Build the Foundations of Your E-Commerce Website
If you're venturing into e-commerce for the first time, then do some work in advance of commissioning your website that will make the build of your e-commerce website smoother and faster.
Get feedback and ideas on your proposed project. Don't rely solely on friends and family for this. Join a business forum such as UKBF and sound out your ideas (without giving away trade secrets of course!). Familiarise yourself with social media. Draw up a business plan. Get a business mentor from a recognised organisation such as Nottingham Business Venture, Broadway Projector, Antenna etc. I'll give links to relevant organisations in the Nottingham area, at the end of this post. Some of these organisations may also be able to give you access to grants for small businesses, which leads us to...
Make Sure You Can Make A Profit!
Sounds obvious I know but running an e-commerce business does have costs associated with it. Initially there is the cost of building the site - in your business plan you should clearly state how this cost is going to be met in your projected sales figures. If you're intending to recover this cost within a year or two years, work out how many products you think you might sell in that time period and divide the cost of the website into the projected sales. Is it do-able? Rough example, if the website costs £2,400 and your anticipated profit from sales per annum is £60,000 then you know you have to be making £200 a month to meet the initial cost of the website in one year, but there are other costs to include:-
- Monthly website hosting fees.
- Promotion / advertising costs.
- Payment gateway fees (monthly / per sale)
- Packaging materials
Just a note about shipping / delivery: This can be a significant cost and can vary greatly between suppliers. Make sure you know the weights and dimensions of a cross-section of your packaged items. From there you should find the job of comparing prices quite straightforward. A chat at your local Post Office (when they're no too busy) can be very enlightening - they are generally very knowledgable about the best way of sending goods. If you are sending goods overseas, decide which countries you can realistically export to and again - know your delivery costs.
Whether you are new to business or already have an 'off-line' business this guide should help you make the right decisions
Unique Selling Point
Whatever you sell, there will be competition. You might be able to match or better the price of the competition but this alone won't necessarily get you a sale. So make sure you can offer something that will 'swing the deal' examples could be:
- Free delivery
- Faster delivery
- Bulk discounts
- A free gift
- Buy X get Y free
When you are sure you are going ahead with your e-commerce website, get a business bank account. If you are already running an 'off-line' business then you'll know how important it is to separate your personal finances from those of your business. This will help you keep track of set up costs. Many banks offer free business banking for the first year - they will more than likely want to see your business plan. Another reason for setting up a business bank account is that it will be quicker, further down the line, to set up payment gateways (such as Worldpay or PayPal) for your website. Don't rely on just one payment gateway if you can help it.
A note about payment gateways: Some will charge a monthly fee whether you sell anything or not. Some will simply charge a percentage of the sale. Some may charge both. The value of the goods you sell and the frequency of sales will help you determine the right payment gateway for you. As a very rough example, a relatively high value product (say over £500) would probably cost quite a bit to sell via PayPal but because of capped percentages, it may be cheaper to sell through WorldPay.
A good way to test this out is to try a payment gateway calculator - see the useful links section at the foot of this post.
Be sure to understand the laws and regulations surrounding distance selling and specific regulations of selling online. If you are not happy using your home address as a returns address then you might want to consider using a P.O. Box or using a 'virtual office' but be aware that selling online is about trust and before making a purchase many people will check out your business credentials - be transparent and 'up-front'.
You'll find a link to the distance selling regulations at the foot of this page.
Know Your Products
Write a short description (around 140 characters) and a long description (as long as you like) for each product. Make sure that these descriptions are unique and accurate - don't use the same descriptions as another site selling the same product. If you are producing your own products, write accurately about each piece, as if you are describing it to someone on the phone - try to think of questions people might ask about your product and answer them.
If you can't take good photos or you don't have good product photos, consider investing in a good camera and if practical, a mini-studio but most importantly go to an evening or adult education class and learn how to take good digital photos. What you learn there might be the difference between success and failure.
General rules for product photographs...
- Have more than one image available - from different angles
- Take photos in daylight if you don't have studio lighting
- If your products are of high value, consider using a professional photographer
- Try to fit your product into a square image - it will look much better on a website
- Learn how to use image editing software such as Photoshop or the less expensive Photoshop Elements
If you're selling, you should be selling on-line and you need to get in there quickly and smoothly. E-commerce sales in the EU are set to rise dramatically in the coming years with sales in 2014 expected to reach £111.2bn (Source: Centre for Retail Research1).
I hope my suggestions will help you take the first steps towards setting up your online business. If I can be of any further assistance or you would like a quote for an e-commerce website please don't hesitate to get in touch...
Business Help and Support (Mainly Nottingham / East Midlands based)
Antenna - Practical support for business
Broadway - Useful workshops and events (creative industry)
D2N2 - Local enterprise partnership for Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire
Nottingham Business Venture - Good for mentoring, free business seminars and occasionally funding
First Enterprise - Business support and advice (good for but not exclusively for, ethnic minorities)
Gov.UK - General business advice
UKBF - forum covering many topics that affect small businesses
Payment Gateway Calculator
Distance Selling Regulations
1 Online Retailing: Britain, Europe and the US 2014 (Centre for Retail Research)