There is no road map for growing an e-commerce start up from zero, and it will never exist. The current international trade context is so dynamic due to the constant and volatile technological changes. Technology is shaping and re-shaping our habits, desires and future. Though, there are some things that remain constant and guide entrepreneurs through their journey – including me.
First of all, you should know that there are general entrepreneurial things to consider. I’ll elaborate on them in a minute. More interestingly, though, are the particularities of running an e-commerce business. And god damn it those are the most exciting!
Let’s start with the basic principles.
General entrepreneurial advices
The starting paradigm
Start with a healthy paradigm about life, business, employees and customers.
First of all, you should be passionate about what you are doing. Ask yourself: if you would be 70 years old and have to look behind, is this the best thing you could have done with your life? If you are here only for the money, you’ll end up being either successful and sad, either unsuccessful and sad.
Furthermore, you should ask yourself why are you doing it. There are lots of “WHATs” and “HOWs”, but few “WHYs” around us.
Your organisational culture
You want to have your customers treated like kings and queens. Start by treating your employees the same way. Making them feel precious, caring about their feelings, giving them positive feedback and attention is the key to unlocking their performance. Let them get familiar with the company’s vision and values, set them tangible objectives and let them know how the company is doing. How you’re treating your employees is to how they are going to treat the customers.
Your entrepreneurial skills
There are many skills you should have to become an entrepreneur. After 10 years in this game, I think there are five vital skills:
2. positive thinking
4. networking abilities
Your team is the key
Choose your team wisely. Make sure your employees are smarter than you in their area of expertise, but train them accordingly to your values. Once they have gained trust in their skills, stop deciding for them. Sometimes it’s better to let them do something wrong and learn from it.
Specific advice for e-commerce entrepreneurs
While you’re reading this post, Amazon is probably selling goods $120k worth. You know that’s a lot. If you are 100% sure you’re David, go after the Goliath in your market, country or world.
If not, choose carefully your domain. You could use tools to determine the market’s needs for a specific product and how many companies are already fulfilling these needs. The most common tool is Google AdWords Keyword tool that can be used to find out the volume of searches and the average cost per click.
If you’re thinking to go international, you can use Google Market Finder, which is automatically translating the keywords you’re looking and also showing the volume of searches, level of competition and the average cost per click. After this step, establish the market share ypu want to grab and do the math.
(Number of clicks) X (cost per click) X (conversion rate) = the number of orders you can get from that market
If you know the average order value and the delivery cost, you can at least make a rational decision. 😉
How you differentiate
Don’t start without them no matter where you want to dive: either in a red ocean market or a blue ocean one.
Making sure that the points of difference regard the customer’s benefits and not yours. Having a bigger warehouse than your competitor is not a key differentiating point, unless the customers are getting their products faster from you.
If you don’t want to be just another follower in the market, start by rocking the house with some outstanding points of difference.
You can differentiate yourself either with the customer support or your care for the environment (CSR approach). It’s just an example; I couldn’t thought about something else.
Make sure that your platform is stable and that will remain like this for at least 5 years.
Hire a qualified team of developers (yes, that means going through CVs), if not the best you can find on the market. Ask them before start: are you using a system like Github? Observe if they are talking about the code so that any other developer would understand what’s in there. Are they using a scrum methodology?
When you launch your company, remember that everywhere you look you see ads. People are already overwhelmed by advertising. The focus should go communicating differently, but targeted.
The good old AIDA process is still available: Attention – Interest – Desire – Action
If you are starting a company, properly target the audience and make waves in the market. At the very beginning, you should consider that there are 3 types of media: paid, earn and own. Since you are just starting, you don’t have own media.
So, the first thing is focusing on the right spots. If you don’t have a big marketing budget to start, focus on earned media. The principle that works here is breaking their pattern. If you believe in your business and others have validated it, expose the start-up on any channel available: social media, bloggers, journalists, etc. A smart launch can save you months or even years of hard work.
This part is really important because this is responsible with your growth. The main traffic channels are:
- organic search
- paid search
Make sure you’re using all of them properly. More about this here >
A few nice shortcuts you can use to generate traffic:
- a referral system for current customers so they can become promoters in their network. Give them discounts at their next order, virtual money, a small gift or any other aspirational things.
- a new habit for visitors “Every morning our developer is dizzy. So this product is costing you nothing. Check it out!”. In this manner you are creating a bond with your visitors.
- a list building contest with something really exotic. A bike shop: win 3 bikes for you and two of your friends if all of you subscribe to our list and post a picture with other 3 friends doing something funny. Make sure you have a sharing system so that they can earn extra chances if they are amplifying the contest.
In terms of traffic generation, focus on generating it, not only buying it, because it will become a costly habit for your company.
Conversion rate is one of the two wings of your airplane. Traffic is the other one.
Here are the things you have to take into consideration:
- Data Analysis
You can’t improve what you can’t measure. Install an analytics tool that allows tracking conversion rate, average order value, revenue, etc. Google Analytics does it and it’s free. See which channels are having the best conversion rate and also investigate how are the traffic segments performing in terms of conversion rate.
Besides the quantitative research, you should also do a qualitative one. With behavior-based triggered survey (you can create them with Omniconvert), ask them about their reasons to abandon the cart, or if they’ve found what they were looking for. I am using this research method and it’s one of the best to get precious insights – as far as I’m concerned.
- User experience
Make sure that using your website is a delight. Test the conversion flow and the barriers that the potential customers could face.
Adjust your tone having in mind the ideal customers and also remember how the best sales-persons have talked to you. Were they supportive, warm and clear about what they had to offer to you? Your website would be the same. Choose your words according to your audience needs, social status and values.
The funnel starts with attracting visitors and ends with transforming them into raging fans. But, inside the website, assure your visitors navigating on safe waters. Minimize friction by getting rid of unnecessary information, eliminate social share buttons from the cart page, ask for their shoe size only if you sell shoes and reduce the number of fields in your forms. Ok, these are just a few guidelines, but you get the idea.
- A/B testing
Doing A/B testing allows you to determine which image, copy, message, layout, colours are the best to use. When you do A/B testing experiments, keep in mind to always go for the big fish. Choose the hypothesis according to data, not only your intuition and make the changes that can really have an impact on your performance. Learn how to create an A/B testing plan and how to implement it.
- Page speed
Two seconds delay in load time leads to higher abandonment rate. Learn how to handle page speed issues from this infographic.
If the visitors intent to leave the cart page, you can persuade them with an incentive or discount to complete the order. Omniconvert allows you doing that. On the other hand, to make sure that visitors who are leaving the website from a product page or category page use pop ups or exit surveys to capture their email address and make them return to your website with automated messages.
With a small integration, you can address the visitors who are trying to leave from the cart page with a survey asking them something like: “What kind of discount would make you complete the order: $1, $5 or $20?”.
– If their answer is $1, you could use a pop-up that is promising them something unexpected: “We’ll give you 5 times more. Use “5foryou” code to get the discount”
– If their answer is $5:Ta da! Your wish is our command! Use “5foryou” code to get the discount.
– If their answer is $20: “We’re struggling to catch Amazon, so we still need to be profitable. How about a $5 discount? Use “5foryou” code to get it!”
If they are still not buying, at least you’ve made a good impression 🙂
Hope that helps with making an idea about what running an e-commerce business involves. Ask me anything and remember that you can do wonders with the right approach.