7 motivational tips for small businesses and start-ups

motivation tips for small businessesWe  all have days when simply getting out of bed and facing what lies ahead feels like a mammoth effort. As a small business owner you may find that when business is booming it is far easier to leap up and get on with the day than it is when things aren’t so rosy. So, how do you motivate yourself to carry on when times are tough?

‘In the midst of Winter I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer’ Albert Camus

Being your own boss and starting your own business can be hugely rewarding however, the reality is that running your own business is often a long journey filled with ups and downs. The challenge is to stay focused and motivated when there is an economic downturn, when sales are slow, when your work life balance is proving a challenge and the stress of wearing to many hats and juggling too many balls becomes exhausting.

Small business owners have the added pressure of carrying most (if not all) of the responsibility on their shoulders alone so it’s completely understandable that there are days when you just don’t want to face the day. We look at some tried and tested motivational tips to help you when you need a little bit of inspiration to get you going again.

 

7 top tips for when you need a bit of  extra motivation

networking1. Be social.

The reality of being your own boss and running a small business is that you can end up spending hours alone. There are  few if no colleagues around for you to  share a bit of light-hearted banter or talk through any concerns. As humans we are naturally social  and so it can be really de-motivating not having anyone about to talk to.  It is essential that you put time aside to socialise with others. Have a think about ways you can get together with people in the same situation as youself. Feeling part of a community is important so  why not try signing up to small business discussion groups. There are plenty of online forums that will enable you to join in on discussions with like-minded individuals.

Many towns have local small business networking groups that get together on a regular basis to network and chat. Business mentors can work really well too – and it can be an excellent way to bounce ideas around with someone and get an objective and experienced opinion.  Realising that you are not alone and  that there are other people in a similar situation to you who will have experienced much of what you go through as a small business owner can make a real difference to how you manage your business ups and downs.

time management2. Improve your time management skills.

Unfortunately the nature of running a small business or start-up is that you are likely to be juggling all sorts of roles - from accountant to marketer and strategist to administrator. This means that trying to balance all these disparate tasks  can sometimes feel like an impossible mountain to climb. Good time management skills can help you learn how to prioritize your workload and  focus your time and effort in the right place. Feeling in control of things is a far more productive than feeling so swamped and out of control that you can’t see the wood for the trees.

exercise and motivation3. Take a break

Don’t feel bad about taking a break from your business. This could be anything from taking time out for a 20 minute coffee break  or a whole day out with your nearest and dearest. Having a break can help you see things in a different light and approach problems with fresh eyes. Exercise is also a great way to get you motivated and lift your spirits. Many studies show the link between regular exercise and improved motivation. So if you are having a bad day, get out and do some exercise and see if it puts a better spin on the day.

self help books4. Read some self-help books.

Ok there maybe a few cynical raised eyebrows here,  but self-help books aren’t all Bridget Jones-esque ‘Men are from Mars women are from Venus’ type fare. There are some really excellent books out there that stand the test of time and are used by prominent business folk  for inspiration. Indeed, ‘How to win friends and influence people was first published over 75 years ago and has sold over 150 million copies and Feel the Fear and Do it anyway has been riding high in the best seller chars for over 25 years.  Take a look at this article from Entrepeneur.com that lists some of the most popular motivational books for entrepreneurs.

positive thinking5. Think positively and celebrate successes

Of course it’s not always possible to look on the brighter side of life, but in order to succeed in a challenging environment  it pays to remain as positive as possible in your outlook. Seeing the glass as half full rather than half empty can give you the push you need to carry on when times are tough. It is important that you learn to accept mistakes and see them as part of the learning process rather than as pure failure. We often waste valuable time lamenting on our perceived failures rather than learning from them and swiftly moving on.

And when you do succeed or do something well then sit back and acknowledge that achievement – celebrating success is a great motivator.

facing fears6. Face any fears straight on.

There are always tasks we don’t want to do, phone calls we don’t want to make and problems we don’t want to deal with. However the more time that we put off dealing with lingering problems, the bigger they become and the more likely you will start feeling unmotivated.  I promise you 9 times out of 10 you will feel a whole lot better by simply taking a deep breath tackling  the problem straight on.

ecommerce boss7. Remind yourself of why you want to be your own boss.

When you’re having a bad day, week or month and business is tough, it is often easier to focus on all the things that make being your own boss challenging. Therefore, it is really important that you don’t lose sight of the reason you became your own boss. Remind yourself of all the benefits running your own business can bring. For example:

  • Not having a manager to answer to
  • Making your own decisions
  • Creative control
  • Sense of satisfaction and reward
  • Setting your own working hours
  • Tax benefits
  • Working directly with your customers

Try writing a list of all the things that you love about being your own boss and stick it up somewhere where you can look at it whenever you need to remind yourself of why you have chosen this path! I’ll leave you with an appropriate and inspiring quote from The Chimp Paradox:

“Don’t be disheartened if you have set-backs: instead learn from them and always celebrate any successes. Remember you always have a choice. The choice you make and how you choose to deal with life will determine your success and happiness. So what are you going to do today that will make you happier and more successful?” Dr Steve Peters, The Chimp Paradox

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences in this post, so do please leave a comment.

 Man in bed image courtesy of graur codrin / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Runner image courtesy of Sura Nualpradid / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Coffee cup image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Books image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Positive thinking image courtesy of winnond / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Fear / Courage image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Ecommerce man image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Why Email Marketing Could be the Next Best Thing since Sliced Bread

OK. So that was a bit of an exaggeration. But just a bit.

