For many brick-and-mortar shops, diversifying revenue streams means putting products and services on an online marketplace. Over a quarter of small businesses are choosing to sell more products and services online this year, according to a recent QuickBooks survey. 94% say the coronavirus has influenced this change.
Many were forced to close their physical doors while their consumers sheltered in place. Others had to rethink their business offerings and processes to fit an e-commerce-driven world. That includes opening an online shop and accepting digital payments or other payment methods.
The same QuickBooks survey found that 87% of small businesses opening within the next year will be primarily online, or a combination of online and in-person. Experts believe this rapid shift to e-commerce is going to stick.
If your store is already online, embracing e-commerce means putting more time into your site’s quality so shoppers have a seamless shopping experience. It might mean running sales on social media or finding new ways to market your products while being mindful of global conversations. It could also prompt you to form new partnerships and make your products available on multiple sites. If e-commerce is new to you, here are five steps to help you get started.
1. Identify your best online marketplace
There are a ton of sites on the internet built specifically to help you sell your products. So it’s easy to make the mistake of selling your products on the wrong platform. That’s why you should start your e-commerce journey by identifying the best e-commerce website for your products and customers.
Here are some things to consider:
- Your products’ look and use. If your products are handmade and crafty, open an Etsy shop. If they’re made in a factory and have a more commercial appeal, sell them on Amazon.
- Where your customers hang out. Consider the people who buy your products. Would you peg them as likely to shop on eBay? Or if your products have a local appeal, might you get more traction on Facebook Marketplace?
- Your time. Building a website on Shopify or Squarespace is ideal for consistent branding and maintaining the most control. But it’s a bigger time commitment, and only you can decide if that’s a problem or not.
- Your resources. Another thing to consider before you create a website is how you’re going to promote it. If you have your customers’ email addresses and think they’d like to hear from you online, great! Or maybe your business has a large following on social media, and you can promote your website there. If you don’t communicate with customers online, you may find it more useful to sell your products on Amazon or another global platform.
2. Capture your products in the best light
Literally. Selling your products online means every item must have a photo and a name, if not also a description. If it’s clothing, you need to describe the fabric, care instructions, or an occasion to wear it. If it’s a cooking utensil, tell your customer what it can do, just as you would if they turned to you in the store and asked, “What is this?”
But most importantly, you need to capture high-quality photos of each product to catch the eyes of online buyers. After all, you’ve got a lot of competition now—every other similar vendor selling online.
To start, consider the best place to take photos of your products. Put time into details like lighting and background. Maybe even enlist a friend if you need someone to model the product in use. If all that sounds too overwhelming, hire someone with a bit more experience from a gig-work site like Behance or Fiverr. These gig-work sites can help connect creatives with local work.
3. Add products to your store
At this point, you may be more concerned with getting your products online fast than perfecting your own online retail space. So let’s focus on a few sites that make setup quick and easy.
Good news! Once you’re ready to start selling on Etsy, setup is easy. Simply upload your business’s logo, complete the “about me” section and shop announcement, and outline your store’s policies. Etsy has additional resources to help you list your products and market more effectively. Depending on how many items you intend to list, you can get an Etsy store up and running in a day. That said, it may take weeks to get your first order. So it’s essential to focus on things like search engine optimization (SEO) and store setup.
eBay provides resources for business owners looking to sell on their site. And the good news is that setting up a store on eBay doesn’t take a ton of time. That said, some users—particularly those new to e-commerce—may find the process confusing. If that’s the case for you, you can hire other companies to set up your store. They can help your store stand out as a professional retail space on a site with lots of competition.
If you decide to list your products on Amazon, you’ll enjoy benefits like stellar brand analytics and access to millions of consumers. But consider these things before jumping into Amazon as a selling platform:
- Getting approved to sell on Amazon’s marketplace is getting tougher. You’ll have to provide a lot of documentation upfront.
- If you plan to sell items on Amazon during the coronavirus, you may run into challenges. As of April 2020, Amazon may prioritize the delivery of essential medical and household supplies. They may also prioritize essential goods over third-party and nonessential shipments to their warehouses.
4. Connect your online store to your QuickBooks account
It’s easier than ever to keep your business financials up to date because QuickBooks integrates with a variety of e-commerce platforms.
- Choose a platform and launch your custom store through the vendor’s site.
- Follow the steps within your platform to connect your online store to QuickBooks.
- Process, track, and deposit customer payments from QuickBooks directly.
Naturally, there is a small fee to accept payments with QuickBooks, but the benefits outweigh the costs. In connecting your store to QuickBooks, you’ll always have accurate, real-time data on your account, inventory, and taxes. Plus, with all that data at your fingertips, you’ll know when it’s time to hire an employee or reevaluate your expenses. And when it comes time to pay taxes, you’ll also have all your information readily available, making it easier to file.
5. Tell your customers where to find you
Once you have an online shopping space up and running, tell your customers. Here are some places where you should be getting the word out:
- In a Google search. Many businesses have listings on Google, making it easy for customers to get directions or leave a review. Not only is it free to create a Google My Business listing, but you can control the information visitors see. Besides giving your business a great intro paragraph, be sure to link to your e-commerce site, so customers can start shopping.
- On your physical storefront. Do this if you’ve had to close your doors temporarily. Loyal customers want to know where to find you. And you can make it easy for them. You might create and post a QR code in your window, directing customers to your website. QR codes are also great for sending customers to coupons or your social media profile.
- Everywhere you market. Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter are all good places to post about your new site. Change your Instagram bio to include a link to your website. Then post a photo showing off your new retail space. Encourage followers to share your new site in their own stories or posts for a percentage off their first order.
- In an email or text message. If your business has collected customer email addresses or phone numbers, it might be time to use them. After all, customers who are loyal enough to want coupons and points sent to their phones will want to know you’ve got an online store. Just be thoughtful in your messaging, and give them the option to opt-out of future messages. EZTexting and Textedly are two services that can help.
Meet your customers where they are—online
The fiercest, bravest individuals run small businesses. But even small disruptions can disrupt sales and foot traffic. As a business owner, you already have what it takes to be successful. You eat challenges and setbacks for breakfast. And there are resources out there that can help you along the way. Going online doesn’t mean giving up on your storefront dream. Quite the contrary. Simply, it’s an expansion into another dimension, and it’s an option the customers love.
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