Can someone ACTUALLY make millions from the mini importation business? My answer is a BIG YES! And just to show you that I am NOT just trying to hype things up, here’s a screenshot of total orders for the month of November 2018…
Here’s a closer look…
That’s about 4 million Naira in orders and that doesn’t include orders that were made via phone and Whatsapp. Ask anyone who does e-commerce for Nigerians and they’ll tell you that a large percentage of your customers will prefer to place their orders via Whatsapp.
And, may I add that that amount was me NOT trying too hard. I didn’t even run my ads for that whole month. So, if I could get that volume of orders while simply running at about 5% of what I know I can do, imagine what I can achieve IF I gave it much more.
So, now that I am done “bragging”, I guess I’ve established the fact that I am eminently qualified to teach you how to make millions through the mini importation business model. So before we get into the meat of this article, let’s clear some areas of misunderstanding and ensure we are all on the same page…
What is mini importation?
We all know that Nigerians have a way of creating peculiar phrases and terminologies for things. That’s what just happened with the term “mini importation.”
Basically, mini importation refers to every importation undertaking that basically starts online with a lot of the processes completed from the comfort of your computer. In the early days, it was basically for people who placed small orders. However, that’s NO longer the case.
For example, even if you want to order a container load of goods from China, Spreadit can handle the entire process for you and deliver your consignment to your doorstep. So, mini importation is NO longer just about the size of the consignment you’re bringing in. It just basically refers to every form of importation that takes full advantage of the internet to make the entire process easy to you, the mini importer.
Now, also bear in mind that when most people talk about mini importation they usually refer to bringing goods from China through Chinese websites like Aliexpress, Taobao, 1688.com, Alibaba, etc.
Mini importation — What are the available options?
Well, there are many sites (Chinese and otherwise) that you can import from. When I started I imported from a site in the US because of the nature of the things I was bringing in.
But for the purpose of this article, we are going to restrict ourselves to the sites that have been proven to deliver the best prices, thereby allowing you to have a higher profit margin.
Since we want where we can buy at the lowest price and sell with the largest margins, I’ll say it all comes down to four sites owned by the same conglomerate — Alibaba Group.
These sites are Aliexpress, Alibaba, Taobao and 1688.
What are the pros and cons of each of these options?
Each of these four sites has its pros and cons and we’ll take you through each of them…
If you’ve heard of mini importation or dropshipping then you’ve certainly heard of Aliexpress.com. This site is basically set up to serve the world on a B2C basis. If you’ve done business on eBay, this is such a marketplace with the major difference being that Aliexpress isn’t an auction site.
Furthermore, Aliexpress is in English and 15 other languages. This means that you’ll likely have a version of it in a language that you speak.
i. You can easily place your order on Aliexpress. It’s as easy as ordering on any e-commerce site.
ii. Most products come with a free shipping option.
iii. The prices of products are generally low, allowing you to sell for significantly higher IF you want to resell.
iv. There are excellent plugins that work great with Aliexpress to make pulling descriptions, products images, etc very easy. This is a great time saver for folks who want to set up dropshipping sites.
v. It makes the dropshipping model easy for almost anyone to implement.
vi. The platform has put in place buyer protection. You can take advantage of it if a product isn’t delivered or if the delivered product is different from what was advertised on the site. This protection is in force for 60 days.
vii. All payments you make on the platform are secure. You’re dealing with a strong global brand.
viii. It has a great feedback system that enables you to sift out poor sellers. You can easily leave a review of your experience with a seller, good or bad. And, believe it or NOT, most sellers will do everything to ensure they don’t get a bad review.
i. Shipping times can be quite long. It’s ok if you’re placing an order for yourself. But if you are a running an e-commerce site that’s based on the dropshipping model, you simply won’t be able to compete with stores who deliver faster to their customers.
ii. You can’t pay via Paypal. Yes, you have to input your credit card details. If you’re one of those who insist on making payments via Paypal, this won’t work for you.
iii. While Aliexpress offers great prices, you aren’t getting your products for as low as possible (Don’t worry; I’ll show you where many Aliexpress sellers source their goods).
Taobao is also owned by the Alibaba Group. However, it serves purely as a retail platform for the Chinese. That’s why everything about it is designed for the Chinese.
But since the world has become a global village, folks won’t pass by opportunities in one country. So, Taobao has become one of those sites where international buyers go to source for goods.
i. No minimum order quantity.
ii. Low product prices.
i. Site is in Chinese and designed for the domestic Chinese market. This makes it difficult for you to place orders directly. You’ll generally need an agent to buy from this site.
ii. Unless you consolidate your different orders through an agent, the cost of shipping out of China will likely make your orders cost you more than buying directly from Aliexpress.
iii. You’ll have to pay agent fees of up to 10% or more. But if you have a good agent who advises you correctly, he/she will advise you when it serves you best to use this site and save you money, overall.
This is a B2B e-commerce platform also owned by the Alibaba Group. It is designed to serve the world. If you want to order small quantities, this won’t work for you.
i. You can place your order from anywhere in the world. It is a global market place.
ii. You can find a manufacturer or large supplier for virtually any product you want.
iii. You get wholesale prices — That means cheap prices.
iv. It’s in English (for those of us who communicate in English) and the interface is user-friendly.
i. My personal experience is that they do NOT offer the lowest price on items although some have argued that this is because product specifications for the Chinese market are lower than those for Europe or the US. Those who take this position say that sellers on Alibaba charge higher because they deliver products that meet higher international specifications.