While email itself has been around for about 43 years, email marketing is about 36 years old. Did you know that the first ever email marketing campaign, for Digital Equipment Corp, generated over $13 million in revenue for the company? This was sent to just 400 email IDs.

Not much has changed since 1978. Despite many expert predictions that its end was near, email marketing continues to go on strong – unglamorous and unheralded – but extremely ROI efficient.

According to ExactTarget, a digital marketing and analytics company; as of 2014,

  • 95% of online consumers use email.
  • 91% of consumers reported checking their email at least once a day.
  • 70% say they always open emails from their favorite companies. Conversely, only 18% say they never open commercial emails.

Proof that the time-tested medium is not just alive and kicking, but actually looked forward to by 70% of potential customers.

So now that we have established that email marketing is important and you would probably be doing your business a disservice by ignoring it, let’s look at all the benefits it can bring you and then maybe you would be a tad less skeptical of the headline of this piece.

So what are the benefits of email marketing? Read on.

Easy to create and execute

Email maybe yesterday’s technology, but creating state of the art emails with all bells and whistles is easy as pie with today’s technology. Hundreds of tools exist that allow even the most untrained person to simply drag and drop design elements into beautiful templates and shoot off a well-crafted marketing message to millions of users.

Easy to create and execute

Sending out emails is again ridiculously simple now with services like MailChimp, Aweber, Mad Mimi and the likes dotting the crowded email automation software space. There is no dedicated infrastructure set up required by you as a business owner. All you need is an email account to send out the marketing mails, a creative that conveys your message effectively, a cleaned up database and a tool to actually deliver the messages.

Cheap

The fact that email marketing is so ridiculously cheap is probably the biggest reason why it has managed to hold its own against the new big boys of marketing like PPC, SEO and Social Media.

According to Experian, email marketing is 20 times more cost-effective than traditional media. For only a few pennies each, email can drive traffic to your storefront or Website more effectively than a TV or PPC campaign.

Moreover, email marketing requires you to reach out to existing customers or atleast potential customers who have willingly signed up to receive communication from you. The fact that it is  6 to 12 times less expensive to sell to an existing customer than to a new one, makes the cost to returns ratio of email marketing even stronger.

Targeted, no spillage

With most traditional media like television, print or radio, you can filter down to the most probable audience for your message, but there is no guarantee that a 45 year old man might not be watching a commercial for pop colored nail polishes that are all the rage in high school corridors.

This problem is addressed to some extent with SEO and PPC. But even with them, there is always some amount of wasted advertising dollars with the wrong audience watching an ad meant for someone else.

Targeted, no spillage

Email marketing neatly solves this problem by only addressing specifically those people who displayed an interest in your product / service, hence making targeting as laser sharp as it gets.

Decide the timing

Anybody who has dabbled in any traditional marketing would recall the days when you would wait for hours for your ad to show up on TV. After all, you could buy a particular time band, not a precise moment in time on television. Even when your ad does finally show up, there is no guarantee that your intended audience actually saw it. The same holds true for all other forms of marketing as well – there’s only so much control you have on when your message will be broadcast and if your audience is in a receptive mood to it at all.

With email marketing, you get to decide exactly when the email will be delivered to your customers’ inboxes. Knowing your customers’ habits, it is entirely in your power to time your emails such that they are in a position to read and absorb what you want to convey to them.

Interactive, shareable

Emails, unlike PPC or SEO or TV, allow for a two way dialogue between a customer and a brand. You can reach out to your customer and find out their preferences, they can reply to you with things that they want or stuff that’s bothering them, you can tailor your communication to your customers based on their specific requests – the possibilities for engagement are endless.

Email forwards were probably the pre-cursor of the social media sharing craze that we are witnessing today. Interesting content, even commercial content, can and does get shared very frequently via emails.

Quick, immediate results

With almost all other mediums taking their own sweet time to being in the dough, the results of email marketing are often very immediate. It is possible to roll out a fresh campaign within a matter of a few hours – something that is impossible with any other marketing platform – and the responses generated from email campaigns are equally instant.  The overall results of bulk emailing are seen almost entirely within 48 hours of sending out the initial email.

No geographical restrictions

As long as you have an email database (accurate and updated regularly), it does not matter where your target audience is located. Your message will reach a customer located on another continent at the same time and at the same cost that it takes to reach any local customer.

No geographical restrictions

The reverse can be applied equally successfully to email marketing. You can specifically geo-target customers from a particular region using email marketing at no extra cost or effort – yet another benefit that is unique to email marketing.

Measureable

A marketing email is a number cruncher’s wet dream. Almost every tiny aspect about email marketing is measurable and relatable back to actions on your website.

Right from the mundane numbers like open rates and CTRs, marketers can now measure the number of times a single email was opened by the same customer, what time was it opened; open timings can be co-related with purchase timings on the brand’s website; customer preferences can be gauged with heat maps of clicks on a particular email; email creatives can be tested out for efficiency by measuring various engagement factors; and so on.

Understand customer needs, build customer profiles

All that data that can be mined from marketing emails can be put to very good use with the emergence of Big Data and sophisticated marketing analytics.

