90 Tips and tricks to enhance the quality of your Ecommerce website

General Ecommerce :

  • Ultimately, websites are there to provide your customers with a better service.  Don’t build your website with anyone else in mind.
  • Consider what you want each page of your website to achieve and go about designing it to fulfil these goals.
  • Tell your customers about your company on your ‘about us’ page, consider who your customers are and portray an image that will appeal to your target market.
  • Don’t rely exclusively on internet technology. Build alternative sales channels: direct mail, sales brochures etc.  Build a customer base and look after them.
  • Give your customers every means to contact you: phone, email, physical address, live chat, Aim, etc. And respond to all customer contact in a professional and timely manner.

Ecommerce software usability

  • Avoid slow loading; time consuming graphics or animations on your home page.  No one wants to sit and watch some sycophantic, webmasters ego massage before they get to your core data on your website
  • Keep your home page up-to-date with your top-selling and newly launched products.
  • Every product on your website should be reachable within 3-clicks of your homepage.
  • Recommend additional related products for items added to the shopping cart. Amazon do this very well, they recommend related products on the product page, even before the customer reaches the shopping cart.
  • Never add items without the shoppers consent, this will ultimately cause high levels of shopping cart abandonment
  • Use buy buttons whenever and wherever a product is displayed, make it as easy as possible for customers to add products to the shopping cart.
  • Display your product prices wherever buy buttons are displayed.
  • Let your customers know exactly how much your products cost.
  • Link to other sites that carry relevant information and products to your own
  • Avoid having excessive outgoing links. There are varying opinions on maximum quantities; I try to limit outgoing links to a maximum of 15 on any given page.
  • Optimise your images:
    Speed – but try to get the balance right between quality and speed.
    Use original images – where possible take your own photographs
    Name your images – use your keyword in your image naming conventions
    Alt tagging – complete image alt tags, this is another opportunity to push your keyword density
  • Create a sitemap for your site.  This has two direct advantages: First, a sitemap created in the right format can be uploaded to Google which will increase the chances of each page being indexed.  Second, it will make sure that no pages on your site are orphaned.
  • Use friendly URLs this has two main advantages: Firstly, they are easier for your visitor to remember.  Secondly, they are good for SEO, yet again another chance to plug your all important keywords.  Mod_rewrite will continue to make this possible if your using dynamic PHP content.
  • Run a blog along side your site and regularly write about the products you sell.  Content is king create other industry related articles and you may be amazed at the traffic this generates.
  • Use compelling call to actions – buy now, while stocks last, limited offer, etc.
  • Surprise your regular customers with gifts and discounts.
  • Make sure your site has search facilities that make products and content as easy to find as possible.
  • Use breadcrumb navigation, this will help your customers understand exactly where they are on your site.  It also helps your customers find similar or related products.
  • Shopping carts should be editable. Customers need to be able to remove products and change product line quantities easily.
  • Never add exorbitant costs during the checkout stage.  Avoid overly high postal costs or surcharges.  For Business to Customer (B2C) based sites, add the sales tax / VAT to the advertised product prices so customers don’t get a nasty shock when they get to your checkout. Hidden costs lead to shopping cart abandonment.
  • Never add anything to the shopping cart the customer hasn’t expressly requested.  This will alienate potential customers, which will lead to cart abandonment.
  • Avoid lengthy or unnecessary registrations prior to checkout.
  • The checkout process should be quick and simple and should only collect absolutely essential information.
  • Give your customers a sense of confidence by displaying appropriate security and ‘site-safe’ logos.
  • Provide as many payment options as possible. Cheque, credit card, Paypal etc.  The more payment options you allow, the more customers you will attract.
  • Consider offering free shipping when a certain order total is met. This may increase your average order totals.
  • Use website analytics and statistics to help you understand visitor activity and behavior.  Google analytics is free and is really rather good!
  • Give your customers as much information as possible: include delivery methods with expected durations. Also make your privacy policy and return policy easily accessible.

Design technology and development:

  • Adhere to web standards in the construction of your HTML pages.
  • Avoid the use of excessive and/or poorly optimised graphics and keep the amount of flash and slow loading media to an absolute minimum.
  • Where video media is embedding into a page don’t force it play automatically. Allow the visitor the choice if they wish to view the video file or not.
  • Try to avoid links through graphics as they optimise for search engines far less effectively than text links.
  • Where possible use text links and anchor the link with keywords appropriate to your website.
  • Avoid slow loading web pages and pay special attention to landing pages and your homepage.  Optimise these pages for speed; slow loading pages create high levels of visitor bounces.
  • Your 404 page is presented to visitors when they try to reach a page that does not exist. Try to be creative with this page, you could add a site search or navigation menu to help the visitor find what they were originally looking for or you could link it back to your home page / another section of your site.