But I beg to differ. A number of sellers ACTUALLY sell lower quality products on Alibaba. This is based on the fact that a number of scammers and unscrupulous folks have found their way to this platform.
What about the feedback system and all that?
Well, for those who know, these things can be easily gamed and manipulated by a group of folks who are committed to defrauding unsuspecting people.
ii. There are quite a number of scammers on Alibaba. While I’ve heard that Alibaba has been taking measures to clean up the market place (like Alibaba trade assurance), it isn’t my first recommendation to anyone who’s into mini importation.
Now before someone begins to say that I said that Alibaba.com is a scam site, it ISN’T. It’s just that many scammers have found different ways of taking advantage of the platform. But if you MUST buy from Alibaba, take your time to research Alibaba scams and you’ll NOT be a victim. Here’s one article where you can start your research…
iii. Since it’s designed mainly as a B2B platform, many people might NOT be able to meet the minimum order quantity requirements for most products.
Now, this is the equivalent of Alibaba.com that’s targeted at the Chinese market. It’s also owned by the Alibaba group and is my number one recommendation for anyone who wants to make good money from mini importation business.
i. Lowest price on most items. We’ve run comparisons on a number of different products and I can tell you authoritatively that if you find a product on Aliexpress, Alibaba, Taobao and 1688.com, that 1688 will have the lowest price for the same quality.
Many people who sell on Aliexpress, for example, source their products from 1688.com. Now, what about manufacturers on Alibaba and Aliexpress?
Well, let’s NOT argue…
Just do your personal research. Find a product that sells on all the platforms discussed here and do your own comparison.
ii. Most products are as advertised; just ensure you understand the product you want to sell. For example, if you are selling shoes (like I do), do you know the difference between PU leather and natural leather?
Now if you see a product image of the “same” product and one is classified as made of PU leather and the other of natural leather, would you understand the difference?
I’ve noticed that many people complain of being given “fake” products when they simply didn’t understand what they read in the product’s description.
But if you understand your product and take the time to read the description, you’ll generally get what you ordered.
The reason for this is simple…
Since most people who buy from 1688.com are either Chinese or do so through a Chinese agent resident in China, it’s easier for returns to be effected at low cost and refunds demanded and processed.
i. Language barrier. 1688.com is in Chinese. That said; you can use the translation feature in Google Chrome to translate it into the English language.
ii. You can’t pay directly with your regular credit card. So you’d either have a Chinese bank-issued card, Alipay or use a Chinese agent.
iii. Using 1688 agents will cost you an additional 5 to 15% depending on who you use. But that said; the commission paid to the agent is swallowed up by the deep savings you make.
iv. There is a minimum order quantity on many orders. This can be a hindrance in a number of cases. But if you use Spreadit, you can initiate a group buy and get other members to join you. This will turn this disadvantage to a big advantage as you’ll be able to buy larger quantities and attract even bigger discounts.
Mini Importation Business — Which Site Should You Buy From?
In my biased but experienced-filled opinion, I’d recommend that you buy from 1688.com. If you can’t meet the minimum order quantity (MOQ), you can initiate a group buy. But if you can’t or won’t, use Taobao.
Yes, both of these options seem self-serving as you’ll need an agent but it’s ALSO your safest bet…
i. You have someone experienced in dealing with Chinese sellers on your side. For example, if you choose us (Spreadit) as your agent, you’ll enjoy the benefits of our Chinese staff (Yes, in China) handling all the communications stuff for you.
And, since we’ve handled countless orders, we know how to smell foul play and we ALSO have the resources to protect you from such unscrupulous sellers.
ii. You’ll NOT be wondering who to talk to if you have questions about your order. Just use the chat feature on your dashboard or call and someone will help you out in the English language.
iii. You WILL NEVER share the touching story of a seller running away with your money. In the unlikely event that we let our guard down so much that it happens, we (and NOT you) bear the brunt. We simply make full refunds to you.
Did you know that everything about your business dealings with Spreadit is covered by reputable insurers? No, we don’t leave anything to chance. Sign up here.
How Can I Start A Viable Mini Importation Business?
Now that I’ve spent quite a few thousand words getting us on the same plate, let’s get into how you can ACTUALLY start a viable mini importation business that will make you a million or more each month.
1. Treat This As A Business
I don’t know where this came from…
People come online and immediately believe that the laws of life are inoperative on the internet. It bothers me a lot because that’s one of the leading reasons for failure when people try to start any business that leverages the internet.
So first and foremost, understand that every law of life holds true online. If anything, their effects are magnified online.
So if you are to treat this as a real business, what would you do?
You’ll do everything EVERY sane entrepreneur does before starting a new business…
a. Market research
While the internet gives us the opportunity to reach the entire world, you CAN’T build a viable mini importation business if you start out trying to sell to the entire world.
So pick a market or niche you’d like to sell in/to. Would you like to deal in fashion products, phone accessories, kitchen tools or what?
When you decide which you’d like to sell to, it’s critical that you do research of that niche or market. Do you understand the pain points of people in this space? How large is this market? Are you going to narrow your target down to a niche in this market?
There are many questions that you have to answer and those can ONLY be provided IF you do extensive research. So how do you do such extensive research as an individual without a big budget?
Run your niche idea through Google. It will show you what people are searching for. Find similar terms to your market idea and also run them through Google. Now use Google Ads’ Keyword Planner to get rough estimates of how many people are ACTIVELY searching for what you want to sell.
