Category Archives: Sales and marketing

What Businesses can do while isolated

what businesses can doCoronavirus has impacted businesses in a way that was unthinkable just weeks ago. No business will have planned for this and the smaller ones will be more vulnerable.

I believe though that when we get through this crisis it will be those that have used this period of forced isolation and closure to prepared themselves that will rise fastest and even make gains on competition that have not been proactive.

What you can do:

Secure the business:

  1. Keep safe and don’t be tempted to find ways to get around isolating, Sports Direct have already suffered public condemnation for needlessly trying to stay open.
  2. Ensure any workers are reassured and supported.
  3. Contact your customers to explain your position and what you are doing to support them at this time.
  4. Suspend all costs that it is possible to do so and look carefully at cash-flow for the next few months. Talk to your bank about how they can help you.
  5. The government are bringing in measures seemingly every day that may assist small businesses and hopefully sole traders. Get on top of what assistance you are able to claim. If you have an Accountant, now is the time for them to earn their fee, talk to them.

Plan for the future:

  1. If you could provide goods or services on-line, but haven’t yet explored that option – start looking. Those that already do, see how it can be expanded or made better.
  2. Use this chance to re-examine your business, think about your goals and how you will put in place actions to reach them. Dare I say, now you have time, do a Business Plan.
  3. Some restrictions are likely to be in place for a while, how can your business best operate once the immediate lock-down is lifted.
  4. Consider how the public mind-set may be altered over the next year and find ways of communicating in future marketing a reassurance of working practices and care for your customers. Good PR can come from your good intentions, helping both you and your customers. It’s not cynical, it’s understanding what now is important to potential customers.
  5. Keep positive. Every crisis eventually passes, position yourself for growth when it does.

 

 

What’s the most important thing in starting a business?

Most important for startups

Actually there are several inter-related aspects of starting a business that need to be worked on to ensure a successful startup, but I consider these to be the most important…

1. Start a business in a subject that you are interested in.

Running a new business is hard work, it becomes a little bit easier, if you at least enjoy or have some attraction to the service, products or activity that is at its centre.

2. Come up with a differentiation for your business from its competitors.

It may be a brand new idea or invention, perhaps a fresh twist on an old idea. The best are disrupters of established markets, such as Uber vs taxis or Airbnb vs hotel rooms.

3. Check your idea for a business is commercial.

It is said that ideas are 10 a penny and not every idea will actually be a commercial success. You must really look hard at whether someone will put their hand in their pocket and pay you money.

4. Get your numbers together.

Finance may not be everybody’s favourite subject, but even a simple listing of costs vs likely selling price will guide you in the viability of the business in the first place and in knowing how to set prices and what you can afford as an expense.

5. Finally, how you implement is key.

The best ideas badly implemented will fail, but even average startups stand a good chance if well implemented.

By implementation I mean think through your supply chain, how you will get your product or service to market, how will you let your potential customers know that you exist, what customer service you need to provide and ensure you have a cash flow that won’t run out before you get enough sales to start making a profit.

 

 

Finding business opportunities from market changes

Opportunity from market changeBusinesses are often wary of change. It creates uncertainty and development projects get stalled. Instead of seeing change as an opportunity, business leaders start to plan for worse case scenarios that may result from the change.

The businesses adversely affected are normally large organisations with a vested interest in the status quo, however for smaller more flexible businesses and certainly start-ups, these market changes can be a fantastic opportunity to grow.

There is always change, in reality nothing stays still, as the bones of once giant corporations will testify. In the past many have been caught out by technological or fashion trends, but now we also have global changes such as Brexit, migration and the fall out of Mr. Trump’s policies that will add to the melee.

So how do we go about spotting those changes that are likely to produce great opportunities?