Retail Ecommerce SEO:

  • Study your competitors SEO campaigns, SEO Quake which is a free browser plugin, will give you analysis of the sites you visit.  Study your competitor’s back-links, emulate them and improve on them.  Take your top 20 search engine competitors for desired keywords and target 30% of each competitor’s back-links.  You will quickly start to see your pages rise to the top of the indexes.  (Ignore authority site listings in your niche… firstly, they are not a threat and secondly, you will never compete with the quantity and quality of back-links that these sites attract)
  • Take the time to build a strong list of target keywords.  If you’re struggling for suggestions again look at competitors sites.  Look at their Alt tags, page titles and keyword densities.  This practise will quickly give you the keywords your competitors are targeting and will help you build a comprehensive keyword list.  For deeper analysis Goolge has a keyword suggestion tool built into their adsense programme and deeper analysis still you could look at Wordtracker.  Monthly subscription to this site will give you probably the best keyword tool on the market.
  • Limit the amount of keywords you target on any single page to 4 or less.  Targetting too many keywords on a single page dilutes the page from an SEO perspective.
  • Long-tail keywords are expressions that consist of 4 or more words.  You don’t generally have to target these expressions; you will pick them up naturally from a mixture of words the search engines find within your content.  However, every now and then you will find a ‘little diamond’, one that produces a good few clicks.  When you do, write a bit of content to target this expression.
  • Never copy word for word the manufacturer’s product description. Rewrite the description in your own words.  This may seem a bit of a waste of time but the search engines filter out duplicate content.  If you copy the manufacturers description, chances are your product page will not be indexed and will fail to show in the SERP’s
  • Use your keywords liberally in your page titles, meta tags and headings. However, don’t spam, avoid using so many keywords your text is no longer readable and never try to be clever by making the keywords the same colour as the background (an old practise that allowed webmasters to stuff their pages with keywords without ruining the visitors experience of the page.
  • Again use keywords in your product descriptions liberally.  Check your keyword densities (SEO quake will do this for you) keyword densities of over 5 could be considered spamming.
  • Try to obtain quality back-links but do so steadily, sudden fluctuations in back-links could alert search engines to back-link spamming.  Various methods for obtaining quality back-links are discussed on several other posts on this site.
  • Use links on your site to other pages on your site and when you do anchor the link with keywords relevant to the target page. For example this is an example of anchor text. Clever and relevant use of interior linking is very good for your SEO campaign.
  • Ask for reviews from your customers, the ever changing and unique content that this will produce is very good for SEO.
  • Use book-marking and social networking tags on your product pages. These allow your customers to bookmark your products for future reference or share your products and services with their community and/or friends.

Email marketing:

  • Create an opt-in email list and encourage your customers to join
  • Ask customers to sign-up for a newsletter during or just after the sales process and send regular product information to the people that join.  However, don’t flood your customers mailboxes with emails every five minutes.
  • Provide the ability to opt-out every time you send your customer an email or newsletter
  • Make sure you call your customers to action in the emails – buy-it-now, limited offer, limited stock, hurry while stocks last, buy now because when they are gone there gone – you get the message!
  • Make your slaes offer clear and concise and make sure it’s visible before the bottom of the screen when the mail is first opened.
    Pay per click (PPC) marketing tips:
  • Begin with your best selling products and build your campaign from there.
  • Use keyword analysis products to build a comprehensive keyword list
  • Start with less expensive long-tail keywords, your looking for very specific targeted expressions that will hopefully give you very good conversion rates.
  • Budget your campaign spending and analyse your return on investment on controlled bursts of traffic.  Google analytics allows you to set goal conversions which means you can analyse which keywords are giving you the best return on investment (ROI)
  • Add negative keywords to campaigns, these terms are often less expensive and may convert just as well.
  • Google have a feature built into their software that means if you improve your advertising quality score it reduces your average click cost.  So improving your ‘click to impression rate’ actually reduces the amount you pay.
  • Try to use your keywords in your ad copy.
  • Use call to actions in the ad copy.
  • Don’t get involved in bidding wars, getting the top position is not necessarily that important.  There is a school of thought; I’m told that suggests that positions 4 to 7 provide the best return on investment.
  • Deep-link your campaigns, don’t just throw all your traffic at your homepage.  Make sure your customers are taken to a product page relevant to the reason they originally clicked your advert.
  • Look out for price drops, when setting your PPC amounts you will regularly notice keywords with the following characteristics:
    Position 1 = 0.65
    Position 2 = 0.64
    Position 3 = 0.63
    Position 4 = 0.22
    You will notice there is a big price drop between Position 3 and Position 4.  This Means that if you bid $0.23 your ad will go in at position 4 and you will pay less than half than you would to obtain position 3.  This represents great value for money!
  • I often turn the ‘Content Network’ off, this means you won’t pick up traffic from 3rd party websites and your traffic will only come directly from the Google site.  However, in my opinion, content clicks from 3rd party sites tend to be more impulsive and are often not made by people actively looking for your product / Service.
  • Create various versions of your ad copy and test them for performance.
  • Create various versions of your landing pages and test them for performance
  • Experiment with your keywords, ditch low performing keywords and push the high performing ones.

