Have you heard about “equity crowdfunding?” Federal law will make it legal soon. But, of course it has its hoops to jump through. For starters, you can only raise $1 million.
You have to raise your entire goal, or you can’t collect any of it, and you lose the up-front costs too. And your financial documents need a certain amount of analysis, depending on the amount you want to raise.
Plus, they limit what each investor can contribute.
So it’s not without its pains. But, it’s another way to raise money that you can pull out of your entrepreneurial hat.
Don’t like it? That’s fine. You have lots of other choices too, including these:
1. Invest Only Your Own Time and Profits
Getting money from outside sources always comes with strings attached. Don’t like strings? Invest only your own time and money so you keep control.
The downside? You may have to spend more time on your business, putting in more hours than you’d like. It gets draining, isolating, and stressful.
2. Friends and Family
This is another option. One I always stay away from personally. The potential downside is your business goes south and you can’t pay your friends or family the money they lent. That makes those relationships awkward…possibly for the rest of your life.
However, it can be a good source if you have strong relationships with your family, or if they end up giving the money as a gift.
This can be a great place to access money, while not having to pay it back dollar-for-dollar. You will, however, have to compensate those who give you money with value. The nice thing is that if your project doesn’t get fully funded, you don’t pay any fees.
But don’t view Kickstarter as a “magic bullet” that solves all your problems. The major con is that you need to get your project fully funded to get the money. And it’s super-hard to pull off a successful campaign that gets fully funded.
4.Â Small Business Financing
A new niche has popped up because traditional bank financing can be so tough to get. Many small business financing outfits will now help you get well into the six figures of funding. However, you may have higher interest rates and larger payments to compensate for the additional risk you present.
Growing Your Business is Always Possible
Regardless of what kind of e-commerce business you want to run, you always have growth options. It’s up to you to consider the benefits and downfalls.
Do you have a unique market position?
The biggest misconception for new business owners is how marketing works. When you first start out, it’s tempting to think that it’s “spreading the news about your products and services.”
Yes, people need to know your name so they can buy from you.Â But, it’s much more than that.
For example, do you know what “positioning” is?
It simply means that you know all the benefits your competitors offer, your market’s needs, and then you show how you’re different. Or, maybe you fulfill a need no other competitor can at this point. And if you’re super-advanced, you’ve identified a need the market doesn’t even know it has yet.
When you have a unique position, sales come in so much easier. In fact, they can be almost effortless. After all, if you’re the only company that solves Â a problem your market cares about, you have no competition to deal with.
Let’s take a look at some other aspects of “positioning:”
1. When Should You Find Your Position?
Before you start your business. And if you’ve already started, as soon as possible. Marketing to any type of customer works far better when you have a unique position.
If you don’t, and you sound like other businesses, your customers have to start comparing. When all other factors are the same, they go with the cheaper company.
And you don’t want to be that company…at least not in the early days of your business anyway.
2. How Do You Find Your Position?
The internet makes this super-easy. All you have to do is go to your competitor’s websites and read what they say.
Make a list of top competitors, or the leaders, in your niche. About 5-10 companies or so. For each company, write down the main messages you notice they communicate.
Can’t identify how they try to sell to their market? Great, that means they don’t know. And for you, that means you can capitalize on that while they try to figure it out.
3. What Position Should You Take?
This part’s a little more complex. In addition to researching your competitors, you also need to know your customers. You want an intimate understanding of their problems, concerns, and deepest fears.
Researching your competitors may reveal those. However, your market may have other needs. So, you need to find out where your market exists online, and read their comments and social posts. You can also call and talk to your customers.
Write down all the things that bother them.
With this information, it’s up to you to create a product or service that fulfills your market’s needs better than anyone else. But that’s a complex process that’s better left for another blog post, or even an entire series of blog posts.
Do you have a marketing plan that works?
Isn’t marketing telling about all your products and services?
Yes, but today’s marketing works a little different than it used to. That’s because, before the internet, your buyers had to rely on your company for information. They didn’t have instantaneous access to dozens of options and all the research they could possibly need.