1. One way is using Brainstorming -  Here are a few guidelines that should be useful, you can amend these as you wish, but it gives the method:

  • Basic technique – Using colleagues, or friends (5 to 12 is ideal, but if you are a one man start-up finding even just a couple of friends to help will get you going), jot down thoughts on a flipchart or post-it pad, no idea is initially too crazy and no one should be dominant.
  • However give it structure (see below), address a specific question and having a team leader will facilitate the process.
  • Firstly ask what changes are going on in the world / your market place
  • Have your brainstorming session on that question and then collate the results into groups that comprise similar changes
  • Looking at those groups of changes, rank the groups in order of possible interest, taking into account your market, business and ability/expertise to address
  • Now starting with the first change have a brainstorming session on the question “what will be the consequence or impact of that change to people, or the market”
  • Again collate and rank the results
  • Then ask the question “What opportunities will there be to these consequences of the change”

You will see that we are identifying changes and then delving deeper into the impact of change to discover opportunities that we can address.

2. You can also look at recent entries to your market, are these businesses addressing new opportunities that have arisen from change that you can expand on, or that may inspire you to think of similar opportunities.

3. Another way is to think about those established companies that are going through tough times – why – what is taking their custom?

In all of the identified changes, think about the basic strengths of your own business (or yourself if an entrepreneur looking for a potential business). What is your core knowledge / expertise? How can that be applied to creating an opportunity from the changes?

In every change there are going to be people that spot the opportunities and make a lot of money, think of when financial regulation of the stock market changed in London and the fortunes that were made, or how Russian entrepreneurs embraced new market conditions after communism fell.

You can be one of the people that do very well out of the changes happening today, but only if you take the time to spot the opportunities and then most importantly – act on it.

The Future of Retail: Your 5-Step Ecommerce Start-Up Plan

ecommerce-240So you’ve made the decision to launch an ecommerce business? Congratulations – you’ve chosen a great path for your new business.

But like every new venture, if you want to give yourself the greatest chance of success, you’re going to need a solid plan. Everything from the style and tone of your content, to your web design and even the products you sell will need to be carefully considered and worked into an overarching business strategy.

This might sound daunting, but if you know what you want to accomplish, then the planning phase will probably be easier than you expect. Nevertheless, let’s take a look at the first five steps towards launching a successful online store, so you can be sure to get your ecommerce business off to a positive start.

Don’t forget to also read these top start-up tips to help propel you into business success in 2018.

1. Find That Niche

You may already have a product or service in mind for your ecommerce business. However, with so many online stores vying for the top spot in search results, you need to choose your niche carefully. To do this, you will need to find something that your business can excel at, and that sets it apart from the competition.

The trick to this is to find something for which there is demand, but not too much competition. A good place to start your search is Google Keyword Planner, as this will enable you to see how popular a particular search is, as well as the potential competition for that keyword or phrase.

Search isn’t the only place to look though – mine for data on forums like reddit and Quora, and scour social media for relevant posts and updates.

Once you have figured out your niche, you’re ready to construct the rest of your marketing strategy. Remember, having a niche does not mean you can’t sell or promote anything else; it simply serves as the focus for your business, and the main draw for your customers.

2. Set Your Budget

Having a clearly-defined budget is essential if you want the launch of your ecommerce store to go smoothly.

●    List your confirmed funding sources, and reach out to potential investors. Don’t rely on any funding source that isn’t definite.
●    Plan for setbacks. Figure out the cost of remedying potential problems, and budget accordingly. Tying up a portion of your capital in a recovery plan is far better than falling short in an emergency.
●    Take calculated risks. No business venture is a guaranteed success. However, you can greatly increase the security of your investments by weighing up the risks against the likely ROI.
●    Don’t cut corners. Careful budgeting means you can make savings and spend more efficiently as a result of planning and forethought. But remember that a greater initial outlay can sometimes mean lower long-term costs. Always consider your future costs when weighing up a purchase. Is it scalable? Is it future-proof? How much will it cost to maintain?

Knowing exactly what you have to work with is extremely useful when constructing your business plan and content schedule. Even matters such as selecting your ecommerce platform are heavily dependent on your budget, as different platforms and packages come with varying costs.