When you’re done with that, head over to Facebook’s Audience Insight and check how big that audience is in the country or countries you’d like to sell to.
Pick the top Facebook pages for that audience and check the kinds of posts, products and stuff they present to their readers.
Also, search for Facebook groups that are centred on the market/niche of interest to you. Join a number of them and watch the kind and trend of conversations that go on in those groups.
These will give you a fair idea of how this market or niche works and how well it works. You might discover that it’s NOT the kind of market you’d like to sell to.
So what are the things that should help you decide IF a market or niche is good enough for you to get into? Here are few…
i. Ensure that people in this niche spend money buying stuff online. If you notice that all they do in the Facebook groups you checked is just talk and share ideas, you MAY NOT be able to build a good mini importation business around this niche.
ii. Ensure that there is a large room for repeat purchases from one customer. This will be either due to the fact that the niche has a lot of different products that you can always offer or it has a lot of consumables that your customers will have to come back to you constantly. Some niches have both: A lot of different products that each customer will definitely need and consumables that require replacements.
iii. Make sure you are NOT dealing with fickle niches that country laws, policies and regulations can easily restrict. For example, if you are planning to sell ANYTHING that is ingested by human beings, then be ready to deal with government agencies and the like.
For example, in my country, we have NAFDAC. While you can get away with buying a few units of a herbal supplement or things like that (they’d be classified as quantities for personal use), you CAN’T scale your business when you build more demand unless you go through the hassles of obtaining the required license to import such products.
And once you enter into that realm, it would be wise NOT to refer to it as mini importation again. This is because your supplier would have to customize a number of things (like adding the NAFDAC number) on your product.
And, if you’ve done any importation from China, you’d agree with me that they expect you to be ordering a minimum quantity (usually NOT less than 3,000 units) before they’d go through the hassles of customizing your order to pass the requirements of government agencies.
iv. Also, ensure you know the items that are prohibited in your country. While this might look similar to the preceding point, it’s entirely different. Here, you’d be dealing with completely contraband items. That would be asking for trouble.
v. Check how evergreen a niche is.
Predictability is something that helps you build a business on a solid foundation. There will be learning curves as you master a niche but you’ll make it unnecessarily harder for yourself if you choose a niche that isn’t evergreen or one that is seasonal.
You’d like to keep making money from your setup for a long time, won’t you? So, pick accordingly.
vi. Target the rich. If you want to sell with high margins, ensure you pick a niche that serves the affluent and ensure you can see a good number of products in that niche that the rich fancy or would fancy.
b. Feasibility Hot Seat
When you do extensive market research, you’d have done a good part of your feasibility hot seat. But I’ve given it a special spot here because I’d encourage you to treat this as another step by inviting another person or persons to grill you on your chosen niche and products.
Encourage them to pick out ALL the potential obstacles they can envisage in the business. Let them show you NO mercy because, in the real arena of life, situations aren’t forgiving.
Take note of every challenge that they highlight that you’ve NOT considered. Look at every challenge they’ve brought to view that you don’t have a solution for. You’ll have to research extensively until you find solutions for them.
Don’t attempt to wave them off because they’ll ACTUALLY appear when you start the business.
Now, I’d like to sound a word of caution here…
This feasibility hot seat is NOT a pull-him-down exercise. You want objective persons NOT hopeless losers who’ll just conjure up monsters where there are none.
To give you an idea of the kind of questions you should look for, here are some examples…
i. How do you intend to deliver products ordered by your customers on time?
ii. Have you identified how you’ll do that; like the courier company, packaging process, inventory maintenance, stock keeping, customer support, etc?
iii. How do you intend to get customers? They won’t just magically appear. Do you have a clear marketing plan or do you plan to just import stuff and hope that people just see them and buy?
iv. How much do you think it will cost you to acquire one customer and how do you intend to get maximum value from this customer?
v. How long would it take for your shipment to arrive and what are your contingency plans IF this is delayed by a week, two weeks or a month?
Do you see that the questions I’ve listed above are critical to the smooth running of a mini importation business? So differentiate sound business questions from questions that try to demean your person like these…
i. What makes you think you have what it takes to succeed in the mini importation business?
This question isn’t a useful business question because IF you identify ALL the challenges and go ALL out to find answers to them, you’ll succeed.
ii. What would you do if you fail and lose all your money?
Another wrong question because it doesn’t identify critical points in the mini importation business model. Businesses fail or succeed based on their ability to identify and respond correctly to key challenges.
A right-thinking person should identify those things that can make a mini importation business fail and those that can make you lose your money. When those are identified, he/she can now quiz you on your preparedness to deal with them.
For example, you can lose your money if you fall into the hands of Alibaba scammers. So a relevant question would be…
How are you going to ensure you don’t fall into the hands of scammers?
A good answer then would be…
“I’ve taken time to research scams that happen on the platforms that I intend to use for mini importation. I’ve studied Alibaba scams, 1688 scams and so on. Furthermore, I’ve decided to use an experienced Nigerian mini importation agent (Spreadit) to eliminate this risk.
How is that?
I’ve done discussed with a few people who’ve done business with them and I’ve also imported samples through them.
The give you a no-questions-asked full refund if they don’t deliver your goods as promised.
Yes, this costs me a little more (like 10%) but the fact that it helps me mitigate this risk makes it a sound business decision.”
So ensure you get people who have the right understanding to ask you the right questions.
c. Understanding the cost implications
Every business has various costs. Now the title of this article hints at how I went from zero to 4 million Naira a month. Yes, you can start with zero cash but that doesn’t mean it is zero cost.
