Chapter 14 17 Tips For Online Small Business Owners
Chapter by chapter we’ve unlocked the keys to online small business success.
You’ve created a great product.
Built a stunning website, optimized with advanced ecommerce functionality.
Started uniting a strong customer base, thanks to innovative marketing strategies.
Negotiated exclusive shipping discounts, resulting in an enhanced customer experience.
The list goes on.
Now — it’s time to hear from the experts. What should you keep in mind while you strive for ecommerce success?
17 Tips for Online Small Business Owners
1. Learn from your customers.
As you grow your business, listening to feedback from your customer base is crucial.
It can be easy to weed out negative feedback, but the truth is, both positive and constructive criticism can bode well for your business.
Meet Jason Boyce, the co-founder and CEO of Dazadi. In his time leading Dazadi, Jason has learned the in’s and out’s of building a business from the ground up. From raising capital to designing and sourcing private label products worldwide to software development and project management to digital marketing and more, he has found great success in creating meaningful strategies in the ever-changing world of ecommerce.
Jason’s number one tip for small business owners is centered around the value in listening and engaging with your customers.
“In this day and age you cannot spend enough time reading your own product reviews and improving your products based on that ‘boots on the ground’ feedback.
If you aren’t iterating with every reorder of your product, you’ll never build a brand online.
The days of spending massive amounts of money for brand awareness to push mediocre products is over.
Listen to the customer and improve your products so that your product ratings and sales improve.
Having great products with great service will build your brand.”
Also, be sure you are encouraging your customers to communicate with you. Like Jason mentioned, product reviews are a great way to garner feedback. Other ways to connect and receive feedback include social media and documenting customer support communication.
2. Prioritize customer support.
Sammy Gibson, Director at Neon Poodle, knows how important it is to put customers first — especially as a small business.
“Our focus is customer service, and fast email and social media response is critical for building brand trust. We try to keep response time to 24 hours or less for all emails from customers and wholesalers…”
Prioritizing customer support gives your business the chance to turn unhappy customers into loyal ones. If you can be there in a pinch, you can relieve the issue and deliver your brand promise.
In addition, high quality support can often lead to more brand awareness and brand loyalty and trust. Sammy has found that “with brand trust comes social media tagging between groups and good word of mouth.”
3. Stay focused on your niche.
When you begin a new business venture, it’s easy to get excited and want to tap into different markets. But, spreading yourself too thin can result in missed opportunities to capture an engaged audience.
Dan Kogan, CEO at 1Digital Agency shares what he believes small business owners should focus on as they grow their brand.
“Stay focused on your niche and constantly:
- Optimize your products and services,
- Focus on organic SEO growth as it drives trust,
- Stay committed to your niche, so that you can stand out of the pact, and
- Reinvest into digital marketing. Sales trumps all.”
4. Deliver an experience your customers won’t forget.
Think of some of your favorite brands, what is it about them that keeps you loyal?
The customer experience.
Customer experience has a domino effect. If you do it well, you will see a boost in positive brand awareness, traffic, and loyal customers to your online store.
Kaleigh Moore, freelancer at kaleighmoore.com, believes small business owners should put priority on just that.
“Create memorable experiences for customers and go the extra mile. That effort still pays dividends.”
5. Be time-efficient.
As a small business owner, you wear many hats.
At some point in your journey you are the CEO.
The Digital Marketing and Ecommerce Manager.
The Logistics Manager.
The list goes on.
As you grow your business, you must use your time efficiently. To help you do this, look to technology and automation.
Ailsa Chibnall, Owner & Web Strategist at Border7, shares, “if you don’t value your time, no one else will. Use technology and the power of automation to help you reclaim your day and reinforce your process!”
There are many different tools that can aid you in this department. Look to your business and where your gaps are to identify where you should spend your dollars.
- “Use Hotjar to better understand site visitors and how they’re interacting with your site,
- Keap for automation and personalizing your marketing, and
- Calendly for setting appointments and avoiding the back and forth of scheduling.”