Comparison shopping engine marketing:

  • Comparison engines only work for branded and or mainstream products people use them to find the cheapest price for a specific brand / model product.  If you’re selling unbranded products you could be wasting your time listing on comparison sites.
  • Comparison site aren’t too dissimilar to using a PPC network but they tend to be very targeted, clicks from comparison sites generally yield very good conversion rates.
  • Test the market with your best selling products.
  • Learn how to prepare a data feeds or find someone who can.  Comparison sites normally accept a text file, CSV file, Excel file or some form data file prepared in the form of a list of products formatted in a particular way.
  • Obviously populate all required and recommend fields but also populate as many optional fields as possible.  The more data you provide the more comprehensive your listings will be.
  • Don’t forget to use the exact Manufacturers Part Number MPN or SKU. This will ensure your listings are correctly displayed when searches for specific products are entered.
  • Update your data feeds regularly, weekly or monthly.  In some cases even daily updates are required if your business is fast moving and competitors keep manipulating their prices.
  • Google base is free and entries are displayed directly above the start of the natural listings in a very prominent location.  If you list your product nowhere else, take the time to list on Google Base.
  • Amazon market place also offers free listing but will charge you a percentage of the sales total (percentage based on what category your products fall into).  It’s worth mentioning that there are no credit card processing costs with Amazon sales, they take all the money and forward it straight to your bank account once a month (less their percentage of course)
  • Remove out of stock products as soon as possible.
  • Deep-link your listings so your potential customers are taken directly to the relevant product page.
  • Analyse all statistics and remove any poor performing products.
  • Analyse your comparison site competition, if other merchants are undercutting you or have promotional offers that undermine your listings, you may want to try and compete.

Customer support & service:

  • Give your customers an exceptional service.
  • Give your customer as many ways to contact you as possible and respond to all customers contact in a professional timely manner.
  • Use a Freephone or toll free number. It’s well reported that offering free calls can increase sales contact by up to 30%.
  • Make sure the person who takes the sale call has been properly trained and knows the products inside out and backwards.
  • Display your contact information on all the pages of your websites
  • Some customers will rub you up the wrong way.  Remain courteous and polite however ignorant the customer may be.  If it makes you feel better swear about them after you put the phone down.

Starting an Internet Business

Have you ever fancied yourself as an internet entrepreneur.  There is a general misconception that building an internet business is a simple case of designing a website and waiting for the money to roll in. The honest fact is:

Building a website is easy, building a successful internet business is far more challenging!

You could be forgiven for thinking that it’s relatively straightforward to build an internet business, there are plenty of high profile success stories involving internet related businesses and there are plenty of people out there who make considerable online incomes.  Consumer internet spending has risen to over $45bn, this figure has risen year on year since the internet was founded and everything suggests that online spending will continue to grow for the foreseeable future.

The internet is changing the way we live and as I have mentioned in previous posts it levels the playing field somewhat, giving small businesses the opportunity to compete and win business from major corporations. The question is just how simple is it to get a new internet business off the ground?

Business planning
The first thing any prospective entrepreneur should do is write a business plan. Ideally your business plan will be a concise, clearly written document outlining your business objectives: 

Consider your product, how much is your product going to cost, how much do you intend to sell it for, calculate your profit margin.  Estimate your indirect expenses packing and delivery cost, advertising and marketing, light heat and power internet hosting, telephone etc. etc. etc. Will you still make a profit after all these costs are factored in?

