Starting an e-commerce business is perhaps the least risky way of taking your shot at the entrepreneurial dream. There are minimal overhead costs, especially if you have space to operate from home to begin with, and it’s one of the few business models you can expect to see profits almost immediately, if you play your cards right!
Who wouldn’t want to be their own boss; affording them the opportunity to choose their working hours, spend more time with their families, sell products that they’re excited about and make ‘fat stacks’ whilst doing it?
In today’s world, you can start an online retail operation selling literally anything, and you will make money. But regardless of the industry, product or service, the same basic rules will apply.
Whether you’re in the business of small, low-cost essentials such as golf-tees or pet accessories, or something with a higher cost such as motorcycles, furniture or technology; there a few key ingredients you’ll want to procure before jacking in the 9-5.
Pick an industry/product/service that you know inside-out.
The world is your oyster; you can sell anything your heart desires! But, wouldn’t it be easier if you were already an expert in whatever your business is retailing?
This will put you ahead of the game in a big way. Most people are happy to part with a few quid extra; safe in the knowledge they’re buying the best products from the right people. They want to know that what they’re buying comes with your stamp of approval. They want to know that you’ve tried and tested your wares, and you firmly believe them to be the best around.
This is arguably the biggest advantage you’ll have over the giants such as Amazon. It certainly won’t be price – regardless how much your suppliers love you, rest assured that they’d cheat on you with Amazon PLC in a hot minute (trust me, I’ve been there!)
Make sure your supply chain is bulletproof.
Whether you’re purchasing to fill orders in a bid to conserve liquid cash-flow capital, dropshipping, or holding stock of some description, it’s imperative that your suppliers are reliable and easy to work with. These guys are among your biggest assets. You’ll want to discuss things such as minimum-order-quantities, shipping costs, lead-times and most importantly the amazing rates you’re going to be getting, because you’re just that awesome. Work out the gross profit margins you’ll need to make and don’t budge – persistence is key!
At the other end of the business, you’ll need to ship your goods out to your lovely customers. This is where your carefully selected courier will chime in. All of the big names offer a range of services tailored to the requirements of online retailers. Whether you’re printing-off your labels online and running the packets into the post office on a daily basis or your courier is collecting the parcels from your HQ on specific days of the week – make sure you’re getting the best deal. It’s almost impossible to make money on shipping costs without alienating your customers, so don’t do it. At best, we’re aiming to break even. We want our customers to pay for their packaging materials and the courier costs. If you can do this, you’ve done well. Don’t be greedy!
Ensure your web design is the best it can possibly be.
As you won’t have a brick and mortar shop, you have no excuse to skimp on your website!
Your website will be your biggest asset, and it needs to be good.
You’ll want it to be different enough for people to stick around, but familiar enough for people to make a purchase with no effort at all.
Ensure your branding is on top-form, we want to make a statement. Your logo will need to be unique and memorable, yet on-point and easy to read. Pick a colour scheme and stick with it.
Featured products, related products, special offers, easy to navigate categories and trusted payment gateways are all part of the fun.
There’s a lot to be said for original product descriptions. It’s easy to re-use the suppliers own descriptions, proven by every one of your competitors, who has used the exact same content!
Do something special with your text content and the search engine guys will reward you.
Make sure your website provides your customer with everything they could possibly need to purchase your wares, effortlessly. They need to feel confident and secure with your brand throughout the whole process.
E-commerce websites are tricky to get right, and unless you possess some basic coding knowledge and have a lot of time on your hands, it may be good idea to seek assistance from a web-designer. (We’d love to hear from you!)
Make the time for your customers, or find someone to help you out.
Regardless of how much information and self-servicing tools you provide to your customers, you’ll still receive plenty of calls and emails asking questions about your wares and requesting further information.
Whilst it’s a good idea to ‘test the waters’ before leaving the 9-5 rat race, you’ll need to find the time to return calls and respond to emails as well as carry out postage & packing duties. If for any reason this isn’t possible, or things start to take-off in a big way, sooner than anticipated – you’ll need to find a friend, family member or business partner to help spread the load.
Don’t panic, honesty is the best policy. If things are taking longer than expected, let your customers know. Explain to them your business is growing and that you’re still finding ways to streamline the process. They’ll appreciate your honesty and they’ll remember you. People love an underdog, and you can guarantee it’s not the last time you’ll hear from these customers.
Remember, this is a great problem to have. If the new business is demanding too much of your time and your existing 9-5 job seems to be bottlenecking progress, it may be time to cut the PAYE cord?
Market your business relentlessly, plug, plug, plug.
Having the best e-commerce website the world has ever seen is wonderful, but it doesn’t count for much if customers aren’t visiting your website!
The trick is to tell everybody!
There are many, many ways to drive traffic to your website. The main being search engines, both organic results and paid advertising.
You’ll want to keep on-top of your SEO game, or find a professional to help with this (call us!) Making sure your content is hot, original and keyword optimised is a must, but you must also ensure people are linking to your website. The more buzz the better. It all counts, so get creative!
That said, SEO doesn’t happen overnight, it can take time to see results.
Social traffic is great, it’s free, it’s fun and it really does work. Start with friends, family and colleagues, then their friends, families and colleagues, and so on and so forth. Facebook and Twitter are great tools to market your business, especially on day one.
Probably the best tool in your engagement arsenal (as it always has been for me in the early stages of business) is Google Adwords.
You can expect to pay a small amount per click, but if you’ve done everything right, this will pay for itself almost immediately.
Come up with a list of queries and keywords you’d like to trigger your ads. Generally the more specialised the better. The less people there are competing for these search queries, the cheaper your campaign will be.
Thank your customers.
Be sure to thank your customers for choosing to buy from your business. This can be via an email, a compliments slip, or even a small free gift or money off code on their next purchase!
In the digital world, it’s important to remind your customers that they’re doing business with human beings, and not just a computer. It’s something that many e-commerce enterprises don’t bother with, and it’s not okay!
If your customers feel valued, they will recommend you and they’ll be back to buy more, but this time they’ll bring their mates too.
If you’re considering starting an e-commerce business and would like some advice regarding graphic/website design or digital marketing, please get in touch.
You can call the office on 01223 440389, or email us at [email protected]