6. Think omnichannel.
Omnichannel strategies are on the rise, and it’s no surprise.
In 2020, customers are shopping in more places. On your ecommerce store, on Amazon, on Instagram…the list goes on.
To make sure you are building brand awareness and offering more flexible options for your customers to purchase your products, start developing an omnichannel strategy.
Nick Gramatikov, CTO at Digitawise, believes small business owners can see many benefits from executing this strategy.
“Give customers access to your brand in ways that are convenient for them. Nowadays customers are omnichannel, meaning that they engage with businesses through various channels including different social platforms, text, email, live chat, and others. By providing omnichannel quality support, you show them that you value their business.”
Remember, as you begin, you may not be able to sell everywhere and anywhere. Scale your omnichannel strategy as you learn more about your target audience and where they shop.
Nick recommends small businesses to “have an omnichannel support strategy in place including a live chat tool. Monitor closely all your major social media channels and respond to clients and potential in a timely manner.”
This way, you’ll be able to capture more information about your customers and leverage your relationship with them to enhance your omnichannel strategy.
7. Find a balance.
Buckle up for long nights and early mornings, celebratory wins and trips back to the drawing board. Owning and running a small business takes hard work.
That’s why finding a balance within your day-to-day work is essential.
William Harris, Ecommerce Growth Consultant at Elumynt, knows a thing or two about managing day-to-day function.
“Hustle hard — but find balance. You will work harder than you’ve ever worked before and there will be periods of 100-hour work weeks, but those aren’t sustainable, and they will actually decrease your performance if you do that for too long.
You will wear a lot of hats, but continue to find ways to take small risks on hiring the right people to take over certain tasks and functions so you can focus on actually building the brand.
- Get better at Google Analytics — it’s so powerful and underutilized by almost everyone.
- Offload tasks — the best companies figure out that they aren’t experts at everything. And even if you are amazing at something, like advertising, there still comes a point where you need to focus on the business and let someone else focus on the ads.
- Content, content, content — think through this and truly map out what you want people to see first, second, and third. What truly differentiates you? Then, create content about that specific to the platform you’re on so it fits.”
8. Don’t fear larger, more established competitors.
You’re fresh meat in a competitive market. That can feel pretty intimidating.
Remember, you’re introducing new products into the market because there is a need for them. You have something that your competition lacks.
David Zimmerman, Director of eCommerce Solutions at Kensium, encourages small business owners to “not be afraid to compete against companies that are bigger or older than you. Many of these older companies are still hesitant or unwilling to shift their businesses online, leaving the door open for small businesses to win their customers and capture market share.”
A great way to get ahead of your competition is through technology – specifically your ecommerce solution.
“With the advancement in technology over the past decade, certain commerce solutions and back-office systems are becoming more modern, user-friendly, and easier to integrate, enabling smaller businesses to scale faster and compete with the big boys at a fraction of the cost.”
9. Take an organized approach.
Keeping every part of your business organized will keep functions running smooth.
Scott Ginsberg, Head of Content at Metric Digital, shares that his “personal mantra for knowledge management has always centered around one principle: If you don’t write it down, it never happened.”
Writing ideas down will help you brainstorm different options for your business, and keep your priorities in check.
Scott shares, “if your organization wants to replicate your team knowledge more exactly and practically, create a process to get things out of people’s heads and into objective, reviewable formats. All that glitters is not gold. There’s a clever saying from the construction world that should be plastered on the walls of every small business. ‘We got a dollar waiting on a dime.’ Meaning — let’s not allow the shiny, trivial things overwhelm the vital.”
Now, every idea you write down won’t come to life. You’ll need to figure out which ideas will give you the biggest bang for your buck. As small business owners quickly discover, you must learn how to create a reputable business with little budget.
“Learn how to do a lot with a little. Startups put a constant wall in front of you that only creativity will allow you to figure out how to get around it. Don’t underestimate your resourcefulness. Trust that in any given startup situation, you and your team will figure out how to tame the beast.”