The way a customer interacts with a marketing email reveals a lot about his or her needs, buying habits and communication preferences. These bits of data can be combined together to form consolidated user profiles for every single customer. A 360 degree customer profile is like a gold mine in the hands of a company. It can be used to create products and services that would best suit one’s customers, and allows you to tailor the online and offline experiences a customer has with your brand based on deep customer knowledge instead of depending on good old luck.

Personalization is easier

As described above, the rich customer data that is gleaned from email marketing can be applied to creating custom made, personalized user experiences.
Why is personalization important, you may ask? I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves.

Leads who are nurtured with targeted content produce a 20% increase in sales opportunities.
~ DemandGen

Personalized emails improve click through rates by 14% and conversion rates by 10%.
~ Aberdeen

While on-site or in-store personalization are uphill tasks with huge automation, data mining and execution costs, personalization in emails comes at no extra cost. Right from personalized subject lines that include a customer’s name in them, to personalized content based on the customer’s purchase history and user profile, to even scheduling emails based on the time best suited to specific customers or customer segments, the options for customization and personalization are myriad.

Recover lost customers

Studies show that approximately 67.91% of all customers who begin to buy a product online, discard their shopping midway and move out of an average e-commerce site. Unfortunately, just about 29% of companies currently analyze and take action on shopping cart abandonment as per another study by Redeye.com and eConsultancy.

Don’t be one of those companies that allow hard-earned visitors to your website walk away without any attempt at recovering them. Email is a great way to reach out to these customers in a low cost, high efficiency way. Studies show that retailers earn $5 worth of revenue with every single cart abandonment email sent out.

High open rates with mobile

You don’t need me to rattle off large statistics to know that mobile is the next big thing. Hell, it’s probably the current big thing. With the growth in smartphone penetration, we have seen email open rates on mobile going steadily up.

From 42% in January 2013, emails opened on mobile devices grew by 21% and stood at a full 51% in December 2013.
~ Litmus Software

This is an encouraging trend for email marketing which was suffering from falling open rates in the last few years. The switch to mobile emails has meant higher reach and higher conversions for brands.

Allows triggered, real time messaging

We have all experienced that tinge of surprise when we see an email in our inbox that correlates the content of their messaging with a recent action that we made on that brand’s website.

These magical emails are “triggered emails” that are sent out in real time in response to a customer’s behavior on a website.

Allows triggered, real time messaging

Triggered emails can be sent out for various events e.g. a welcome email when a user signs up into your website for the first time, a reminder email for monthly purchased items, birthday or holiday greetings emails to prevent a dormant customer from lapsing and so on.

Open rates stand at about 50% for triggered emails, while CTRs for triggered emails are double at 10% as compared to business as usual emails. – Epsilon Email Trends and Benchmarks Study 2013.

A/B tests are easier

Every professional email marketer knows that no email can be sent out without testing it out first. Tests can be carried out instantly and with very little effort using current email marketing tools. Various aspects of email can be tested for open rates and conversions like the subject line, the time of send out, the creative, the right customer segments and much more.

The fact that testing is quick and free makes it easier to create more precise and relevant pieces of communication.

Super high ROI

Email holds the distinction of being probably the most cost effective tool in a marketer’s tool kit.

Email marketing delivers $67 or revenue for every $1.7 spent.
~ Direct Marketing Association, 2011

With its low costs and low barriers to entry, email marketing is easily executable by the smallest of companies. Its high reach and equally high ROI ensure that every penny spent on email marketing can be accounted for in full for every single campaign carried out.

That is more than what can be said for the new kids on the marketing block. What say Facebook, Twitter?

Image Source: (1, 2, 3, 4)

EU Consumer Rights Directive 2014: Guide for Small Businesses

EU Consumer Rights DirectiveOn the 13th June 2014 the new EU Consumer Rights Directive came into effect. Since it was passed in October 2011 it has provoked a fair amount of controversy amongst UK retailers. But, whether for or against, the new legislation is now in place and the reality is that it will have an impact on your business practice.

So, if you are not exactly sure what the new EU Consumer Rights Directive is all about and what  it means for your business, then read on.  We’ve  put together a brief overview of the key factors most likely to have a direct impact on small businesses.

What is the EU Consumer Rights Directive?

In a nutshell, the new directive was implemented with the aim of ensuring all consumers have equal rights across the EU, regardless of how they choose to shop – whether in a high street shop, through the post or  downloading electronic content. In particular, this has meant stronger rights for people when they are shopping online.

As we mentioned at the beginning,  the new legislation has been controversial and not necessarily  welcomed with open arms amongst many UK retailers indeed, as The Guardian notes in an article earlier this year 40% of small businesses actually want to leave the EU. However, the  EU Commission argues that the new legislation will  actually help businesses enter new markets and make it easier for them to trade across the European Union through the introduction of a single set of common rules for all 27 member states.  According to statistics from the EU Commission:

  • Only 25% of EU traders sell across borders
  • 40% of traders in the EU see the cost of complying with differing  national consumer protection rules as a big obstacle to trade

What does the Directive mean for you as a small online businesses?

