In tough times, it makes sense to diversify your income streams. That way, if one source dries up, another is ready to supplement sales.
For many brick-and-mortar shops, diversifying means putting products on an online marketplace. Or if your store is already online, putting a bit more time into your site’s quality so that 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.
But that’s for the future if you haven’t yet set up your business for online sales. If e-commerce is new to you, here are some tips 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 online marketplace 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 Esty 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 be okay hearing from you there, great! Or maybe your business has a large following on social media, and you can promote your website there. If you don’t have good communication with customers, 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 feel of the fabric 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 are especially helpful for connecting creatives with local work. Who knows—you might also find someone on there to write your product descriptions if you don’t feel up to doing them all yourself.
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 in on a few sites where setup is 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 has a bunch of 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 for you. They can help your store stand out as a professional retail space on a site with lots of competition.
A couple of things to note before jumping into Amazon wholeheartedly 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 outbreak, you may be unsuccessful. As of March 2020, Amazon is prioritizing the delivery of medical and household supplies. They are also blocking all shipments of nonessential products to their warehouses until April 5th and possibly longer.
If you decide to list your products on Amazon, you’ll enjoy benefits like stellar brand analytics and access to millions of consumers.
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. According to a 2019 QuickBooks resource, the process is simple:
- 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. Making a QR code is easy. Copy your website URL into a free QR code generator and take a screenshot of the result. QR codes are also great for sending customers to coupons or to 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 create havoc for sales and foot traffic. Tough economic times, as a result of sickness, natural disaster, or something else, can do damage in moments. And for the people behind those storefronts who depend on sales to make a living, finding a new path forward isn’t easy—it’s essential.
But here’s the good news: 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 your customers are going to love.
Checklist for setting up online sales
Research which online marketplace is right for you
Consider sites like:
- Facebook Marketplace
Create your business page or website
When possible, keep branding consistent between your physical and online stores.
Photograph or hire someone else to photograph your products
Keep in mind:
- Bright lighting
- Neutral backdrops
Import or add products
For easier or bulk importing, move products over from a CSV file.
Write product descriptions for your inventory
Keep in mind the 5 W’s when writing each description:
- Who will love it
- What it is
- When it will come in handy
- Where you can use it
- Why you need it
Connect your online business to your QuickBooks account
Follow your platform’s step-by-step instructions to integrate with QuickBooks.
Advertise your business in multiple places
Here’s where to start:
- On social media
- At your storefront
- Online in search ads
- Via email or text message
- In print media, such as your town’s magazine or newspaper
Edit your “Google My Business” listing to include your website
Set it up in moments using https://www.google.com/business/.