It simply never fails to amaze me the number of shop owners who really lose site of what’s in their store. Your store is a tool.. A sales tool, and in order to be effective you must have a clear direction and sales plan. So in the wee hours of this Tuesday morning, we will cover some very important planning functions and some even more serious pitfalls related to operating your e-commerce shop.
As I try to be a positive person with an outgoing influence, we will start our journey with the positive things you can do to develop a great sales minded business plan for your store.
Many of you will have surpassed this step already, but it defiantly bares investigation. The most important thing you can do for your business is be very intimate with your product(s), passionate even. When you are beginning your “dreaming” stages of your own online business if you consider nothing else, then consider choosing a product related to something you enjoy and great deal… And hopefully are skilled and informed about. This decision can absolutely make or break your business and is additionally a cornerstone for success.
The second thing you will need to consider is a great business plan. Certainly if you have the operating budget then I would highly suggest you retain a professional to help you with a proper business plan. In lieu of such a generous operating budget then get some help from business owners, teacher, or other professionals you know… Draw on the resources in your network to gain some insight in to the cost, surprises and operational pitfalls of owning your own business. You will need a financial plan and budget for at least the first year and the planned budget to support it.
Make certain you have read all of the fine print and have spoken directly to a qualified sales rep for the product line you intend to sell. Ask a million questions regarding the fees, shipping costs and rules, product warranties, return policies, and anything else you can think of. Its not a very joyous thing to receive your very first order in you brand new store and be unable to ship the product or worse lose money on the deal as you have mis-planned the margin and markup.
As the development time approaches you are faced with a whole new set of decisions and costs. Ideally, unless you are very competent in the shopping cart software you are going to be using get someone to develop your online store. This is a very important step and equally able to sink your ship if you make a wrong or misinformed decision. There are admittedly more costs involved in a self-hosted shopping cart solution, but these costs are upfront and far outweigh the pitfalls of hosted shopping carts. Remember, if it way that easy everyone would have a store and be #1.
Hosted shopping carts are as a rule unable to deliver the marketing and organic ranking ability of a self-hosted cart. This is true for many reasons, not withstanding the more than obvious lack of control over most necessary optimization protocols. Do the math, at $24.95 a month for a hosted shopping cart with low organic ranking and decreased conversion ability over $1000 to $2500 up front for a shopping cart that innately has the ability to deliver and is not subject to someone else’s decisions and rules. Ask for help to make this decision, get quotes and check references… Don’t be shy, this is YOUR business we are talking about. Would the new owner of a brick and mortar business hire just anyone to erect his new building?
I think the most important word of advice I can give any prospective shop owner is to stay hungry and dedicated to doing things the right way the first time. Start clean, set up your store properly and maintain it constantly. Eliminate the possibility for common pitfalls like duplication and poor SEO right from the start. What is the point of spending your time and money to build your store on a house of cards. Many common optimization issues I see in the stores we complete reports for are so very simple to fix, before they happen, and so very, very expensive and time consuming to fix after they have been ignored.
Resist the urge… Do not allow your store to be indexed and crawled until it is ready to go. Many developers and shop owners alike will allow their store to be indexed during development and literally screw themselves in the process. Only great pages should ever be indexed, and seriously during development are they great pages?
Optimize your checkout for extreme usability… Test it, get others to test it, then test it some more. This is the grandest opportunity you have to make AND lose sales. Spend the money and get a merchant account and gateway, PayPal is great but it will not convert enough sales for your store to be successful per capita. Invest in an SSL, this is not an option any longer as consumers are becoming more and more educated about their online security and privacy.
Analyze your site daily, you will find that with fresh eyes everyday you find the details to help you succeed. Do not be afraid to test your theories, there is no such thing as a bad sales idea… Unless you lack the fortitude to try it. A common mistake many shop owners make is to change something immediately and without thought for the comments of one customer. You will get no argument from me that every customers comments or feedback bare investigation… Just not necessarily immediate action.
Not to bore you, but I have a great story for this very mistake. Many of you know I was a restaurant manager for most of my life, so I have seen some really dumb things. One frozen January morning I rolled in to my store and mindlessly migrated to the coffee pot on the servers line, as I had done everyday before… Grabbed my coffee and proceeded to my office. I sat down at my desk to read the mountain of sticky notes and took a big slug of my coffee, and spit all over my computer screen.
UGH, the coffee could strip paint it was so strong. I returned to the server line to locate the server who had dealt me this early morning surprise and ask her if she was planning to clean the exhaust hoods with this toxic brew. She very cheerfully informed me that at 3am or so a customer had told her the coffee was too weak, so she doubled the scoops to correct this grievous problem. You could in very honest clarity see the light bulb over her head when I asked what the other 300 customers yesterday had thought. So, investigate and do not get caught up in reaction style management as you will eventually fail.
I hope you have been able to take away something useful from my early morning… Pre-coffee ramblings. I certainly invite you to comment with anything you wish to share from your own experiences and look forward to seeing you back soon.