Any business can quickly spiral out of control once you realize all the things you need to do to make it successful.
And that’s particularly true with e-commerce because it’s digital. The online world is loaded with limitless technologies you can use to improve your business.
But what you really want is to make it easy to push your business forward.
So here are some simple tools and techniques to make that happen:
1. Use an App to Streamline Your Shipping Process
There’s plenty of apps out there. At Capterra, you can search for apps by function. Just enter “shipping” and hit enter.
You’ll get a number of choices. Each are user-reviewed, so you’ll have some idea of their quality.
2. Hire Qualified Employees
Unfortunately, employees can be hit-or-miss. Get a great one, and you don’t have to watch them at all. That’s streamlining to the extreme.
Hire the wrong one, and things quickly become a nightmare. Hire slow. Fire fast when you make a mistake.
And make sure you pay well. Competent employees don’t accept below-average pay rates.
3. Use Buffer to Streamline Your Social Media Time
Social media loves to consume all your time. Instead, minimize the time you spend on it by using Buffer to post your posts.
By the way, just start with the most important social network where you find your target audience. You can work your way over to others as you grow your audience.
4. Categorize Receipts with Shoeboxed
This program digitizes, categorizes, and archives your receipts, business cards, and any other document you want. It’s a service, so they do the entire process for you!
5. Automate E-mails to Users that Abandon Shopping Carts
This can land you a ton of new business. You could even offer a 10% discount, or whatever you find appropriate to your customers if they come back and buy.
6. Use Marketing Automation
There’s a ton of platforms out there. But do be aware, they aren’t there to automate your marketing from start to finish. Rather, they automate the “grunt work” processes.
You do have to feed these systems a fair amount of content to make them work.
7. Order Fulfillment Automation
For obvious reasons, this can make your e-commerce business much more effective. You can focus more on growing your business, rather than the daily grind and manual labor.
If you automate those processes, you’ll find your business more productive, enjoyable, and profitable.
Get ready for more fun!
You can get almost as elaborate as you want when selling online. Heatmaps, list segmentation, conversion optimization – you can get in over your head and into some complex stuff fast.
Those things have their time and place – once you have your traffic built up.
But until then, you don’t need to be as sophisticated.
And in fact, you can do some pretty easy things – just like these:
1. Be Yourself in Your Marketing
It’s tempting to think your business communications need to be stiff, formal, or very “loud” like you see in some TV advertisements. But that’s the old way of doing things.
Today, everything’s more casual and conversational. And that trend is accelerating. Be yourself in your marketing. That way, Â you’ll enjoy it more, do better work, and you’ll build better relationships with customers.
2. Using the Marketing Tactics You Believe In
The web accelerates the nearly infinite number of marketing tactics available. If you keep doing research, you’ll see good reasons why you need to use this tactic or that one.
Find 2-3 that work for you, and forget the rest. Otherwise you’ll drive yourself completely insane trying new things that don’t work.
3. Listen to Your Market
And we don’t mean engaging in conversations with them, although you can use that to supplement your market research. As you talk with your market, you’ll often find what they say is not necessarily what they want.
So you have to create tests to see what your market actually does.
Isn’t “actions speak louder than words” one of the oldest cliches?
That may be, but it’s soooooo true.
4. Do the Basics Really Well
There’s no need to make business complex from the start. Many businesses say “we put our customers first,” but most don’t. Don’t create elaborate policies – just make your customers happy.
Keep your website as simple as possible. Make it load fast. Have visually stunning product photos. Build an e-mail list. That’s enough to build a thriving business that produces a consistent income.
5. Don’t Sell Products…Sell the Lifestyle They Offer!
At the end of the day, many companies sell basically the exact same thing. It’s hard to sell a truly original product that no one else does.
So rather than focusing on selling wine, for example, you sell the romance you can have with your spouse over a glass of wine, fun and relaxation with friends and family members, or the exclusivity of drinking an expensive wine.
If you do that in your sales approach, you leapfrog ahead of 99% of other businesses, who simply sell products.
That’s really all there is to it – nothing fancy or complicated.
Do you really need 78 free online tools? Do you even have time to check them all out?
You don’t even have time to look at 2-3 of them, let alone 78, or whatever the biggest number is lately.