If you read around there is a general consensus on the key factors that are likely to have a direct impact on SME’s and will therefore require you to make some changes to your current practice.  We’ve outlined the key changes below:

  • Pay Now button: Your order confirmation button will now need to make it very clear to the customer that by clicking on the button they are actually entering into an agreement and acknowledging their obligation to pay. Buttons need to be clearly labelled as something like ‘Pay Now’ so the customer is in no doubt that they are agreeing to an order and have an obligation to pay. Buttons with wording like ‘Buy Now, Confirm. ‘Check out’ are no longer adequate. And, if you don’t make this clear, then the customer may well be eligible for a refund.
  • Total Costs upfront: You must make clear to customers the total cost of goods at the point of sale, before they place an order. This includes all shipping costs, taxes or duties – there should be no surprises for the customer once they have committed to the order – if there are any additional charges not previously pointed out then they will not have to pay them.
  • Refunds issued within 14 days. The amount of time you have to issue a customer with refund has been reduced from 30 to 14 days (this is from the point of returned goods being received).  You are now also liable to refund standard shipping costs back to the customers. Make sure you factor this into your budgeting – if you are not already offering it then it is going to have an impact on your profit margin. Businesses are now also entitled to offer only partial refunds to a customer should the returned item be ‘diminished in value’. The new legislation states that the customer should take be expected to take reasonable care of the goods they are returning.
  • Cancellation rights extended to 14 days. Consumers previously had the right to cancel their order up to 7 days from receipt of their goods. The new legislation extends this to 14 days from receipt of goods. You are also obliged to ensure that a customer is made aware of this before placing their order. In addition you must also make sure you provide a downloadable cancellation form that customers can use (should they so wish) if they wish to cancel their order and return their goods.
  • Order confirmation. An order confirmation needs to be sent to customers via a ‘durable medium’ – this essentially means in a way that the customer is able to access and reproduce any time he or she requires it. An email is fine so is a printed receipt or even a personalised account page.
  • Digital downloads. New rules have also come into place for electronic downloads. The new legislation requires sellers to provide more detailed information about the downloadable content they are providing. For example if there are limits on the number of copies a customer can make or if there is any relevant software or hardware compatibility information. Your customer also has the right to cancel their order right up to the point the download starts. You need to make sure that you have made the customer fully aware (prior to purchase) that their right to cancel is only applicable until the download commences.
  • Opt-in tick boxes: Most of you are probably already undertaking this as part of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulation Act, but essentially you must make sure you have no ‘ pre-ticked’ opt in boxes. Your customers need to be able to actively tick the sign-up box and opt-in.

 

What actions should you be taking?

As this is just a short blog, we’ve just focused in brief on the key factors that as a small business you will need to take into account.  Some of the changes you will need to make are minor tweaks such as changing the text on your order confirmation button to ‘Pay Now’. Others will be involved and require you to amend your terms and conditions and even re-train support staff in the new legislation. You may well wish to look at the EU Consumer Rights Directive 2014 in more detail, therefore we’ve added some relevant links in at the end of the article.

As a starting point, we would suggest that you review your current processes and systems to make sure you are in compliance and work through the following checklist so you make sure you’ve covered.

Budgeting. Make sure you have factored in any additional costs into your profit and loss. For example refunding standard shipping costs on returned goods will have an effect your profit margin.

Terms and Conditions: there are a number of changes that will need to be made on your terms and conditions with regard to changes in the cancellation period, shipping, returns and refunds and partial refunds policy.

Order confirmation page: you need to make sure that your order confirmation page reflects the new legislation. The total cost of goods (shipping, takes, duties etc.) must be made clear at the point of sale, your call to action button must clearly show the customer they are entering into an obligation to pay so should read ‘Pay Now’ or ‘Order with Obligation to Pay’ (as suggested in the new regulations) and your terms and conditions are accessible. So there are no misunderstandings, it is a good idea to get customers to acknowledge that they have read T&C’s prior to placing their order.

Delivery information: Update your delivery information and Terms and Conditions to reflect the new mandatory rules that unless there is a previously agreed delivery date, items must be delivered without undue delay and within 30 days from the day the product was purchased.

Paperwork: Make sure all your supporting paperwork has also been amended to update the new regulations.

Customer services and support staff: Make sure your customer services and any relevant support staff are fully briefed on these new regulations as they will have to deal with queries about cancellations, refunds, delivery etc.

Website. Once you have been through all the changes make sure you update your website to reflect all the changes. For example, amend the text on  your order confirmation button to ‘Pay Now’, make sure your sign-up boxes are not pre-ticked and enable the customer to ‘opt-in’, your Terms and Conditions are updated to incorporate the new legislation and is easily accessible on the website so customers are aware of their rights prior to placing their order, check there is a link in place so customers can  download the  cancellation form, FAQ and Delivery and Returns information is up-to-date and easily accessible to customers.

 

Further information

Key Facts on the new EU Consumer Rights Directive

Implementing the Consumer Rights Directive 

EU Commission: The Directive in Consumer Rights 

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this topic, so please do leave a comment.

 

 Image courtesy of taesmileland / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

7 Things to Consider Before Starting an Ecommerce Store

7 Things to Consider Before Starting an Ecommerce Store
Embarking on an e-commerce venture is like strapping up for a real adventure. While you may argue that business is business everywhere, there are many aspects of an e-commerce business that make it unique and exciting simultaneously.

The platform on which an e-commerce business depends – the internet – is an ever changing landscape with constant surprises waiting for you round every corner.

Every other day something new ambushes the unsuspecting e-commerce entrepreneur – Google decides to change its search algorithms which affects your site’s rankings and visibility, Facebook decides to start charging for stuff that was free so far, email marketing rules become more stringent with Gmail and Yahoo cracking down on spammers and so on.

