Opening your first online business can be intimidating at times. Use these pieces of advice to steer your thinking and hit the ground running.
So you’re opening your very first online store, eh? You deserve a pat on the back!
(But just one pat – it’s time to get to work.)
On top of adding your products and designing your store, there are some “big picture” items to address that can make or break your success. While there are several questions you should ask yourself, here are five that I see as particularly important.
To top things off, some friends from Volusion’s Facebook page were nice enough to offer their own advice!
Without further ado, here are some burning items that are too hot to ignore:
Make a list of what you know, and more importantly, what you don’t.
As humans, we’re wired to do well at some things and struggle with others. While there’s nothing wrong with that, a problem will arise if you refuse to admit your strengths and weaknesses, especially when it comes to business.
For example, if you’re an accounting whiz but struggle in the design department, you have two choices: either educate yourself in design principles or find someone to help. Or, if you’re a creative writer but have no clue about SEO, it’s time to hit the books or turn to an outside service.
Why go through this exercise?
Because if you don’t outline where you need help, you won’t be able to allocate adequate time or funds to make your business better equipped for success.
Figure out what makes you different from your competition.
There are tons of websites that sell the same thing – you can look at any sporting goods store and see that their products are essentially identical. Thus, your business needs something to stand out from the crowd, which is what us marketing folk call “a point of difference.”
For example, in the crowded automobile market, Volvo’s point of difference is being “the safe car.” On the other hand, Kia’s point of difference is being economical. While they’re selling the same type of product, they each have a particular niche in their marketplace. You should do the same for your new online business.
Points of difference in ecommerce tend to be a bit, well, different. If your products stand for themselves in a niche market, that’s great. But if you’re in a crowded market, your business itself must make a statement. You might consider featuring incredible customer service or being a low-cost leader in your space. Whatever the case, do your homework by looking at your competition to see where you offer something that others don’t.
Once you’ve figured this one out, you can start building your brand.
Think about branding from day one.
Coca-Cola is more than a soft drink. It’s the most valued brand in the world.
Just think, there are thousands of sodas on the market, but Coke continues to outperform because of its ties to classic Americana and refreshment. Beyond the product, the emotional connections we have with Coke is the essence of its business.
Your online business needs the same type of emotional pull with your customers. Is your brand going to be fun and flirty or stern and professional? To start building your brand, ask this one question: “How does my business enhance the lives of my customers?” From there, you can start making brand decisions, which greatly impact your web design, your text and everything about your presence.
Think about marketing from day two.
You can have the most amazing products in the world, but it doesn’t mean squat if you don’t have paying customers. Thus, once you have a good idea of your brand, it’s time to start promoting your business.
While there are lots of options, or “marketing channels,” available, here are some that are important to fledgling online businesses:
- SEO: It’s critical to start building your presence in search results for various keywords. While this takes time, effort and patience, having an SEO mindset from the beginning will help.
- PPC: Pay per click advertising, also known as paid search, is an effective way to drive traffic to new stores with a limited customer base.
- Design: While this isn’t technically a marketing channel, why spend time and money directing customers to a site that doesn’t visually impress?
- Email: Pull a list of every single person you’ve ever talked to and send them an email announcing your new business. This is an easy way to start spreading the word.
As you become more comfortable with the ins and outs of marketing, you’ll find the right mix for your business and budget.
Speaking of budget…
Always, always know your budget.
I’m going to be brutally honest – creating a successful online business isn’t free.
Whether you’re investing time or money, it takes hard work to achieve success. And if you’re like most of us, you probably don’t have a ton of time or money on hand. That’s why it’s particularly important to be realistic about what you can and can’t afford. There’s nothing wrong with making small investments along the way to improve your business.
My recommendation is to start with design – again, you don’t want to send customers to an ugly site. Next, try investing in PPC, SEO and other marketing avenues to drive traffic to your store. And once you start pulling in decent sales, then you’ll have the luxury of spending on other business-building items.
And now some advice from our customers…
We recently posted an open question on our Facebook page that asked, “If you could give one piece of advice to a new online business owner, what would you tell them?” Thanks to everyone that participated!
Here’s the results:
Here’s to you, new online business owner, for having the spirit and courage to become an entrepreneur. I wish you the best of luck and all of the success possible – keep us posted on how it’s coming!
-Matt Winn, Online Communications Specialist, Volusion