Keep in mind that your budget can always be adjusted if you secure additional funding. However, it is far better to base your plan on funds that you have confirmed, than to have to start from scratch if a planned source falls through.

3. Scope Out the Competition

Now you have the bare bones of your business, you need to bring yourself up to speed with the competition. Visit their websites, explore their target keywords, and consider signing up to their mailing lists.

These insights will help you to understand the sort of things customers in your industry have available to them. This enables you to create something that is new and different, while still catering to the same needs. It is important not to copy your competitors, as not only will you fail to stand out, but you will also have a much harder time ranking in searches.

While checking out your competitors, you may even find some that you could collaborate with. Perhaps you fall within the same industry, but are targeting different, yet complementary niches. This could be a great opportunity for guest posting in their blogs, or setting up a mutually beneficial partnership.

Another way to scope out the competition is to find similar websites that are listed for sale and delve into their sales figures and results. It will give you a good idea of what’s been working (and not working) for other retailers, and may alert you to a niche that’s become oversaturated. You may even find the perfect store and domain name already built – ready for a savvy buyer like you to snap up!

4. Design For Your Audience

Once you know who your audience is, you can decide on your marketing message, the aesthetic of your store, and even the social channels you will focus on. While it is important that your brand’s image reflects your aspirations for your business, it is also essential that you keep the needs of your audience in mind at all times.

Of course, it can be hard to define exactly what your audience will like the most, so this step can include quite a bit of trial and error. Split-testing is particularly helpful here, as it enables you to make complex design decisions, while gaining an insight into the preferences of your customers. This can be used for everything from your landing pages, to ads on social media, or even targeted promotions.

Depending on your chosen platform for your store, you may have access to a range of analytical insights based on the interactions of your customers with your website. This data will be invaluable for the growth and evolution of your business, as you will be able to identify the strengths and weaknesses in your marketing strategy, and optimise your approach accordingly.

5. Plan Your Website

The final stage of setting up your ecommerce store will be creating the store itself. A great option for many budding entrepreneurs is to use an ecommerce CMS. Platforms such as Magento, Shopify, and WooCommerce offer a range of functionalities, and varying levels of customisation.

You should base your choice on your budget, as well as your specific aspirations for your business. Shopify, for example, has an app store with over 1000 applications to choose from to help you customise your store. Others, such as Symphony Commerce offer pay-as-you-go pricing structures, which can be fantastic for a fast-growing business with limited startup capital.

Before settling on a platform, make sure it has all the features you require, and that you are comfortable working with it. Don’t be afraid to contact support services for your preferred platforms if you have in-depth questions about their functionality. It is far better to make an informed decision than simply hope for the best.

Of course, you do not have to rely on any of these platforms. If you are a confident web designer, or you have a team in place to handle this for you, then the greatest flexibility can come from setting up your store from scratch. Keep in mind that there are important features that you will need to include, such as a secure payment system, and a legally compliant means of collecting and processing customer data.

Once you’ve achieved all that, you’re well on your way to ecommerce success. Of course, the work has only just begun, so don’t relax just yet. To ensure that you maintain this success, and give your business the opportunity to grow, you will need to keep improving on your work so far.

Start with your onsite analytics, to gain insights into how well your content performs, and how your customers interact with your website. From this you can learn which products are your most popular, and which might need a little more promotion. You can also see who makes up your audience, which will ultimately help you to make better decisions about future marketing campaigns.

The more you learn about your customers, the better you can cater to their needs. And, of course, happy customers are more likely to buy more, recommend your store to others, and come back to make purchases in the future.

 

Victoria-Greene-100Victoria Greene is a branding consultant and freelance writer. On her blog, VictoriaEcommerce, she shares tips on ecommerce and how entrepreneurs can develop their businesses. She is passionate about using her experience to help fellow entrepreneurs do better.

Top Tips for a Successful Start-up

business startup tipsOver the years I’ve talked to many entrepreneurs who started with a great concept and high energy yet failed to launch a successful business.

