eBay is, without a doubt, one of the world’s most popular retail platforms. You can sell products as easily as you can buy them, and for many people starting out in ecommerce, it’s the go-to for starting their first store. Mike Cooke was one of those people – and in the years since starting on eBay, he’s turned his small sales business, operating out of his parent’s basement, into a prominent corporation, Sterling Forever.

If you’re looking for inspiration for how to grow your business, Mike Cooke is the man to turn to.

In 2005, when Mike was 15, his mother gave him some of her old Tiffany jewlery to sell online. Overnight, he made a few hundred dollars and being in high school, it gave him the drive he needed to go a step further. His mom let him keep the money from the sale, and Mike decided to use it to buy more product and began importing products from China.

While eBay worked while he was starting out, it wasn’t long before the business was booming, and he started his own ecommerce store – which was a great financial backing throughout his high school and college years.

As a sophomore in college, he realized it was time to take it a step further.

“It was either turn it into a brand or work for someone else, and I didn’t want to work for someone else,” he says.

So, he started his business Sterling Forever, and with the help of a publicist in LA, he got the brand noticed. It wasn’t before he got a big break, featured on Good Morning America, and things really started taking off.

Today, he has 50 employees and an 18,000 square foot facility he manages for import and delivery of products, and the business has essentially become a dropshipping company. This year, he expects to ship more than 200,000 packages, double his output from 2021.

And while the figures are astounding, it’s the advice Mike Cooke has for others that is the real inspiration.

“Everyone wants to know how to get started,” he says.

The best advice he has is making sure you stand out. Creating a unique brand or product that’s different to everyone else.

“The next Facebook isn’t going to be the next Facebook, right? [It’s about] having something that’s not out there already [in the market]. Find a product that’s not generic, something that’s unique, or looks unique. It’s one that there’s not already 100 iterations of. It could be generic jewelry with badass packaging. Or the opposite – really weird jewelry with no packaging.”

Quality is the next priority, and he recommends purchasing the same product from 10 different factories until you get the quality you want.

“I don’t know anyone that says I love cheap quality,” he says, “So test it yourself, get your family and friends to test it and give you feedback.”

Testing marketplaces is also imperative, Mike recommends looking at sites like eBay, Etsy, and Amazon, setting up a store, and checking their compliance. Once you’ve grown a customer base and some capital it’ll be time to consider investing in a custom ecommerce site with a domain name.

“Everyone’s going to Shopify nowadays, and it’s a great platform. That’s what we use, so I recommend it.”

To help you get there though, you’ll also need great marketing and PR, though he says you don’t need to go to a large PR corporation, but rather simply invest in getting your business out into the public realm with social media marketing, media releases for business, product launches, and so on.

“If you fail, [the large corporations] won’t notice or care, so they’re not going to prolong that relationship. Wait until you’re ready to approach those guys.”

And Mike’s final piece of advice might be the most important of all.

“Make sure you have the correct terms of service in place, as well as a return policy, customer service, and legal protections for your organization.”

Article written in partnership with Sara Smith

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