Consider your competition and how can you create a competitive edge. How can compete with them in the same market place and how you can be better, cheaper, or provide a value added service that will encourage potential customers to spend their hard earned money with you.

Consider your customers, who are they, where do they live, what age groups do they belong to, what social groups are they likely to be involved in. Once you know who your customers are, consider how you plan to retain your customers and keep them coming back for more.

Consider how you plan to market yourself to your target customer.  What forums and websites do they visit, what keywords do they type to find the information they look for.

Consider all the start up costs involved in getting your business started and if required where you think you may be able to secure the funding.

Establishing your market
You must establish that there is a market for your business concept, is there a genuine interest in your product / service.  Start-up businesses need to establish a niche or a competitive edge something that defines them from the competition.

Financing
Raising finance is particularly difficult given the current economic climate but there are several financing options available to business owners. For many companies, funds may be required from several different sources.

Bank finance by way of a loan or overdraft can ultimately be less expensive than the sale of shares or equity in your company.  However, equity investment is probably a better proposition for companies who don’t want to increase borrowing or are unable to provide the necessary security.

With equity investment there are two options “business angels” or venture capitalists. Business angels are ‘high net worth’ individuals who look for high potential, fast gowing businesses who want to raise up to $250, 000. Business angels can also add value with a wealth business advice and a rolodex of useful contacts. Venture capitalists don’t usually get involved until your dealing in figures of over $2,000,000 – they will usually expect to see a return on their investment within a three year period.

There are normally some government backed funding or small business grants that can be applied for.  The availability of these funds are continually changing so it may be worth doing some research to see if there are government funding options available to you when you start your business.

A lot of small businesses finance themselves using a mixture of credit card debt and loans from friends and family.  In my opinion these are both high-risk strategies, before using either of these options, consider why you have not been able to raise money using more traditional methods.  If knowledgeable business financers don’t think your business proposition is viable, why do you? Credit card debt is about as expensive as it gets so before opting for credit cards make sure you have your calculations correct and only use credit cards when you require very short term financing.  Accepting money from family and friends can also be very costly but from a personal point-of -view. Before you borrow money from family or friends make sure they know the terms of the loan. Always repay them when you say you’re going to or risk getting a sometime very unwelcome business partner.

Another common business error is to under finance.  If you start your business with too little funding you risk running out of cash before your venture gets a change to really take-off. 

Your website
Website development can be very costly if you don’t know where to look.  However, you can pay as little as $150 for a simple ecommerce script.  In fact OSCommerce is released under the GNU General Public License, which means it’s completely free.  There are also a multitude of website scripts and ‘off the shelf’ products that can give your website a market leading feel without spending a massive amount of your budget.  However, a little technical knowledge can go a long way when your running a internet business and if you don’t have the aptitude for technical work, my suggestion is, find someone who has and get them involved either as an employee or partner.  You can also find a wealth of knowledge on sites like Digital Point.  If your looking for something specific, something that can’t be bought ‘off the shelf’ you could consider having a site developed for you.  Take a look at getafreelancer this site has a multitude of highly skilled developers from all over the world at surprisingly reasonable prices.

Don’t forget, your website is your storefront make sure you update your website constantly.  Content is key, give your visitors a reason to keep coming back again and again.

Marketing
The various marketing options open to internet businesses are covered in many other posts that can be found on this website but it’s one area where new internet start-ups often fail.  It’s not unusual for webmasters to develop their site and just expect the orders to start streaming in.  However, the reality is you could have the best website in the world but without visitors it won’t receive a single order.

There are plenty of paid traffic services but in the early cash-cautious days really try to concentrate on the numerous ways traffic can be generated for free.

Get involved in community sites such as forums, social networking sites and blogs.  These are all great ways of introducing yourself to your potential customers without parting with a penny.  You may also find that commenting on community sites with a backlink to your website will increase your search engine standings and will thus provide you with more free traffic.

The Customer experience
Make sure your site is fast and easy for customers navigate.  Make sure the order process is straight forward, as a site with a complicated sales process is likely to leak customers. Customer information must be kept safe and potential customers should be assured that your site is data secure.  Give your customers as many ways to communicate with you as possible and where possible use toll free methods so it does not cost them anything.