But today, they do. So, instead of talking about your products and services first, you have to earn their attention. And that works by giving them a little bit of value first. Then, as you slowly hold their attention over time, the sales roll in.
That’s marketing in general. Of course, there are some nearly instant ways to make sales (like PPC for example).
And oh, by the way, there’s dozens of techniques you can use. But what should you do to market your business, in specific?
1. Do the Marketing You Like
Make a list of all the marketing you’ve tried, have thought about trying, or would like to try. That could be things like:
â€˘ Blogging on your own blog
â€˘ Your Facebook page
â€˘ Guest posting
â€˘ Networking on Twitter
â€˘ Trade shows
â€˘ Cold calls to create partnerships
At the end of the day, the best marketing you can do is the marketing you like. That’s because, if you don’t like, eventually you’ll burn out and stop doing it.
By the way, if you don’t like marketing, outsource it. You can always find someone else willing to do it.
2. Do What Few Others Do
What’s hot today? Social media, content marketing, PPC, SEO, list building, and so on.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do those tactics. However, you can score some wins by doing the less popular kinds of marketing.
Today, far fewer people spend time picking up the phone because sending an e-mail’s so much easier. So, start calling other businesses related to your niche that you could partner with.
Call the owners of blogs to try to secure a guest post spot. You’d be surprised with how lesser-known tactics can be so much more effective.
3. Do a Few Things Really Well
Depending on how much time you have and want to spend on marketing each week, you can only try a limited number of marketing tactics. For most people, that means you can try around 2-3 tactics yourself.
Go beyond that, and you dilute your time too much. That leads to ineffective marketing that does not get you customers.
If you need to do more marketing, you can always easily outsource.
So that’s what I have for you so you execute your marketing plan with the maximum degree of effectiveness. It’s easy to quickly overload yourself with so many tasks that you don’t net any real return from your marketing.
So keep it simple, make a plan, and stick to it.
If you watch any professional sports, they always say,”The great ones do all the little things right.”
True in sports. And true in e-commerce too.
Because, when you do the “little things” right, you take advantage of things that your competitors minimize or just plain don’t care about.
What are some of those little things? Here’s a few:
1. Schema Markup
“Schema” is an SEO tactic just about every business, big and small, ignores. Schema is a collection of HTML tags that Google uses to improve the display of its search listings.
While it does not improve your search rankings, it makes your listing more obvious. So, you get more clicks.
You can hardcode it into your website using HTML tags. And there’s also several WordPress plugins for implementing schema.
2. Public Speaking
Nothing’s as powerful for winning purchases as in-person events, and especially public speaking. Just by getting the opportunity to talk in front of people, even if it is at a smaller event, you instantly position yourself as an authority.
And when you read about business building today, it all goes back to things you can do online. Few, if any, people think of actually doing things in person anymore.
Try it as one of your marketing tactics.
3. URL Structure
Don’t use URLs based on time. Google can see those and say,”Wow, this is old. I’m going to give this lower ranking power than something else with newer content.”
Make sure you use all lower case letters in your URLs. And use dashes instead of underscores to separate your words.
Users expect to see that. And it makes your URLs easier for Google to read.
Finally, avoid dynamically generated URLs. You want your URLs to be static and consistent so Google can spider and index them appropriately.
4. No Automated Sitemap
Google crawls and indexes your website when it has a sitemap to work from. You don’t have to update your sitemap manually. Plenty of WordPress plugins are available for doing this automatically so you don’t even have to think about it.
5. Not Making Your Content Shareable
There’s two ways to make your content shareable:
1. Writing ideas that you know your users will want to share with others
2. Including share buttons on every piece of content you create
In this case, we’re talking about the latter. Make sure you have social icons so your audience can share your product pages and amazing content with others.
Some of those things are simple. Some are not. But they all make a huge difference and can help you blow past your competitors without them even knowing it.
Business, at its simplest form, is simply identifying problems and mistakes you’ve made, trying something new, and doing more of what works. That’s all it is.