Instead of that, use these core tools that all e-commerce site owners, including you, should have:
1. Peek – Free Testing from Real Users
You want your e-commerce store to give your users a great experience right? With Peek, you get a 5-minute video of how a real person uses your site.
Free market research – that used to cost big companies millions of dollars!
2. LastPassÂ – Securely Manage Your Passwords
How many hundreds of passwords do you need to run your business every day? Hopefully, the password isn’t “jsmith123.”
LastPass will create ridiculously long and difficult passwords, and store them all for you. Plus, you simply click a button to insert them into the web page you want to login to.
It’s free, stores 100s of passwords, and syncs in the cloud across all device types.
3. Learn Online Marketing with Mozinars
Learning from the best saves you years of difficulty and frustration, and maybe thousands of dollars. It shortens your path from “struggling” to “thriving.”
Moz’s free webinars may be the most valuable tool in your marketing arsenal.
4. Buffer – Social Media Management
I prefer Buffer to Hootsuite because you have fewer technical issues and get better service with Buffer. The price difference between the two is negligible.
You get some analytics with the free option. And you can manage 3-4 social networks too. Buffer’s interface is more streamlined and less complex than Hootsuite, so it’s easier to use.
And simplicity rules in business.
5. Zoho – Manage Your Business Contacts
This CRM’s free – forever, and for up to 10 users. It’s an easy way to keep track of all your business contacts, and what contact you’ve had with them.
6. Screaming Frog SEO Analysis Software
You don’t get too many tools that go into this level of depth for free. But Screaming Frog is one.
You can uncover literally any technical SEO problem you could imagine. Of course, there is a learning curve. But learning the basics comes fast!
And by the way, why do all the SEO tool and companies get all the cool business names?
7. Wave Accounting – Free Accounting
What would your business be without accounting software? Wave is free. It’s not got some of the features the bigger guys might have, like timesheet tracking.
But, it’s great if you’re just starting out and need to control expenses.
Whew! That’s Enough…
Those 7 tools will get you off to a good start. Now you don’t have to pour through 60-80 to find the ones you want.
Here’s to your success!
Continuing our working from home series…has this ever happened to you:
You’re sitting at home on the laptop, addressing the top issues of the day.
Then your spouse comes in and says hello in the morning.
The kids get dressed and ready and you send them off to school.
So far, so good.
Then your cats come bounding in, demanding attention.
The dog starts to chase them around. (Ok, now your anger’s starting to build.)
Then the dog starts barking at who knows what.
Now you have to take him outside to go to the bathroom.
Then your kids get home from school.
And then your spouse comes home from work.
Wow, that’s a lot of chaos to deal with!
And then, let’s say your children decide to start misbehaving and fighting with each other while your spouse runs to the grocery store.
Some days, you’re ready to tear your hair out because you can’t handle all that…plus what you have to manage at work.
Here are some tips for making your work from home more productive:
1. Have a Specific Space Just for Working
This helps your mind make that conscious leap from being at home to being at work. It’s kind of like how doctors say use your bed only for sleeping.
Plus, to get your home office tax deduction, you need to have a dedicated place for working.
2. Close the Door
It clearly sends the signal you are at work right now. And maybe you should even be more direct than that…
3. Establish Clear Boundaries with Your FamilyÂ
Let them know a couple times a day you can talk. Ask them to knock, and let them know when you’re not all tied up. It’s easy for family members to think you’re available whenever they need you.
But, that’s not always the case. And you’ll find yourself being nicer and having less anger when you’ve created these boundaries.
4. Shut Off the Distractions
So in addition to your family wanting to talk to you, you’ll get a load of texts and e-mails. Now unless your job is customer service, those things can be quite a distraction from what you’re trying to focus on.
Shut those out as much as possible too.
5. Structure Your Environment to Help You Be Your BestÂ
Listen to motivating music. Decorate your office the way you want. Wear clothes that make you comfortable. Hey, one of the big benefits of working from home is you have control over these things.
6. Respond to Your Mind’s Condition
Feeling groggy? Take a break and go for a walk, run, or play a sport. Feeling energetic? Do the most important work for your business.
If you know “it’s just not happening today,” get the essentials done, quit early, regain your focus, and work hard later that week.
That’s a gross oversimplification of staying productive while working from home. But, these tips get you on the right track.
You know how working from home goes:
Wake up whenever you want.
Crawl out of bed.
Stay in your pajamas.
