Thinking you want to start a company?
Here we have ten steps that will help you to start a company, attract customers and keep them.Find out ways how to make money on eBay, Amazon or through your own site.
- Make your business unique
- Set up your website
- Planning your expenditure and forecasting
- Your product mix
- Marketing – the different approaches you need to succeed
- Add content to your site
- Using social media to market your business
- Branding your business
- Make e-mail work for you
- Promotions increase sales
In ‘eCommerce MasterPlan‘, author and online marketing expert Chloë Thomas explains in depth how to maximise your eCommerce business. She explains how different types of business should go about promoting their products and services to minimise time and maximise profit, avoiding the common perils that befall failed businesses.
Here at Moneymagpie, we’ve condensed the main ideas to give you ten essential tips if you’re thinking of setting up your own e-business. This is intended for anyone who’s thinking of starting out on modest means, but with big dreams.
This guide will give you all the information that you need to get started – although we highly recommend that you buy the book because it’s packed with brilliant, in-depth advice and free stuff to download and will help you at every step of your business.
First of all you need to identify what it is you’re selling and how you’re going to sell it. If you’re starting your business from scratch you’re going to fall into one of two categories – selling your product through your own website or someone else’s (piggybacking).
Obviously, it’s possible to do both – the more channels you use, the more likely you are to achieve greater sales.
Next you have to think about what your Unique Sales Proposition (USP) is – what makes your product different from the competition?
- Do the research – is there any competition?
- Check Amazon.co.uk, eBay, Etsy and Boticca and make a list of competitors: what are their prices?
- What are your competitors’ range of goods?
- How does your product(s) differentiate from your rivals’?
- Who is your target market? How will you reach them? And most importantly, how will you keep them?
These are tough questions, but if you’re serious about making your business profitable you’ll find an answer and it’ll benefit your business in the long run.
Build up your online presence. Regardless of whether you’re going to be selling your product through someone else’s site or your own (or both), it’s vital to have an online presence.
This will be a place where you can show off your products through lovely photos and images and also give them a little bit of description. If you can’t yet afford to set up your own website, you might want to think about creating a blog on a free hosting site such as Blogger, WordPress.com or Tumblr. This will serve as more than just a space to show your products. It can be used for:
- Showing the full range of products
- Telling your customer base a little bit about yourself – personality goes a long way
- Showing the production process (if you make your own products)
- Giving customers full details of how they can contact you to discuss the product and place orders
Whether your site is self-hosted or through a free blogging account, the most important thing is to be able to track traffic – this will tell you how many people are visiting your site and how they’ve discovered it: through search engines, social media or some other source. Free blogging accounts usually have basic stats, but for comprehensive information it’s best to use Google Analytics to fully understand your traffic and how much time people are spending on your site.
The next step is to consider the stock you’ll need. It’s vital to estimate how much stock you’ll need and how much you think you’ll sell – when your business is taking off the number of things you will order needs to be a good estimation of how many you believe you can shift.
One of the main reasons that small businesses fail is through lack of cashflow – and this usually means that too much money is tied up in stock that’s sat redundant in some cupboard, room or warehouse.
Having cash for the stock is only part of it. To put your business on the map, you might need further funds for promotion and marketing such as adverts, leaflets and branded stationery.
Along with stock quantity, another consideration is your product mix. How big will your range be? What varieties in size, colour and goods do you hope to offer your customers? How do fashions or trends dictate the industry of the products you’re selling? Most big companies will keep a core range of 40–70% of their stock, so you need to bear in mind what’s hot and what’s not as your business begins to progress.
Ways to get it right:
- Before committing to a huge order of stock, take some samples
- Create your own focus group – invite friends and family round and ask which of the samples they prefer and why
- Use your personal Facebook profile and post some images of your samples – ask friends and acquaintances to comment
- Collect the results and order only the items with the most positive feedback
The next step is to consider marketing and how you’re going to promote your business. This is the most crucial step if your business is to succeed and you are to attract customers – and keep them. As a small e-commerce concern, there are four types of marketing that need to be incorporated into your strategy:
- Content – updating your site regularly
- Social media – making use of communities to talk to your customers
- Brand – giving your company an identity
- Email – making use of your customer contacts
Time to make your website or blog look its very best by adding new content to it. The benefits of constantly adding new content to your website or blog are that it’ll keep you customers informed and it’ll make your site (and therefore your products) visible to internet search engines and potential customers.
Use a mix of content to help you – blogs, images and YouTube videos will not only attract visitors to your site, they’ll keep them there too. You can also use Slideshare and Scribd to upload presentations or other documents that show off your products. Good practice is to post new content on your site at regular intervals – every three days, or once a week on a Monday for example, so that those that follow your site will know when to expect new information.
Social media is undoubtedly the best way to push your website or eBay shop and to increase your online profile, but it can be time consuming and it’ll be a while before you see results.
Social media will help you to attract new customers and enable you to interact and cement relationships with existing ones too. It allows you to inform people about any promotions you’re having and to connect with the wider community of sellers and businesses that operate within your industry. This could be very beneficial to your business in the long run.
The most difficult part is finding out which social media platform your target market is most likely to use. It’s important to have a presence on at least three of the following:
As well as using these tools to market products and angle for new customers, it’s another way of checking out your competition and finding out the marketing strategies they employ – and also to see what related topics are being discussed by the online community.
When you’ve started getting customer orders coming in, concentrating on the smaller elements that make your brand unique is the most important thing. Personalised notes, headed paper and invoices, branded packaging, gift wrapping and the customer service you offer are just some of the things that need to be considered.
If your budget permits it, more obvious approaches to branding should be used such as advertising and PR. The more you’re able to spend on this the greater the chance you’ll be able to expand your customer base and increase your sales.
Attracting new customers is obviously essential to grow your business, but it’s vital to keep your existing punters too. Make sure you keep some kind of database or list of email addresses of customers, so you can regularly communicate with them and to keep them informed of any offers, promotions or new lines you’re offering. Email marketing is useful for getting feedback on what you’re doing right and what aspects of the business you can improve upon.
Promotions. Everybody likes offers but what attracts people is the idea of a bargain. By now you should have an idea of what sells well and what’s less popular in your product range. So, to entice customers new and old to buy your less popular stock (as well as firm favourites), you need to consider different tactics to boost sales and keep stock fresh. Here are some promotional ideas to consider:
- Free postage and packing
- Multibuys, such as two for the price of one
- Free giveaways
- Voucher codes
- 10–20% off deals
- Prize draws
- End-of-line reductions
Even if these ideas don’t boost sales hugely, they’ll nevertheless drive more traffic to your site and raise the profile of your products and brand. Used wisely, they could give your sales a timely boost and keep the profile of your business raised.