The minute you start your e-commerce store, you’re making mistakes. Nothing wrong with it. You don’t know the perfect path from the start. No one does.
Instant success only happens to a rare few individuals. 99% of businesses take years of hard work before they become the big name in their niche.
What could hold your e-commerce site back from the success it could have? Here’s some problems you might experience, and possible fixes for them:
1. You Don’t Get the Sales You Want
There’s actually a number of reasons for this…almost too many to count. One of the most common, though, is marketing.
For whatever reason, many people new to marketing think it’s all about hype and deception. That’s one way to do marketing, but it’s only effective for certain audiences. And there’s ethical considerations too.
Marketing is really presenting products and services in the most valuable way to the people that need them. View yourself as doing a service for your market. You’re showing them how your products can make their lives better.
2. You Don’t Have the Search Rankings You Want
This one again could be for dozens of reasons. But, let’s start with one that’s easy for you to fix. Optimizing your pages for relevant keywords.
You should always focus on “long-tail” keywords, ones with at least 3 words in the search term or more. They have lesser competition and convert at higher rates. Plus, they’re easier to rank for.
Get your keyword in your title tag (becoming less important these days), the URL for the page, one of the H1 or H2 tags, and at least once in the body copy. Get it in your image’s alt tag too.
Forget what all the other sources say. That’s all you need.
3. You’re Not as Profitable as You Need to Be
Again, no easy answers here. Starting an e-commerce site is not a cakewalk. But then again, nothing worth doing is.
When should you quit your job? Only you can make that decision. It’s not going to be a straight path to success.
Keep your finger on the pulse of your market. Always be asking your customers what keeps them up at night, and what you can do better.
Remember, most businesses don’t do that. And when you do, you’ll find the answers that you need to make a profit.
Those are some common answers to problems that may plague your e-commerce site. Keep working away it, and everything’ll be all right.
Technical SEO, which refers to things like interlinking, outbound linking, URL structure, keyword optimization, website load time, and many other things still forms an essential part of SEO here in 2016. But as you know, content is the way to get the real SEO benefits these days.
And though Matt Cutts and Google whacked guest posting in 2014, they did it to low-quality, spammy blog posts. If you contribute to high-quality blogs here in 2016, that’s still some good inbound SEO you can get.
But everyone else know this too…so how do you get published on the big-name blogs over all the competition?
It’s not as hard as you think. Some tips for making it happen:
1. Have a New/Original Idea or Angle
The majority of blogs today get the same ideas pitched over and over again. Bookmark the major blogs in your niche. Visit them every week. Study them carefully.
Find an entirely new idea to present (hard), or take a unique angle on a well-known idea.
2. Know Where to Spend Your Time Publishing
When you guest blog, you don’t want to do it just for the link. Ever. You want to be on blogs with high visibility. Check their social shares to see that they at least get a few hundred per post.
If they don’t show you the numbers, use BuzzSumo’s free Chrome Extension to check.
3. Make it Useful/Actionable
B2B people love new insights they can put to use to improve their business lives. And so do B2C people in their personal lives.
Whatever you write should be easy for your audience to put to use.
4. On Pitching…
If you have a truly new idea or angle, pitching isn’t that hard. The first line of your e-mail pitch should be “I have a new guest blog idea you don’t have on your blog.”
That gets interest immediately. You should also note that you get the blog’s rules by basically restating the major ones.
With the right pitch, you don’t even need a single guest blog post anywhere else to get published.
5. If You Don’t Get Accepted
Don’t worry too much. Big blogs are busy, getting harassed by many other writers. Follow up a handful of times. Consider following up by phone (no one does that these days) if possible. Like and share their content on your favorite social networks.
Do it for a few weeks, and then move on.
Once you land a spot or two on major blogs, getting published other places gets much easier. For your information, also know that some big blogs, like Huffington Post, don’t get much respect because they take literally anything. So, try to focus on industry blogs that get you in front of your target niche audience.
Should you spend some time making your own products? It’s what a lot of the big retailers do. Slowly over time, as they find out what works and what doesn’t, they let their own store brands take the place of leading brands.
