4 common misconceptions about launching your own physical product – and how to overcome them

A few years ago, inspired by a podcast I heard, I decided to launch a physical product and sell it on Amazon.

Since then I’ve added more products to my brand (with another few on the way), launched my own website, and started offering consultancy services and practical support to other online sellers.

I think lots of us have ideas for great products, but often the fear of the unknown stops us moving forward.  Or perhaps you’ve Googled how to do it, but all the steps to go through (and not knowing exactly what to do, in which order) just stops you in your tracks.  Especially if you’re busy with other things.

When I speak to people who are either in the process of creating a physical product, or are considering doing it, the same questions and fears come up every time.  

I want to debunk some of these myths for you.  It really isn’t as scary and as complicated as it may sound. Like anything, it’s scary until you know how, and some of the fears and concerns I hear really are just myths.

I am however, going to start with some tough love.

1. I can create a product, list it on Amazon and make a fortune

That just isn’t the case.  (Sorry.)

If you truly believe this, I want you to think about your motivation for launching a physical product and what you expect from it.  If you’re thinking that it’s easy to create a product, throw up an Amazon listing and wait for the sales to come rolling in, I’d advise you to think again.

Yes, we’ve all heard stories about people launching ‘Amazon businesses’ and getting extremely rich. I heard those stories too and that’s how my journey began. (Other than the getting rich part!)

Don’t get me wrong, it is possible to make good money – but you definitely need to know how to do it well.

Amazon for a buyer is a great platform. For sellers, it’s not quite the same.  

Navigating Amazon Seller Central

Amazon Seller Central is confusing, unclear and not at all intuitive – making navigating it a challenge. Unfortunately, you have to use this to get anything at all done.  Then, there are the rules – which seem to change on a regular basis. Plus, the customer service is poor. I could give you my whole list of issues – but I’ll spare you.

You need a great product listing

To do well you’ll need not only to get your head around using Seller Central, but also create a great listing – as there’s a lot of competition out there.  (Depending on what you sell, of course.

Your text needs to sell the product’s benefits (rather than the features), have great images, perhaps some graphics, and make it really clear why a customer should choose your product over the competition.

I’ve created an Amazon product listing checklist, to ensure your listing is fully optimised.

Tiny Chipmunk Product listing checklist

Chinese competitors

On top of all of that, in some categories, you might find Chinese manufacturers selling products directly (and undercutting almost everyone else on price).  If they’re shipping from China the long wait will put some customers off. However, if they’re using Amazon FBA (Fulfilled by Amazon), and therefore Amazon Prime, it’s a level playing field.

So, while I’m certainly not saying don’t sell on Amazon, what I am saying is do your research, understand what’s involved and hire a professional to help you if you don’t have the skills and or time to do this yourself.

2. I have to pay an agent to source my product

Absolutely not!  You can definitely source a product yourself. It just takes time, clarity – and a bit of patience!

Sourcing websites

There are plenty of sites where you can find thousands of manufacturers in one place, search for the product you’re looking for, compare suppliers and get in touch with them.

Alibaba.com is my preferred site for products made in China.  You don’t necessarily need to look abroad either. Makers Row is popular for sourcing products made in the USA – but does come with a fee.

Write a clear brief

The key thing is to be really clear on your brief, before you even start to look for a supplier – and definitely before you contact any.

Knowing exactly what you want will help you to weed out unsuitable suppliers and also save a lot of unnecessary back and forth.

With my first product, I hadn’t even thought about the packaging – whether it would be a box, or a bag and where the design for it would come from. I naively thought there’d be in-house design teams, within the factories, that could do this for me.  It turns out that some suppliers did offer this service (although I wasn’t confident about the quality), but many others expected me to send them a design for the quote (or at least be able to tell them the material I wanted and how many colours would be printed on it).

As you’d expect, this caused many emails, going back and forth over a couple of weeks, while I figured out:

A, exactly what it was I wanted

And B, how I was going to achieve it

In the end, I used a designer I found on 99 designs – which added another few weeks to the whole process.

This story certainly isn’t intended to put you off – it’s just to say do your research, be clear what you want, actually write out a detailed spec and THEN start reaching out to suppliers.

It’s tempting to just get stuck in – but I promise, in the long run, it pays to take your time, be diligent and do your research.  

Which leads me to…

3. I’ll get ripped off, or conned by a supplier and never see my money or my product ever again!

So, you’ve realised it is possible to do your own sourcing – but you’re (understandably) still a little anxious.