I’ve also seen people who only had modest ideas and yet went on to establish large profitable companies.

 

 

These are my conclusions and top tips for a successful start-up: 

1.  Know your market. Many of the entrepreneurs that failed had dashed headlong into launching their business without having done the spadework of testing the market’s acceptance of their idea.

The ones that succeeded had worked out a practical marketing plan, knowing how they were going sell the product or service to an identified group of customers.

I’ve written on this before, see Marketing Planning and Marketing Ideas

2. Start with a co-founder or partner. Almost all the successful businesses had a partner.

Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and even Richard Branson had co-founders. It takes some of the burden from you, inspires action and gives another person to bounce ideas off. See Should You Have a Business Partner?

But do make sure you put the business partnership in writing .

3. Start lean. In the early days those that were most successful focused their funds only on the areas that would make a difference.

No big cars or designer offices. The founders worked for minimum wages, ploughing all the money back into the business.

4. Measure and keep track of how you are doing. Knowing your costs vs sales and the timing of funds in and out is a necessity. Some that failed were profitable companies but sank because they underestimated the importance of their cash flow.

It doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive, use online accounting software like QuickBooks which is ideal for the small business. Because it’s online you are not trapped in the office to use it, vital when it’s you doing many of the jobs in the business and dashing around.

Nobly have a good reference for what to look for and have rated the best accounting software that you may want explore.

5. Use customer feedback. You won’t get everything right first time. Those that reacted quickly to customer feedback made the biggest strides. Also, in engaging with your customers you build loyalty and repeat sales.

In fact customer service is a great differentiator for you. Many that failed were somewhat arrogant in their customer dealings. Have a look at rather an old article now, but still relevant Provide a Better Service Than Your Competitors .

Yes growing a business is hard work, but also fun. With a little bit of foresight and doing the right things the business will blossom and provide you with enjoyment (and reward) for many years to come.

 

Small business marketing ideas

Marketing for small businessesSmall businesses can have great products and services but struggle to get sufficient customers to allow them to expand.

Often this is because the owners of the business are too busy dealing with day to day activities to have time to plan or initiate the marketing activity. Yet it need not be an overly arduous task and can fit the finance and resources available.

Here’s how:

  1. Firstly you need to establish some basics. You may think it’s obvious but just stop and jot these down on paper. Moving the information out of only being in your head on to paper (or to a PC), makes you have to think it through.
  2. Who are your customers? Describe them; gender, age, interests, were do they live, what do they read, what qualities are they looking for in a product / service.
    Are some types of customers more profitable, or even more enjoyable to work with than others?
  3. Write down who the competition is and what makes them good or bad.
  4. What is it about your offering that will excite your target customers and beat the competitors?
    I’ve already written on how to market smarter by using market segmentation. By understanding the above you’ll now be ready to do so.
  5. Look at your current branding, if any, and make sure it fits your identified customer. This is letterheads, logos, tag-lines (what you do in a nutshell) and the messages you want to convey.
  6. Now get those messages to the right customers. Marketing is a creative process and by doing some brainstorming with colleagues or even friends you may be able to think of many ways of doing so, here are some:
  • Team up with other businesses / organisations by offering their customers special deals.
  • Have you got a good web site? Do you sell on-line? Even if yours is not a product that can be sold on-line, ensure your web site shows you at your best, is found for your important keywords and has good marketing messages plus contact details.
  • Write a blog, put helpful videos on YouTube, become known as an expert, speak at suitable events, all the time getting your brand out there.
  • Engage your current customers. Seek, reward and use feedback. Start a loyalty club. Ask to be recommended. Get existing customers to return.
  • Use advertising wisely. This is where knowing your customer pays off. Only advertise where your target customers are looking. The more niche you are the easier it is to be precise, but even if you have a broad offering, think about the market segmentation mentioned earlier.

It is important finally to put together a plan to do the marketing, with dates against actions. If you don’t then the pressures of running the business will always make it something to do tomorrow.

 

5 ways to be a success this year

5 actions for business success1. Work on your brand and image.