Then there are the surprises that come with running a retail business anywhere on the planet – inventory stock outs, shipping trouble and the like.

While it is practically impossible to be prepared for each and every aspect that may challenge your e-commerce venture, there definitely are certain risk-mitigating steps that you can factor in before you launch your digital dream.

1. Domain Name & Web Hosting

In the early days of e-commerce and SEO, it was considered a good idea to use broad category-specific domain names (exact match domains) to attract more visitors. But that practice is being debated and we now see a bigger influx of brand oriented domain names. Though it means you spend money in building your brand and then get traffic to your site, picking a brand specific domain name helps in brand recall and pays off better dividends in the long run.

Tony Hsieh of Zappos recounts a story about domain names in his book Delivering Happiness. In it he says, Zappos.com was originally supposed to be Shoesite.com. But Tony shot down that move and after much brainstorming, they ended up with Zappos.com, which is just as well, because today Zappos sells a whole load more than just shoes.

Opt for a .com domain name if you are based in the US or most other countries around the world. In some cases special domains work – if you are in the UK, a .co.uk name works better, in Germany .de is more popular than .com. But by and large, users have a tendency to append .com at the end of most domain names and this will help with getting you traffic.

Picking a domain name is like choosing a name for your house. But you’ll also need space on the internet to build your house – your hosting service. Pick a reputed hosting service for your website that will allow you to grow and spread as your business grows bigger over the years.

2. Web Platform, Store Design and UX

A web platform is the skeleton on which you will build your e-commerce store. The sequence is simple,

          Domain Name -> Hosted Web Space -> Web Platform

         House Name -> Plot of Real Estate -> Skeleton for the House

You can pick from 3 types of web platforms on which to build your site:

a. Open Source e-commerce platforms – You download the source code and build your store from scratch with the help of developers and designers. Useful if you are a developer yourself or are getting in a professional team of developers to build your site. This option is cheap in the long run and allows endless flexibility. The downsides are significant too. The complexity of setting up an open source site from scratch means high dependence on professional developers to build and maintain your site. The open source software needs endless patches and updates on a regular basis. There’s no real customer support team to turn to in case your site runs into trouble and so on. Examples: Magento, UberCart.

b. Hosted e-commerce platforms – Ready to roll out e-commerce sites that need minimal customization. You can develop your site yourself with drag and drop functionality, full hosted services, round the clock technical support, a range of plugins and apps to enhance site features and a monthly or annual fee in return for all these services. This is the quickest route to market, but is also often the most expensive in the long run. Costs add up quickly with each site feature you add, there is very little flexibility to the site design once you’ve zeroed in on a particular one, worst of all, as you grow in size and scale, your hosted platform will charge you higher fees for supporting your operations. Examples: Volusion, Shopify.

c. Hosted Shopping Carts – This option lets you add a shopping cart to an existing blog or plain website and integrates a checkout, payment and order management process into a basic non-e-commerce site. This can be set up even by rookies and does not affect the overall functions of what you offer. Example: ShopIntegrator.

The design and layout of your store will determine to a large extent how many visitors to your site will convert to paying customers. Spend time researching the best designs that you can consider, test the various design options you have with A/B tests and qualitative usability testing before your decide to freeze on any one design option to launch your site with.

Owen Fuller takes you through the intricacies of balancing great aesthetics with good conversion optimization techniques in this post. Christian Holst from Smashing Magazine explains the science of building navigation structures and product categories for easier findability and conversions in e-commerce set ups here.

3. Supplier relationships & Inventory management

No brick and mortar retail store can survive too long without managing their suppliers well. The same holds true for e-commerce stores as well. Invest time and effort in choosing good suppliers.

As a startup, your products quality will be a part of your marketing efforts. Don’t opt for cheap over good quality. Many startups look at Asia for bulk manufacturing. While this saves costs and is done by the biggest names in the business like Walmart and Apple, they typically tend to have superb supplier networks, dedicated teams to handle suppliers and a strong supplier management policy framework. Learn from the biggies in this area and tread carefully. Even big names like Mango, Gap and Benetton have had to face the heat when suppliers mess up big time.

An online store cannot pull down its shutters in the night while its owners are asleep. By definition e-commerce is 24 x 7 x 365. This makes inventory management supremely important.

4. Payment Processing & Gateway Partner Choice

When you decide to sell products online, the assumption is that you are going to accept online payments. Figure out what payment options you’d like to offer (duh, all!) and what you can afford to offer and strike a balance between payment gateway charges (to you) and payment convenience (to the customer) before you make your final call.

Your payment mechanism choice also defines your level of website security. When you venture into offering credit card or debit card payments, you will need to get a SSL security certificate for your site which will allow transactions to be carried out through a secured section of your website.

PayPal and similar third party payment processor will charge you 3.5% per transaction plus 30 cents per transactions as their processing fee. In the case of credit card companies, they will charge you 20 to 50 cents per transaction plus a fixed percentage of the total transaction amount. With PayPal, transaction security is taken care of by them, while with credit and debit card companies, the onus of transaction security is squarely on you.

These are typically issues faced by websites that are built on open source platforms or even hosted e-commerce platforms. A plug and play shopping cart like ShopIntegrator will take care of integrating your site with a payment gateway, include all necessary security features and offer you a host of payment options to boot.