Don’t bother combing your hair.
You’re not feeling up to it, so you can quit a little earlier today.
Wow, who’d have thought this would be so easy!
Except, That’s Not The Way Working from Home Goes…
Or if it does, you won’t be in business for long!
Take a look at some of these points, which much more closely reflect the reality of working from home:
1. Can You Motivate Yourself to Do Your Work…With Only Failure or Success Motivating You?Â
Some people need to have a boss looking over their shoulder constantly. Does that sound like you?
Or does that sound more like a nightmare?
At your work, the only boss is really the final outcome of your business. Is that enough to motivate you to get your work done, regardless of whether things are going well or not?
2. Can You Set Boundaries?
Other people and things are going to demand your attention. Your spouse might think you’re able to take a break whenever they want you to.
Friends and family think they can pop over for a visit at their leisure.
A neighbor might stop by to ask you to help them with something.
Most of the time, those things aren’t a big deal.
But, sometimes you’re going to have to say “no” so you can take care of your customers.
Are you willing to do that?
3. Can You Turn it Off?
Maybe you’re on the extreme “workaholic” end of the spectrum. You just love to obsess about work…even when you’re not working.
At home, you’ll have 24/7 access to work.
And if you work too much, you can ruin your health and relationships with family members.
So, can you shut down your computer and stop answering your cell phone when you need to?
4. Can You Work Alone for Months and Maybe Years?
You have a goal of opening a chain of brick-and-mortar stores. But, your business won’t go like you expect it to.
It never works that way.
Can you hang in there for months at a time, not having the ability to make your goals happen?
And can you do that while alone, without any other coworkers around you?
Sure, you can call them up from time-to-time. But, it’s much different from working with them in person.
It doesn’t sound like much…until you actually try to do it.
So…Is Working from Home for You?Â
With all that in mind, do you think you can succeed at working from home?
Maybe giving it a try is the only way to find out.
Should you be on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, or Google+?
How much time should you dedicate to each?
Should you be on all of those sites?
These questions have tough answers that take years for you to figure out on your own.
So we’re here to help you know exactly what to do to get your social media strategy off the ground.
1. Start with Twitter
Facebook costs money to get started on. And it can cost lots of money if you want all your followers to see your posts.
On top of that, Facebook’s publicly traded now. So that means they have to find more ways to make money. And since they make a lot of money on advertising, you can bet costs won’t go down anytime soon.
It’s hard and long to get traction on Google+, and it may not be a social network anymore sometime in the future.
Pinterest is mostly women, and you don’t get followers as fast as you can on Twitter.
Young people are moving from Facebook to Instagram, and according to MarketingProfs, the other main demographics are marketing and IT professionals. So it has a rather limited audience.
By process of elimination, Twitter makes for the best place to start your marketing.
2. What Makes Twitter Such a Great Place to Start?Â
For starters, it’s easy to earn followers. Here’s what you do at a basic level:
â€¢ Start posting content not from you. About 80% of it shouldn’t be from you, but should be helpful to your followers. You can post as much or as little as you want if you follow that rule. Aim for 1-2 posts per day to start.
â€¢ Favorite and retweet your target market’s stuff, and things your followers will like. You’ll earn the majority of your followers this way.
â€¢ A few times per month, put out an advertisement that sends people to a landing page on your website.
That’s really all you need to do to start earning a good number of followers.
3. You Can Use Promoted Tweets to Target Specific Niches
Of course this will cost you money, between 50Â¢ and $4.00 per engagement (usually about 55Â¢ per click). But you will earn the most relevant followers to what you have to sell because of the available targeting options.
You can target people with specific interests, or even other user’s followers. So if you know you have a competitor with a relevant following, that’s an easy way to pick up customers targeted to what you sell.
At the End of the Day, Twitter’s Fast & Affordable
Starting out, you probably won’t have thousands of dollars to work on a social media strategy, or to hire someone else to do it. That’s what makes Twitter such a great asset in the beginning.
After you have a strong and engaged (more key than anything else) following, then you can start to build out your other social media profiles.
What should your sticker price be?
What strategies can you do to earn more sales from your customers?
Learn in the tips below:
1. Always Price Ending in 9sÂ
You see these prices all the time: $199.99, $1399.99, and $1.99. Those 9’s make things seem much cheaper, even though a flat $1400.00 is simpler and just a penny more than $1399.99.
