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Ditch your 9-5 job: How Aussies are building e-commerce empires

Many Aussies can now make a living by buying and selling goods online. Here's how you can do it too.

Compilation image of phone with social media symbols and e-commerce business Shopify symbol with a background of paperclips
E-commerce is changing the future of how we do business. (Source: Getty) (Samantha Menzies)

Dubbed one of the most significant shifts in the business world, e-commerce has surged in the past three years, creating a boom in opportunity for entrepreneurs and everyday Aussies to build successful online businesses.

The e-commerce trend, driven largely by the COVID-19 pandemic and the way it changed how we live and shop, is more than just online shopping - it involves the buying of products and services from a seller online, not directly from the brand itself.

Think eBay, Amazon, Gumtree, Kogan.com and Shopify, to name a few. Our well-known brands such as Woolworths, Big W and Kmart have also moved into the space to take their share of the booming market.

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Australia’s e-commerce industry is the 11th-largest in the world, with a revenue of around US$31 billion ($46.3 billion) in 2021, which is expected to grow steadily to US$35 billion by 2025. As of early 2023, there were 4.5 million e-commerce businesses on Shopify alone, that's a 250 per cent increase since 2020.

Sure, the pandemic accounted for some of the numbers, as a large cohort of traditional 'offline' retailers moved their business online using e-commerce. But there are also many Aussies investing in the market because it offers lucrative opportunities to generate more revenue streams.

What's more, e-commerce has opened up new opportunities for people who may not have access to traditional business resources or higher education.

You no longer need a four-year university degree to build your own brand. The proof is in the growing number of people building huge e-commerce brands, who are instead learning from YouTube videos, then putting it into practice using some elbow grease and a lot of trial and error.

Yes, YouTube can teach you about e-commerce

As a 22-year-old entrepreneur who naively dropped out of university at 19, I knew little about business and was delusionally confident; but I had to find a way to keep learning, so I turned to online tutorials and YouTube videos to build my first business.

The best tactic I ever learned was the 80/20 rule, otherwise known as the Pareto Principle. The principle, which can be applied to learning any skill in life, states that 80 per cent of consequences come from 20 per cent of the causes. That means you can expect 80 per cent of your sales to come from around 20 per cent of your clients.

What I found during my YouTube research for my first Shopify business was that 80 per cent of the advice they gave was exactly the same, but that every creator would have their own perspective. The trick is trial and error to figure out what works for you - in my case it was running effective Facebook advertising and good timing.

I set up a dropshipping (a way of running an online retail business without having the physical stock) store with a partner during the pandemic, selling craft and hobby products to families bored in lockdown. We generated $70,000 in 28 days. Nothing in the business was unique, there was no magic, no secret, just great timing and a strong learning foundation I took from watching all those YouTube videos.

Many others have created an e-commerce empire too

Some of the most successful e-commerce businesses today were started by people who learned by watching YouTube videos and experimenting with ideas.

Compilation image of Gymshark logo and founder Ben Francis
Gymshark’s Ben Francis now has a net worth over $1 billion. (Source: Getty/Yahoo Finance/Gymshark) (Samantha Menzies)

One great example is the company Gymshark, a UK-based fitness apparel company founded by Ben Francis in 2012 when he was just 19 years old. At the time, Francis was a student at Aston University, and he started the company by screen printing t-shirts in his parents' garage.

He created a YouTube channel where he shared workout videos and vlogs about his fitness journey and, as his online following grew, he began to sell t-shirts with the Gymshark logo.

Gymshark has since grown into a hugely successful e-commerce brand and Francis now has a net worth of more than $1 billion. The company also has millions of followers on social media, and has become one of the most recognisable names in the fitness space.

Another instance of stellar entrepreneurship is Bailey Page, a 22-year-old entrepreneur from Queensland's Sunshine Coast who made $100,000 in six weeks by selling portable chargers from his brand Zip Zap.

Bailey used all of his savings and spent nine months working on these portable chargers. To date, he has now sold around 6,500 chargers.

"If there is one thing you can take away from my story, it's that I have no tech background whatsoever, I didn't know anything about business, products or marketing. Self-teaching myself through YouTube and Google searches proves anyone can do it," Bailey told news.com.au when asked how he pulled off his success and overcame learning curves.

5 steps to starting your own e-commerce business

1. Find your product

Start off by researching across news or social media to spot a trend or niche that the public is beginning to talk about. This is the best way to catch something before it saturates. You’ll also need to research your competition so you can differentiate yourself.

2. Source a supplier

Keep it really simple. AliExpress is your best friend. Think of this website as the child of the wholesale giant Alibaba. Use the platform's rating system to determine if this supplier is reliable.

Ask for the supplier’s WhatsApp account so you can have a reliable communication stream with them. Then make sure you ask for proof of the product, such as a photo of their stock.

3. Choose a logo and set up your online store

Shopify is an easy start for beginners. With a good template and zero website-design experience, you can have a site that looks usable within a matter of hours. Suppliers will always provide pictures, but order the product yourself first as a way to test its quality, take your own pictures, and check the reliability of your supplier.

4. Choose your shipping strategy and sales goals

A good plan to work towards can help significantly on your e-commerce business-building journey.

5. Launch and advertise

Although tricky at first, there are thousands of hours of free YouTube content teaching people how to advertise. I suggest checking out tutorials made from the Shopify app Oberlo.

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