This totally eliminates the need for you to build in an SSL certificate on your site, as the ShopIntegrator plugin already has SSL certificates built in. No payment data is captured on your site directly – the customer is taken to the payment gateway in order to capture their payment details, thus removing the risks and liabilities associated with handling sensitive customer data.

5. Shipping Costs & Processes

Shipping your goods to your customer is a process that is exclusive to e-commerce. Traditional retail seldom has to worry about this aspect of the sale.

Check out the various shipping companies in your country of operations and pick the one with the best combination of good reputation, low costs and great service.

Shipping costs are a huge determinant of final e-commerce conversions, with at least 61% of users are likely to cancel their entire purchase if they eventually find that free shipping is not offered.

You don’t always have to offer free shipping on everything – it can be for specific high margin items, for purchases above a certain minimum threshold amount and so on.

6. Set Up & Train Customer Service

Many brands (like the aforementioned Zappos) have built their reputation and success purely on the back of exceptional customer service. A happy customer spreads the word about good service she received from your brand and brings in more customers at zero cost to you. A study by Econsultancy, showed that 70% of customers trust recommendations from other users while just 14% trust advertising directly from the brand.

Invest in a good customer care team, train them well and set them up with good CRM software. You can take your pick from Salesforce, Zendesk or NetSuite and see your customers’ journey from the time they browsed your site for products to their purchase history to their profile information all in one place.

Offer 24 x 7 customer service through a toll free phone number which is the expected bare minimum today for e-commerce sites. Also look at options like Live Chat and social media customer care post launch and growth of your business.

7. Aggressive Launch Plan & Continued Marketing

You may have sent months or even years putting together every little aspect together to launch your e-commerce venture. But without a big bang launch followed by sustained marketing, your e-commerce venture could vanish without a whimper.

Spend time with your marketing team and agencies to develop a distinctive personality and voice for your brand. Research your target audience and understand what media platforms you can market to them effectively on – Internet? Mobile? Radio? Email? Social Media? A mix of all of these? Get the brew right and launch a sustained campaign on your chosen media platforms at least a minimum of a fortnight before your site actually launches.

Once you pull off a successful site launch, switch over to the detailed marketing strategies that you have developed in advance and continue to stay on top of mind for your target audience.

As a new age entrepreneur you have a million and one tools at your disposal to unleash your original business idea on netizens around the world. Capitalize on this fact, put in your time and efforts in a strategic manner and your chances of success multiply exponentially.

Building and running an e-commerce business is complex, exhilarating, and scary, but in the end immensely satisfying. All the best on your exciting adventure!

Image Source: 1

Selling on Facebook: Grow online sales with a Facebook Store

Open a Facebook shop

How your business can benefit from a Facebook Shop

You may already be using Facebook as an integral part of your online marketing strategy -  helping drive traffic to your website and building customer relationships -  but have you thought about using it as an additional sales channel?

Creating a Facebook Store where you can  sell your products directly off your Facebook page makes sense – especially for small online businesses.  It can be cost-effective and offering as many options as possible is good for you customers and your sales. Not only does  a Facebook store provide you with an additional sales channel through which customers can purchase your goods, you are also reaching customers in an specific environment where they are engaged and interacting  – a Facebook store gives them the convenience of being able to buy there and then. And after all , shouldn’t customers be able to buy where they like?

The power of Facebook

Facebook is the world’s largest social network and you simply can’t ignore its power. Having a good Facebook page should be an essential part of any small businesses online presence. Facebook statistics are impressive and the numbers speak for themselves:

  • 1.23bn monthly active users
  • 757m users log onto Facebook daily
  • 556m access Facebook via their smartphone or tablet
  • 48% of users log on any given day
  • 48% of 18-34 year olds check Facebook when they wake up
  • The average time spent of Facebook per visit is 18 minutes
  • Facebook users grew by 22% between 2012 – 2013
  • 1 million links are shared every 20 minutes on Facebook

 

social media like imageBenefits of selling directly from Facebook

Right, we can see from the statistics that having a Facebook presence is important – Facebook is quite simply too big for your business to ignore. But why include a Facebook shop in the Facebook pages you already have? What additional benefits can a Facebook Store  bring to your online business? We’ve listed some of the key benefits below:

  • Increase your online sales through an additional sales channel. It’s all about making it as convenient as possible for your customers to make a purchase. The more sales channels you have available, the better chance you have of enabling customers to purchase in the way that most suits them – be that via a website, bricks and mortar store,  telephone, post or their favourite social network. The point being the more options you have the more likely you will find a channel to suit almost all your customers and potential customers.
  • Your customers are on Facebook. If your customers are on Facebook (and statistics would indicate there is a high likelihood that many probably are!) then it makes sense to offer them the opportunity to purchase your products or services there and then - on the platform they are currently on. Of course some customers will be quite happy or may even to prefer to click-through to your website however, you’ll want to be able to offer the opportunity for customers to purchase on Facebook should they so wish.
  • Improve your conversion rates . Converting even very interested customers into an actual sale is always a challenge. You need to make sure that their route to purchase is straightforward, and has as few distractions as possible. Adding a Facebook Store to your Facebook pages means a customer can directly and immediately purchase your product without having to click separately through to your website – meaning there is less chance of you losing them en-route.
  • Increase social sharing of your products. Having a Facebook Store means your customers can quickly and easily ‘Like’ and ‘Share’ their favourite  products with family and friends – a great way to grow new traffic.  And don’t forget, as the number of likes increase so to does the confidence new customers have in your product or service. So, when you’re choosing a Facebook Store App check that it is enabled with the Facebook ‘Like’ and ‘Share’ button.
  • Easy to get started. It isn’t difficult to set up a Facebook store with a Facebook App that is easy and quick to integrate – some can have you up and running in minutes. And, if you are new to selling online and haven’t got a website then a Facebook Store is a great place to started and test the water.