For example, I didn’t put a dime of my own money in buying the products. I used other people’s money by trading part of my future profits. So while I didn’t spend a dime out of my pocket, it did cost me something to get those folks to give me their monies to trade with (Some of them got 100% returns in 4 months! But I’ll come to that later on).
So even if you don’t have a dime to your name, there are costs attached to doing any business. Do you know what they are for the mini importation business model? Here are some costs to take note of…
i. Cost of importing goods
This is pretty obvious as it will be difficult to get a Chinese supplier to send you goods without making full payment.
The amount you intend to make in your first round of importation will determine how much you’d have to budget for importing your goods.
For example, if you intend to make five hundred thousand Naira from your first round of importation, you’ll need to spend much more than someone who just wants to make a profit of one hundred thousand Naira.
But note that it is NOT advisable for you to dump so much cash in your first round of importation. Your first round of importation should be focused on bringing samples ONLY (We’ll talk about this more later).
ii. Cost of setting up a store (online or otherwise)
You’ll sell your products from somewhere, won’t you? So if it’s an online store, what would it cost you to set one up?
Think hosting, domain name, design and maintenance. Find out the available options and decide which you find most suitable and know exactly how much it would cost you.
What if you’d need a physical store? Find out exactly how much it would cost.
What about those who will be running very small operations and want to do it from their Whatsapp number and/or their homes?
Well, calculate the cost of data and the cost of renting your home space (It’s NOW part of your business cost).
iii. Marketing cost
You’re really NOT in business until you start marketing your products. And, whichever option you choose, it WILL come at a cost. Find out what it would cost you to achieve your marketing target (This assumes you’ve done enough research on the subject matter to be able to know what a realistic marketing target is).
If you can, find out what it would cost you to acquire one customer and then multiply it by how many customers you’ll need to achieve your marketing goals.
iv. Fulfilment cost
How much would it cost you to deliver a product to your customers when they place an order?
Are they picking their orders from a physical location? If so, will you be the one manning the physical location or would you hire a hand?
Even if you hire someone, it’s CRITICAL that you put a cost on the hours you spend there.
What if you’d be using a courier service, have you factored in how much it would cost you to use their service?
Would you need to repackage items so that they get to your customers in good condition or will your courier “partners” do that for you?
Find out how much it would cost you in total from when the order is placed to when your customer has the product firmly in his/her hands.
v. How about customer support costs?
If you run a successful marketing campaign, you’ll get orders and enquiries. People will have challenges with placing orders, knowing the status of their orders, delayed deliveries, return requests, etc.
This will mean calling and handling calls. Would you be doing this yourself or would you be hiring someone?
No matter which option you choose, put a cost to that service. Furthermore, don’t forget to calculate the cost of airtime, the phone itself and anything related to maintaining your customer support department.
d. Understanding human resource implications
What areas do you require steady human input for your mini importation business to run smoothly? There are core areas…
i. Maintaining inventory (In-flow and out-flow)
Let’s assume you sell shoes…
How many Black Exquisite Men’s Shoes do you have in stock? How soon do you think you’ll need to place new orders?
How many size-42 do you have?
Where are those shoes packed and exactly where is the particular colour and size I just asked for?
A poor inventory system will make you lose money and waste precious hours. And, if your operation gets up to 10 orders per day, you’ll find it difficult to have a normal life unless you find someone to handle this area.
Believe me; I know!
ii. Customer support
All enquiries are handled here. How do you feel when you encounter an online store that isn’t easily reachable? So this isn’t optional; it’s critical to your success.
But will you handle it? Fine. But if you can’t, you need to be aware of that and have a solid plan in place.
If you’re NOT marketing then you’re simply winking in the dark. You know what you’re doing but no one else does (I saw that in an ad years ago).
You know what?
If you don’t have great marketing, your goals will just be dreams.
Now the next questions will be…
Which marketing strategy do you plan to deploy?
Who will handle that marketing plan for you?
We’ll talk more about this in another section below.
iv. Store maintenance
This is pretty clear. Who will handle the technical aspects of maintaining your online store, if you have one? Who’ll sit in the store and attend to customers if you’re opting for a physical store?
Whichever option you choose, you’ll need someone handling maintenance.
You’ve done all the hard work to get a shopper to place an order. Now, you don’t want to ruin it with a poor delivery system. So who’s going to deliver your products to your customers?
You can do it yourself if you run a small operation. This will guarantee you give your customer the quality of service you want. But then it can eat deeply into the time you’d have for other aspects of the business.
You can outsource delivery to a specialized entity, you can handle it yourself, you can hire and build your own delivery team and you can combine a number of the above options.
But whichever option(s) you choose, understand that this aspect will determine your success or failure.
e. Having realistic expectations
This is a subtle one. However, many businesses have ACTUALLY never really taken off simply because someone had unrealistic expectations. Let me give you a practical example…
My title says I grew from zero to 4 million Naira a month in the mini importation business. Yes, that’s true but there is a BIG question any wise person should ask immediately and it is…
What did it take for you to achieve that?
Yes, I achieved that number in less than 6 months of setting up my e-com store, Zimife.com. However, it was based on the experience I had built for over 14 years.
It wasn’t my first time selling stuff online. It wasn’t the first time I was marketing a product. I had a lot by way of experience in my favour. And, believe it or NOT, that’s the most important factor.
If you tell me to start again with NO dime today, I’d be able to do over 10 million Naira in sales by the 6th month. But does that mean you’d be able to do it without my experience?