Don’t give up your day job
Starting any business takes time, in my opinion this is even more the case with internet businesses as traffic momentum has to be given time to build.  So don’t hand your notice in straight away, as there may not be much in the way of income in the early days. Make sure you really like the product or market that you’re trading in.  You’re going to be spending a lot of time working with it and if it gets boring it will be difficult to maintain the passion, determination, energy and enthusiasm required to get your business off the ground.  It’s also important to be realistic. Contrary to popular belief, success on the internet is not that common and while there are many new start-ups very few make any money. That said, although building a web based business is one of the hardest things you ever do, if you make a success of it, it will be one of the most rewarding.

Reducing Business Running Expenses

Many people gloss over their cost saving practices but it really is extremely important. New and small businesses have got to find a way to create a competitive edge over bigger more established companies.  By far the easiest way to create a competitive edge is to be less expensive than they are. By meticulously analyzing every business outgoing and by being more efficient than your competitors it stands to reason that you will be able to afford to sell your products for less than they can. Never stop looking for ways to reduce expenditure, once your business is up and running, find ways to reduce your business running costs.

Shipping
Trade shipping companies off against each other, as the amount of items you dispatch increases, ask for rate reductions from your shipping company. If they will not reduce your rates, offer your business to other shipping companies. Shipping is very competitive and there are always rate saving deals to be done.

Taking Payments
Credit card payment processors consider new ventures high risk because of charge-backs and the potential that you could go out of business leaving them with warranty / guarantee claims. Consequently, you may end up paying 4% -5% of your credit card turnover to your payment gateway. The thing is, they will not reduce these rates unless you ask. As soon as you establish regular sales patterns ask for reductions in your credit card processing cost. Once again, if they refuse to reduce your rates, as long as your figures are reasonable and you don’t produce lots of chargebacks, your business can be touted around the market for a better deal.

Banking
Gone are the days when staying with your bankers will increase your credit worthiness. Bankers are far less likely to form personal relationships with their customers; computers tend to decide borrowing rates and bank charges so personal relationships are not likely to make any difference. Ask your bank for reductions in charges and borrowing rates and if not received, go elsewhere. Once again use review sites to establish which banks are doing the best business banking deals. Keep an eye on these figures and change your bank or aspects of your banking when a good deal presents itself.

For example: Pakatak makes on average three overseas money transfers per day. We were paying our bank £25 per transaction and when we asked for a reduction in our transfer costs, they refused. We decided to take the money transfer part of our banking to an FX (foreign exchange) company who now charge us just £10 per transfer. Furthermore, we fare much better in the foreign exchange rates we are given, which on average saves us a further £5-£25 per transaction. We have therefore been able to reduce this single business expense by £800-1000 per month. 

If you like the service you receive, you have built up good personal relationships and what you get represents ‘value for money’, don’t change suppliers to simply save a few quid. However, if you can equal the service levels and save a significant percentage, in many cases changing your suppliers has got to be a consideration. Business is far less personal these days, exercise your right to shop around and reduce costs wherever and whenever possible.

Accountancy
Don’t compromise on your accountant. Save money in every other way possible but a good accountant will save you the money you pay them many times over. I have seen good businesses fail on the back of poor accounting advice. I have also seen good businessmen ‘cleaned out’ and demoralized by the pursuit of the ‘tax man’ once again due to the lack of good accounting advice.

Personally, I like to have up-to-date information at all times, so when starting a business I use an accounting package from the outset. There are several accountancy packages on the market that can be purchased relatively inexpensively and the information they provide can be invaluable. Furthermore, if you get into the good practice of recording every transaction more or less as it happens, you won’t get a backlog of work to complete. The information provided can be used by your accountant and should in-turn reduce your annual bill. 

Shopping Around
Before you purchase anything shop around and try to find it for less money. There is no excuse for paying full retail price these days, the internet has opened a competitive marvel where any prospective purchase can be thoroughly researched and prices significantly reduced.

Take full advantage of the search engines and make specific searches for products using marginal search terms in the hope of turning up a non-mainstream supplier who sells the product or service for less money.

Use ebay to its full potential; while ebay and mainstream internet prices are starting to even out, ebay is still excellent for less popular consumer items. Your big brand names like Sony, Panasonic, Phillips etc, etc, don’t tend to work out a lot cheaper on ebay these days but, if you are looking for less mainstream items, there are still big savings to be made. If you’re really enthusiastic, look for auctions ending at unsociable times of the day. eBay auctions increase heavily in the last few minutes, it therefore stands to reason that prices tend to finish lower when there are less people active on the internet. Also, look for auctions that are poorly described and / or lack pictures, as long as you are familiar with the item being sold, poor descriptions and auctions without pictures tend to get overlooked or ignored by a lot of bidders.

