Here are 5 things I’d do if I were to start my eCommerce business from scratch in 2017

I started my first eCommerce business in 2007. Not that long ago, but it feels like a lifetime ago. Entrepreneur years are like dog years, I reckon!

Obviously, things are different in 2017 compared to 2007 when I first started working on my product and prepared to launch my brand for the first time.

So this is not an ode to the past – I’m not looking back with rose coloured glasses or wishing I’d done this or that.

It would be like comparing apples to oranges anyway. Things that were difficult or expensive in 2007 are now simple and inexpensive. And of course, smartphones and social media have completely changed how we communicate with our customers.

So, what would I do now, if I had my time over?

Here’s what you don’t need…

How about we start with what you definitely don’t need in order to make your business and brand a success online:

1. An expensive website

Back in 2007, creating a professional-looking eCommerce-enabled website was a big deal and, unless you were a developer, you really needed to get help. The Magento platform was the eCommerce king, and boy was it a beast! Tailoring it to your own brand or editing the layout was not a simple task that could be easily or quickly handled alone, and the experts were pricey. You’d be looking at a minimum of $30K – a significant investment for any small business!

But now, I’m a HUGE fan of WordPress. Back in the day, I wouldn’t have touched WordPress with a ten-foot barge pole, because it was a blog platform and wasn’t really built with eCommerce in mind.

WordPress with its Woocommerce shopping cart launched onto the market only in 2012. Today, it’s now the eCommerce technology of choice for 41% of eCommerce websites across the entire Internet! Magento and Shopify are the next most popular platforms at only 5% each. (Source: BuiltWith: Ecommerce Usage Statistics)

And that really doesn’t surprise me at all, given just how simple it is to create a really good looking, functional, mobile responsive website using WordPress.

The Shopify platform has also taken the world by storm in recent years and for good reason. For the non-technically-minded amongst us it’s a sensational choice.

It’s super simple to set up and run; has excellent reporting and analytics built-in; integrates with pretty much any marketing app you could dream of needing; has a wealth of themes to choose from; and hands down the BEST tech support I’ve seen for any platform, plugin or app on the planet!

Be mobile

Regardless of which platform you choose, though, you MUST make sure your website AND your checkout process works perfectly on mobile!

Research indicates that, in 2017, 60% of online shoppers find a product first via their smartphone, while about a third of online purchases are made via mobile. (Source: Huffington Post.)

That means a mobile responsive website is crucial. Because if your customers have a bad experience the first time they visit, they won’t be coming back!

My advice to you

Seek advice from an experienced mentor or another entrepreneur running a similar business to yours. You want advice from someone with a few relevant years’ experience under their belt. That means, find out what kind of website you need from people who have done what you want to do.

DO NOT seek first advice about a website from someone who wants to sell you a website! I would be rich if I had a dollar for every time I’ve spoken to a heartbroken business owner with a website that simply does not and cannot do what they need it to do!

2. A massive advertising budget

When I first got started in business, there were two main avenues for a small business to brand awareness: print advertising and online display advertising.

And to drive traffic to your website, there was really only one option – Google ads.

(Obviously that’s not an exhaustive list, but for a small business owner without a limitless advertising budget, those were the usual choices.)

I distinctly recall that in 2010-11 I had a great ROI from print ads, but by 2012 it plummeted to zilch.

Which was a VERY expensive lesson considering I’d pre-booked about 50 grand’s worth of print ads to launch my new premium product range that year!

Social Media Today reports that digital advertising will continue to grow in 2017 with mobile advertising outstripping desktop. 76% of growth in digital advertising is attributed to Facebook and Google.

In particular, Facebook mobile ad spend is predicted to reach 3x that of Google. Considering Facebook was an obscure upstart in my own business world back when I first started out, this is HUGE! The generational change in the online world is getting faster and faster.

Digital advertising is growing so rapidly for two reasons.

Firstly, you can reach your specific target market and put an ad in front of them very, very cheaply.

And secondly, it works. The ability to target your Facebook, Instagram and Google ads is now SO specific. It means you can pinpoint your precise target audience and create ads that are highly engaging and specific for your customer.

And the benefits don’t stop there either. The ability to track conversions and re-target your ads means that you can easily follow-up with your target audience and calculate your ROI (return on investment) very precisely.

There’s one key difference between the way you advertise on Google vs social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram.

Online shoppers typically Google when they are ready to buy right now.

Whereas people typically head to social media when they’re looking to connect with friends (a.k.a ‘be social’), or to find interesting content.

Therefore, social media is usually seen as a platform for expressing aspirational intent. Generally you don’t push your product using ‘hard sell’ style ads on social media. Instead, you use these ads to expand your brand’s reach, attract potential new customers and build a relationship with your audience.

And this relationship-building activity is now a crucial step in the process: 93% of shoppers’ buying decisions are influenced by social media. (Source: Ironpaper)

And it’s now possible to achieve this for as little as a few dollars a day!

My advice to you

When it comes to getting traffic to your website you MUST be prepared to spend some money. And equally important – you MUST have a ‘testing mindset’. That means, be prepared to test different ads, offers and audiences until you find the formula that works for you.

Too many times lately I’ve spoken to eCommerce start-ups who have spent a small amount on digital ads and want to throw in the towel when they haven’t had a flood of new orders.

I hear the catchphrase, ‘but I can’t afford to advertize’. Well guess what honey, you can’t afford NOT to advertize if you actually want to scale and grow your online sales!