Sending any amount of money to China (or anywhere for that matter) is scary. And there have been plenty of scare stories around.  This was my biggest fear after placing my first order. Due to a delay at customs, it was late to arrive, and, despite having done my research, I was absolutely terrified that it just wouldn’t turn up.

Of course it did and the time I’d taken to validate my supplier had paid off.

Verifying suppliers on Alibaba

If you’re sourcing on Alibaba (possibly the most popular site when looking for Chinese manufacturers), there are steps you can take to protect yourself.

3 simple checks

These are 3 key symbols, I look for when checking out suppliers:

  • Gold suppliers who have been there for 3+ years

If you see this symbol next to a supplier, it means they have a ‘gold’ listing. A supplier has to pay for this – and it’s unlikely that a scammer would go to the trouble.  As an extra precaution, I rule out anyone trading for less than 3 years – as I think keeping a scam going that long is also unlikely.

  • Suppliers where Alibaba has done an onsite check

You have to click into a listing to see this. The symbol means that Alibaba staff have visited the premises and established it exists.

  • Trade Assurance

This symbol means you get protection if something goes wrong with your order.  For example, the quality isn’t great, or it arrives late.

These are the most basic checks I recommend.

Chipmunk Coach Alibaba symbolos

Looking a little deeper

Other checks you can do include:

  • Googling the supplier name to see if they have a separate website, or if they appear on any other sourcing sites.  The more places they show up – the better.
  • While you’re on Google, type in ‘{supplier name} and scam’ and see if you get any results.
  • Look at the level of their transactions.  Alibaba show you how many sales a supplier has made.  Obviously, the bigger the number the better – but bear in mind this only includes Trade Assurance transactions (and not all will be).

Finally you can use some common sense. If things don’t feel right, walk away.

4. I might create something that nobody will ever buy

OK, let’s be honest. It will cost some money to create a product.  How much will depend on what the product is, where you source it and how much you can negotiate it for.  You also have to consider costs such as shipping (if sourcing abroad) and any import taxes. You might also want a sample made. Often these are free, but suppliers will usually want you to pay the shipping costs.

However, before you commit to spending any money, there are a few things you can do.

Validate your product idea

Firstly, you can validate your idea without spending much at all.



While I can’t guarantee that people will buy your product (you’ll need to ensure you’re selling in the right places, have a great listing, perhaps pay for some marketing)  you can at least do some research upfront, to get an understanding.

Let’s take an example of a sleeping bag…

Test out your idea

So let’s say you’ve decided you want to create a neon coloured sleeping bag.  First of all, you want to do a few checks to see:

  • If this product already exists
  • If it does, what people think about it
  • How popular it is

You can do all of this, online, in the comfort of your own home.

The next step is to talk to people about your idea however, before you do that, there’s one little (but so important) pre-step…

Know who your ideal customer is

Before you actually start asking people for their feedback and input – it’s equally (it not more) important to ask the RIGHT people.  For example, I was unsure about the price point for my bamboo hooded towels, so I decided to ask around.  I showed lots of people my prototype (some online, some in person) and asked what they’d pay for it. Most people ended up in the ballpark I’d hoped / expected. However, some said they’d pay way less (not far off what it cost me to actually produce it).

I was initially disheartened, until I realised, I hadn’t been asking the right people – I’d just been asking pretty much everyone I knew. And of the people who said they’d only pay £10, only one of those was a parent (my target market).

Share your idea!

I know that putting it out there is scary and can feel vulnerable. However, the best way to find out what people think or your product (and if they’d pay you for it) is to ask them.  

Ideas can’t just live inside your head!  Your ideal customer can tell you what they like about your product, what they don’t like, how you can refine it and what they’d be prepared to pay.  This is such valuable information!

Talking about it will also help you stay excited, motivated and keep up the momentum!

What if someone steals my idea?

Something that comes up often, when I suggest this, is “but what if someone steals my idea?”

Let me put your mind at rest (and perhaps dispel a fifth myth while I’m at it!)  Creating a physical product, as you have probably experienced (or at least anticipated) is not for the faint-hearted.  There are lots of steps involved and you have to be really passionate about your product to see it through to completion.

I am absolutely convinced that you can. But not everyone wants to.  Your determination to make your product real will see you through. I promise you, not everyone has that!

 

So, I hope this has given you some confidence that you can make your ideas real.  And, if you need any help along the way, you know where I am!