Stock Purchases
Research your stock purchases continually, trying not to compromise on quality, look out for similar / same products at lower cost. As the amount of business you do increases ask your suppliers for discounts, they will not want to loose your business and will often oblige. Ask regular suppliers for free samples of other products in their range, most e-commerce packages make it possible to load new products in just a few minutes and you may just stumble on a new fast moving product line without spending any money.

Premises
Your premises will become one of your biggest overheads; don’t take premises until it’s absolutely necessary. If you can work from home, continue to do so for as long as possible. You already pay light, heat, power, rates, etc. running your business from home will only increase these bills by a small percentage – taking business premises duplicates all of these expenses and adds rent or mortgage repayments on top.

When it’s absolutely necessary to take premises try to find a facility that minimizes the cost exposure by perhaps renting some of the space to another business or look for a location where you may pick up some passing retail trade.

General Costs
Painstakingly analyze every business expense large, small or indifferent and ask the following questions:

  • Why did you pay the money?
  • Was the payment absolutely necessary?
  • If necessary, can the amount paid be reduced in the future?

For example: we noticed we were spending on average $80.00 per week on bubble wrap and packaging materials. We decided to buy a heavy-duty shredder that can shred cardboard. We now use the shredded paper and card in heat sealed plastic bags to pack our parcels therefore reducing the amount of bubble wrap required by 60% and at the same time reducing our waste disposal cost by 25%.

The cost saving process may seem obvious but even the best organized among us forget or put off our cost saving procedures. However, continually analyzing and reducing costs will not only dramatically increase the chances of your business succeeding but, if implemented on an already successful business, will seriously increase operating profits.

Ten Top Home Business Tips

A Home based business offers many advantages. It helps you to be financially independent and become your own boss. You can work according to your own schedule and can spend more time with your family and friends. But to be successful in your home business, you must work hard and be able to manage your time properly. As you are working from your home, distractions and family responsibilities may get in your way, which may hamper your normal work schedule.  The following are some tips which may help you to manage your time better and to be successful in your home based business:

Before starting your business, do some basic market research. Look for products which are in demand and on which people are spending money. Promote only profitable products with high commissions. But make sure that the products are of good quality and are able to solve people’s problems.

Make a detailed business plan.  The plan should show the initial investment required, the advertising techniques to be used and any other important information.  Try to stick to your plan as far as possible.

Schedule your tasks ahead of time. Set your goals for each day. Work hard and try to meet your goals. Give priority to the more important tasks. Avoid useless surfing on the internet and spend your time on more useful work. To increase productivity, try multitasking. Try to avoid all types of distractions. If necessary, try to outsource some of your jobs.

Make a separate office in your home. You can turn a spare bedroom into your office. If you do not have any room to spare, start working from your own bedroom or leaving room. But make sure that when you are working in your ‘office’, none of your family members should disturb you.

If you are running an online business or using the internet to promote your home business, you must build your own website or landing page/blog and promote them by using various internet marketing techniques.

Use email marketing. Try to build your own opt-in-list by capturing the names and email addresses of your visitors. A list will help you to communicate with your present and potential customers and to offer them your products or services. In exchange of their names and e mails, offer your visitors something of value such as, a free e book or a newsletter.

Use different social networking sites to develop your internet home business. Sites like Myspace, Facebook, Twitter etc. may be used for this.

Use different types of traffic generation strategies such as, Pay Per Click, article marketing, forum marketing, traffic exchanges etc. to drive traffic to your site.

Try to focus on one business at a time. After you become successful in one business, you may branch out to others.

If you want to build a successful home business, make sure to have enough capital to sustain the business for the first six months. Any income during the first six months must be reinvested into the business to make it grow.

Is it a good time to start in ecommerce

Some would say that the middle of the worst economic crisis the world has seen for three decades is a very poor time to start any business. Especially a retail business when retail sales have been particularly hard hit by the current downturn.

However, I would say there are some arguments for giving it some consideration.

Existing businesses can’t easily change the business sector they operate in. However, some business sectors are still very buoyant, by starting your business now, you have the opportunity to choose a sector that is still seeing a steady flow of business.

People still need their every day items and during recessions people still tend to purchase the same / similar products but try to buy them for less. Any retailer that targets the value for money conscious will do well in a depressed market.