So what do you need then?

We’ve talked a bit about what’s different and important to have in place as a Productpreneur selling online in 2017.

But what are the essentials that are must-haves for eCommerce success?

Hint: they’re as old as time…

All you need to start and build a successful business is:

1. A product that sells

I remember years ago, I was approached by a woman who had invented a product for her child and wanted my help to figure out how to have it manufactured.

Whilst this is basically the same way my own previous business started, there was one key step missing.

This woman had not determined whether there was a market for her product. And I could tell straight up that there wasn’t. It was too similar to existing products on the market but hers did not have a significant new or different benefit and would need to sell for about 10x the price.

Without a doubt, choosing the right product and evaluating the market demand for it is one of, if not the most important piece of the puzzle. Getting this step wrong is an expensive lesson.

Get it right though, and you set yourself up for sales success!

The way that I validated my product idea in my last business was through real-life testing. (Myself and my business partner tested the products ourselves and we roped in several friends and acquaintances through online forums and eBay to try out the early products).

My advice to you

If you’re designing and manufacturing your own products, getting feedback from real-life testing is imperative to iron out any flaws in the design and make sure the product solves a definite need in the market.

2. An audience that buys

The second part of the equation is to make sure there is a big enough – and growing – demand for your product.

Starting out, you want to ensure the market for your product is big enough and there are enough people willing to pay for your product. (Obviously, if this piece of the puzzle is missing, you’d be a charity not a business!)

One really big red flag for me is if there are NO competitors already selling your type of product. I don’t mean you should aim to sell something exactly the same as existing products on the market, of course you need to be different! BUT there should be other similar products or products that solve the same issue or need as yours does.

This indicates there is a real demand and that consumers are prepared to spend money on it.

In my last business, I used a combination of research methods:

  • Google Adwords Keyword Planner (average monthly searches),
  • Existing market research (from industry bodies and the ABS), and
  • Reviewing competitors (for example, review their product positioning and pricing, and look at traffic to their websites using a tool like Compete or comScore).

My advice to you

You need to analyze the demand for your product early and objectively. Don’t be emotional about this! If you fall in love with your product first and decide to start a business without identifying the demand, you could be stuck trying to flog a product that no-one really wants.

One quick tip: don’t ask your family and friends if your product or business idea is a good one. They are invested in your happiness so their responses will be biased.

Instead, put together a really quick sales web page or Facebook shop and ask people to buy your product. The fastest way to find out if someone will buy your product is…to ask them to buy it!

3. A mechanism of connecting the two

I’ve spoken before about how customers buy a solution to their problem, they don’t buy product features.

Making sure your website and your marketing and advertising activities hit the mark with your audience is essential to making sales and growing your business.

When I first got started, it was a pretty simple set-up: website with shopping cart, email newsletter sign-up form, Google Adwords ads, and exhibiting at baby exhibitions.

These days it’s not so simple. The online shopping mall is pretty crowded and customers are much more savvy about spending money online.

Build your email list

If I was starting my eCommerce website again this year, I would most definitely invest in a marketing automation platform right from the outset.

Focusing on building an email list and automating the customer acquisition and sales conversion process is crucial if you want to have success in eCommerce.

Email newsletters have their place, but they simply aren’t enough on their own. Marketing automation enables you to personalize your offers to the needs and interests of individual customers.

And hyper-personalized communications IS the future of email marketing.

They help to cultivate a relationship with each customer through sending content and offers that are relevant and specific.

That means sending an offer based on an individual’s past purchase history, cross or up-selling products that you know would be of interest, rather than blasting the same offer to your entire audience (who have different needs and interests) via an email newsletter.

And they will reward you for your efforts with loyalty and repeat purchases, which is the holy grail of a profitable business!

I’ve written more about email marketing vs marketing automation here, and you might also be interested in checking out my Productpreneur’s Ultimate Guide to eCommerce Email Marketing.

Understand the buyer journey

The other thing I would focus hard on right from the outset is the buyer journey. That is, what is the decision-making process that a potential customer goes through from identifying a need to choosing a solution and purchasing a product.

Understanding your own customer journey is the first step to systemising your sales (or, to use some jargon, creating a sales funnel).

What is your customer’s current need, want or desire? And what do your customers need to know, understand and believe in order to want to buy from you? Your advertising and your marketing emails need to take your potential customers through that journey from ignorance to purchase.

The buyer journey also informs your website navigation and content. For example, if you look at The Iconic’s website you can see that, right from the home page, they are funnelling visitors exactly where they want to go through the picture navigation boxes on the home page.

If you can get inside your customers’ head like this and understand what makes them tick, then you’ll immediately be more successful with your ads, your website and your marketing emails.

My advice to you

In my experience, taking the time to identify your ideal customer and understand the buyer journey is the foundation of a successful eCommerce business. (Probably any business actually.)

When my clients nail this step, the rest of their marketing flows much more naturally. Even in my recent 5-day Facebook Ad Challenge, I taught a tiny portion of this and within 5 days the participants were experiencing vastly improved results from their Facebook ads.

So my advice is, take the time to get the buyer journey right first. Then apply it to your website, your marketing emails, your blogs, your paid advertising and your social media content.

Download my FREE Customer Avatar Template

Now I can’t tell you where to advertise your own business. But if you’re keen to understand your own customer in more detail then you’ll love my Customer Avatar Guide and Template!