The answer is NO!
But does that mean you’ll NEVER be able to hit that kind of numbers and more?
No, you can but it will take a lot of studying, months (or even a few years) of building partnerships, learning what works in real life and what doesn’t. But if you stick with it, you’ll EVENTUALLY achieve similar results and better.
But it’s important that you understand that it won’t happen for you as quickly as I achieved it with Zimife.com. This is because I had been in the industry for close to two decades by the time I started that site.
If what I’ve just said offends you, I have no apologies. It’s better you don’t waste your time than get into something that you have unrealistic expectations for.
f. Acquiring relevant skills or engaging those who have those skills
There are many tasks that you’d have to complete (directly or indirectly) if you want to build a viable mini importation business. Do you have the skills to perform those tasks? If NOT, do you have the skills that help you identify the right persons to employ or outsource them to?
For example, you’ll need a strong marketing plan to build a successful mini importation business and to run an effective marketing campaign, you’d need the following skills…
i. Copywriting — Writing words that make your readers deliver your most wanted response.
ii. Traffic generation — This could be search engine (free and/or paid), Facebook/Instagram (free and/or paid), Linkedin (Free and/or paid), etc
iii. Retargeting/Remarketing — It takes about 7 or more exposures to your message for the average prospect to take action. So how do you get your prospects to keep seeing your messages repeatedly? That’s what retargeting/remarketing helps you achieve.
iv. Analytics — The internet makes it super easy for you to gather data. That’s NOT the problem. The BIG problem (and the profit opportunity) is in your ability to analyze data in such a way as to create effective strategies that are based on scientific evidence.
For example, as we analyzed our data for Zimife, we decided that we should discontinue offerings for ladies and concentrate on items for men ONLY. That simple decision reduced our failed delivery rates and increased customer satisfaction.
Our ability to analyze data we had also helped us determine what kinds of products we should invest our funds in for maximum results.
g. Do test runs
Only a fool tests the depth of a river with both feet. The same applies in business, especially if you are starting out in a niche you know nothing about.
During the bragging section at the beginning of this article, I did mention that the 4 million we made on Zimife.com was actually just about 5% of what we could achieve with it.
Why did I say that?
Well, because that whole exercise was ACTUALLY a test run. Yes, we were doing millions a month but the test was halted before the end of November and we had to go back to address some important issues.
It was during the test that we put all assumptions (based on the intel we had) to the test. We saw how wrong we were in many areas and picked out a lot of goldmines that would bring in 200% income without us breaking a sweat.
Would you believe it IF I told you that we bought some “lost” about 500,000 Naira on a product line that we were SURE BANKER that was going to be a bestseller?
We eventually started selling them for less than the cost price just to see how much of it we could recoup. We still have over 50 units of that item UNSOLD. We might end up giving them out to charity.
Now 500,000 naira is a lot of money to a lot of people but in our own context, it was STILL a test level money even though we wouldn’t have risked more than 50,000 Naira IF we weren’t OVERCONFIDENT in our gut feeling.
So, don’t trust your feelings here. Bring in samples and attempt to sell them. You might end up being shocked that some people you thought were giving you useful advice were ACTUALLY ignorant or secretly setting you up to fail.
So after you’ve done all your market research and feasibility hot seat activities, put it to test in a manageable LIVE environment. Though I wasn’t happy about barely breaking even on the five hundred thousand Naira I spent on one product line, that amount was something I could afford to lose (NOT happy to lose).
So spend an initial amount you can afford to lose getting samples of the product and seeing how your market responds to it. Do they love it and rush it or are they lukewarm about it?
Once you identify what works, you can easily scale it without too many surprises.
h. Decide on your marketing plan
Some people focus entirely on Facebook marketing to promote their brand and products. Some use Google. Some add email and/or SMS marketing. Some use affiliate marketing and some use all of the above and more.
There is NO perfect plan, platform or strategy. But that said; you just have to pick one of the many options available to you and draw up a plan based on it.
Of course, your choice wouldn’t be based on emotions but on the results you got from your research. But, you MUST have a plan. Don’t just step out and try different things randomly — That’s a recipe for failure.
If you don’t know how to set up a good marketing plan, look for someone who’s doing well marketing his/her brand/product and hire them to create a plan/strategy for you. Please, avoid consultants who ONLY consult and don’t have any REAL business they are marketing successfully.
i. Be prepared to change your original plan
Some people get so fixated on their plans that they refuse to see when it just ISN’T working. Every plan has to prove itself in the market place or be discarded. Yes, give it enough time but be humble enough to say, “This isn’t a good plan!” and change it.
j. Accept failure when it happens but fail fast!
Some people are so afraid of failure that they get immobilized. Don’t be. If something you spent so much time fails, accept it but don’t dwell on it.
But more importantly, fail fast.
The first Facebook ads I created for my online store failed and get this: I am someone who teaches others how to sell stuff using Facebook ads. That is, some people call me an expert.
Isn’t that shameful?
It just shows that everyone has room for improvement.
I deployed the ad fast and after it delivered dismal results in the first few days, I checked to find out what was wrong. I quickly set up another and it produced results and then I went on to keep tweaking the one that worked to get even better results.
So there’s NO shame in failing or making a mistake. The ONLY shame should be if you don’t learn from it and repeat the same mistake ALL over again.
2. Study Hard To Make It Work
How many times have you heard people say, “It didn’t work?”