Even the most frugal among us still feel the need to pamper ourselves on occasions, affordable luxuries tend to do well in recessions

Recessions create a ‘buyers markets’. This means suppliers are far more receptive to new business leads and potentially you may be able to source many of the items required to start your business for considerable less money. Recessions also create a lull the job market, which means if you require staff for your business, high quality applicants are readily available often for much lower salaries. The poor employment climate also creates employee commitment due to nervousness in the security of their job. Employees in hard times tend to be more committed and are more likely to tolerate the sparse facilities often found in a start-up environment.

Hard times force everybody to be more frugal, being frugal is a very important factor of running any new venture. Starting your business with these ethics will mean you are far more likely to carry them on even when the market begins to come out of recession

Probably the most important factor for success in hard times is the drive and enthusiasm on the part of the business owner. Devotion and willingness will keep customers returning over and over again, irrespective of the underlying economic climate.

Why consumers use the internet

It is important to understand why the average consumer uses the internet to make a purchase. Consumers are driven by the follow factors when shopping on-line:

77% – Saving Money / lower prices
55% – Convenience / no travel
47% – More choice and variety – access to products from all over the world
18% – New and Exciting way to shop

Poor customer service, lack of product information and risk of fraud are cited as the main reasons consumers are reluctant to shop on the internet.  Repeat internet business, according to the Forrester Group, is motivated by a completely different set of factors, which are as follows:

75% – Quality of content
68% – Ease of use
59% – Speed of the site
45% – Customer support and ease of contact
14% – Incentives of coupons
13% – Availability of branded products

Once again poor customer service and poor communication are cited as the main reasons the consumer looked elsewhere when making a similar subsequent purchase.

You need to use this knowledge when building your site, for example: the above information tells us that you could lose almost 60% of your returning customers simply because your site is not fast enough. So making sure your site is well optimised for speed and hosted on fast infrastructure will significantly increase your repeat sales.

Small Is Often Beautiful

small_businessSmall companies can compete with the big companies on the internet. With creative website design, good planning and a well thought out strategy a small company can create a big company identity.  Many large companies have struggled on the internet where small businesses have succeeded. The nice thing about retailing on the internet is; It’s not all a question of budget, it’s the creative ideas used to construct and promote your site. The fact is the customer has no idea how big your company is! We started and ran several of our early ventures from a garage and managed to compete and pick up sales over bigger companies with massive advertising budgets.

Don’t be afraid of change – embrace it! Small companies need to be prepared to change direction and re-invent themselves. This should be considered a strength where smaller companies can quickly revise product lines and follow seams of revenue when they are discovered. Actively seek change; several ventures that we have been involved in would no longer be trading if we had not revised the business model.

Imagine if you sold and repaired video recorders, if you were not prepared to re-train and learn how to sell and repair DVD players you would no longer be in business. Being prepared to adapt to changes in the market however subtle, is very important and making these changes faster than the bigger companies is the small traders competitive edge. Big companies have armies of managers, bureaucracy, red tape and mountains of stock to slow them down.

Delegation & Outsourcing

delegationThe delegation of tasks is not always easy, especially when you’re just starting out in business.  Finding good staff, contractors and tradesmen is difficult and there is the obvious financial downside over doing it yourself.  However, it’s important to know your limitations, you maybe well suited to complete some jobs / tasks, others you may not.  Building a business is a time consuming process and requires many different skills. Believing that you can do it all without any help may well be a mistake, especially if you are considering building an internet based business.

Technical people don’t always make great entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs aren’t always good technicians. Understanding what you are good at and hiring people to complete the jobs that you will find difficult is key to your business success.

Running an internet based business will definitely involve its fair share of technical work and anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is not being entirely honest.  As we will discuss in later posts, there are ways of contracting technical work out to highly technical personnel without paying a fortune.  In the meantime some of the resourses you can use are as follows:

http://www.guru.com
http://www.getafreelancer.com

Running an online business will also involve some, if not all, of the below tasks on a daily basis. If your time is tight, you will need to identify people to complete the jobs you least want to do yourself.