Lastly, it’s important to stay organized, so you can focus on your team’s morale. With great morale, you’ll get more done and have more excitement and creativity to add to your brand.
“Acknowledgement is the only cultural currency that matters. Want to boost morale? Create in employees the genuine feeling of being seen for their whole person beyond just their role. Even if it’s a simply shout out during the weekly meeting or leaving a review on their online profile. Think of it as the herd mentality. That’s what makes employees loyal.”
10. Choose your battles wisely.
Just like your personal life, it’s important to choose your battles wisely.
Starting a business and experiencing growing pains can be stressful. Focus on your most valuable assets and plans to stay steady on the path to success.
Joe Chilson, Head Writer and Account Manager at 1Digital Agency, shares, “if there is one piece of advice that is relevant to any and all small business owners, I’d say that it’s picking your battles.
While you’re still small you don’t have the time, resources, or influence to do everything at once. You need to be careful what you decide to go after, and set achievable goals, especially when it comes to your marketing budget. Each small win will make the next one easier.”
For those businesses that are already established, Joe recommends taking a closer look at the following:
- “Email marketing. It sees the most direct results of any digital marketing activity. You already have customers that like you. They just need to be reminded to come back every once in a while.
- SEO. It’s a lot easier when your name has some weight behind it. Once your business has some authority, you can go after bigger keywords and rank for them more quickly.
- Consistent updates to the site. Keeping things fresh, in both design and content, will not only make you more attractive to Google, it will help you constantly refine the sales funnel on the site.”
11. Build a team.
While you may be very passionate about your business, you won’t achieve success by going about it all on your own.
When Kim Terry, CEO at Subscription Systems LLC, began her business, she learned that she needed to rely on both human and technical resources to achieve her dream.
When asked what advice she would give to small business owners, Kim shared, “don’t try to do everything yourself! One major key to growing is to learn what to hold on to and know what to trust to others. Too many small business owners I have seen never develop their company, as ‘there are not enough hours in the day’ for them to do everything. Either they burn out or progress slows to accommodate the amount of time they have available.
Use SaaS, Cloud, and Outsourced services as much as possible. These services are already working for you and do not require staff in your company to run them. Hire people who can do effective vendor management instead of do’ers. You will need a lot fewer of them.”
12. Learn to be flexible.
Joe Palko, Marketing Wizard at Your Store Wizards, shares his number one piece of advice:
“Learn to be flexible.”
Why is this so important for small business owners? Being flexible allows you to be a better listener to your customer base, be adaptable to change, and always be ready to embrace what’s next. This will keep you ahead of the game.
Joe wants small business merchants to pay close attention to technology and user feedback.
“Technology is changing fast, and the small business owners I see fall behind are those who become attached to how something works. Just because something works for you now doesn’t mean that it’s going to work the same way in a few years.
Pay attention to trends. I hear from merchants all the time, ‘We need it to be this way because this is the way it’s always been and it works.’
Listen to the experts, listen to your customers…
- Product reviews — Make sure you are using product reviews and that you are doing them in a way that they are being indexed.
- Mobile — Make sure that your themes are responsive and mobile-ready, and that your website is easily usable on mobile.
- Email marketing — Do the best job you can to segment your customers (you can do an entire article on segmentation and how to do it).”
13. Be true to your business.
Don’t follow the crowd.
When you sought out to start your own business, you did so because there was something missing in the market. By staying true to your passion and purpose, you will be able to communicate your genuine and organic message to your customers.
Tessa Wuertz, Director of Marketing & Partnerships at efelle Creative, believes success comes from authentically made brands.
“Stay true to who you are. If you’ve seen success, there’s a reason for it, and oftentimes it’s the brand behind a business, so take that into account when you’re making decisions moving forward.”
She also shares three factors that small business owners should keep in mind when creating go to market strategies.
- “Your website is a tool. With a website, you have a place where people can look up your business, shop, and learn more about your business. If you’ve got products and aren’t online, you’ve got to have a website that tells your story.