Things DON’T work; people make things work and that requires that you study how to make things work and apply what you’ve learned. In case you don’t know what to study to make your mini importation business a BIG success, let me give you a quick rundown…
a. How to get targeted visitors to your offers
b. How to make your words sell
c. How to handle the customer from hell
d. How to set up and run an efficient inventory system
e. How to increase the lifetime value of a customer
f. How to hire the right talent
g. How to set up your store
h. How to… (add any other thing you’ll have to do to run your mini importation business)
Roll Up Your Sleeves And Do The Work
Don’t forget what I said somewhere before this point…
“Things don’t work; people make things work!”
You can print this out, frame it and hang it somewhere you CAN’T miss it every day.
Because no matter how well you plan and how great your plans are, you won’t achieve success if you don’t bend down to do the hard work.
Many people have the WRONG mindset when they come online…
They believe that they’ll just push a button and money will just flood their bank accounts. I know that’s the illusion that inferior marketers sell to LAZY minds but it doesn’t exist anywhere.
If I find that push-button system, I won’t advertise it or sell it to you at ANY price. I’ll just lock myself and family indoors and we’ll be pushing the button and making millions.
Think about it…
You’ve seen proof that I and my business partner (the CEO of Spreadit) make quite a lot of money doing mini importation.
But pause for a moment and take a look at how long this article is (at this point, it should be around 8k words but I estimate that it would be over 10,000 words based on the outline I am writing on).
And, this is JUST one of a number of articles on this site. Furthermore, I wrote every blessed word of this article myself.
Think, my dear, think…
I have more than one online property. I have at least 10 others as at this moment in time (There he goes again bragging — Mmtchwww!).
If I have to sit down and write for this long with all the skills, knowledge and funds I have at my disposal, don’t let anyone fool you that you won’t have to do HARD work to build anything meaningful.
If I’ve just ruined your day by telling you that HARD WORK also found its way into the mini importation business, then so be it.
But for those of you who are willing to do the work, welcome. The results you’ll get will make up for all the hard work!
Now let’s get into the case study of how I went from zero to 4 million Naira a month within 6 months…
Mini Importation Business Case Study — Zimife.com
Now that we’ve gone through things you need to know, let’s look at a case study of mini importation business, Zimife.com.
Now bear in mind that although we will share what we did, we will ALSO advise you on how we think it might be best for you to go about a particular challenge, depending on your peculiar situation.
So let’s roll…
How did we raise money since we started with zero funds (zero of our own funds)?
We didn’t NECESSARILY plan to start out Zimife.com with zero of our own funds. But when my business partner set up Spreadit, I decided to do a training video on how to start a mini importation business with little or NO capital.
People loved the video. And as usual, I told folks about what I had done and why they should pay attention to what I had to say…
I started mini importation in 2004 without a dime and was able to make over 500,000 Naira within the first year (Actually, I started in 2003 — I miscalculated years in that video).
But since that video was made 14 years after, many would leave with the impression that what I did worked then and NOT now. So, I dared people to drop their funds and that I’ll trade with it and pay them back double within 4 months, six months, 8 months and 12 months.
Well, people took me up on the offer and dropped a few million cumulatively. While it worked, it was UNNECESSARILY stressful — I mean the 4-month and 6-month options.
So, if you are thinking of doing the same thing, make it a year.
Mini importation involves more than one country and you have to give yourself enough wiggle room to respond to government policy changes that could affect your business. Also, there are a lot of moving parts (variables) that will make a short repayment period quite stressful.
Now, I digress. Let’s get back to the point…
People dropped money and I started doing business with it and paid them back (a couple or so a bit later than planned — But they understood because I explained the constraints). In fact, to underline their happiness, many of them came back with more funds for me. But again, I digress.
So how was I able to achieve this?
Get people to drop good money?
Well, it was ALL down to trust!
Have you built trust over the years? Have you shown yourself to be a person of integrity?
Let me make this straight…
Integrity in money matters doesn’t NECESSARILY mean that you’ve NEVER defaulted on a loan or EVEN being unable to pay back as promised. It has MORE to do with you making SURE nobody’s money is lost in your care even when the law covers you.
Here’s an example…
We did a promotion back in 2008 for a project. Some people dropped 50,000 Naira each. But then the programmer sabotaged the entire project and I personally lost thousands of hard-earned dollars. I explained to the people who dropped money. They saw proof and understood. Many of them took it in their stride as money lost FOREVER.
Well, I was raised with a different mindset so I made it a point to pay each and every one of them back from my earnings irrespective of how many years it took me.
I paid the last one of them in 2017 (I think) and he was obviously in shock and said…
“Continue with this integrity!”
Things do go wrong with money but UNLESS you prove yourself to people in your circle to the extent that they choose to lose money on you, you won’t be able to get the financial leverage you need.
So, if you’ve ALWAYS toyed with other people’s money. This strategy won’t work for you.
If you’re the type that borrows money from your siblings and NEVER pays back (and waits for them to ask you about it), this strategy won’t work for you.
If you’ve lost people’s money more often than you’ve made them money, this strategy won’t work for you.
But if you’ve built trust and have integrity, this WILL work for you. So here’s how to make it work…
i. Don’t ask people to give you something for nothing.
Always answer the BIG questions…
“What’s in it for him?”
In my case, they had the opportunity of doubling their investment in me in 4 to 12 months.
But don’t make this mistake…
NEVER promise what you can’t deliver. As someone said (My explanation in brackets)…
“Trust grows like a coconut tree (builds up VERY slowly) but falls like a coconut (can be lost by making just one false move).”
