Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9pm ET. This is excerpted from my recent interview with Andrew Davis @CPC_Andrew . Andrew is Author of the Merchant Comparison Shopping Handbook and the Director of Marketing for CPC Strategy, an online retail strategy consultant for retailers and agencies. You can contact Andrew directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
SmallBizLady: What do small businesses need to know before setting up an online store?
Andrew Davis: Before setting up your online store you need to establish your niche and product line. Research needs to be done here. The clothing industry: Huge but there’s a lot of browsing online (low conversions, hard to start paid marketing campaigns) and a ton of online retailers who are already in this space. Unless you’re making really unique, cool, and trendy garments that you know will catch on, it’s probably not the right place for you to be.
You also have to be prepared for the technical resources involved in setting up an online store. Picking a platform, payment systems, tracking clicks and sales, monitoring your SEO efforts and social media profiles are all part of the online retail picture today. Without a knack for technology or a passion to learn it quickly you’ll soon be overwhelmed.
Prepare to learn how to use social media to it’s full potential, it’s becoming more interconnected with search, SEO, traffic, and sales generated by your website.
SmallBizLady: What are some DIY shopping cart solutions?
Andrew Davis: I would suggest ecommercetemplates. Very flexible, affordable and allows you to do your own customizations. Another choice is AspDotNetStoreFront, they’re a little more expensive. There’s also assisted avenues to go through first to help you get your feet on the ground and start selling. Ebay, Amazon and Etsy are a few of the most popular. I’d look at Magento as well. It’s an open source platform that has a ton of flexibility.
SmallBizLady: Does your shopping cart need to have a function to set up a store on Facebook?
Andrew Davis: No, but prepare to have a Facebook page sooner than later to at least use it as a marketing tool. If you’re interested in more info on Facebook commerce I suggest you check out this blog by a great ecommerce writer Linda Bustos on the 7 dimensions of Facebook Commerce http://www.getelastic.com/7-dimensions-of-facebook-commerce/
SmallBizLady: Is Paypal a viable way to collect money or do SMBs need a separate online merchant account?
Andrew Davis: There’s nothing wrong with using Paypal to get started. It’s a trusted payment system and will integrate with your site quickly. Some other options to consider is implementing Google Checkout / Google Wallet and Amazon Checkout so users with accounts on those popular sites can check out with easy.
Make sure you set up your merchant services and gateway through a local bank. You can also search for an authorize.net gateway reseller.
SmallBizLady: How should I design my site?
Andrew Davis: Work with a web designer who’s experienced in ecommerce to develop the look and feel of your site. User experience is KEY. Not what you think looks good. You want to make it as easy as possible for a user to use, navigate, and checkout on your site. After this is set up, test, test test. I’d check out http://unbounce.com for help testing landing pages and providing analytics you can extract to make informed decisions about your product page designs moving forward. Testing is key!
SmallBizLady: How do I record sales?
Andrew Davis: Besides your accounting behind the scenes, I highly recommend using Google Analytics as a free Analytics tool to track user metrics and conversions. Be sure to install the ecommerce pixel portion of Google Analytics and learn how to tag your product URLs with appropriate tags.
SmallBizLady: Once an online store is set up how should I promote it?
Andrew Davis: SEO, SEO, SEO, social media, social media, social media. These avenues will be the foundation of all revenue streams, even paid marketing channels. Start there first and really throw yourself and your team into getting a solid SEO strategy built out first. Listen to Gary V in the video above – he knows consumer trends better than anyone. If you market like him you’re going to be successful.
SmallBizLady: How do I stay ahead in the ecommerce industry?
Andrew Davis: Here are some industry experts and websites that will help you keep up with all the latest SEO and online marketing trends:
Here’s some great websites to follow as well.
SmallBizLady: How do I grow my online business?
Andrew Davis: Scale is so important for small businesses. The big guys (Walmart, Best Buy, Target) have already solidified their positions online and are able to scale with ease. You need to be prepared at the beginning to suffer some losses in short term revenue to invest in the long-term health of your business. Develop a strategy that embodies grabbing market share rather than short term profits and you’ll be in for a fun ride. It’s a hard line to walk when you’re a small business owner, but it’s important to understand if you want to bring your small business to the next level. SEO is the main area where you need to learn how to scale. Interns, outsourcing, family members, friends, all can be used to help you develop your social network and content creation strategy faster, which pays off in the long run.