This works the opposite way too: price a product at $104, and your customers tend to think they overpaid $4 for a $100 item.
This one works well if you have customers with personalities that really don’t like to buy. You, or someone you know, doesn’t like to spend money.
They’d rather save it.
So, to coax them a little, you bundle several items together, so they feel like they’re getting more. Think of things like Microsoft Office 365 or Google cloud services, which really roll multiple products into one.
3. But It’s Not All about Pricing So Low that Your Customers Feel Like They Get a Deal
You have to know the personality of your ideal buyer. If they’re looking for higher quality, price towards the higher end of the scale.
However, make sure your product delivers that higher level of quality. If it doesn’t, customers will buy once and never come back. Or, they’ll ask for refunds at higher rates.
4. Sell Experience with the Product, Not Price
The only reason to compete on price is to get rid of inventory you don’t need. Otherwise, if you do compete on price as an overall strategy, you really create a lose-lose-lose-win situation.
You lose because you don’t make as much money. You also lose because the only companies that can really compete on price are the largest retailers on earth. You also lose because you don’t have the money to spend on the best technology and employees to deliver the best service to your customers.
Your customers win because they get a good price. But it’s really a disaster for them long-term because you won’t be able to deliver quality service.
So, you want to sell how the product’s going to make your customers feel. Because that’s what they really want – convenience, good health, lower stress, or whatever else the benefit might be.
5. Give This a Try Too
Odd prices – ones that end in 5,6,7,8, or 9, also tend to indicate deals or savings to be had. You’ll have to test what works with your customers – it could be any one of these.
That’s how you get your customers to buy more. Test those strategies out – and let us know the results.
Have you ever tried to do something that you just sort of like to do for hours, weeks, months, and years on end?
Maybe that sounds familiar now.
Or, have you ever spent the majority of your waking hours doing something you really hate doing?
There’s something more to life when you wake up every morning excited to start the day.
And that’s hard to find – because 70% of Americans are unhappy with their jobs, according to Gallup. The company called the trend “troubling,” and stated less than 1/3 of Americans are actually engaged with their work.
This research includes “cool” workplaces that have ballpits, ping-pong tables, and all the other gimmicks.
Makes sense though. If you hate what you do for 8 hours per day and take a 30-minute break to play ping-pong (but maybe you hate that too), that’s still not a great life.
So, how can you be one of the lucky few who loves what you do every day?
Follow these tips for some help:
1. Find a Problem That Really Bothers You
Because, if it bugs you, there’s probably a couple million other people just like you it bugs too. Maybe the company you buy from has a great product, but awful customer service.
Maybe they charge way too much for their product because they’re the only competitor. Maybe their product breaks way too often.
Find something that bothers you in the marketplace. Then, build a business around solving that problem.
2. Identify a Reason to Run Your Business, Other than Making MoneyÂ
This is called the “Hedgehog Concept” by Jim Collins in Good to Great. If you exist to make money, you will burn out and hate what you do.
It’s not a matter of if, but when.
Some ideas for inspiration:
â€¢ A company that sells children’s toys with the goal of protecting child safety
â€¢ A health food company that sells food that tastes good – and is healthy too
â€¢ An electronics company that sells electronic devices of all kinds to help you improve your quality of life
3. Google Search
Nah! Just kidding. Google’s not going to help you solve all your problems in life. But it could be helpful.
Really, you should trust your gut.
Some ideas will strike you as great ideas, but then you’ll think about it and realize…not so much. Others will suddenly appear out of nowhere.
You have to trust your instincts. You’re not taught to do that much in America. But it’s a great way to find a business idea.
Eventually, you’ll find one that you can’t help but get excited about all the time. That’s worth trying to turn into a business.
You Can’t Force It!
If you’re in a pinch, and you need a business idea now because life’s getting tough, that’s a bad time to find your business idea.
However, you can start a business and eventually transform it into the one you really love.
The bottom line: commit to finding your business passion, and it will happen.
Ahhh…the grass always seems greener on the other side of the fence, doesn’t it?
You work your job day in and day out for years.
But there’s got to be something better than that, doesn’t there?
You’ve had an idea of running your own business for some time, but how do you make that happen?
The process works different for everyone, but here’s a general outline you can follow:
1. Start with a High-Margin Product
This is the key right off the bat. You have a limited number of hours. And if you sell products with low profit margins, that forces you to put more time in your business.
