, and learning SEO tactics to generate traffic to their site. "Then later on you can fine-tune," he said.

Go Omnichannel with your marketing

"You used to be able to build a business off of one channel," Patel said. But gone are the days where a seller can simply buy ads on Google and expect their product page to get hits. The e-commerce space is too crowded for that to work today. "You can no longer build a business off that because everyone's competing for that."

For that reason, Patel suggests taking an omnichannel approach to your marketing, meaning, advertising your product on lots of different platforms to find and funnel different types of potential customers back to your site.

"You have to do Facebook ads, Google ads, maybe even try Pinterest and other ad platforms, do SEO," Patel said.

That being said, these platforms aren't cheap to advertise on. Ultimately, dropshipping hopefuls need to be prepared to invest in their business, both financially and time-wise. While many think of dropshipping as a get-rich-quick side-hustle (and many dropshipping "gurus" on YouTube perpetuate that image), the truth is that like any business, it takes a lot of momentum to get going and start seeing results.

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