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Strengthen Your Online Biz Trying to improve your bottom line? Put these three proven strategies to work for your e-commerce operation.

By Derek Gehl

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Do you have a business plan? A list of goals that sets out justwhat you want to do with your business and how you're going todo it? Because if you expect to attain any measure of businesssuccess, I can't stress enough the importance of having awell-constructed business plan.

And it can't just be a static plan. It should be one thatyou review regularly, along with a close examination of yourwebsite's traffic stats and sales figures. This approach willallow you to spot new profitable opportunities, identify and helpsolve problems, and incorporate new goals and strategies into yourbusiness--like the three we're going to cover below.

A thorough review of your business is really the best way toensure you accomplish your main business objectives for theyear--whether that's to generate a certain amount of profits orto launch a new product.

At this point, I should say that if you don't have abusiness plan, you should create one now!

You should always be planning different ways to improve yoursuccess and get more profits in your pocket. That's whyit's so important to develop a business plan and set achievablegoals--it's your road map to success and a beefier bankbalance! With that said, let's jump right into the threestrategies that are hands-down the best plan for making this yourmost profitable year yet.

Key Strategy #1: Improve your sales process and convert moretraffic into sales. Do you get regular traffic on your site?Once your visitors get to your site, how long do they stay? Howmany of them buy?

The best way to improve your sales process is to start bylooking at your website's stats. These are a goldmine ofpriceless nuggets of information, like how much traffic your siteis getting, how people travel through your site, which pages arethe most popular, and where your visitors are coming from.

By analyzing these stats--and looking at them alongside yoursales figures and online promotions--you can work out such thingsas what proportion of your traffic is being converted into sales,and which promotions or online campaigns are working better thanothers.

You'll then find yourself with a much clearer picture ofyour business overall--and a good idea of what you need to change,improve, or build on.

If your site stats show good traffic levels but low salesfigures, then you need to tighten up your sales process. Reviewboth your sales letter and your order form--even just a few tweakscan make a huge difference. Try these tips:

Your sales letter. If people are leaving your websitefrom the sales page without clicking through to the order form,then the sales letter is simply not doing its job to convincevisitors to buy your products or service.

In this case, it's time for a sales letter tune-up. Firststop: your headline. Make sure it's compelling, will resonatewith your target market, and contains the main benefit of yourproducts or service.

Then ensure that your body copy builds your credibility, focuseson the benefits--not the features--of your products or service, andincludes testimonials and a strong guarantee.

Another quick fix is to make sure your P.S. reinforces the mainsales messages. (Remember, many people only read theheadline and the P.S.)

Finally, make sure you include a strong call to action. Itshould state exactly what you want the prospect to do next, howthey can do it, and that you want them to do it now! It's thebridge between your sales letter and your order form. Which leadsme to. . .

Your order form. If your website's stats show thatpeople are abandoning your site at the order form stage withoutplacing an order, there may be something wrong with your form. Isit too complicated? Does it have a different "look" fromthe rest of your site? Are there links on the order page to otherwebsites or other pages on your site?

First, you must make sure your order process and the form itselfare easy to understand. To help people follow the process, providea step-by-step guide that leads customers through the orderingprocess, spelling out such things as how to fill the form out, howthe product will be shipped, when their credit card will becharged, and so on.

This information could be on the order form itself, thusallowing a buyer to read it as they complete the relevant steps.The form itself should have a simple layout with all theinformation fields arranged in a logical, easy-to-follow sequence.Use the "KISS" principle: "Keep It Simple,Stupid!"

As much as possible, the order form page should have the samelook as the rest of your site. Keep it clear and uncluttered--thereshould never be other distractions on the page like images,irrelevant copy, advertising or links to other sites that takecustomers away from your site. You want them to focus on fillingout the relevant information.

It's also a good idea to reassure people that they'remaking a safe, secure purchase when they access your order form, bysaying something like, "Welcome to our secure online orderform."