The big guys have lots of time and money to throw at that kind of stuff. But you don’t.
So how can you do the same? After all, wouldn’t it be great to test to see if your customers want a product before you spend all kinds of time making it?
For bootstrapping e-commerce companies, this is what you might do:
1.Â Use Someone Else’s Products
No joke here. Do you know what the owner of Zappos did? When first starting, his company was all him. He went to shoe stores, asked owners to take photos of their shoes and put them online, and then he waited.
When orders came in, he bought the shoes and shipped them over. Time-consuming, but it helped him learn what to sell.
If you can’t fulfill an order, simply do the right thing and offer a refund.
2. Watch Your Page’s Copy Carefully
Just as important as the product’s image is the words that tell your customer about it. Don’t focus on features (color, size, and other facts) so much because your customers don’t care as much about those.
Instead, they care more about what the product does for them. With shoes, do they make your customer look fancy and elegant, making them the center of attention at a party? Do your customersÂ stay comfortable and avoid painful sores when running long distances?
Focus your copy on what customers get with your product. Then, mention the features so they can learn if the product truly is the “right fit.”
3. Always Get Purchases
People saying they want your product and people actually buying it are two different things. Don’t trust market research methods like asking everyone you know on Facebook if they want to buy a product you made. Get a picture of your product up and send them a link to where they can buy it.
If you decide to share photos of your product on Pinterest, for example, take shares as a sign people want it. That gives you a ballpark idea of whether to even attempt making your product. And again, only trust the number of purchases you get as true proof of your product’s viability.
Talk, after all, is cheap.
Anyway, you’ll save tons of time and effort by testing your product’s viability out before making and selling it. In this way, the digital marketplace is the great equalizer between small businesses and global conglomerates.
By the way, to learn more about this, Google “minimum viable product.”
Do you have an autoresponder series?
Not too many companies do autoresponders. Don’t ask me why. Perhaps they don’t understand the value of autoresponders yet. Or perhaps digital marketing’s so new they simply have thought about it.
In any case, it’s a huge opportunity for you to build a strong relationship with your customer nearly immediately. That impression lasts a long, long time, and can result in a number of other sales and referrals.
How do you make autoresponders work? Some ideas:
1. Do Something Like “5 Days of Deals” for All New List Subscribers
Say someone subscribes to your list. For each of the 5 next days, send them a discount code for them to use how they’d like in your store.
Think of how well that will go over with them.
2. Run a Pre-Holiday Campaign
Leading up to Christmas, you could d0 “12 Days of Deals” too. Feature a discount on a product, or group of products each day.
You’ll have to think of how to structure the series. But you get the point.
3. Offer a Series on How to Get More from a Product Your Customer Buys
For example, say they buy a mixer. On day 1, you show customersÂ the simple functions. On day 2, you show them more sophisticated functions. On day 3, you give them tips and techniques for doing what they want to do better and faster.
On day 4, you show them some hidden uses. And on day 5, you show them how to store and maintain their mixer so it lasts a long time.
That’s just an example to help you understand how an autoresponder series could work for a certain product. You know your products best, so simply customize your series to meet your customer’s needs.
3 Key Points to Make Autoresponders Successful
1. Each E-mail Should be Brief
How do you know when you’re “brief?” 200 words per autoresponder…that’s it.
2. Each E-mail Should be Useful
As soon as your customer finishes reading your e-mail, they should be able to do something new with their product.
It doesn’t need to be a big thing. It just needs to be something they can put to use.
3. Build up Excitement for the Last E-mail
If you create a longer series, like 7-10 parts, how do you keep your customers reading until the last one?
By being useful in each e-mail, many will stay for the entire series. But, if you can tell them they get a “special bonus” tip, or “hidden” tip in the last e-mail, even more will stay.
Autoresponders are a great way to build lists, warm up the relationship, and keep more customers long-term. If you don’t have one already, consider making one.
Which e-mail marketing metrics do you track?
2016 seems to be the “year of e-mail,” if you believe what everyone’s saying out there. There’s no doubt that e-mail marketing has an amazing ROI over time. Companies see in the hundreds, or even in the thousands of percent in ROI.
