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How to build a million $ e-commerce business with minimal marketing budget While the biggest benefit in an online business is data, the biggest mistake is to not use it.

By Bharat Sethi

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I started working on PosterGully in May 2012 with savings of less than Rs 1 lakh. Since then, experimenting with tons of innovative, cost effective and outrageous marketing strategies, we've seen over 3.5 million unique users, shipped 350K+ products and helped 1800+ artists get visibility and sell their unique designs on a variety of products online. In the process, we've raised $200K from some of the most prolific angel investors and built a stellar team.

The beauty of Internet businesses is that it provides every business with marketing opportunities at par with its larger competitors. If you're able to comprehend your customer better, you can compete fair and square with companies burning millions of dollars on paid advertising.

When I started out, there was often little or no marketing budget and every month we had to innovate to come up with a unique marketing strategy. It is critically important to be lean and spread that frugal mindset like a virus in your team. I started out by keeping my overheads super low — working from my terrace on days, nights and weekends. Retaining only hustlers and growth hackers in every department has helped us be profitable, autonomous and efficient throughout.

Our real growth has come from our team's willingness to execute unique, simple and sometimes disruptive marketing ideas like these. We use social media platforms extensively to identify our best brand ambassadors and then include them in our marketing strategy. Our small team is able to get 10x the reach and results we could attain with traditional marketing gimmicks.

Here are a few simple hacks you can use to grow your online business:

Stay on top of SEO

As your space gets visibility and me-too businesses compete with your product categories, SEO will not only help you get organic traffic but also build brand authority. In the current scenario, it is more important than ever, to stay on top of SEO in order to stand out from the competition. It is imperative to be able to understand how your target market communicates within their circles, where they hang out, their changing preferences, and what they're tending to become.

By making a list of common and not-so common keywords your customers are likely to use, you can generate an extremely relevant keyword list, which you can use to get discovered on search engines, generate content ideas and new opportunities. This exercise should be a regular affair as it helps you to modify site content and generate more inbound traffic.

Emphasize on exclusivity

Very few business models can actually enjoy this luxury. This could be done in the form of an exclusive distribution deal, cultivating your own brand, or buy the entire stock available in your region. This is where brands can leverage the human desire — wanting only what you CAN'T have. When FOMO is rightly placed, you're able to create an air of exclusivity and a sense of importance also settles in.

Brand evangelism

As most of you are aware, nothing speeds up a purchase decision more than word-of-mouth publicity from a trusted source. Your happiest customers are the ones most likely to be talking about your brand to their networks. Make sure you reward them for their enthusiasm and loyalty. Sometimes, it's the little things that can make the biggest difference. This friend referral scheme is hardly news for you, right? It seems most e-commerce websites have a "give a friend X and get Y for yourself" programme in place. The challenge is to make these loyalty programmes stand out. The key to make your brand's loyalty program stand out is rethinking where they fit into the customer lifecycle. You also need to make sure you incentivize your best customers handsomely to invite their friends to your site.

Cash is king

Maintaining a healthy cash flow is a make or break for your business, and its effect on operations is critical to building a fast-growing company. Strike a balance between your cost to acquire a customer, and the profits you make from that customer over time. The cost of acquisition should not exceed your profits. If it does, you need to go back to your drawing board. Sustainable online brands strike a balance between scale and profitability.

Kiss and be focused

One thing I've learnt very strongly with time is to resist yourself and keep it simple with strong focus on what differentiates your brand from the rest. If you want to boost customer conversion and retention rate, keep your website simple. Don't bombard your users with loads of content.

Use A/B testing

A/B testing is recommended for all brands with over 500 unique sessions every day. It gives you the power to logically choose and make decisions about which products should take up the valuable real estate on your website and where.

Grow your email list and segment

While the biggest benefit in running an online business is data, the biggest mistake most founders do is to do nothing with that data. Even though we've experimented with many marketing channels to drive traffic, email continues to be the biggest channel for generating buzz. This is also because we've been able to build an opt-in email list of 130K+ subscribers. Segment your customers from the start. One piece of information or promotion is not going to resonate with your entire list of subscribers. We've seen that segmentation leads to lower bounce rates, spam report rates, and unsubscribe rates.

Also, know that just because someone hasn't bought from your website, doesn't mean they won't. If people are browsing your site, adding to their cart, but don't checkout, it could be due to numerous reasons unknown to you. Our abandoned cart campaigns have proven to be highly successful where we take feedback and give our customers a little incentive to come back.

Outsource!

Use apps that fit in your business model & do a lot of hard work for you. Some apps that worked for us in the past:

· SEO analysis: Moz

· Customer referrals: Friendbuy

· Email list: Mailchimp

· Site conversion rate: Optimizely

· Customer Support: Freshdesk

· Social Media: Hootsuite

· User Behaviour: Google Analytics

· Nudge emails: Vero

· Funnel analysis: KISSmetrics

· Labels & Invoicing: Orderly Print

· Product Recommendation: Unbxd

· Reporting & BI: Vantage Analytics

· Heat Maps: SumoMe

Bharat Sethi

Founder, Postergully.com

Bharat Sethi is a start-up and tech enthusiast with special interests in understanding customer behaviour, e-commerce, and retail design. He founded PosterGully at age 22 as India’s first marketplace for artists & designers to showcase and sell their work. PosterGully currently helps over 1.8k artists contributing over 60k exclusive products. 
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