The Pandemic Economy Has Made Ecommerce More Indispensable Than Ever
The failure rate for small businesses is notoriously high, but it gets a bit easier when recruiting customers from online channels.
If a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, then large orders can propel your business a hundred steps forward.
All businesses will eventually have a digital footprint. For now, 40 percent of small firms don't have a website, and 38 percent don't use social media, according to a 2019 survey by Visual Objects, a portfolio website. That won't fly in a struggling economy, therefore entrepreneurs must maximize sales, traffic and referrals.
Ignoring ecommerce or social media makes survival that much harder. In April, the U.S. savings rate shot up to 33 percent, the highest level since the 1960s. But as Americans hoard cash and curb spending, startups must vie for less cash being spent. Consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of the U.S. economy.
The failure rate for small businesses is notoriously high, but it gets a bit easier when a solopreneur gets customers from ecommerce, Google, Amazon, Facebook, Instagram and other online channels, in addition to brick-and-mortar. Digital platforms diversify revenue streams and de-risk a startup, and they can increase enterprise value if a company or investor buys the venture down the road.
Here are tips for establishing an online business presence.
Search your business
A digital footprint enables you to build a fanbase that likes and shares content, as well as promote your brand to loved ones. Google your brand as if you're a customer seeking a local good or service. What search results appear? Try multiple and hyperlocal keywords. For instance, you can type, "Miami-Dade County vegan pizza" or, "South San Francisco dog walkers." Investigate your niche on YouTube and other large platforms to see the results.
Right from the start, think about how your business fits those search results. You want to be using the same keywords that will drive customers to your business as well. However, also think about how your business differs. To keep customers returning, offer something a little extra. Perhaps your dog-walking business also offers pup sleepovers if necessary, complimentary back massage for pooches included.
Finally, think of your website as a virtual store. This means that your website is a salesperson, and as such, it should be easy to communicate with, offer all the necessary information and not confuse or misguide. If your site id user-friendly, both search engines and your visitors will love it.
Even if you have not registered your business on Yelp or other digital platforms, chances are you will find some traces of it online. Perhaps that will be a lone posting on some of the review sites, an entry on Google Maps or a mention of your pizza parlor in a travel blogger's post. This is your chance to capitalize on any positive feedback, or to mitigate the negative.
In the past few months, Domain.ME has seen a significant increase in the number of registered domain names and, ultimately, new websites, across the internet, noting that ecommerce websites are up by more than 85 percent.
Standardize across channels
Ask these questions: How are nearby competitors positioning themselves? Are they advertising on Google, Facebook or Instagram? Are they selling on Amazon? What keywords are they targeting? And are they paying for testimonials on YouTube?
As you publish information on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other channels, you'll need to standardize content everywhere. It's what marketers call "omnichannel optimization," where a user's journey is seamless across each platform.
You want to make sure that your username, logo, short bio and a website link are the same on all channels, as this will make your brand more recognizable. Think about it — after scrolling for a while, you stop paying close attention to that small profile photo and username, but you still know who shared that awesome post just by its overall tone and feel.
This also means posting photos, phone numbers, sending email newsletters, landing pages, operating hours, sales funnels, customer service, maps and directions and other helpful information in a way that makes a consumer relate to your brand.
"If you're extremely good at a niche, that can potentially bring huge opportunities as you scale," says Jaiden Vu, founder of Black Peached, a Canada-based sales consultancy that takes businesses online. "If you bake the best vegan pizza in Miami, a multinational company may offer a licensing deal, or offer to buy the proprietary recipe or even acquire the startup. That won't happen overnight, but don't underestimate the power of reach if you've built a truly special product or service."
Showcase your best-selling items
What's your claim to fame? What's your best talent? And what do you sell that customers love most? A digital presence removes borders and geographic barriers, and therefore it's key to place your best foot forward. Solopreneurs can leverage a regional or global logistics network to sell almost anywhere. Thus, it becomes crucial to bring awareness to items that faraway prospects will love.
The critical success factors for online ventures are having an outstanding product, memorable brand and fan engagement. Even if a startup only caters to hyperlocal patrons, word of mouth can spread like wildfire and create demand from other parts of a city or state. Even national and international customers can order online (if you set up a web-checkout process) and send unexpected sales your way. It only takes one or two large clients to exponentially scale a startup into a medium-sized enterprise.
A great way to channel word of mouth is to share the reviews on the website, but also those from your social media pages. People trust people. Don't hesitate to show you customers using and loving your products.
These days, ecommerce must be integrated with social media. Younger shoppers are social addicts. For example, 90 percent of millennials use social compared to 48 percent for baby boomers. Once a startup appeals to followers, it can get a ton of free, crowd-sourced marketing, because fans will rave about you through photo captions, discussion boards, forums, interviews, tweets, blogs and news articles. Users love to snap photos of food, destinations, exotic merchandise and clothing. Take advantage.
Data-informed content is king
Getting the distribution channels just right for that perfect omnichannel presence comes first. From there, you need to have compelling content to share. Your customers want to feel safe when they scroll through the content living on your Instagram, for example.
It's important that small businesses create content that removes confusion so customers can stay up to date with COVID-19 regulations and guidelines. When establishing an online presence for the first time, it's more effective to use social proof to demonstrate a strong commitment to customer and community safety.
Keep it manageable
In the early stages, entrepreneurs are known to work six or seven days a week since there's much operational and logistical demand and so few waking hours. Much of online presence revolves around marketing, so don't let it get out of hand, as you must continue to manage other aspects of the business and satisfy customers by procuring exceptional goods.
Many owners hire a social media manager to delegate routine tasks such as writing blogs, posting pics and replying to comments. However, an email list is a gold mine for reaching prospects and customers who have already shown interest in your products and services, and it brings recurring revenue from continuous appeal. An ecommerce manager should also ensure that the website loads fast, and that customers can pay easily and leave contact info for promotions and deals.
Another important factor that can be a deal maker or a deal breaker are delivery options. Make sure you have several delivery options and that the terms and pricing are transparent, including what happens if a product gets damaged on the way or if the customer wants to make returns. Knowing you have already taken care of this can help build trust.
Business owners are facing challenges because of the lockdown and historic economic downturn. However, the pandemic offers an opportunity to discover new channels for selling products, and to explore creative ways of reaching audiences. If you've got awesome goods, you'll get buyers.
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