SmallBizLady: How do I become more efficient in my online business?
Andrew Davis: Efficiency in online retail comes from the tools you use. It’s going to be important to have a centralized area where you can discuss key tasks with your employees, like through a private Facebook group or Google+ circle.
That could actually be an interesting way to incentivize your employees to use Google+ more, which sends signals to Google that help with SEO. Other interesting tools and skills that can help speed up your efficiency are:
- Ghostery for finding out what tools and programs your competitors use (Chrome plugin)
- Boomerang for Gmail
- StayFocusd for Web Browsing (Chrome plugin)
- Google Docs
- Microsoft Excel / Access proficiency
- In Design
- Copywriting (so much SEO is about social media and blogging these days it’s important to understand each from a psychological standpoint, i.e. how to communicate to your audience, and from a work standpoint, i.e. how to achieve the goals with social media and blogging that you want to achieve)
Don’t be afraid to outsource menial tasks overseas. It’s not your best use of time to focus on repetitive, time consuming tasks. If you think you can outsource it and do it fine, do it, so you can focus on more high level strategy and project execution.
With online retail, it’s most important to know when to scale and how. You want to keep moving up. Some online retailers take over a niche or establish a certain market share but don’t know how to move up to the next level.
Start small, but make sure you consult with others more experienced on when and how to scale. This is also very important for online marketing strategy. You may think you know the best way to do something, but find out 6 months later a different way would have been better and saved you time.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help and soak up knowledge. Attend a conference or two. Some are free for online retailers.
How to Make Your Employees More Efficient:
You’ll want to incentivize your employees to achieve key goals in your business. For example, want a higher conversion rate? Give a bonus to your web designer if it goes up by X percentage points.
Want a bigger social media presence? Do the same.
Also, make sure each employee is in the most efficient spot for use of their talents. You as the head will be wearing many different hats, but you don’t want a web designer doing PPC, and you don’t want a data guy making design decisions. Everyone’s opinion counts, but know who’s best suited for what in your company.
SmallBizLady: How much upfront money do I need to get started?
Andrew Davis: This depends on your category. You can get started for around $5k but be prepared to use $10k – $15k within your first year of operation if you want to make some steady growth. Growing your ecommerce store is all about investing for the long term upfront. Landing page testing increases your conversion rates which makes all other marketing initiatives more efficient. SEO should be the backbone of these marketing initiatives to test your landing page and refine your site before moving into paid marketing channels. Remember, paid marketing channels will give you quick money, but you can easily overspend and it can get out of control. And more important, paid traffic is not as good for the long term health of your business as is SEO. Think long term, control your niche, prove to Google that you are the expert in your field for your products (show them why with your content, videos, customer service strategy, etc) and Google will reward you with lots of organic traffic.
SmallBizLady: Anything else I need to know before I get started?
Andrew Davis: Prepare to use email marketing to it’s full potential. Coupons are important as well. Shoppers want to feel like they’re getting a deal. You’ll be collecting the contact information of any user that completes a sale on your site, and that’s some of the most valuable data you’ll have. Work on increasing the lifetime value of these customers by sending them coupons and just saying ‘thanks’ for being a customer.
If you want a real world example of an online retail store that really knows how to treat a customer, check out www.heartypet.com.
If you found this interview helpful, join us on Wednesdays 8-9pm ET follow @SmallBizChat on Twitter. Here’s how to participate in #SmallBizChat: http://bit.ly/S797e
For more tips on how start or grow your small business subscribe to Melinda Emerson’s blog http://www.succeedasyourownboss.com.
Melinda F. Emerson, known to many as SmallBizLady is one of America’s leading small business experts. As a seasoned entrepreneur, professional speaker, and small business coach, she develops audio, video and written content to fulfill her mission to end small business failure. As CEO of Quintessence Multimedia, Melinda educates entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 companies on subjects including small business start-up, business development and social media marketing. Forbes Magazine named her #1 woman for entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter. She hosts #SmallBizChat Wednesdays on Twitter 8-9pm ET for emerging entrepreneurs. She also publishes a resource blog http://www.succeedasyourownboss.com Melinda is also bestseller author of Become Your Own Boss in 12 months; A Month-by-Month Guide to a Business That Works.