Editor´s note: This is a guest post by Trevor McDonald, a freelance writer from San Diego who enjoys sharing his experience and knowledge on e-commerce, software and IT technology with readers everywhere.
Competition in e-commerce business is growing by leaps and bounds. That’s a good thing, and you shouldn’t let it discourage you. If you have something of value to offer to consumers, your startup has every chance of succeeding. There’s no better time to launch your online business. From 2014 to 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, e-commerce sales increased by almost 15 percent. Almost 70 percent of consumers would rather shop online than in brick-and-mortar outlets.
There’s no proven formula for building a profitable company. Overnight successes are rare. There are, though, some do’s and don’ts that can give you a competitive edge.
1. Do put your product to the test
Before you spend valuable time and money on a website and marketing, find out if your product is any good. If it is good, find out if there’s any demand for it.
Turn to acquaintances, friends and family members for product testing. Choose people who have a reputation for being brutally honest. Give away samples in return for completing a survey. Try to enlist as broad a selection of guinea pigs as possible.
Apple, Microsoft, Dell, Harley-Davidson and Nike were all garage operations that became global, billion-dollar companies. Their founders weren’t necessarily geniuses. They were just able to show that their products worked and were in demand.
2. Do create a business model that works and makes money
Being cool is an asset after you’ve launched, but it’s a shaky foundation on which to build.
The first thing investors will ask about is your business model. Decide how every aspect of your company, like marketing, finance and technology, will be structured and managed for the best results. You may gain initial market share by offering something for free. Still, you have to be able to show how your business will be profitable long term.
3. Do take advantage of time-saving technology
Running a business is a lot easier with apps and software systems like Vend, Trello and G Suite. These are just a few of the details that they can take off your hands:
• Choosing the ideal time to launch your business
• Setting up business e-mail
• Organizing projects
• Handling transactions
• Managing inventory
• Creating reward programs
• Helping to enforce Minimum Advertised Price policy
A MAP policy is an established minimum price at which authorized sellers can advertise your products. It’s designed to safeguard your brand.
Enforcing your MAP policy will keep your pricing consistent and help you control margins. It will also prevent rogue sellers from making your product look bad by pricing it too low.
Sellers who don’t comply with your MAP policy should be cut off or, at the very least, warned. There are several subscription-based services, like TradeVitality and PriceManager that can help you monitor MAP policy violations. Relying on tech helps will free up time and manpower for marketing and tracking results.
4. Do pour your heart and soul into designing a top-notch website
According to GoDaddy, more than half of all small businesses in the U.S. are not yet online. Given that consumers are more tech-savvy than ever, that’s just crazy.
A professional website will give you an edge. It will, that is, if your content is up to snuff. Content should be attractive, extremely useful and somewhat entertaining. Would clients share your link with friends? If they wouldn’t, then your content is just not good enough. Check out competitors’ websites. Look for gaps in information, confusing graphics or poorly written content. Then, make your website better. There’s no shame in hiring an expert to design your site.
Don’t expect to get visitors out of thin air. Have a strategy for directing traffic your way. Unless you know a lot about algorithms and search engine optimization, you should probably hire a public relations firm.
5. Do leave a deep footprint on social media
Did you know that more than 1 billion people visit Facebook business pages every month? Your presence on social media is almost as important as your website. Take to the platforms with advertising, special offers, customer contests and testimonials.
6. Do go mobile
GoDaddy reports that more than half of all e-commerce traffic comes from smartphones. This is good news for U.S. business owners. Mobile capability saves them around $32 billion and countless working hours each year. Creating a dedicated app for taking orders and processing payments is only the first step. In order to stand out, your app should be as innovative as you are. It should be a blast to use.
The Warby Parker app, for example, lets customers upload their photos and try on glasses virtually. They can even share the photos on social media and get feedback from friends. Even for people who don’t need glasses at the moment, that’s fun.
1. Don’t bite off more financing than you can chew
Wait until your business is profitable before you borrow money to expand or upgrade. You’ll come across as far less of a risk if you’ve proven that your business is sustainable. You’ll also get a better interest rate.
It’s something like being a more desirable job candidate while you’re still employed than after you’ve lost a job.
2. Don’t try to do everything right off the bat
Before you experiment with new ideas, get the kinks ironed out of your operation. Concentrate on providing excellent service. Get to know your customers so that you can market to their specific needs and tastes.
In short, don’t launch your own line of tennis shoes until you’re the best resource on the internet for athletic footwear.
3. Don’t ignore your customers
Feedback is the most valuable tool of all for building a loyal customer base.
You don’t just have to respond well to feedback. You have to continually ask for it. It may seem like we live in a world of whiners, but plenty of people would rather quietly take their business elsewhere than make a complaint.
Make it easy for clients to find your contact information. Encourage them to complete a customer satisfaction survey. When they have a problem, make it right. When they suggest improvements, take them seriously.
4. Don’t be self-centered
Follow other businesses on social media. Form relationships. Seek out key players in your industry. Ask them if you can pick their brains. If you impress them and gain their trust, some might even be willing to endorse you.
Finally, don’t give up too easily. Sheer luck does sometimes factor into success, but it’s mostly the result of hard work and persistence.
If all of your customers agree that you have a dynamite product or service to offer, wait a little longer for word to get around. You could be just one day away from becoming the next Nike.
Author-Bio: Trevor McDonald is a freelance writer from San Diego who enjoys sharing his experience and knowledge on e-commerce, software and IT technology with readers
everywhere. Follow him on Linkedin.