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Get your small business into ecommerce

Get your small business into e-commerce like this young woman artist looking at her phone.

If you’re a small business you probably want to expand into the e-commerce market, but perhaps you're not sure of the business model yet. The ubiquity and global reach of the internet means you will be able to sell to far more people than ever before. If you’re a business owner that already has an amazing product, and you want to take that product from physical space to cyberspace, then follow these tips to get your e-commerce business buzzing!

Create an e-commerce team for your small or midsize business

Before starting your e-commerce store, you should consider expanding your team. While we’re sure you have great people behind you already, you don’t want to spread them too thin.

Having a dedicated e-commerce team will help your business remain focused, flexible and productive.

Here’s a list of a few team members we suggest adding:

  • Hire a designer to make your online store pop.

  • Hire a copywriter to write catchy product descriptions.

  • Employ a tax, shipping and logistics expert to make sure you’re not losing money on shipping.

  • Find an SEO specialist to help rocket your store to the top of the search results.

  • Consult an e-commerce solutions expert who can advise you on common mistakes to avoid.

With a great team, the hard work and passion you’re already putting in and the tips listed here, you’ll be well on your way to working out a great plan for a great e-commerce business.

Validate your product for e-commerce

Once you have a team, the next step is making sure that the physical product you already have is viable for e-commerce platforms. You need to figure out your niche in a landscape full of competitors. You might be selling great locally, but if you’re not careful you might not have a good time in e-commerce.

You’ll want to think about and consider your market size and target audience. Think about the types of products you sell. The more generalized a product, the bigger its market size. For example, if you have a product that you can sell to men aged 18-30 who work in an office, you will have quite a large market size. However, the market size for men aged 18-30 who work in an office and are interested in highly competitive board games is going to be much smaller.

A market size that’s too small can tank your e-commerce business, but only in some cases. There are niche products out there that have a small market size, but can capture a bigger percentage of that market due to being online and being able to reach their target market. For instance, if you live in a landlocked region, you would be able to more easily sell niche sailing supplies through e-commerce rather than locally because you would be able to reach potential customers who live near large bodies of water.

Finding your product’s niche is a balancing act and something you should spend considerable time contemplating.

Research your audience and niche to come up with a business plan

Once you’ve figured out your product’s niche, your target audience and the viability for e-commerce, it is time to do even more research and planning. Yes, we know there is a lot of research to do, but all the effort spent on it ahead of time will be well worth it in the long run!

You’ll want to look up competitors. How many are there? Is the marketplace saturated? And what can you do to differentiate your brand and your product if there is already competition there?

Once you’ve answered these questions, it’s time to come up with an actionable business plan. Plot out all the steps you’ll take, such as setting up your online store, working on SEO and organizing shipping (more details to follow).

Make sure you have a reasonable timeline and a team that’s fully onboarded or onboarded in steps throughout the process. A great resource for managing projects of this size is a Gantt chart. A Gantt chart will help you visualize a project’s schedule and make sure you’re using your resources to their fullest. Check out this Gantt chart tutorial and creation software to get started.

Set up an online store for your small business

This is the big one because, of course, you can’t do e-commerce without an online store for your customers to buy from!

For this step, there are two main options to consider: premade sites and made-from-scratch sites. Premade sites are ones that already have core functionality—you simply have to reskin them to work for you! A site that’s made from scratch would be fully yours, coded and created from beginning to end by your team.

While it’s nice to have your own customized site with all the bells and whistles, a customized site comes with additional costs compared to a premade site. So, if money is tight, then you may want to consider lowering your costs by going with a premade option. Many of the out-of-the-box options are great! And they’re especially useful for those small business teams who don’t have a coder.

Here are a few examples of premade sites:

  • Etsy and Amazon are two e-commerce platforms that allow you to sell your products for a small cut of the profit. There isn’t a lot of customizability with either of these options, but both offer a quick and easy way to start selling online.

  • Big Cartel is a great option for an e-commerce store that allows you more flexibility and customization. For instance, you can add colors and a theme. And one of the best things about this platform is that you can sell up to five products for free!

  • Squarespace allows you to make a website for your e-commerce site. This is the most flexible premade site, but it also involves the most work. For example, you’ll have to do some coding to make pricing drop-down menus and take payments.

Another consideration to take into account when setting up your store is payment gateways. These are ways you'll collect money from your customers. Most online businesses are connected to payment gateways such as Stripe or PayPal. Both systems allow the user to pay either with their bank accounts or with any major credit card from their country.

Set up SEO for your online store

We talk about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) a lot here! That’s because it is one of the most important aspects of running an online business these days. You might already have SEO in place if you run a blog or a webpage, but you’ll need it for your online store too!