So it is effective. And you hear all kinds of chatter about what e-mail marketing metrics you should pay attention to. Rather than list to all the chatter, read these tips for what you really need to know:
1. Subscriber Count
This metric gets abused badly. You hear people bragging about the size of their list all the time. In practical terms, it’s similar to how much you can drink at the bar. In other words…meaningless!
The only thing you should care about in your subscriber count is that you have the right subscribers on your list. Know exactly who your customer is. Create free content they can get when they join your list.
And only care when that person subscribes. When the wrong person unsubscribes, cheer!
2. Open Rate
You should care about this one. It tells you how attractive your e-mail subject lines are. You learn how much your audience cares about what you have to say.
Good things to know. A good open rate? Around 20%. The best e-mails in the world get about a 40% open rate. Don’t hold yourself to 40% – that’s super difficult to do. But if you can get around 20%, you’re doing pretty well.
Of course, this is another big one. “Clicks” refers to how many people click your links that you send in your e-mails.
So that number’s going to have a lot to do with your sales.
4. On-Site Time
This one you won’t find in your e-mail service. It’s actually in Google Analytics. Just go to “Acquisition –> All Traffic –> Referrals.”
For me on one of my websites, my list isÂ by far the best source of traffic. I have a 14.29% bounce rate and an astonishing average session duration of 20 minutes, 6 seconds from all my list traffic!
You’ll want to know that metric for sure.
Of course, this is the one you really care about: how many additional sales you get from your e-mails. Your e-mail marketing service doesn’t track this.
Unfortunately, this one isn’t easy to do. Have your developer do it. Or, call your e-mail marketing service for help on how to do it. You can Google it too, if you don’t stumbling through the process on your own.
Anyway, those are the e-mail marketing metrics you should care about.
Who is your ideal customer?
Who is your ideal customer?
If you say something vague like “one with money,” you don’t have a crystal clear understanding of your customer.
When you know your ideal customer well, as well as you know your spouse or best friend, it’s so much easier to market in convincing ways. That means you get more customers, and more good ones willing to pay your full prices without any complaining.
What business doesn’t want that?
Fortunately, the internet makes it easy to research your customer. What used to take millions of dollars to research, now takes a few hours and an internet connection.
Researching your customer really is that easy.
Here’s what you can do:
1. If You Already Have a Nice Stream of Customers…
When they call, just ask them some simple questions. Or, ask a handful if you can interview them in exchange for $25 in in-store credit.
Ask them questions like:
â€˘ What do you like about our company?
â€˘ What do you like about our products?
â€˘ What do you think we could improve?
â€˘ Do you tell your friends and family about our company?
â€˘ Why or why not?
â€˘ What do you like about our competitor, Company XYZ?
â€˘ What don’t you like about our competitor, Company XYZ?
Eventually, you’ll start hearing some of the same responses over and over. That means you’ve found a need to improve on, or something you do well.
2. Find the Leaders in Your Niche and Read Customer Reviews
Much of your market research may already be done for you…at your competitor’s sites. Know of a dominating competitor in your niche who targets the same customer?
Read the reviews left about them at their website. Google their name. Again, you’ll identify patterns with what customers like and don’t like.
And those are changes you need to make at your company if you don’t already have them in place.
3. Research Your Customers on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn
Facebook and Twitter give you the most personal information, that’s still public at the same time. Here you may or may not find specific information related to your company name.
And you can definitely find personal information. For example, you might learn many of your customers post about the vegan meals they eat. That could mean they’re generally female, have liberal political views, and favor animal rights.
For example, 79% of vegans are women. For vegetarians, things even out. 59% are women. 41% are men.
See how much you learned with just that little bit of research?
4. Whatever You Find, Write It Down
Eventually, you want to create a customer “persona,” a profile of your ideal customer. That way, you know exactly how to approach them in your marketing, which makes it so much more effective.
It’s easy to complain about the complication technology brings sometimes. But in this case, it’s more a blessing than a curse.