Last year saw continued growth in the digital marketplace. Online transactions accounted for just over 14 percent of all retail sales made in the United States in 2018, with Americans plunking down more than $517 billion to digital stores of all sizes. And worldwide, sales neared $3 trillion.
1. Know how your website works.
Whether you’re considering building your own site or hiring a professional to do it for you, entrepreneurs recommend understanding the backend either way.
Sleep attire seller Anita Mahaffey — one of the women entrepreneurs featured in our Fearless #Over50 effort — swears by this approach. When preparing to launch her online store, Cool-jams, “I knew nothing about online marketing,” she told us. “My marketing training was traditional — I’m 61.”
So when she launched, “I felt like I went back to school.” And she played the role of both teacher and student, choosing to educate herself rather than taking on partners or outsourcing jobs. Today, six part-time staffers handle web development, social media and other duties. But thanks to her personal crash course in running an online business, she says she’s able to effectively gauge the quality of the work everyone is doing.
Besides, knowing how to design can be empowering. It was for Anna Metselitsa, the immigrant entrepreneur behind online fashion boutique Haute Rogue. When she came to the U.S. from Belarus, she had few professional prospects. But after years of struggling, her entrepreneurial dream came — in part, she told us, by teaching herself how to code and design her own website.
If you’re just starting out, there are numerous user-friendly websites to consider for building your online home, including Squarespace, Wix, GoDaddy and Weebly. Several of those sites can also offer assistance when it comes to registering a domain name, or URL, for your ecommerce site.
2. Be strategic about vendors and inventory.
Who you know, and who you stay in touch with, can play a critical role in your success. Most any woman entrepreneur knows this — and it’s a rule that also applies online. The right partners can help your ecommerce business with everything from maintaining product supply to marketing your firm.
For example, entrepreneur Cordelia Smith was committed to hand-making all of Formulary 55’s bath, body and home goods. To keep up with orders at her growing venture, she teamed up with like-minded artisanal vendors running their own online stores — all of whom she stays in touch with digitally, as they reside in other states.
Doing so allowed her to meet the needs of a growing number of customers while staying true to her commitment to handmade products. It’s something Smith takes seriously. “It surprises me when I hear about large corporations or manufacturing facilities polluting their own water. I can’t wrap my mind around producing something that’s not socially responsible.”
If you’re looking for ways to connect with partners or colleagues near and far for any reason, try a voice and video call service like Skype, Google Hangouts or Zoom. And for keeping track of projects as they are worked on or completed, Slack or Basecamp could prove useful.
3. Learn how to track your business digitally.
A quick online search can connect you to a range of resources that an online business owner can use to manage money, strengthen partnerships and track your venture’s growth.
Chasing Paper’s Elizabeth Rees told us how web tools like Shopify, an ecommerce platform, assist her with analyzing product sales and margins, as well as tracking customers’ geographic locations and other helpful information — even amid suggestions from others on how to run things more traditionally. “Everyone wants to tell you their ideas, give you their advice on how to do it, but I’ve learned I need to trust my gut,” she says.
If you want to follow in Rees’ footsteps, you have myriad options. Accounting software like Quickbooks or apps like Gusto can help keep your finances organized. For tracking customers and strategizing how best to keep them engaged, products like HubSpot and Salesforce are worth looking into.
Lastly, if you are a Google user, G Suite offers you numerous tools for organizing and sharing data on your business’ performance.
4. Seize opportunities for “viral” growth.
That’s what Addie Olutola did when she capitalized on the success of Marvel blockbuster hit “Black Panther” to promote her African fashion brand, D’iyanu. The film garnered praise — not to mention, an Academy Award — for its stunning African prints.
Olutola knew this was a golden opportunity to spark growth for her store, so ahead of the movie’s February 2018 debut, Olutola ramped up online ads, crafted a timely social media campaign and scored interviews in online publications and fashion blogs to boost awareness.
Like its titular superhero, the film and its African fashions arrived when Olutola needed it most. By taking advantage of the opportunity the movie presented for her to engage authentically with interested online audiences, she saved the day for her business when it had been in danger of plateauing.
Beyond social media outreach (we’ll get there in a moment), email marketing can be a critical way to stay in touch with customers. Sites like Mailchimp, ConvertKit or ActiveCampaign can assist you in leveraging your contact list to your advantage.
5. Find your social media voice.
Jane Lu, founder of Australian online fashion boutique Showpo, used internet smarts to grow a far-reaching, profitable brand. “I was a bit of a Facebook addict,” she confessed to us. But those seemingly lost hours put her on the forefront of social media marketing at a time when companies put little stock in it. Showpo’s online presence enabled her to grow her customer base beyond Australia’s borders. Now, that and Instagram allow her to reach millions of current and potential customers in seconds.
Indeed, social media can make a huge difference when it comes to engaging customers — or in some cases, encouraging customers to engage with one another. Samantha Martin grew her eco-conscious online boutique, Agathos, in large part by recruiting brand ambassadors, or people brought on by a company to promote it across social media platforms. When we last spoke with Martin, she told us the store had 30 of them who helped her reach new communities of eco-conscious fashion aficionados.
Agathos’ ambassadors “love our product and message and are willing to put their name on it” in exchange for discounts and commissions from the sales they generate, Martin explained. The company doesn’t require them to have a certain number of social media followers, but Martin does expect them to engage frequently with their followers. And each ambassador subscribes to Agathos’ athletically fit, socially aware ethos, she notes.
To manage all of your social networking accounts in a more streamlined way, look into software like Hootsuite, which allows you to organize and schedule posts for numerous accounts simultaneously.