Key Strategy #2: Offer a "backend" productthat's an easy sell to your existing customers. Statisticsshow that 30 percent of your existing customers will buy from youagain. It makes sense: You've already done a lot of the hardwork--establishing your credibility and proving that you run areputable business that gives your customers what they want. Sooffering another complementary product to existing customers can bea great way to boost your profits without eating into yourmarketing budget.

A backend product can be any one of a number of things. Forexample, if your site sells cameras, other products you mightconsider selling could include:

  • An add-on to your existing product, such as a different lensfor a camera

  • A relevant informational product, like an e-book containingphotography tips

  • A complementary product, such as a camera bag

Sit down and brainstorm a list of products related to yourexisting product line that you think your market might beinterested in. And remember, the key to discovering new productsthat your customers would be interested in is to identify problemsthat your customers have and then come up with a product or servicethat solves these problems for them. Always read and keep anyfeedback or comments you receive from your customers--positive andnegative. You can also solicit feedback through a customer surveyor questionnaire to help you figure out what they need.

In addition, you should constantly be assessing the needs ofyour target market by reading the publications they read, andvisiting the websites, online forums and blogs they visit. Anddon't forget to check out your competitors' sites! They canbe a goldmine of information.

When you've found a suitable product, introducing it to yourexisting customers is easy. You already have their contactinformation, so you can simply e-mail them a promotion highlightingthe problem they have and explaining how your new product orservice will solve it.

You can even use customer feedback as a selling point, by sayingsomething like, "I've listened to the feedback andcomments I get from my customers, and can now offer you a product Ijust know you're going to love."

Key Strategy #3: Set up an affiliate program to drive moretraffic to your site and boost your sales. How would you liketo have a network of other people to do your selling for you? In anutshell, that's what an affiliate program is. An affiliate issomeone who promotes your product on their website in return for acommission on every sale they send your way.

There are a number of reasons why you should considerimplementing this strategy for your business:

  • It can drive much more traffic to your site.

  • There are zero advertising costs--affiliates do all of theirown marketing.

  • There's no risk to you, since you only pay your affiliatesafter they've made the sale.

  • You gain exposure to new target markets through the e-maillists and websites of your affiliates.

The fact is, affiliate programs are one of the most powerfulways to market your business, and almost every product or servicewill be much more successful if you offer an affiliate program forit. I know, because at The Internet Marketing Center, we'vemade millions since we first started our affiliate program--wegenerated $2 million last year alone!

You can locate affiliates by putting a page on your site thatinvites people to apply and by approaching sites you think have asimilar target audience.

Starting and managing an affiliate program can be done one oftwo ways--you can go through a provider or do it yourself. Using aprovider can be very expensive, so it's well worth looking intomanaging the program yourself.

If you do it yourself, affiliate software like AssocTRAC isavailable to manage the whole process, from tracking affiliatesales right through to paying commissions. An affiliate program isa highly effective strategy for generating swarms of new trafficand multiplying your sales with minimal effort and cost on yourpart.

Final Thoughts

It doesn't matter whether you're making $100,000 or$1,000 a year from your Internet business, or whether you sellkettles or sports cars--all three of these strategies will work foryour business. I know, because I've used them all and continueto use them, and I can tell you in no uncertain terms that theywork.

But any strategy is guaranteed to be more effective if you spendsome time every so often reviewing your business plan, setting newbusiness goals, and taking a close look at your web stats and otherareas of your business where you could make improvements.

Carrying out a regular business review is just like giving yourcar a regular check-up-you just need to stick your head under thehood of your business now and then to make sure everything'srunning smoothly.

And whether it's adding new parts or just making a fewtweaks here and there, you can always find ways to make it runbetter.

Derek Gehl is the CEO of the InternetMarketing Center, an internet marketing firm that has helpedthousands of people learn to start and run their own onlinebusinesses.

Derek Gehl is the CEO of the Internet Marketing Center, an internet marketing firm that has helped thousands of people learn to start and run their own online businesses. IMC hosts a new Search Marketing Lab Forum, where members have their strategy questions answered by search marketing specialists.

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