Accounts – process all information as it occurs preferably into an accounting package
Paying Suppliers – make sure you pay anyone who is willing to give you credit in a timely fashion
Chasing Customer Payments – hopefully rare on the internet but any account customers have to be chased for outstanding money owed
Finding New Products – using the techniques and searching the locations mentioned later in this publication, you need to be on the constant lookout for new product lines
Placing Product Orders and Dealing with Suppliers – you need to be on top of your stock situation; running out of stock can create some major headaches
Adding Products – new product lines will need to be added to your e-commerce software
Answering Support E-mails – check your support inbox regularly and answer support questions as fast as possible
Answering Support Phone Calls – if you provide a support phone number answer the calls in a timely and professional manner
Taking Sales Phone Calls – if you provide a sales phone number, again, answer the calls in a timely and professional manner
Promoting Your Site – the promotion of a website is an ongoing process, you need to allocate several of your time units each day to the techniques outlined later in this document concerning the on-line marketing of your website
Packaging and Sending Parcels – make sure you package and ship the goods to your customers as fast as possible, customers love receiving their orders quickly
Checking Statistics – check your traffic statistics daily for changes in traffic flow and number of sales. This may highlight a problem with your site or a potential money earner, being on top of your statistics will allow you to react quickly to good or bad customer sentiment.

  • Entrepreneurs have the creative ideas and the vision that start and continue to run a successful business.
  • Managers organize and administrate.
  • Technicians do the skilled jobs that require knowledge or a skill to complete.
  • Production personnel do the semi-skilled and the repetitive and mundane work.

Most business models will require elements of all four; to begin with you will probably have to try your hand at most things. However, it’s very important that the managerial, technical and production aspects of the work don’t suppress your entrepreneurial spirit.

If the entrepreneurial presence is suppressed the vital creative ideas essential to a small business in an ever-changing market, will no longer be forthcoming.  Decide as early as possible the everyday tasks you are suited to complete and ones you are not. Look for ways to delegate the tasks you are not suited to complete to third parties, do not try and complete all the work by yourself.

Ultimately, your business should run in spite of you, not because of you. Building businesses that run and make money without your everyday presence will leave you and your entrepreneurial spirit free to build further businesses. When you write your business plan, plan to make yourself dispensable within a three-year period. Obviously, you may still be required to make strategic and direction decisions together with some managerial input so you can influence the continued growth of your venture.  But ultimately over time your business should still function without your everyday involvement!

In the past I made the mistake of becoming too involved in the daily operation of my businesses.  The problem is, you can be too busy making a living to make any real money.  Furthermore, in extreme cases it can seriously effect your quality of living and I have personally fallen into the trap of working 18 hour days, trying to personally complete all the jobs involved in running a business.  Decide early to contract the help of other people to do the work you don’t want to do.

Time Management

time_managementDo you ever wake up in the morning overwhelmed by the amount you would like to achieve and at the end of the day feel under-whelmed by what you have actually managed to complete? If this is the case you could probably benefit from a good time management process.

I recommend the use of lists; list all the tasks you would like to achieve and then give each task a priority based on how important it is that you finish the job.

Using a unit measure of say 30 minutes (1 unit = 30 minutes) give each task in your list an estimated unit value based on how long you think the task will take to complete. If your work consists of lots a small tasks like phone calls or trades you may wish to use a smaller unit of time (i.e. 1 unit = 15 minutes)

Try to break down tasks with large unit values into smaller easy to complete sub-tasks. I normally work with a maximum unit value of ‘5-Units’ or 2.5 hours

You also need to establish how many hours of the day and how many days of the week you can commit to your work. This will give you the average number of units in your working week. Try to build-in some contingency units, unexpected things can always crop-up and it’s important not to fall behind on your schedule. Also, try to be realistic about how long tasks are going to take, underestimating the time a task is going to take and falling behind on your schedule can be both frustrating and demoralizing.

Some e-mail applications like Outlook have built-in task management applications, where possible use these facilities to keep on-top and up to date with your workload.

Get Your Finances In Order

financesEssentially, what makes a company successful is the same whether you operate on the internet, on the high street or out of a spare room in your house.  We have spent years trying to work out what makes successful people successful. Single-minded determination and a willingness to knuckle down and do some hard work are important characteristics. However, the most disturbing fact I have discovered is that generally speaking, being successful often involves forgoing some of the things success will ultimately bring.

Unless you have a mountain of cash behind you, being frugal is key to the success of your business venture, living a life of fast cars, large houses, casinos, partying, night-clubbing and chasing the opposite sex is not conducive to building a successful business. You must look for ways to conserve your money in both your business dealings and your personal expenditure. Before starting your business find ways to minimize your personal out-goings, so in the important early stages of your venture you can reduce the personal drawings you need to take from your business.

If you would like tips on reducing personal expenditure, the below site is packed with great money saving advice:

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