We are living in a truly unique age, where we can have an idea — good, bad or somewhere in between — and turn it into a reality literally overnight.
When it comes to your eCommerce business idea, there are a lot of areas that people tend to neglect due to their continued excitement of ‘what could be’. This is not to say that you can’t be innovative, creative, nimble and all those great things that come with creating a great eCommerce business — it’s just that you should have a plan and goal to ensure that you are setting yourself up for success. Even Geoff Bozos or Mark Zuckerberg didn’t go out in the big, bad eCommerce world without a little help!
To help you along the way, we've created a step-by-step guide on how to start your own eCommerce business and the key ‘look-outs’ for you to consider on your road to fame and fortune.
1. Failure To Plan Is Planning To Fail
The first step in getting any business off the ground is to have a plan. You and your business need to understand the market, who participates within it, who your customers are, who your competitors are and how you can compete in the space. A plan also sets out your ‘financial and non-financial’ objectives over a set period. These are vital to allow you to benchmark your performance with what you set our to achieve and allows you to embrace continuous improvement.
A good business plan should also outline a sound marketing activation plan, costing’s, and sales forecasts. As you are focusing on eCommerce, it's important to primarily focus on a digital marketing plan, however, when testing your product/service you should review an MVP or minimum viable product methodology. For more information on this, see Eric Ries – The Lean Startup - an innovator who literally wrote the book on business planning for startups.
The lean MVP methodology allows your business to test products, services, marketing in a smaller defined area, such as a town or county, allowing you to test, learn and develop your product without blowing all your budgets on expensive mass market campaigns. Once you have the model right, you can expand your reach to a larger audience.
Finally, your sales forecasts and budget should reflect how much you are looking to spend in each functional area of the business, then how much money you see the company making based on ‘real market research’ – not simply pulling numbers out of the air.
2. Set Up The Back-End For The Business You Want, Not What You Have
One of the biggest failings of small to medium companies is that they set themselves up to be small businesses and wonder why they never grow.
Setting yourself up for success, you need a sound ‘cloud-based’ accounting and CRM system. Depending on your geographic location, you need to ensure that it takes into consideration elements such as the GST or other taxes in place. Also, your CRM system should be able to integrate with your accounting system, so that your customer's invoice history is traceable to all their ongoing, past and future proposals in your system.
A good CRM system will also allow you to allocate tasks, project manage and keep your team (even if it is only you to start off with) accountable and on track to achieve the success that you outlined in your business plan.
3. Do It Right – Get a Real Website!
Although there are dozens of DIY platforms that allow you to build your own eCommerce platforms from scratch, let me ask you this, “Are you an eCommerce specialist?”. If not then stop right there!
As a business consultant, people often ask why their business is not working online, nine times out of ten you can look at their websites and you understand straight away.
A website should be built in Word Press, making it easy for anyone to edit, change and evolve as your business grows. Your web developer should be building your site with SEO in mind from the ground up, with eCommerce platforms integrated, payment systems integrated as well as blog sites, social media links, and associated sites.
Remember that your website is your ‘bread and butter’ so if you only take one word of advice from this article, this is it – GET A PROPER WEBSITE!
This is not an area that you want to save money on. A word of advice, always look first for a web developer who understands your market, your language and is working in the same or similar time-zone to you. There are thousands of stories of websites developed overseas that are fine until something goes wrong and your eCommerce business is taken offline – then, your developer is nowhere to be seen!
4. Get Social, Automate and Integrate!
Social media is an extremely powerful and useful tool – especially in the work of eCommerce – but only if used properly. Ensure that you are repurposing content and sharing blogs on your social media sites is paramount to gain traction. Consider setting up an email management system such as Mail Chimp to manage your customer integrations with a ‘set and forget’ mentality,' ensuring that your customers are sent pre-arranged messages that are relevant to their phase in the customer sales funnel.
Your social media campaign should always include a paid and unpaid plan that works in sync with one another. It is no good having two different campaigns or messages running on social media. For example, if you have an offer or exclusive event, you should be postings content, sharing the event information link from your website as well as having targeted Facebook ad tiles to the relevant – yet specific – target market.
Through creating a social media platform that is integrated with your EDM (mail) automation makes your business appear as if you have a large team looking to offer the best customer service possible!
Marketing specialists should be able to create a sales centric, automation integration relatively quickly and inexpensively for you eCommerce business to launch.
5. Focus On Continuous Improvement
As mentioned previously in almost every stage above, you will have measurement metrics and analytics that you can pull out to check how you are going. From Google Analytics on your SEO or web page, social media metrics or EDM automation, not to mention you CRM conversion rate or sales revenue in your accounting software.
With access to so many measurement tools, it is important that you take some time to get them set up into a format that you can easily access and understand what is happening in your eCommerce platform.
It is great to have an understanding of your business from an operational point of view, but your business plan should set out clear defined objectives that have quantifiable targets and timelines to achieve these targets by. If you are not achieving them, then you need to ask the question why? And make calculated changes to correct them.
One thing that too many people forget about eCommerce is that it is fun, it’s exciting, and it’s challenging. People from all around the world can view, review and purchase your products and services – for many people it is their way out of the rat race.
To make sure you enjoy the eCommerce process, set it up correctly from the start, with a business or marketing plan, a sound website and eCommerce platform from a ‘trusted’ web-developer (not just the cheapest), social media and automation support and benchmarking metrics.
Many SME’s can feel like a mouse on a wheel, but by getting expert advice on the above and setting yourself up for success, you can enjoy the ride the whole way!
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