Selling online is an art. Not only do you need the right products, at the right time and price, but also your website will need to be an effective shop window, shop floor, sales person, cashier and stock controller.
The three most frequent errors I see on e-commerce websites are:
Including a telephone number may be an issue for small-business owners who do not have a dedicated number or work full-time, but I can guarantee that the lack of contact details will be noted by your visitors and can put off people buying from you. This is especially true for first-time customers who may be worried about trusting you. You can buy telephone numbers from www.ttnc.co.uk and have these forwarded to an answering service or voice mail. Including a number is unlikely to trigger a million calls, so don’t worry too much.
Your homepage is the shop front of your store. It needs to tell people what you sell, who you sell to and invite them in to spend. I’ve seen far too many homepages filled with poor copy focusing on the business owner’s credentials. Statements such as: “We have been established for 10 years and sell our products to the whole of the UK. We take customer care very seriously… blah, blah, blah...” Forget all this.
Simply show your visitors what you do. Fill your homepage with a seasonal banner promoting your current special offers or favourite products; display your most recent products on the page with links; and include a number of entry points into sections of your store. Your homepage should promote your products.
I always check delivery prices before I buy. Many online stores offer free delivery for larger purchases, which can be a real incentive to add some extra goodies to the shopping cart. If your visitors cannot see your delivery prices clearly (ideally on all product pages at least), you risk them shopping elsewhere.
Zoe Brown, B Websites Ltd
I have the privilege to serve on a board with two guys that started their own business and grew it to the point where it’s knocking on the door of the FTSE 100. Start-ups don’t get much more successful than that and they’re collectively worth more than a billion pounds.
At the heart of their approach, it seems to me, lie two principles: doing right by the customer and only doing things that make a profit. Their business is in financial services and it can be argued that this philosophy is one that hasn’t always prevailed in that industry.
In my opinion, these are two principles that underpin every successful and sustainable business:
While everything that I’ve said is true, there is much more to success than simply following these principles. Having strategic vision, being a good manager, negotiating well, organising the management of operations and many other attributes are also needed. However, taking hold of the core principles of customer focus and doing profitable business underpins everything else. Grasping this can only improve your chances of fulfilling Del Boy Trotter’s dream - next year we’re going to be billionaires.
“The thing that's really amazed me since doing The Business Inspector is how many people start businesses with hearts so full of hope and heads so full of cotton wool. They think because they've been good at a hobby they can make it into a business.”
So said The Business Inspector Hilary Devey when I interviewed her a few months ago for the Start Up Donut. It was a great interview – one of the three most enjoyable I’ve conducted in 15 years of interviewing and writing about people from all walks of life (the others were Joanna Lumley and a retiring chemist who was the first in Britain to produce penicillin commercially – and illegally; but these are other stories). Hilary was pithy, direct, outspoken, enthusiastic and completely honest. She even answered a couple of personal questions with a frankness that surprised me.
People like Hilary, with such memorable personalities, are paydirt for an interviewer. Writing up the interview becomes a matter of wondering what to leave out, rather than what to include. You just know it’s going to be a good piece – and so it proved (in my humble opinion!). My colleagues and I remarked at the time that she’d be good as a new Dragon on Dragons' Den.
Guess what? Today the BBC announced that Hilary would be replacing the outgoing James Caan when Dragon’s Den returns to BBC2 later this year. She’s perfect as the new Dragon – experienced, knowledgeable, no-nonsense, driven, resourceful, direct and – critically – excited about business. She’ll talk tough; she’ll ask awkward questions; she’ll keep it real. And when she sees something – or someone – she likes, she’ll genuinely appreciate it. She’s that kind of person, I think.
Have a read of the interview and see if you agree: What it takes to succeed in business: The Business Inspector speaks.
“Things can happen all at once and little changes can make a huge difference” –
January was quite a month. In fact, it’s been my business’s (Manage My Website) busiest period since I started it two years ago.
The enquiries are coming in thick and fast – from the UK (where we’re based) and countries as far flung as the USA, Egypt and Holland. We’re working on websites for retailers, charities and even the NHS, plus we’re about to partner with MODA Commerce, one of the teams behind the Mary Portas website. My business is on the brink of exploding.
