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E-Commerce 101: How to Get Started Making Money Online
How often do you shop online? If it’s often, you’re not alone. In 2018, more than $7.9 billion — yes, that’s right, billion — in online sales happened on Cyber Monday alone. If that’s just one day out of 365, think about how much profit e-commerce can pull in the rest of the year.
What if you could wake up one morning having made a huge sale — while you were asleep? Launching an e-commerce business can do just that. However, a lot of hard work and effort goes into reaching the point where you make money in your sleep. If you’re considering opening an online shop, the best way to stand out is to create a high-quality, seamless customer experience from start to finish, from your website to your packaging. For that, you’ll need a strong business plan, a robust marketing strategy, and user-friendly customer support.
Writing a winning business plan for e-commerce
Your business plan is your roadmap to success. It is a way to identify who you are, what you do and how you will satisfy your customer’s needs — and all the tools you’ll need along the way. Your business plan might include:
- A company name, logo, and brand standards.
- Investments, financial projections, and ROI for three to five years.
- Market analysis of your product and competitors.
- Organization and management structure.
- Products and services your company will use — like packaging and shipping services that deliver your product in premium packages that can be reused and serve as another mode of marketing (think about how many people use Lululemon bags for lunch totes).
If your business plan is your roadmap, then think of your marketing strategy as your fuel.
Implementing a unique marketing strategy for your online business
E-commerce is a booming industry, and that means that in order to succeed, you have to stand out. Marketing is your plan for making a strong, lasting first impression with customers. You’ll want a marketing strategy that helps you:
- First, choose a reliable web hosting company. Your website is the front door to your business. It will either invite people in or turn them away. Look for one that is easy to use (for you and your customers), has a built-in online commerce function, a unique domain, and 24/7 customer support. There are a lot of options out there so research to find the best one for your business needs. (And keep business in mind. Opt for a business website host, as personal website hosts are typically unable to handle the amount of traffic most small-to-medium sized e-commerce businesses encounter.)
- Build and maintain a social media presence. This is your chance to really engage with your customers and have a dialogue about your product. A marketing strategy will help you define your marketing methods, including social media.
- Define your audience. The more narrow and focused your marketing strategies, the more bang you’ll get for your dollar. For example, if you plan to sell items using a dropshipping model, aim for something a bit more niche and customer-focused (think unique cosmetics, jewelry, handbags). A marketing strategy will help you understand who is most likely to buy your product and why.
- Consider doing a competitor analysis, which will give you an idea of who you’re up against in your chosen market. This involves identifying who, exactly, your competitors are, what they’re using as a marketing strategy, and looking over their products and how they price them. In short: You want to have a thorough understanding of how your competitors operate so you can figure out how to set yourself apart.
Establishing a dynamic customer service culture
What do you stand to lose if you decide the customer is always right — even when they are wrong? Maybe you lose some money or shipping costs, but if you make that person feel empathized with, you have gained a customer for life. Your customer service culture should try to create:
- A feeling of recognition. Your customers know they are a person and not just a number.
- Repeat customers. These are people who come back to your online store not just because of your products, but also because of the experience.
- Empowered users. Your customers need to feel in control of their purchases, whether that is being able to sign up for a subscription service or have a reminder sent when they might have a reason to visit your shop again.
There are a lot of great reasons why e-commerce can be a powerful money-maker. Just remember that you get out what you put in. Create an intentional business plan, put some effort into marketing and treat your customers with admiration and humility — that is the recipe for an online business that wins.