First, SEO means making sure your webpages, advertisements and all other parts of your online presence are able to be found by search engines more efficiently. The better your SEO, the more likely your business will be found by your target audience and be able to grow and expand!

You may be wondering how to include SEO on your store page. After all, most products have descriptions that are short and hard for search engines to find. Don’t worry, we’re not going to recommend keyword stuffing! We know you don’t want the titles or descriptions of your products to look like word salad—that’s unprofessional.

One simple solution is to have an about page on your store site that explains a bit about your company, your mission statement and why you think your product is the best! This is a great opportunity for SEO.

As for your product titles and descriptions, your best bet is to have a great store and let the products speak for themselves once people are there.

Come up with an e-commerce shipping strategy

Unless you’re only selling digital goods or digital products, a shipping strategy is critical to avoid costly errors that could sink your e-commerce store before it even gets a chance to swim!

If you’re shipping internationally, it’s important to be aware of the rules and regulations in every country that you plan to ship to. For example, Germany has a packaging law that requires all businesses, no matter how small or how little they sell, be responsible for the recycling fees and packaging waste of products they ship to Germany. This includes both B2C and B2B sales. And, you can be fined hundreds of thousands of Euros for failing to comply with this law. So, basically, you have to decide to forego the German market, or learn about the new packaging law and apply to the LUCID Packaging Register to receive a packaging license.

Remember, with e-commerce, the whole world can be your market, but you have to make sure you do it right or you could sink money into costly fines and potential legal trouble. So, make sure you have a solid shipping strategy for each new market you expand to.

Launch your online store

We know this one sounds pretty straightforward, but there are a few things to keep in mind when you first launch your store to provide the best customer experience possible.

If possible, do a soft launch first, wherein you only allow a select few people to try out the site. This will allow you to stress test the site and make sure everything looks, feels and works the way you want it to. Choose trusted individuals who can give you valuable feedback.

Make sure you have all hands on deck during the soft launch and the full launch. You’ll want people to be able to make sure any issues are solved promptly. For that reason, try to wrap up other major projects before the launch, or get them to a stage where they can be on hold for a bit. If you have separate teams this is easier, as you can move most people to the store team and run a skeleton crew on your other teams for a few days.

Make sure to really use social media to your advantage for your full launch. You could do a countdown in the days before your full launch or offer special discounts for people who go to your store from a specific social media link.

Most importantly, don’t forget to celebrate and have a little fun! Try and cultivate the atmosphere of a brick-and-mortar store launch. You can do this by having a celebration with your team. Encourage them to bring food and drinks and mingle. Do this through video chat if you run a remote team! Launching an e-commerce store is a HUGE deal! You and your team should absolutely celebrate all the hard work you’ve put into this!

Use online marketing to boost your store’s visibility

Launching an online store is a big deal. It comes with considerable costs. And the launch is just the beginning. Once you’ve launched, you have to maintain your store and keep up with social media and content marketing. After all, you don’t want your store to be a one-hit wonder!

Now, don’t be discouraged if you have a huge influx of people on your first day and then the numbers drop off—that’s normal. People tend to be excited about new things, and they tend to be less excited about something once the novelty wears off. What you want to aim for is marketing and advertising that maintains a stable customer base and allows for slow and consistent growth. Remember, this is a marathon—not a sprint.

There are a number of great marketing strategies to consider, each with their pros and cons. You could do influencer marketing, social media marketing, email marketing, or buy paid ads. Each type of marketing comes with its own costs, its own challenges and rewards. It will take time to figure out what your ideal customer responds to, but we’re confident that you can make it work!

To start, here are a couple tips for marketing and advertising your online store via social media:

  • Don’t try to be on every social media platform—the costs will outweigh the benefits. Pick one or two platforms that your target audience uses, and start there.

  • Post on social media regularly. Don’t post for a couple days and then abandon your accounts for two weeks. Use Hootsuite or something similar to schedule your posts. And do some research to figure out the best times to post on the social media platforms you’ve chosen (check out this guide!).

  • Proofread your posts. Be careful with spelling and grammar. Sure, the internet is the new Wild West when it comes to the way people use language, but being clear and concise is as important, if not more important, than ever before.

If social media doesn’t sound like your strong suit, then outsource it. Hire a firm to help you. Sign up for B2BeeMatch to connect with expert social media service providers. They can help get the word out about your new online store, and help you get back to doing what you do best.

That’s how you get your small business into e-commerce

Those were our tips for getting started in e-commerce! It’s a long road, with lots of planning, research and a little trial and error, but it’s definitely worth it to grow your business. You’ve got the whole internet to show your product to, and these tips will help you do it!

Follow these tips and you’ll get your small business into e-commerce!

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