When I started my most recent business venture, buddi.co.uk, I knew I needed to act fast to move from an idea to a revenue generating business as quickly as I could. To do this, taking advantage of an online sales model was a must and, through this channel, it took me less than five months to start generating revenue from the service.
Having witnessed first-hand the power of an e-commerce model to rapidly generate sales, I was surprised to see recent research from Epson which shows that many micro-businesses see ecommerce as a threat rather than an opportunity. E-commerce is a key driver of success and is not something to be afraid of as it opens so many new doors.
So how can micro-businesses make the most of online sales opportunities?
1. Don’t underestimate the power of your online presence
More often than not, the first thing a prospective customer will do is visit a website – meaning that your online presence is the first opportunity to convey exactly what your business offers. Ensuring your website looks slick and professional is essential to your credentials, no matter what industry you operate in. First impressions are very important.
2. Look for inexpensive platforms
Budgets are tight and the idea of spending on your web presence could be low down on the priority list. However, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to create a great looking and functioning website. Wordpress is a good example of a simple, cheap platform that can be customised to give the look and feel of your company without blowing the budget.
3. Make yourself heard in forums
Small business owners in the UK are incredibly interactive within forums. If you’re stumped for ideas or dealing with a technical issue on your site there are plenty of forum users who will gladly volunteer advice. So take advantage of the chance to listen and learn from peers. Forums can also offer a way to engage with customers and prospects. Remember not to be too self-promotional or you could be kicked out of the discussion.
4. Think Olympics
The Olympics will no doubt be a defining event for the UK in 2012, providing a great opportunity for small businesses to get their brand out there and raise their profile. As part of this, online will be a huge channel in attracting the attention of consumers – careful use of keywords and search engine optimisation (SEO) will help tap into the buzz around the 2012 games and drive traffic to your site. But don’t forget to check the Olympics brand guidelines first to make sure any references are legally sound.
5. Learn from the major players
A good website and e-commerce hub can portray a small business as being just as active and relevant in its fields as its larger competitors. However, many larger organisations have been quicker off the mark and are now running sophisticated websites with a global presence. Have a look at the online tactics of others for some inspiration on strategies, promotions and content that could work for your business.
6. Don’t be afraid to take a global approach
It might sound obvious, but it’s worth remembering that English is the language of business, giving us English entrepreneurs easier access to a huge international market than many other nations. Create an ecommerce site with a global vision, stating in English that you will deliver internationally.
7. Don’t forget about the logistics
One caveat to setting up a website and pushing an e-commerce strategy is the need to have an organised approach to deliveries and returns. E-commerce should help drive customer satisfaction and service, so the delivery stages of an order is something to get right, from the outset.
8. Take a measured approach to social media
Recent research from Epson found that while 60% of UK micro-businesses have a Twitter profile, and one in three have a Facebook page, as many as 42% have no idea where to start when it comes to using social media for online/digital marketing. Yes, Twitter and Facebook are legitimate components of an e-commerce strategy, but only when fully evaluated and used appropriately. Otherwise, they may end up becoming more of a distraction than an asset.
9. Partner up
Successful partnerships with suppliers and other organisations can take your product to the next level, so don’t feel like you have to go it alone. Earlier this year, I signed a deal for buddi with a US-based personal-security company, to distribute it across the US to significantly extend our revenues. A partnership of this kind in a virtual environment to distribute your product to other markets can work particularly well as it can be faster and more convenient than setting up a bricks and mortar presence abroad.
10. Act without hesitation
Finally, no matter what the media says, the UK is one of the central hubs of entrepreneurship. It is an incredibly innovative and fruitful environment, conducive to establishing new approaches and perspectives. With that in mind, now is the time to get online and get social – if you think it’s a good fit for your business, the best time to do something is yesterday!
Sara Murray is the founder of Confused.com and personal emergency response service buddi.co.uk. Sara recently spoke at the Epson Business Council.