Launching an online marketplace 101

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Of the hundreds of types of online businesses you could start, a marketplace is one that needs to be perfectly fine-tuned prior to launch day. In order for your marketplace to get off the ground, you need to have both buyers and sellers. In a perfect world, a small number of both exist, attract each other, and slowly build up the market.

But this strategy does not work for online marketplaces. People in small marketplaces can simply go find a bigger one with more options. Therefore, before your market even launches you need to reach a critical mass with both buyers and sellers. But how? While all the possible marketplace techniques could fill a large library, we can start with the basics of building your number of both buyers and sellers ahead of a successful launch.

Step One: Know your business

What is the theme of your marketplace, and what exactly do you sell? This should color everything about who you approach and how because your market determines your audience of buyers and sellers alike. Let's say you want to be the central authority for online auto part retail. This means that your products will be physical (not digital content), your buyers are mechanics and car enthusiasts, and your sellers can be anyone from part manufacturers to hardware stores with overflow stock to independent part owners who have a few unused parts to sell. Knowing this will help you determine how to market to these groups and in what order.

Step Two: Build a buyer mailing list

This may feel like performing business backward, but it is the most efficient method for using both groups to draw each other. In order to get high-quality sellers, you need to entice them with potential buyers. In order to get a copious amount of interested buyers, entice them with real bargains. Fortunately, because you are the marketplace, it is both well within your powers and entirely expected for you to throw a promotional launch event.

Well-targeted promotional emails, have a great track record of success. Creative Market, for instance, offered early access credits to every potential buyer who signed up for the email subscriber list, banking on the probability that not every buyer would use all of their access credits and that many would buy products well exceeding their credits, successfully creating first-day sales. Now you have a mailing list with a hefty collection of highly targeted potential buyers.

Step Three: Entice sellers

Want sellers to go through the effort of building accounts, listing their products and paying your marketplace a juicy percentage? Use your newly acquired buyers list as bait. You have a market ready to buy, and all they need to do is make their listings for almost guaranteed sales. This tactic will get you a certain amount of traction, because after all, who wants to turn down sales? However, for better results you can continue to sweeten the pot by offering them good terms, a smooth interface, and an opportunity to get in on your launch promotional events and gain exposure.

Step Four: Bring everyone back for the big day

So you have got your interested buyers and your invested sellers, but how do you make sure that your launch rings in a bunch of initial sales? Bring the buyers back in! Send out a new wave of emails letting your buyers know that their promotional early access credits (or whatever you chose to offer) are active today and to come on back to spend them. This gets your thousands of potential customers online, making accounts and looking for deals. The traffic alone would do well for your brand new marketplace, but the percentage of guaranteed sales will look amazing for your sellers, who will tell their partners and continue to grow your market.

Starting an online marketplace is no small task, but it can be incredibly lucrative and rewarding for a highly skilled and technically savvy sales team. From your platform to your products, a marketplace thrives when your pool of both buyers and sellers is in balance, and throughout your growth remains in balance. When your marketplace begins to grow, do not be afraid to entice in more of whichever half might need a little encouragement to stay economically symmetrical.

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