E-Commerce is very popular with many small business owners today and why shouldn’t it be? You literally have the entire world, at least the connected world, as potential customers. Where your business used to only be able to sell locally to those you met, those who read your advertising or those who someone you knew referred them to you. Taking your business to the next step of being an E-Commerce business could be a great move.
Not every business is appropriate for E-Commerce. Not every business owner is appropriate for E-Commerce either. My firm works with a lot of businesses transitioning from tradition business models to E-Commerce Models. While most of our clients are successful, some are not. Let us look at the why not first. From that, you will begin to see the foundation of the why they become successful.
So what is E-Commerce not?
- E-Commerce is not a “when I build it they will come and buy” proposition. In fact, you must still know your customers, know your business processes and do the other things such as market, develop and build clientele.
- It is not as simple as creating a website on your own, adding a link to a distributor or manufacturer and you reap the benefits of selling and “drop shipping” their products.
- It is not a “hands-free” or client interaction free business model. Important things like customer service are still critical.
- A good deal of your success depends upon how easily navigated, how well designed, your website it. This is not and should not be a “do it yourself” process. You are better served obtaining the Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities of a Professional.
- SEO will not by itself make your E-Commerce site successful. I cannot tell you how many business owners who have bought into the hype of SEO believe that paying someone else a lot of money to make their website popular will translate into sales.
When you decide to add E-Commerce ability to your business making the transition involves work. Work that you must do unless your current business is incredibly successful and you have a lot of money to pay others to do it for you. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek help as affordable help is available. It does mean you will have to work, do things, execute strategy and yes, talk to a lot of people.
What must you do?
The transition begins with your writing. You are going to write down all of your processes and procedures. Everything from how you will receive product orders, fulfill those orders and ship those orders to buyers. You will need to write down how you will manage customer service, refunds, returns or what Merchant Card Service you will use for Credit Card Transactions. Every step in your process must be documented. It is from this documentation that your E-Commerce website is designed and developed.
Your website, for rather obvious reasons, is an important part of transitioning to E-Commerce. It must be sharp, attractive, easy to navigate and functional. It must inform and educate without bombarding the visitor with “BUY NOW” messages. Certainly, there are free or low-cost web design sites out there. My personal advice is if at all possible, avoid them. Hire or Barter with a professional web designer. Select one that fulfills your needs be that they do all of the ongoing maintenance content updating etc. (and they will charge you for this) to one that will teach you how, or take on part of the ongoing work. In both cases, they will and should design a website to your specifications, brand and customer needs.
You will still have to advertise. SEO won’t do it all. Pay ads, pay-per-click ads, purchased ads on popular sites targeting the audience you market to, will still need to be done.
When you transition your business to E-Commerce you have to make a decision. Do you drive your business strictly through E-Commerce and close your traditional bricks and mortar business or do you operate both? In my experience that will be the most difficult decision in this process after deciding if E-Commerce is right for you and your business. The question isn’t simple nor is it intended to be. Some people operate both quite successfully. Others can’t focus on both resulting in bad outcomes for them. It is as much about who your business is as it is who you are. That means that you will have to consider all of the traditional expenses you could avoid by going strictly E-Commerce while remembering the Brand your business was built on and who your current customers are.
E-Commerce is fun and profitable. It can also be worrisome. Do it right and your business will benefit from it. The key is to understand your business, understand your customers and know what you personally can or cannot do. Remember, it’s your business and the outcome is important.