Success breeds success and perception is reality. The reason these truisms exist is that they are, well…. true.

What do people think when you communicate with them? Do they want to be a part (either as a customer or an Investor) of your successful and dynamic business? Perhaps you’re not quite there yet, but do all you can to give that image to people.

Branding is often just thought of as logos and letter-heads, a catchy tag-line and corporate colours. It’s easy to get bogged down in working on these and miss a couple quicker paybacks of having your own company email address (it’s not professional for a business to be using gmail/Hotmail) and a simple but high quality business card (the cheap ones are not worth having).

Most businesses now have a website, they’re inexpensive to produce and can instantly be a way of conveying your brand and image, so think about having one well designed. A local web designer can do a far better job than the free sites that come with purchasing a domain name.

For established companies, rethink how you are perceived. Ask customers and importantly potential customers what they think of when your name is mentioned. What do they like, what would they change? Get a pair of fresh eyes to look at you.

2. Give better customer service than your competitors.

Customer Service is now being seen as the number one differentiator in this era of everyone having very competitive pricing.

Good customer service needs to be built into the image of your company; it is a positive brand characteristic and will pay back with repeat business and recommendations.

It also needs to be built into the fabric of your business, from the attitude of yourself and your staff, to the systems that you put in place to support it.

Think of how John Lewis continues to do well, while others fail. Amazon has a great customer service for an on-line company. They’ve made good service a part of who they are.

3. Get help from your peers.

There are people who have already overcome the same problems you have, or may have contacts that you need, or insights into what works and what doesn’t. They can brainstorm ideas and help with strategies.

Where do you find them and isn’t it worrying to give potential competitors information on your business?

This is where you have to choose the make-up of your group wisely; there will be entrepreneurs and businesses that are not competitors but have the same issues as yourself. You can also sign an agreement where you keep each other’s information confidential.

As to where; Mastermind groups (look it up on Google), Network events, local Chambers of Commerce, Small Business Federation, and even banks run such activities for clients. There are also commercially run groups, often catering for executive level participants which provide well organised meetings and coaching, although they do tend to charge quite high membership fees. You could also set up your own group. If you do so, lay out some agreed upon rules.

4. 90% of success is turning up.

Do it. Yes stop prevaricating and do it. Dreaming of starting a business? Thinking that you should look at your costs? Wondering if you should do more PR or marketing? Just do it.

“I have never met the person who went out to do what they really dreamed of, and then regretted it, regardless of whether they later succeeded or failed.
“But I have met many people in later life who wished they had taken more risks to follow their dreams” – Simon Woodruffe (Yo! Sushi)

General George S. Patton: “a good plan violently executed now will be better than a perfect plan next week.”

5. Employ the best people that you can find.

This has constantly been the most given advice when successful entrepreneurs have been asked about lessons learnt.

Now if you are the sole owner of a young business, struggling to cope and having to do everything yourself, you may think that any warm body would be a plus.

However, even then it’s worth getting the best that you can afford at the time, which means investing some time in your choice.

“When picking your team, work with people you like, and give them massive respect.” – Simon Woodruffe. But I would be careful taking on friends, they may not be the best choice for skills and what will happen if goes wrong.

There are of course many more things that you can do to make this the year when your business takes off, but it’s better to focus on a few actions and make them happen, than a lot of possibilities that never get done.

 

Sales and Marketing Plans

 Marketing PlanWhether you’re writing a business plan, or simply want to make sure that your business has customers, you are going to need a sales plan and a marketing plan.

Yes need. Not optional, not nice to have – need.

First let’s get over the instinctive dread of the word plan. It doesn’t have to mean a formal document, but it does need to be written down. Writing forces you to think and you can’t get away with the woolly thoughts that are there when this is only in your head.

Notice also that I separated the two. People use the phrase sales & marketing, but they are two complementary areas of your business activity. You can write them separately or joined together in one overall plan.

