The eCommerce space is fiercely competitive, getting up and running and carving out a space for yourself is a huge achievement. But staying still means getting left behind. As your business develops you’ll need to step up a gear to stay competitive.
It means moving out of your comfort zone, facing new challenges, and developing new skills.
Thankfully, you don’t have to do it alone. There is a wealth of expertise on hand to guide you on your journey to eCommerce success.
This piece will provide you with practical small business tips to take some of the pain out of moving up to the next level.
eCommerce Tips for Small Business Owners: Overview
Just like every successful business, eCommerce companies need to grow to survive.
However, the path to growth is a little different if you generate most of your revenue online and there are specific things that you should keep in mind when scaling.
In this piece we’ll cover how to:
- Set Specific Goals
- Keep focused on your niche, even as you expand into new areas
- Develop a multichannel marketing strategy
- Use ERP software to lighten your load
- Keep your customers front and center as you grow
- Map out your sales funnel
Signs Your Small Business eCommerce Operation Is Growing
Whether you’ve just set up shop as a small business owner or you’re a seasoned pro, your business is constantly changing and evolving, But knowing exactly what’s going on underneath the hood can be hard for eCommerce entrepreneurs. In a traditional brick and mortar store, it’s easy to see if you need to expand – you won’t have space for all the customers coming through your door! But if you’re running an online store, trends can be a little trickier to spot.
Here are some tell-tale growing pains:
- Customer management gets harder – You’re generating more traffic, resulting in more customers. Great! But tracking all these new visitors and organizing an enlarged customer base can be a drain on resources.
- Warehousing and fulfillment are increasingly complex – More customers means more orders to ship. If you’re shipping nationwide, or even internationally, order routing and inventory management pose a much bigger logistical challenge than a self-fulfillment operation.
- Your marketing is harder to coordinate – If you’re attracting people from a range of channels, making sure they’re receiving the right messaging at the right time – and doing this at scale – can quickly become too complicated to handle if you’re relying on the same marketing methods that you used in the first phase of running a small business.
Small Business Tips for Scaling Your eCommerce Business
If you recognize some or all of these pain points, then it’s likely you have an expanding eCommerce business. But how do you make the transition to operating at scale smoother? How can you approach operating on a bigger canvas as efficiently as possible and maximize your returns?
Tip 1: Set Specific Goals
Goals are crucial to success in business, they’re what’s got you where you are today. To take it to the next level you’ll need to maintain a laser focus on your targets. But the goals you set yourself when you were just starting out are very different from the ones you’ll need to scale your business.
To take it to the next level you’ll need to:
- Take a step back and make a high-level assessment of where you are. Make a SWOT analysis: What are your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats? Write all this down so you can see what’s working well and what you need to improve.
- Once you know where the areas that need attention are, work out a realistic timeframe to go from where you are now to where you want to be.
- Then think about how you can break this down, with achievable goals along the way. Achievable means something you have control of. Instead of saying ‘I want to double my revenue in 6 months’, try ‘I want to run three email marketing campaigns in the next 3 months’.
- Now you can break this down even further into smaller, single steps: If you want to run a new marketing campaign, what steps can you take this week to make it happen? What can you do today to move the needle?
Tip 2: Keep focused on your niche, even as you expand into new areas
Finding the thing you excel at and honing your skills in that area is what will differentiate you from the rest of the market. Customers recognize enthusiasm and expertise when they see it: It’s what brought them to your virtual door in the first place.
But when you’re looking to expand your business, the danger is that you will do it in ways that make you too much of a generalist. If you want to increase the number of your product lines, don’t just look over your shoulder at what’s selling well on other stores. Instead, think about things that compliment your existing business.
Doing this is a combination of creativity and research.
If you’re an Amazon merchant, you can use tools like Jungle Scout to find out what’s selling well. Make a list of popular products, then flitter it by category to produce a list that’s highly relevant to your business.
Tip 3: Develop a multichannel marketing strategy
Up until this point, relying solely on Facebook or Instagram might have been enough to bring customers to your store. But if you are serious about expanding, you’ll need to broaden your efforts to reach a wider audience.
We’ve put together this thorough introduction to multichannel marketing (which includes an explainer on how it differs from omnichannel and cross-channel).