- Ask your customers for feedback. Whether it’s about your product, customer service, or website, make it part of your strategy to ask for their feedback about how you’re doing.
- Marketing and email automation. Creating email sequences to welcome new customers to your business, send out abandoned cart emails, and provide weekly updates can really build your relationship with current and potential customers. And with marketing automation, a lot of the work is front-loaded, so it’s continually working for you and your business.”
14. Data analytics are your friend.
In Chapter 12, we talked about monitoring key KPIs for your business – and all the benefits that come from doing so.
Shane Barker, Founder + CEO of shanebarker.com, reinforces this in his own advice for small business owners.
“Use data analytics to your advantage.
Data is the key to understanding your customers. And by analyzing it, you’ll be able to improve your offerings. This, in turn, will help you grow your business.
15. Be the best at what you do.
For a couple of moments, forget about the competition, the state of the market, the small details in your logistics strategy.
Come back to your purpose and brand purpose. Your goal should always be to be the best at what you do.When you look at the big picture and ask yourself how to be the best at what you do, you will find that your priorities arrive much easier.
Michael Prusich, Director of Business Development at 1Digital Agency, says to “not worry about being the best at everything; just be the best at something. From my experience working in small businesses and overseeing business development for small businesses and our clients here at 1Digital, I believe one of the biggest roadblocks that small business owners run into is that they want to solve every problem at once and want to try to do too much at the same time.
Although this is typical of an entrepreneur and a small business owner, I have found that being great at one thing lends itself better to the initial growth and development of a smaller company as opposed to trying to spread yourself too thin.”
Once you’ve got your priorities in line, you can face obstacles with confidence.
Michael explains, “Product quality aside, merchants are trying to have the best customer service, the largest inventory, fastest shipping, and so on. This can be an overwhelming amount of obstacles when resources are limited to small businesses.
- Don’t underestimate the significance of SEO and Google Ads. A large budget isn’t necessarily needed to see amazing results. But the proper strategy, implementation, and execution can be paramount to an online business’ overall health
- Don’t be afraid to evolve and change. Just because something is working now doesn’t mean the industry trends aren’t shifting. One of the biggest problems I see occurring to small businesses is that they get left behind and realize it after it is too late.
- People are everything. It’s the employees of your company that matter the most, and ensuring you have a team that challenges you, thinks outside of the box, isn’t afraid to speak up, and most of all feels appreciated is a factor that can’t be measured.”
16. Think holistically.
“Think holistically! Your business isn’t just your website — it’s a multitude of channels that can be leveraged to increase sales and brand visibility,” shares Richard Parr, Creative Director at Kensium.
Look at your business as a whole — how do you tie together your brand message and experience? How does it connect?
Richard shares three key tactics for small business owners to keep in mind:
- “Establish a consistent brand across all channels — Without this you weaken your business.
- Drink the Google Kool-Aid — Use the tools they provide to boost visibility and track conversions.
- Consistently market — Establish a monthly budget and schedule, pay attention to marketing to all your potential customers.”
17. Be passionate in everything you do.
Last but not least, I wanted to contribute my own advice for small business owners.
From contributing to a digital transformation on a Forbes 500 ecommerce team to side-hustling with my blog and influencer work to managing small business content at BigCommerce — I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to build a successful small business.
My advice? Be passionate in everything you do.
The reality is owning a small business is no easy task. Being passionate about what you do, the products you sell, and the customers you do business with will help give your business purpose and a drive for growth.
This emotional connection and drive will keep you having fun in your day-to-day journey to success — and extend in to how you manage your business.
Focusing on what features your business needs to succeed and how you can deliver the best user experience to your customers will make for strong decision making skills. One of the most helpful decisions you can make for your business is choosing an ecommerce platform, like BigCommerce, that will work with you to bring your business to life — your way.
At BigCommerce, we know building a business doesn’t happen overnight.
With these 15 expert tips and our How To Sell Online Guide, you’ll be well on your way to building a scalable online business.
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