When I talk to entrepreneurs they can chat for hours about the features of their product, but ask how they will sell it, or how people will find out about it and a there is a vague response of “oh that’s what I need money for, to advertise and stuff”.

It’s far more interesting to think about the product or service than about the practicalities of how you will sell them. Until the business fails because you don’t have customers. Or you don’t attract investment.

So what is in a sales and a marketing plan? Which do you do first?

Start with the marketing plan, because part of that is defining who and where your target market is. You’ll need to know that in order to sell to them. I wrote an article about this: How-to-Market-Smarter

The contents and emphasis will vary depending on the type of business, it’s complexity and of course the market it operates in, but in general a marketing plan will have:

  • A description of the market you are operating within, think about the geography and demographics. You can include how the economy affects this market. A cut-rate supermarket does better in a difficult economy for instance.
  • Who are your competitors, their pros and cons. What is your strategy for competing against them?
  • Who you are selling to, your ideal customer. As mentioned in my article above, it should be broken down into segments.
  • Branding, values, colours, logo – the message you want to communicate. Cheap and functional or premium and exclusive, this is where you decide what people think when they hear your company’s name.
  • Products and services with pricing strategy – no need here to go into depth on every product functionality. Rather the strategy of what type of products and services.
  • Lead generation – this includes PR, advertising, web sites, referrals, direct mail, attending exhibitions, giving local talks, networking…  Be specific, don’t just say for instance you will advertise, give a list of publications and the dates you’ll appear.
  • Marketing costs – put together a spreadsheet showing the costs of each of these marketing activities.

Once the marketing activity is generating leads, how will you turn those into sales? This is the sales plan.

  • Sales strategy – do you have your own sales force, will you have distributors, is your business web based only or perhaps a high street shop.
  • Sales process – how do you qualify the leads generated, how do you engage with them, key sales messages,
  • Service experience – how will you later follow them up, retaining customers and encouraging them to buy again.
  •  Sales forecast – compile a spreadsheet by month for the year (plus a year 2 and year 3 total if doing a business plan for investment). Broken down by product or service category.   Sometimes it’s hard to forecast for a new business but you must make a stab. Note down your assumptions of why you forecast those numbers, so when it proves wrong you know why and can adjust it.

It takes time and we are all busy, but there is no alternative, you can’t run a successful business without a sales plan or a marketing plan.

 

Use technology in your business or fail

technology in businessIn a previous work life, I used to give presentations on technology and as a way of lightening the tone of what could be a heavy session, I showed a cartoon. The caption read “In a moment of inspiration Dave the repairman connected the air-conditioner to the Internet”.

Now, what’s funny about that you may ask? These days everything from fridges to toasters (yes you can buy one) get the Internet treatment.

Well, at that time the only device connected to the Internet was a computer and then not every computer. The workhorse of computing was called a mini-computer and it looked exactly like an air conditioning unit. Connecting it to the Internet would be impossible; we used to laugh at the absurdity of the cartoon.

How times have changed. I’m older now and the latest trends in technology don’t automatically include me. I have to consciously make myself aware of what is happening and how that impacts what can be produced as a product, offered as a service, or affect the way a business operates.

Unless designing an iPhone app, or working on a new type of web site, many entrepreneurs that I talk to have not included technology in their plans for the business.

That would be a mistake, because undoubtedly your competitors will have built-in the latest technology and it may be the edge that differentiates your business from the others.

5 ways technology can give you an advantage:

  1. Build it into your sales plan. Either by selling on your own web site (eCommerce), or using Amazon or Ebay  who will help you set up a shop within their sites.
  2. Have a plan of using technology to help your marketing and PR. This is increasingly important. You can advertise using Google Ads, place “how to do” videos on YouTube and use social media web sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Linked-in.
  3. Buy a web domain name that describes your activity. It depends on your type of business but whilst “Johnston International” sounds good you’ll only be found on search engines if someone types that name, however have a web site called “handbags.com” or “cookbooks.co.uk” and you’ll be found more often.
  4. Once you have your own domain name use it to have your own email address. There is nothing less professional than using hotmail or gmail as your email address for a business, it screams small-time amateur.
  5. Automate your business processes as much as possible, all the way down the supply chain, from how you order goods or services yourself, to despatch of goods and customer service. Use modern accountancy packages. Communicate with your customers by email, again automated where practical. This is an area that will save you money, speed processes up and free your time.

