In February 2019, I released my first book, Money Stories from Malaysians Volume 1 after almost a year of working on it.
It made RM9.5k within 2 weeks.
… Actually, it made over RM10k. I received some generous donations as well. For example..
I hope all of you will get clients like this. They exist, I promise you pic.twitter.com/jglYyklVF6
— Suraya Zainudin (@surayaror) March 4, 2019
I know. I didn’t believe it at first. Just stared at that text for a long time, digesting what just happened. And that’s not the only donation I received too. Including this amount, I can safely say that I’ve recovered all upfront costs, and then some.
To show you my gratitude, I would like to break down the details and behind-the-scenes of selling online in Malaysia in this article. My product is a book but you can apply the knowledge to anything else. Hope it’ll be useful for you, for your own ecommerce shop (now or future).
#1 – Calculating cost price – Beyond the printing cost
Before doing this project, I naively thought that the cost of the book (and the delivery) is the only thing I had to worry about.
Hahaha nope. The book itself costs only RM3.90 each to print, but the base price almost doubles if you add other necessary upfront expenses.
I spent RM7150 in upfront expenses. The breakdown is:
- Printing – RM3900 for 1000 books
- Marketing (FB ads) – RM1000
- Book coaching, manuscript editing, ebook formatting, print layout – RM1250
- Book cover design and illustrations for each story in the book (10 illustrations) – RM600
- Writers’ fees – RM200 (see how writers are paid here)
- Misc (custom printing, stationaries, etc) – RM200
From here, you can calculate the base / cost price of one book: RM7.15.
#2 – Packaging and Delivery costs are surprisingly expensive!
If #1 is the cost price, then #2 is the cost of getting the book to you in good condition.
Like everyone else, I took these costs for granted. Too used to getting free shipping. Too used to not think of packaging costs (I usually throw them away without thinking!).
The original plan was to (1) concentrate on sales and marketing and (2) outsource packaging and deliveries. Remember that the book is supposed to be a passive income project – I wanted to spend as little time on it as possible, so I can focus on doing more money-making projects.
Unfortunately, while I was searching for order fulfilment service providers in Malaysia – companies that help you to store, pack and ship the products to customers – I quickly found out that it’s not suitable nor cost-effective for me to use this service, at least not in the beginning stage.
For example, one option is available only if I sell the books on Lazada (and Lazada alone) while another would cost RM10.85, RM18.77 and RM16.45 respectively per order to Peninsula Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak – too high for me to absorb.
(Btw shoutout to Tresgo.my for explaining the process and cost breakdown. Their prices are actually very reasonable plus the team is female-led and local – deliveries just happen to cost that much via delivery companies)
So I thought, Suraya, just put in the work. Put in the manual labour. Don’t be so atas and think that packing parcels is beneath you. Do what you need to do to recover your upfront costs. If you can at least break even, then you may consider outsourcing the work.
And that’s what I end up doing. Here’s what I’m doing now to reduce packaging and delivery costs:
- DIY bubble mailer envelopes. Instead of buying convenient bubble mailer envelopes, I bought unpadded envelopes and bubble wrap and DIY-ed it myself. This brought down the packing cost from RM2.40 per order to roughly RM0.70 per order.
- Using my sister’s Easyparcel account. One of my sisters actually run the MalaysiaPlusSize Instagram shop. Out of the goodness of her heart (and maybe in exchange for a post to promote her Raya collection later lol), she let me use her account to get cheaper delivery rates, free flyers and free pickups. I estimate that this alone will save me at least RM3000 in all. Plus, she let me store the books at her shop for free too.
I believe the packaging and delivery cost is now around RM8ish per order, which is higher than the cost of the actual book wth.
This is how the packaging looks like.
View this post on Instagram
Showing off the custom-printed thank you card with personalised note, included in every Gold/Platinum order for #MYMoneyStories book ❤️ . Total sales during the 10-day preorder period – RM8.5k. THANK YOU UGH I SAYANG GILER KAT KORANG 🙏❤️🙏❤️ . #malaysianwriters #writersofmalaysia #sayajualbuku #malaysianbloggers #bloggermalaysia #selfpublished
#3 – Calculating the profit markup
By this point, you know that the cost per book order, inclusive of delivery is RM7.15 + RM8ish = RM15ish. However, I’m selling each book at over 100% profit markup, or RM32.90.
I’m 100% comfortable sharing this with you, because you need to know that 100% profit markup is nothing. Some companies impose much higher profit markup, enabled by volume, branding/marketing and sometimes, by sheer monopoly (ie “I’ll charge this price because I can and you have no choice”).