But simply put, multichannel means using several separate online avenues to market your business. For small businesses without huge advertising budgets, the areas that are likely to generate the best ROI are:
- Social media marketing – One of the biggest benefits is that you can be highly targeted. If you do your research and work out exactly who your target customers are, using paid ads and/or growing organic traffic is a powerful way to drive traffic to your site.
- Email marketing – Email is so familiar (some might even say boring!) that it often gets overlooked. But it is an incredibly reliable way to engage customers and build brand loyalty. Consider automating your email campaigns to achieve greater efficiency.
- SEO – If you’re working on a tight budget, producing content that your customers will find valuable, and using that content to boost your search rankings, is one of the most value for money marketing activities you can do.
Finding the optimal marketing strategy and keeping track of messaging gets harder the more customers you have and the more channels you’re communicating with them on.
Fortunately, eCommerce software can automate many marketing tasks, at the same time as centralizing your marketing, customers, and inventory, so you never lose track of where you’re up to with each customer or accidentally send out marketing content that promotes out of stock items.
Tip 4: use ERP software to lighten your load
As you grow, you’ll be selling to more customers. If you’re based online, those customers will be spread over a wide geographical area. You’ll have to cover more ground with your shipping operation and will need to take things like time differences, currency conversions, and international shipping fees into account.
It can be a big jump for a small business. If you’re trying to keep track of this expanded order routing and shipping operation yourself with cobbled together spreadsheets and databases it can soon get out of control.
Modern, flexible ERP software can help small eCommerce businesses organize their shipping and warehouse operations, automating many backroom processes and leaving you free to concentrate on other aspects of scaling your business.
Tip 5: Keep your customers front and center as you grow
Automating as many backend processes as possible is the logical thing to do, but when it comes to the customer-facing parts of your business, do a careful analysis before switching to automation software.
There are plenty of tools that can streamline your day-to-day operations, and many of them are worth the investment. But make sure you test how it will impact your customers.
Relying on automated messages to deal with customer inquiries and complaints might save you time initially, but customers prefer interaction with a real human being over a chatbot when it comes to customer service.
Not all companies take the time to do this, so if you strike a balance between automation and quality customer care you’ll stand out from the crowd. Going the extra mile for your customers, combined with a systematic approach to after-sales care and follow-up will earn you their respect and loyalty.
In a sales environment where social proof and customer reviews are decisive factors, getting excellent feedback is crucial. As your business expands, you’ll need to keep those positive reviews stacking up. Knowing who your customers are, what they bought, and when they bought it will give you an excellent starting point from which to generate the online feedback you need.
Tip 6: Map out your sales funnel
If you’ve been taking some of the steps laid out here, you’ll be starting to attract a new layer of customers.
Having a clear picture of your sales funnel and where your customers sit in it will help you work out who these new customers are.
The people who find you via Google searches will be at a different position in the funnel to those who revisit your site after an email nudge.
There are three main sections to the sales funnel:
- TOFU (Top of Funnel) – Customers that are not ready to buy yet. They are just becoming aware of who you are, and are looking for ways to solve their pain points.
- MOFU (Middle of Funnel) – Customers that are aware of who you are and what you offer, and are weighing up a purchase.
- BOFU (Bottom of funnel) – Customers who have all the information they need to make a purchase.
These stages are also referred to as the awareness, consideration, and decision stages.
If you’re having trouble seeing how this can apply to your business, Google Analytics is a great place to start. GA will show you where site visitors are coming from and how they behave on your site. It will let you see how customers are moving through the buying journey and what the drop-offs and points of friction are.
Using analytics tools can help you to build a sales funnel in a very practical way, showing you how changes to your store impact the customer experience and affect conversions.
As you grow, even small percentage changes can add up to big increases in sales.
Tip 7: Don’t stop believing
You’ve already achieved so much by getting an eCommerce business off the ground, now you need to take it to the next level. These eCommerce small business tips will hopefully provide a solid starting point on your journey.
Wherever you take your store next, remember that if you were afraid of a challenge you wouldn’t be a small business owner in the first place. With a bit of research and hard work, and smart choices, you’ll be able to grow and build a successful business.