Time you don’t have!
2 types of high-margin products:
1) You make your own product that’s hard to find anywhere else online
2) You can resell traditionally high-margin products like these
If you want to sell a product, but don’t have one, start selling someone else’s. Then, when you have your business established, you can explore how to sell other products.
2. Outsource Everything Possible
You may not have a lot of time available, but you can certainly use someone else’s. Sites like UpworkÂ and Elance give you access to freelancers that charge $10 – $15 per hour (expect to pay $90 – $125 if you find these same people on the web or through an agency).
Figure out what you can pay. And hire someone to do the small stuff, and the stuff you don’t want to do.
Time is money, and your mental sanity will thank you that you don’t do everything yourself!
3. Give Yourself Time
Business usually isn’t a fast thing. And that goes especially so if you’ve never run a business before.
Consider your e-commerce company your side venture for a couple years.
And when you’re ready to make a run, let go of your job.
4. Use Crowdfunding to Get Financial Help
Sites like Kickstarter and IndiegogoÂ Â can help you get some money right away. Don’t assume that you’ll get funding just because you throw up a campaign, though.
And Kickstarter only gives you money if you achieve your requested amount.
Indiegogo takes a 4% fee if you raise your requested amount. If you don’t raise that amount, they take a 9% fee of what you do raise.
You can get a nice boost to help you out during the early days.
5. You Will Have to Sacrifice Some Time, But Do What Works for You
Some people can work 2-3 hours before and after their jobs. And then they can put in another 5-6 hours on Saturday and Sunday. Others can’t.
Maybe you can’t. But given these techniques, you can find a mixture that works.
Running Your Own Business Isn’t an Easy Thing!
Otherwise, everyone would do it. But if you persevere day after day, month after month, year after year, it materializes. What matters not so much is the time you put into it, but the commitment you maintain.
Anybody who can dress themselves can make money online.
All you do is start up your PC, buy a website, and the money starts rolling in.
No hard work necessary, right?
Of course, you know that’s a lie.
Although, if you believe the internet marketing gurus, you’d think it’s easy as pie.
A decade ago, when no one was doing it, it was easier.
But now, it’s hard, and it gets exponentially harder each minute because more people do it.
Truthfully, anyone with these qualities, or willing to develop them, can make a comfortable living online.
This is what you need to have:
1. You Don’t Mind Being Alone for Long Periods of Time
It sounds obvious, but many people don’t consider how much they’ll be alone working online. You do get some human interaction. But a lot of it comes through e-mail, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
Some people say they crave being around others.
Can you spend 8-10 hours per day without any extended conversations with another person, day after day, year after year? Or, can you find other ways to interact with people to satisfy your needs so you don’t go insane?
2. How Much Do You Like to Learn?
With any business, about 80-90% of what you think will work doesn’t actually end up working. That’s the way it goes for everybody.
Then you find those 10-20% of things that do work, and you spend all your time doing that. Do you like to learn that way?
Plus, all kinds of unexpected things happen. Your web developer goes AWOL. Business grinds to a halt out of the blue.
The federal government sends down a regulation that forces you to spend countless hours doing things you don’t like.
Anything can happen at any minute…are you willing to learn brand new things on a whim?
3. Can You Handle Things Not Working Out for Long Periods of Time?Â
Speaking of learning – you’ll try, try, and try again. You’ll certainly have plenty of opportunity for creativity!
Since most things you do won’t work out, can you handle that happening repeatedly for months or years at a time?
It’s not really “failing” because you learn what doesn’t work. But it can be difficult to keep a positive, growing mindset during those times.
4. Can You Stay Focused?Â
Part of the excitement of business is discovering new things that do work. And when you hit on something and see the results, it’s exhilarating!
It’s tempting to keep trying new things so you find out what does work. But, the downside is you may not stay at one thing long enough to get it working.
So, you spin your wheels and go around in circles, not really making progress.
Can you set daily, weekly, and monthly goals and stick to them? It’s key to your success.
Prepare for an Exciting Journey!Â
Business isn’t easy. Your job isn’t easy. Life isn’t easy.
I don’t write these things to turn you off from starting your business.
But, I do want you to know what you’re getting into.
So if you think opening your business is your calling, take the leap, and get ready for a wild ride!