So while I promised to double people’s money over a given period (and did and still do, by the way), I’ve ALSO had success with offering people just 25% return on their investment in me/my business within a specified timeframe.
I bet you, if you have cultivated your network well, some people will EVEN give you good money for less. In fact, some people (if you have a good network) will be so happy that you’re thinking right that they’ll offer you help in ways you can’t imagine.
ii. Don’t ask people to give you something they can’t afford to lose
There’s ALWAYS the element of risk in every business transaction. So, don’t ask a man to give you money that will ruin his life IF he loses it. Apart from the fact that it will reduce your chances of getting funds, such people will STRESS your life out by always calling you EVEN when payback time is STILL 6 months away.
iii. Don’t ask people to give you an amount you’ve NEVER earned in your life
If the highest amount you’ve EVER earned in your life is 50,000 naira, don’t ask for 500,000 Naira. Believe me, you don’t know what it means to have that amount and you’d probably waste it.
Furthermore, there’s a way words come out of your mouth when you talk about something you don’t REALLY grasp.
I’ve interviewed people and one of the most interesting parts is when we ask people what they’d like to earn. NO matter how good a liar the person is, you can tell if he/she has earned anything within that range in his/her life.
So stay within the range of amounts you’ve earned or else you won’t sound convincing.
Don’t forget: You can start with that little amount and grow it into something massive.
iv. Break it down into manageable bits
Even though I advised above that you should ONLY ask people for amounts that you’ve earned in life, it doesn’t mean your cumulative capital can’t be a 50 times more than what you’ve ever earned.
It’s just that you SHOULD break down the entire amount and the things you plan to do with it into bits within your past experience.
For example, if the highest you’ve ever earned is 100k a month, you understand 100k; what it can do in the real world in tangible terms.
So, break down the items in your business into 100k portions. Let’s say you want to get funding to the tune of 2 million Naira, just break it down into 20 units of 100k and ENSURE that you’re clear on what each of those units is going to be used for and HOW MUCH each of those units will bring back.
Once you’re done, make a list of people who can help you realize funding for each of the units.
20 people giving you 100k each will give you a total of 2 million Naira. So make a list of 20 people who can invest 100k each, if you have such in your circle.
But what if you don’t have enough people who can invest that much? Well, 200 people giving you 10k each will ALSO give you a total of 2 million Naira.
So also make a list of all the people you can meet to invest just 10k in your business.
v. Now be CLEAR about what you intend to achieve with their money and how you’d go about it
Ordinarily, this should be where you start before you step out to meet anyone. However, I left it as the last item on this list because I want you to appreciate how important it is.
You can’t make an offer you can deliver IF you don’t know (and are sure of) what you WILL achieve.
You can’t be sure of what you will achieve IF you’ve NOT taken the time to study how to make it happen.
Lastly, you can’t achieve a target IF you’ve NOT set one for yourself.
So, can you see why I spent so much time in preceding sections?
Now that’s one way to do it (If you are sure of your marketing abilities. However, a newbie can’t be this sure). Here’s a newbie proof method for raising the capital you need…
Newbie proof method for raising the capital you need
While this isn’t the method I used for Zimife.com, it was the method I used when I was starting out…
Get people to order stuff through you!
Everyone would be happy to get a high-quality item for a lower price than what is obtainable around him/her.
So, in this case, your work is well cut out…
i. Identify items that people in your network would be willing to pay for in advance IF you can get similar or better quality for them at a lower price.
ii. Find out their prices around you and compare it with what it would take for you to bring it into the country. Multiply your landing cost (product cost, agent commission, shipping and everything) and multiply this total by at least 2 (In some cases, multiply by 3 if it would still be lower than the local price).
iii. Make a list of all items that will still be cheaper than the local price after you’ve done step two.
iv. Now make a list of persons in your circle who you’ll meet to order the items in “iii” through you.
v. Now go and meet them and sell to them. All they have to pay is just a 50% advance. When the goods come in, you’ll collect your balance. But don’t forget that the 50% they give you in advance would have covered your cost for everything.
If you do this with diligence, you’ll NOT only raise a surprising amount of money, but you’ll ALSO have your first set of customers.
How did we set up and why did we make the choices we made with the platform, etc?
We chose the Shopify platform. Here are my reasons for choosing this platform…
i. The first and major reason is simple: I like keeping this simple. Shopify has everything you need to run an e-commerce store. If you encounter anything you need that is NOT part of the CMS’s core functionality, you’ll easily find plugins that you can add to it to get it done.
ii. The other reason was to reduce our upfront cost. With Shopify, you have a 14-day trial. If you know what you’re doing, you can actually make enough sales within this period to pay the $29 monthly fee.
iii. Different payment options.
There aren’t many platforms that make it easy for Nigerians to run an e-commerce store. However, with Shopify, you could easily integrate Paystack, Bank transfer or payment on delivery.
But should you go with Shopify?
Well, it all depends.
First, do you EVEN need an online store?
You see, many people do things because others are doing it. They don’t take a critical look into things before making decisions. So let me help you here…
i. You don’t need an online store if you’re selling in Nigeria and plan on havings as few as 3 orders per day. You can easily work with a phone (call and Whatsapp).
There’s NO point in wasting over 10,000 Naira monthly (and that’s just for the barebones platform without plugins that could add up pretty fast).
ii. Even if you think you’ll get a lot of orders, you might NOT need an online store YET if you have a physical store and are NOT comfortable with the internet and NOT ready to employ those who are.
