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Don’t fail before you’ve even started

Ecommerce is our life, it is what we do. We get no greater pleasure than seeing our customers be successful with what they are doing. It means we have done a good job, that our customers have done a good job, but even more so it means that the industry that is close to our hearts is becoming stronger, which is good for all of us.

However it hurts us when we see businesses that could do well, struggle before they even properly get going. It’s especially painful when you know that it could have been avoided, just by following a few simple, yet crucial, steps.

This is the first in a series of articles that will focus upon the crucial areas that should be within your focus when you are planning on setting up an online shop and what to do at the beginning and throughout the business process.

1. Research

Rarely can you just dive into anything in life and business is no different. You can’t just jump into a river and expect that the river is deep enough for you not to crack your skull when you jump in; you have to check it out first.

Research has to be the backbone of your venture. You have to know your market. Too many people see the success of a friend and hear them say how easy it was, but what they might fail to mention is the amount of work that actually goes in before you get started. Yes, setting up a shop couldn’t be easier than with ekmPowershop, but that only gives you a great foundation on which to start building. Your work needs to start before you get to this point.

You need to know who your customers are. How do they prefer buying, where from, what do they spend (average order value), what is the ideal shop for them, how much choice should I provide, how will my customers want to pay for the items, who are my competitors and how are they working. What specifically are they doing to be successful?

All the things most people spend the most amount of time thinking about – design of the logo, the colours, etc. – they are all really important, but they should come after you’ve figured all the other things out.

2. Write a business plan

This ties in nicely with the research you are doing as most of the research will have to also go into the business plan. Some people are able to run their business without one, but there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that a business plan will be of great assistance to you whilst you are growing your business. You will have a guideline that will help you work your way through the building of your business. It also sets your goals, which will help you keep your focus even when you feel like things are going quite your way.

I won’t go into how you exactly write a business plan, that will be done in a later blog post. Entrepreneur.com however has written a step-by-step guide on how to create your business plan

3. Design and Quality of Site

The look of your site is of the utmost importance. Once you have found a good way to drive traffic to your website, you need to keep them there. ekmPowershop provides you with a great basis for a very well designed ecommerce site. It is up to you however to make these your own and to make the most out of them.

If you’re looking for a truly bespoke theme for your online shop, that’s tailored exactly to your branding and requirements, our in-house design team are always on hand to help.

This is also where your research will pay off, you will know by then exactly what will appeal to your customers and having something that is bespoke to that need will give you an edge in the market.

Make sure your product images are clear and of a high quality. Your customers want to be able to see as much of the product as possible and if the images are blurry or not large enough, they will not be interested in your business and will probably not return any time soon. Consider using videos to showcase your products and make sure you have detailed descriptions of your products.

Try and receive as many reviews on each of your products and on sites such as trustpilot as possible. They will make customers feel as if they can trust you.

4. Budget

Budget is very often an issue. Depending on what your market is you will need to invest more money than for others. It also depends on how quickly you want to take off. If you are looking for a slow and gradual growth then a small budget is fine, you can spend more time growing a natural user base and working with SEO optimisation of your site.

If, however, you want immediate results, then you shouldn’t just rely on your site being online and then think that is it. You will have to invest some money to get the ball rolling. Depending on the product you are selling, you might just need a small budget for a Pay Per Click (PPC) campaign, or a slightly larger budget if you have a lot of competition in that area. Things such as Facebook advertisement might also be a good option for you.

Over time your dependency on these paid advertising methods will be reduced. Your customer base will grow, as will your social following, which opens up more avenues for free advertisement. Until you’ve established a good following on these channels you’ll need to account for some paid ads to start the snowball effect.

5. Flexibility

You are live and things are going okay, but they could be better. Don’t just wait it out and see whether it will possibly improve over time. You need to constantly be monitoring the behaviour of your customers. Look at the search statistics on your site, what products are they buying, which ones are they avoiding or not finding, what are they expecting to find on your site but don’t? Maybe they don’t like a design element of your site.

Don’t be set in your ways. Just because you like something, doesn’t mean that your customers will also like it. You need the flexibility to be willing to test new things to keep improving your site. Remember that the shop is not supposed to be a shop that YOU want to be buying from, it’s the shop that YOUR CUSTOMERS want to be buying from!

It’s no good asking family and friends to review your site as their responses won’t always be accurate through fear of upsetting you as they’ll see first hand how much effort you’re putting into building your business. Ask someone who’s not scared to give you honest, to-the-point feedback. In the long run it’ll be better for your business.

7. Time

No matter whether you just want to run the site on the side or whether it is going to be your main source of income, you will have to not only invest money, but also time! Time is your most precious commodity. Use it wisely, but prepare to invest a lot of time into making your shop a success.

There are many aspects that you will have to invest that time into:

7.1 Site optimisation

Site optimisation will take up a fair chunk of your time, but that is a good thing. If you’re spending time on improving your site, then the results will follow. Continued research and adapting to customers needs is an absolute must. Your site should not be stagnating, keep it fresh. You don’t want to continuously change your design, as people will come to know you for what you look like, but you also want to keep it looking modern and trustworthy. AO.com are a great example of an ecommerce site that’s thrived through continual optimisation based on solid statistics. By analysing customer behaviour on their website, and adjusting their website to work around this, they’ve recently been given a valuation of £1.2bn.

7.2 Customer Service

You will have to use time to make sure you answer any questions that your customers might have. Take the time to try and satisfy every request and make sure that you don’t write snappy email replies. You might get frustrated, but if you take your time you will be able to deal with it easier.

7.3 Marketing

This is a big one. There are many ways you could easily spend your entire time budget just on marketing. It is why big companies spend a lot of money on hiring an army of people just to work in this area. To start off with you will want to see what will work best for your business. What is the best way to market your goods.

You could for example write a blog. This keeps a stream of constant new content coming to your site and it will get people more interested in your products. Make sure that you keep the blog on the topic of your business area.

Use Social Media effectively. Social Media is a great way to engage with your customers and to get your name out there, but it does take time. You will have to learn the best ways to market your business via Social Media on the job and it will take some time to see what works best, but you can have a look at what your competition is doing. What gets the most engagement, what are they doing that keeps the people talking? Which social media channels work best for them? If for example you are a fashion shop, then Pinterest and Instagram would be great for you, but essentially you can mould any of the channels to work for you, if you have the right ideas. Shareable and talk worthy content is the way forward.

Keep testing what works. Keep an eye on what you have out there, what it is costing you and what the results are. Sometimes it’s best to not wait too long to see whether something will bring any results if it is eating up a lot of your budget. If you are running a PPC campaign then you should constantly be modifying the keywords that you are spending your budget on and make sure that you aren’t paying over the odds for keywords that might bring minimal results.

Break your campaign down into smaller, more concise ad groups so you can easily monitor what’s converting well and adjust your budget accordingly. From your research stage you should already know what your average order value is. Using this in combination with your average markup % on your products you’ll be able to work out whether your outlay on paid advertisements is justified based on the potential returns you’re going to get.

It will feel easy if you just plan ahead

Anybody can start an online shop and you can make it a success, but you have to bear these things in mind. There is often a bit more involved than you might at first expect, but don’t let that put you off, embrace the challenge and make it work. You need to be doing whatever you can to try and minimise your chances of failure and if you avoid these mistakes and take into consideration the hints that were given here, then you should already be on the right track to success. We are only ever a click or a phone call away and are happy to give you a helping hand or some inspiration if you are stuck at any point.

Author: Chris Kane is an Online Marketing Expert at ekmPowershop.com, the UK’s leading hosted eCommerce website solution.

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