 

A few things to consider when choosing a Facebook Store App

  1. Easy integration: Make life as easy as possible for yourself and choose an app that is simple to use and  can get you up and running quickly and easily. With the right Facebook Store App there is no reason why you can’t be set up within minutes.
  2. Cost-effective: Setting up a Facebook Store shouldn’t cost you the earth, so look for a cost-effective solution.
  3. Centralised Store administration: If you are already selling online through your website then it makes sense that your products are managed from the same, centralised store administration. This way you will find you can manage orders and stock control easily across both sales platforms.
  4. Customise: Think about keeping your brand consistent by  customising your Facebook Store page to reflect your website shop.

 

Facebook store demonstration

ShopIntegrator Facebook Store Demonstration

Checkout ShopIntegrator’s Facebook Store demonstration and tutorial

Finally, to help you get a real feel for how a Facebook Store looks and works take a look at our  Facebook store demonstration on Facebook and to see just how easy it is to set up a Facebook Store, checkout our e-commerce video tutorial ‘How to add a free Facebook store page’.

 

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this post, so please do leave a comment

‘Like’ image courtesy of tungphoto / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

 

 

Building an E-Commerce Startup: What You Need to Know

There was never a better time to start your own business than the present day. With the internet boom and all the various avenues it has brought with it, would be entrepreneurs are spoilt for choice.

It’s even better for retail entrepreneurs. No more shelling out big bucks for your retail store. No unnecessary expenses on utilities, rent and overheads. No need to employ large sales teams on the shop floor to assist shoppers. Last, but most importantly, no more being limited by the population of a locality to grow your business.

Amazon

With the birth of Amazon and eBay in 1994, e-commerce in the form we know it today was born. It has evolved to a nearly unrecognizable level from its humble beginnings, but the basic idea remains the same – get customers to visit your website, let them browse around for the things that interest them, allow them to make a purchase and pay for items that they finally settle upon; all online.

So if you have a bright idea for the next Amazon in the making, put on your listening ears. Here’s a step by step roadmap to launch a successful e-commerce startup.

1. Think Through Your Idea. Do concept testing.

The one thing that gives a startup a definite edge over competition is an innovative concept. While established businesses can afford to buy market share by spending huge money on marketing, a great idea often attracts attention by pure word of mouth and can be the USP of the business.

If you think you have hit upon such a game-changing idea, get more opinions on it. Test your idea with your target audience and see if they are equally gung-ho about it. Use survey tools like SurveyMonkey or Qualtrics to do your concept testing by yourself before you unleash your business idea on the world.

2. Figure Out Source of Funding

Before you can plunge headlong into building your business, figure out where the money for the venture is going to come from. Today, startups have a variety of choices when it comes to getting funding for their business.

Figure Out Source of Funding

  • Bank Loans: There’s always the tried and tested route of taking a bank loan to get started. The amounts are often not very large, but it’s a lot easier to obtain than a lot of other funding options.
  • Venture Capitalists: Approach venture capitalists or angel investors for seed funding for your e-commerce startup. Even Google started small with VC funds and grew into the internet behemoth it is today. You will need to come up with a clear business plan, an airtight revenue model, timelines for when your business will breakeven besides loads of enthusiasm to make a pitch to a potential VC and secure your funding.
  • Crowdfunding: Another option you should consider is crowdfunding. With this option, you present your business case to the public at large through a crowdfunding site and invite the public to contribute funds towards your business idea. In return the donors or investors get a share of equity in your business, a fixed return on their investment or even a special gift as a thank you for their donation. Pick from sites like Angels Den, Crowd Cube or Indiegogo to get your business idea off the ground.

3. Legal Eagle – Get Your Paperwork Done Correctly

There’s some level of paperwork involved while setting up any new business. An e-commerce venture is no different. While the intricacies of the legal requirements may vary from country to country, largely you will need to take care of these three priorities:

  • Copyright: Once you have established that your business idea is one worth pursuing, you need to take measures to prevent someone else from copying it and getting to market before you. If it is a never before seen product or service idea, copyright it to protect it from me-too copycats. This step however, is a matter of choice, not necessity.
  • Registration and Ownership Structure: Next you need to register the business as a legal entity and get your taxation details set up. Since you have figured out your funding sources already, spell out the ownership structure of your business (sole proprietorship, partnership, public limited company etc.) right at the beginning in order to prevent problems later on.
  • Domain name and Web Hosting: Every startup, especially and e-commerce startup needs a place on the web to host its website. Buy a domain name and get a web hosting service for your business from any of the hundreds of services out there. Take your pick from HostGator, GoDaddy or FatCow to build your website on. Make sure the domain name you buy is unique, relevant and is the same as or matches your brand name.

4. Pick A Good Platform To Build Your Site

Shop around, do your research, speak to existing e-commerce business owners and understand which platform will be best suited to build your e-commerce venture on. Spend some time and effort in this process, as the platform you build your website on, will decide how stable your website is, how fast you can process transactions, how versatile and multi-functional you can make your site and more.