The internet can just be your point of entry and NOT your place of doing business.
iii. If your start-up capital is less than 1 million Naira, you’d be better off selling via phone/Whatsapp until you build substantial revenue.
While some people do it (mostly for bragging rights), I don’t see any sense in setting up an online store if it would just have a few scanty items.
iv. If you want to do this part-time, I won’t advise you set up an online store (whether on Shopify or any other platform). It’s simply wasteful.
What would happen to the store in your off times? Note, though, that my advice here isn’t for hobbyists who just want to mess around, claiming they are running an e-commerce store.
Once you have your store up and running, be sure you have people at the ready to serve your customers who’d place orders EVEN when you want to stay off. So if you see a lot of downtimes, don’t set up a store yet.
How did we keep up and record stock/inventory?
We simply had to develop a system alongside Shopify’s inventory system – a kind of product “filing” system. Where the name of an item showed us a lot of things like where we sourced it, the batch it belongs to, the particular group it belongs to and the right images to use.
This is very important because that’s the ONLY way you can find your products EASILY once you begin to have a number of different items on sale. It also makes it easier for you to employ people and NOT be tied to any individual because anyone can be brought in and taught the inventory system.
Our record and inventory system had a number of components…
i. The product sourcing spreadsheet
This is where we record all the products we source from 1688.com or any other site. Here, we include things like the product category, highest available size, cost of the product at source, link to the particular merchant we bought from, link to the live page on our e-commerce site, the name string for a given product.
Feel free to add any field you believe will help you see at glance critical pieces of information you need to keep your business moving efficiently.
ii. Daily order spreadsheet
We download all orders from our e-commerce store. Shopify makes this very easy. For those who order offline, we add their orders with details in the spreadsheet.
Now, it’s important to have a cut off time for downloading orders once your operations begin to outgrow a one-man show. The simple reason is that it simply makes your logistics easier to handle.
All you have to do is file each day in a folder and you can easily determine orders that have been fully fulfilled, those that have problems, what problems they had, etc.
Shopify allows you to mark off some critical milestones but a spreadsheet gives you the added advantage of including every other thing that’s critical to logistics that might NOT be captured by the Shopify platform.
iii. Delivery records
It’s very easy to forget which delivery man went with which items. And if you don’t have good delivery records that enable you to keep track of who took what, who remitted payment for what, who returned what as failed delivery and who hasn’t remitted his/hers, you are in trouble.
You’ll lose track of your out-products and some of your workers who aren’t so faithful will begin to take advantage of your poor accounting system.
So set up a spreadsheet that includes item, quantity, the amount expected, failed delivery, successful delivery, status (returned/NOT returned), delivery personnel, date of pickup, brought forward from date, etc.
Then at the end of every business day, close your delivery record. Every transaction that hasn’t been concluded at the close of business should be copied and pasted in the new day’s spreadsheet. That’s where the “brought forward from date” heading becomes VERY useful…
You input the VERY day this item was first picked up in this column. So with this, you can tell at a glance how long this item or items have been in transit or unfulfilled.
iv. Image records
Images play a critical role in online marketing. Many people will decide to buy or NOT buy your stuff simply because of the images you post.
Therefore, it’s important to have great images.
Now, let’s assume that you have 5 different images per item on the average and have a total of 50 items. How would you maintain your sanity and be able to pick the right image efficiently if you don’t have an images record that’s in tandem with your inventory system?
How about when some customers send you a Whatsapp message with ONLY the image? A great images record saves the day.
How did we handle marketing?
We basically used Facebook/Instagram marketing. That was the driver of our major sales. But because of the extensive scope of the topic of marketing, we won’t delve into it here. Doing so will make this article at least twice longer than it’s current length.
The other methods we attempted were SMS marketing and affiliate marketing. But since what we did was merely a pilot, we didn’t devote many resources to these.
How did we handle fulfilment?
We had our delivery team for Lagos state and used a courier company for our deliveries outside the state. But to tell you the truth, the courier company was one of our biggest bottlenecks.
Also, we paid our delivery personnel 1,500 Naira per successful delivery and 500 Naira for failed deliveries. Furthermore, we gave them a 10% commission for any customer who made additional orders through them.
This was to ensure the highest quality of service delivery. And to tell you the truth; our Lagos delivery team IS EXCELLENT — I am proud of their top-notch service delivery.
How did we handle customer support and why did we approach things the way we did?
First, we made it a point to contact every customer by phone before delivery is EVEN attempted. This is because we operate the payment on delivery model.
With this model, you need to understand that people can change their minds easily because they haven’t made any payment. Furthermore, it saves us a lot of costs because we get to know when a customer is sure to be around for his delivery.
How about complaints and stuff like that?
Well, with the payment on delivery model, you’d expect that people wouldn’t be talking about returning items but you’d be wrong…
We insist that people check their consignment before payment but then you know some people wouldn’t get the memo on that.
So, we get requests to return an item that’s been already paid for. Our standard response is…
Return it in the condition it was delivered to you and you get a full refund — NO questions asked. This also applies if a change in size or colour is requested.
We do our best to keep our customers happy but we ALSO do our best to avoid people who have serious problems…
We refer them to our refund policies, depending on how they approach things.
Don’t forget that this is a business and NOT a charity.
Believe me; there are lots of things I might have missed out but I’ve also shared quite a lot. If you stick with my advice on this page, you’ll make more than 4 million Naira monthly.