The 100% markup also allows me to absorb costs that don’t fit in anywhere else, like:
- Paypal Checkout fees – They take 3.2% + RM2 per order you make
- Price difference to Sabah/Sarawak delivery – I’ve decided to impose a flat delivery rate to all Malaysians, including Sabah and Sarawak. I’m taking a bit of a financial hit here but oh well, I feel like it
- Buying extra tools and services – that helps with payment processing, shipping, marketing, etc
My profit, as well as profits for co-authors of the book, comes from this profit markup. Conservatively, we’ll earn RM8-10k to share between us IF we sell out all 1000 books. However, as of writing time, we’ve sold almost of a quarter of that, so I’m optimistic!
(and who knows we might sell out and reprint more books?? Ok chill Suraya finish this pile first)
#4 – Doing preorder sales was a GREAT idea
This was you! You gave the idea! I’m so happy I took your advice! Just look at the order stats! 353 orders in 10 days is crazy!!!
Seriously, I was so worried about not making sales at all. I had so much anxiety, so much ‘what if it fails’ thoughts. Thank goodness everything worked out.
Aside from the obvious financial incentive for doing the preorder, I’m also glad I did it for another reason – to make packages offering extra perks, which I could sell at a higher price. I did this to (1) recoup the upfront costs faster, and (2) create sales momentum. The Silver, Gold and Platinum packages have since expired (and renamed), but you can still see them here under Reason #3.
#5 – Choosing to sell on RoR website
Theoretically, I could choose to sell the book on most ecommerce platforms out there, including but not limited to: Lazada, Shopee (I actually got a personal invitation from them), Mudah, Carousell, Instagram (not technically ecommerce but can act as one), Twitter (ditto), and more.
However, I chose to sell Money Stories on the RoR website first for a couple of reasons:
- I knew that my primary target audience during the preorder period is existing RoR readers, not new ones
- I wanted to automate the process as much as possible. Wanted to avoid ‘whatsapp/PM/DM to order’ system at all costs
The day before preorder started, on the 26 Feb 2019, I had this Google Forms system set up in Ringgit Oh Ringgit to receive orders.
Google Forms, korang. Google Forms. It was old-fashioned, and not intuitive, and hella ugly, but I thought ‘done is better than perfect’.
But at the last minute, I decided to go with the WooCommerce plugin, a free plugin for the WordPress platform that enables checkouts in websites. It also tracks orders made and provides statistics – the screenshots above were all taken from WooCommerce. You can pay extra to get extra features, but even the free version is pretty powerful (I’m using the free version).
I’m glad I used the WooCommerce option. Sure, it’s not perfect – I still have to manually check and approve orders made via bank transfers, and Paypal’s fees are pretty high – but other than that it’s good enough for my situation.
Most importantly, I could start accepting payments (bank transfers, credit cards and Paypal payments) without upfront fees, which is something that is imposed on other payment gateways out there. Remember that in the beginning I still wasn’t sure if I was going to make any sales, so I took the path of least financial risk.
Another thing that I really like about WooCommerce – finding the little notes you left for me at the checkout page :’) I saw your notes of encouragement – ‘Keep it up Suraya’, ‘Congrats Suraya’, ‘Support you all the way sis’ – my darlings, you are so, so sweet. Order processing was a menial task but seeing these notes made me so happy.
All of this has been crazy. I don’t know how I got so lucky. Because of you, I get to make a living doing what I love. Because of you, I get to earn while contributing back to society. Thank you so much. I feel so blessed.
Selling Online in Malaysia: Next Steps for Money Stories book
EDIT: THE BOOK IS NOW AVAILABLE AT MAJOR BOOKSTORES IN MALAYSIA
The above explained what I have done so far. What next?
I have not locked down the specific action plans, but in the next couple of weeks/months I’m going to focus on:
- Making bulk sale orders. Anyone want the Money stories book as gifts for your company/customers? Know an indie bookstore that’s willing to stock the book? Leave a comment, I’ll contact you back!
- Promoting the heck out of these books wherever I can. This is kinda awkward because I don’t want to be like, hey I have a book, buy my book, because that seems a bit annoying? If someone does that to me I’ll be like, tak tanya pun?? Let’s see if I could figure out a subtle way to do it…
- Maybe create some FB ads and spend some ad money there? Can test my digital marketing and copywriting skills too.
- Featuring Money Stories book front and center in Ringgit Oh Ringgit website. I’ve already done this – want to tempt as many of you as possible heheheh. Go get it, the price starts from RM9.90 only for ebook version. Click the image below to go to the product page 😀
What do you think of those plans? What would you do if you’re in my situation? Any online selling in Malaysia tips that I should know? Let me know in the comments section 🙂