Pick A Good Platform To Build Your Site

You have multiple options to pick from. There are the free to use, open source options like WordPress, Drupal or the e-commerce favorite – Magento, or you can choose to go with plug and play e-commerce platforms such as ShopIntegrator.

Your final choice depends upon how flexible you want your site to be, what your budgets are, and the extent of e-commerce functionality you’re looking to offer over the long run.

5. Use Conversion Optimization Principles For Your Website At The Design And Development Stage

A lot of e-commerce sites get into optimizing their conversions retroactively – after they see sales slumping or traffic bouncing off at alarming rates.

Avoid this situation altogether by building your site from the ground up using the best conversion optimization and SEO guidelines in the book. Some conversion optimization fundamentals that you must keep in mind at the time of developing your site are:

  • Good Copy: Invest in good writing and functional copy that engages readers while it communicates facts. Pay special attention to headlines. A great headline captures users’ attention and also tells search spiders exactly what the page is about to raise your page rank on SERPs.
  • Page Meta Data: Take care to include accurate and descriptive title tags, meta descriptions and alt tags on images for each page on your site. Each of these help search engines discover your site more easily and improve your page rankings
  • Clear Navigation and Site Structure: A clear breadcrumbs based navigation structure, intuitive categories and sub-categories and logical link architecture helps not just search engines but also allows users to find products on your site with ease. Better showcasing of products = better chance of a sale.
  • Call to Action: Every page out to have a clear call to action that stands out from the rest of the page. Use contrasting colors, arrows or ample white space around the CTA to make it jump out at the visitor.
  • Social sharing: Include social sharing icons alongside every product listed on your e-commerce site. People like to share interesting things they find online with their friends. Play into this need and get your pages to become more popular online
  • Quick and Easy Checkout Process: This is of prime importance for e-commerce sites. Make sure your customer does not get distracted by other interruptions on your site once they add items to their shopping carts. Create a simple, linear checkout flow with minimal steps to avoid shopping cart abandonment and improve conversions. Take a look at some of ShopIntegrator’s shopping cart and checkout options for inspiration.

Here’s a great guide to conversion optimization best practices for further reading at your leisure.

6. Keep Costs Low

As you start out on your journey towards a new business, it is important to keep your expenses under control. Technology now allows you to use free or low cost apps for doing stuff that large organizations employ teams of people to do.

Keep Costs Low

Some free / cheap apps that you can consider to get your everyday business done for free are:

  • Dropbox for Storing Data that can be accessed anywhere. You get 2 GB of free storage post which you can pick from one of their paid plans based on your storage needs.
  • Asana for Project Management and collaborating with your team on projects smoothly. They have a free option for teams under 15 members. For bigger teams you’ll have to go paid.
  • Free Conference Call for using Conference Services for absolutely free
  • MailChimp for Email Marketing offers a great free account that can be upgraded eventually as your email database grows bigger.
  • Natural HR is a free Human Resource Management tool that you can consider for recruiting, onboarding, training and payroll management.
  • Streak a free CRM tool that works from right inside your email inbox.
  • Shop Integrator is a complete Store Management & Shopping Cart solution with a free online retailing option where payments can be made by PayPal or offline checkout. The free version also supports 7 storefront languages and includes a tax manager.
  • Free Press Release allows you to submit press releases for free that get distributed to news sites, blogs, search engines and social media.

7. Hire Good Talent

A big mistake that a lot of entrepreneurs make is taking too much onto their plates and getting burnt out eventually. While it helps to have a business partner or involve your family in the business to keep costs down, it is not a long-term fix. Do what you are naturally good and delegate the rest.

Hire talented people who share your vision and can help take the startup forward.
Check out LinkedIn profiles of professionals who work for your competitors and reach out to them with interesting offers. That’s a free and effective way of hiring capable talent. Another free avenue is to tap into your college network for references of talented professionals whom you can approach.

Only once you have exhausted your free options and networks should you venture into paid recruiting platforms that cater to your particular industry. LinkedIn offers job posts by industry, so do leading career portals like Monster and CareerBuilder.

8. Manage Your Cash Flows

Managing money is often the Achilles Heel for many new startups. Multiple expenses are a given in a newly set up business. Besides capital expenses, there are running expenses like payroll, tax payments, utilities, business travel, business entertaining and more.

Keeping track of each expense often becomes too cumbersome and things quickly spiral out of control.

Manage Your Cash Flows

Stop spending from personal accounts, and open a dedicated bank account for your business. Get a corporate credit card that can be swiped for everyday business expenses. Invest in an accounting software that will link your bank account, credit cards and all expenses together and keep the paperwork sorted in one place. Apart from managing income and expenses, most expense management tools also take care of invoicing and payment receipts from clients, payroll and taxation as well as overall book-keeping for future records.

You can use a free app like Wave Accounting for this, or if you want to go bigger, you can upgrade to apps like Xero or QuickBooks.

In Closing

Setting up and running a business was never easy. But with technology on our side, we can now predict our performance and correct our course before it’s too late. Even when mistakes occur, it is easier to bounce back on an e-commerce platform than a real world retail set up.

So go ahead, take these fundamentals of building an e-commerce startup, add your own creative flair to them and create your dream enterprise to rival the e-commerce behemoths of the day.

(Image source: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)