Some years ago I read a book by Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. As Gladwell explains, tipping points are: "The levels at which momentum for change becomes unstoppable."
So what’s led my business to this key stage? Lots of little things, really. They may have seemed insignificant at the time, but together they’ve created what we have become today and our business has reached its very own tipping point.
Before starting my business, I hadn’t realised I could sell. But in my eyes, I’m not selling to potential clients, I’m just extremely passionate about what I do and that probably shines through.
Nobody can predict what’s around the corner, but I have a very good feeling about 2011. I hope I’ve inspired anyone thinking of branching out on their own that if you’re passionate about what you do, have the right skills and work incredibly hard, you’ll reach your own tipping point.
Creating a successful email campaign isn’t easy. It takes skill to make sure your email isn’t marked as spam. You’ve also got to convince the reader to open the email and take action – which usually means buy something. Here are three things you can do to maximise your chances of making a sale.
If you have a large email list, chances are that not all your customers will be interested in the same products or services. It’s a good idea to do some research and find out what they are most likely to be interested in.
Have they bought something from you in the past and would they benefit from your latest offering? Maybe you want to sell exclusively to either men or women? By sending targeted emails, you should get an above-average conversion rate.
How many times have you read “Dear Valued Customer”? How valued are you if the person/business writing the email doesn’t even know your name?
It’s easy to include individual customer’s names, even in a bulk mailing, so do it. Your target audience will dictate whether you use a formal “Mr Smith” or a more casual “John”.
There are plenty more ways to personalise emails (eg mentioning prior purchases, regional references, etc) but your email should also be personable. Businesses, especially medium to large ones, should try to be as human as possible. A great way to do this in an email is by having a real person signing off. Instead of ending with “Yours sincerely, ACME” use an employee’s name. Adding a photo helps, too. Customers like to buy from people more than faceless businesses.
You should be tracking the results of your email campaigns, even if it’s as rudimentary as working out how much money you made (or didn’t make) from each one. Ideally, though, you’ll want your email service to provide feedback on bounce, open, click-through, conversion and unsubscribe rates.
Once you’ve got a benchmark, start testing. The easiest way to do this is an A/B split test, where you send one version of your email to half of your target audience, and a slightly modified version to the other half. It’s advisable to only change one element per test (like the subject line, heading, images etc), so you can identify best combination of features.
Testing can help you improve the effectiveness of your emails as well as confirm that what you are doing is working. For example, if you normally send your customers long emails, test it against a short version. You’ll then know what works best for you and your customers.
Writing the perfect email isn’t easy, but, using some tried and tested methods, you can maximise the potential of each email campaign and (hopefully) increase your profits.
Dale Cook, Serif
Thankfully, things are going very well for my new business, but I’ve experienced failure in two previous business ventures, as well as huge losses and a risk of bankruptcy. Based on all of my experiences so far, here are my six start-up tips.
If you start a business with a friend, you’ll fall out eventually. Sole ownership and responsibility gets past a tremendous amount of pitfalls and issues that you just won’t anticipate.
Never take a charge on your house and try to avoid providing more information than a lender requires. The bank manager only looks at the information you present him with, so just give him what he wants and leave it at that. When my first business failed, my partner could not find a job and the bank chased me for the total amount of our personal guarantees – which equalled £40,000 and took 10 years to clear.
Do your accounts, get invoices out promptly and don’t accept being messed around over payment. I remember sitting in our largest customer’s reception waiting for a cheque to be written and the receptionists sneering at me. They could afford to sneer, they’d been paid – my staff and I hadn’t. And ask your accountant to visit you every quarter to make sure you are on top of everything. If you wait until the year-end, you can be looking at information up to 18-months-old.
It’s much easier for a small business to lose a thousand pounds a month than to make a thousand pounds profit. Make sure you are on the positive side of that line. If you are working hard, the least you can do is make a profit.
Think of how much you appreciate being paid on time and the goodwill that makes you feel towards that customer. Now flip that on its head. I prefer to be known as a good payer than a bad one, and in these tough times your bill-paying performance will feed directly into the amount of credit you will receive from your key suppliers.
It’s impossible to place a value on a hard-working employee who cares about your business and where it’s heading. Spending extra on wages for certain skill sets or talents that are suited to your business can be the difference between 5% growth and 20% growth in a start-up’s early years.