Don’t use excuses such as I’m too old for all this, I’m more of a people person, I don’t understand and in any case I’m too busy. Your competitors will be eating your lunch.

 

 

Joining the digital age – advice for bringing your business online

Shopping onlineThe way people shop has changed rapidly over the last few years. On-line shopping is booming and consumers are using the internet to research and shop for products more than ever before. But despite this massive shift in how consumers behave, many small retail businesses resist the move towards ecommerce.

This happens for a variety of reasons – for many people taking their business on-line means entering a realm they feel they know nothing about. People are afraid of the costs involved and that they won’t have the expertise to make it work. However, while traditional shops put off the challenge of learning about ecommerce, new SMEs are setting up on-line and taking a significant chunk of market share from long established businesses that used to dominate in their market.

If you own a small or independent retail business and you’ve not made the move online, this piece aims to demystify the process and give you the knowledge you need to feel confident and, hopefully, excited about joining the internet revolution.

Why take your business on-line?

If you are only operating off-line right now, chances are you are missing out on a lot of potential sales and you may even have lost previously loyal customers to competitors in the on-line sphere. Although it may seem daunting, getting your head around moving on-line could be the difference between your business surviving in the long run or gradually becoming unsustainable.

Once you learn the ropes of ecommerce some of the benefits you’ll enjoy include more sales, the ability to serve customers from all over the world, the capacity to engage more regularly with customers and reach a much wider pool of consumers, and the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve stayed at the forefront of the industry where you have built up your expertise.

What do you need to make an on-line business successful?

At its simplest, getting set up in ecommerce requires a website with a shop, the ability to store stock and post it securely to customers, and a good system to stay on top of orders and manage on-line customer service.

If you’ve been running a business off-line for some time you’ll be well aware of the importance of customer service. When you take the business on-line all the same principles apply – great customer service results in loyal customers. This means replying to emails or social media queries quickly, being reliable, offering secure payment and ensuring that customers receive their purchases in great condition and in the time frame you have promised.

One way to organise the running of an on-line business is to use a simple project management system like Trello. You can use this system to keep track of stock, orders and create to do lists.

Setting up a website is also much easier than you might think. There are lots of great services which allow you to build a website without any knowledge of coding. Generally you’ll pay a small fee each month which will allow you to host your website and run a shop from it with genuine ease. Examples include Wix and Big Cartel.

If you’d prefer, you can hire an expert to build a website from scratch for you. If you are going to do this, remember these two tips – choose someone who comes highly recommended to ensure that you’ll get exactly what you need from them, and make sure that you get a content management system (CMS) that will allow you to edit and update the website yourself once it’s finished. If you don’t have a good CMS you’ll have to pay the web developer every time you need to make a change on-site. That is a waste of money when you could be maintaining the website yourself very easily.

If you are having a website built from scratch you will still need to find a suitable payment solution for the shop. Choose a well-known provider such as Barclaycard who offer secure and reliable options for accepting payments which you can read about here.

Take it one step at a time

When you decide to take the plunge and open an online shop, set yourself a realistic time frame to get yourself up and running. Start by getting the website built and regularly updated before you add the shop. Don’t start taking orders until you know you can manage on-line sales in a timely and reliable way. The last thing you want is to mess up your first few orders and damage your reputation on-line.

Once you have the shop operational you can start working on marketing your online business through suitable channels including social media, SEO, paid search and display adverts.

Moving into ecommerce is an important step to keep up with the modern retail landscape, and although it may seem challenging it can be extremely rewarding and very worthwhile. Take as much advice as possible and do plenty of research about what your competitors are already doing on-line so you can learn from their mistakes and successes.