Ecommerce Blog - Fortune3

How to Use Social Media to Boost Engagement (And Sales)

fortune3-engaged-customers-image“Get active on social media!” That’s the general advice you get from most online information sources.

Everyone knows that.

But what exactly should you do to get more attention?

Here are some simple ideas:

1. Post Frequently & Be Funny with Twitter

With Twitter, you can easily do up to 5 posts per day without coming across as spamming. How do you find that much content?

You don’t need to find 5 different things to post. Simply re-post the same content, with a different message, a week later.

Posts are so hard to find that most of your followers won’t notice when you re-post the same content.

Plus, you’ll want to use as much personality as possibility. Don’t worry about being snarky or funny – that helps you stand out.

2. Be Personal on Facebook

You’ll want to be professional and post useful information on Facebook, of course. But people want to get to know the real person behind the professional.

Post pictures of your dog, you fishing, and sometimes just silly or goofy photos. That helps your engagement a ton.

3. Share Visual Content

You can do this on Twitter now too, but you’ll also want to do it on Facebook. On Twitter, not every post has to be visual. But make it a point to get pictures in occasionally.

4. Respond to As Many Comments As Quickly As Possible

Think of your comments as another form of customer service. With standard customer service, people want rapid responses. Do the same with your comments.

If you can’t respond to every comment, it’s time to hire help.

5. Pay for Advertising When Possible

Watch your costs closely because they can quickly skyrocket out of control. The advantage of paid advertising on any social network is more access to a targeted audience. They’ll have a stronger interest in what you sell, and you’ll make more sales as a result.

6. Include a Call-to-Action at the End of Every Facebook Post

This isn’t necessarily a call-to-action to buy. In fact, that type of call-to-action should be rare – around 1 in 10 posts. With every post, you can ask a question, ask people to comment, or tell them to share it with their friends.

Your followers will take more action when you ask them to do it.

7. Ask Your Audience for Content Ideas

“Advertising” is a one-direction form of communication. That’s what businesses did (and it worked) decades ago.

But now, the point of social media is to have two-way communication, a real conversation. Don’t worry about asking your audience for content ideas. It’s not up to you to know everything.

You’ll get good engagement because they’ve told you exactly what they want.

Add in Those Ideas to Your Social Media Profiles & Watch Your Engagement Blast Off!

And when you have engagement, sales come a lot easier. So follow these tips, and make some changes today.

Posted in Ecommerce Essentials & Tips

6 Strategies to Increase Your Profit Margins

fortune3-better-profit-margins-imageMost e-commerce businesses have a 20-50% gross margin on the products they sell.

It’s important to measure this because most small businesses don’t. And if you can find ways to get your gross margin to 60-80%, you free up all kinds of time and money to hire better employees and solidify your competitive edge.

Here are some simple ways to increase your margins:

1. Make Your Own Niche Product

This is the easiest way to ensure good margins. E-commerce businesses with closer to 80% margins typically make their own products.

And since you’re the only, or one of few businesses, that make the product, you can charge higher prices. Those increased prices make running your e-commerce business so much easier.

2. Private Label Inexpensive Products

This one can be a tough one. It’s easy to find products to private label. But many of them are low-margin.

However, with enough research, you can find items you can mark up 100-150% for a 60% net margin.

That’s not too bad.

3. Sell Items with Traditionally High Margins

Certain products carry with them high margins, and have done so, for years. These include things like wine, eyeglasses, jewelry, software, online courses, and many others.

If you need to generate cash, these products are a good place to start. Then you can decide whether to keep running your business selling these items, or if you want to invest cash in creating your own products.

4. Simple Things You Can do to Reduce Operating Costs

One of the main things you can do is to consolidate as many processes as you possibly can with as few vendors as possible. Work with your shipping vendor to identify areas to improve efficiency (most businesses don’t talk to their shipping vendors at all and waste money). Constantly analyze your marketing channels so you never waste money.

5. Continue Building Relationships with Existing Customers

You don’t have to work with your existing customers to earn their business – you already have it! Winning over new customers costs you much more time and money than selling to your existing ones because they already know, like, and trust you.

Do everything you can to keep their business!

6. Give New Customers Great Service

Most businesses tell you they value their customers. But here’s the thing: their actions often say otherwise.

But, by being easygoing with your customers on returns, and being as prompt as possible with current customers, you make yourself stand out from the pack.

Not hard things to do, but they do give you a strong competitive edge. And your profit margins will notice a nice boost too!

Posted in Ecommerce Essentials & Tips

What Makes Great Customer Service, Well, “Great?”

fortune3-great-customer-service-imageEvery company talks about “great customer service.”

But most don’t actually provide it!

For many companies, lousy customer service boils down to cutting financial and time costs, which typically is a profit drain, according to Eric Savitz, a Forbes staff writer.

But is customer service really a profit-drain? It might be when you crunch the numbers right now. But when you analyze the long-term benefits of keeping customers happy and buying, and then the referrals they give you, it may not be the profit-drain it appears.

Great customer service isn’t anything special or magical. Really, it boils down to putting the other person’s needs above your financial goals.

So here’s a brief refresher on things to do to make your service great:

1. Make Your Service Fast

Someone should pick up the phone or return the e-mail within minutes at least, but ideally seconds. Wait times of 10 minutes or more should be a thing of the past.

Do everything you can to make sure the calls go quickly when they do happen. And the same for e-mail.

Avoid automated phone trees altogether, and maybe use 1 step if you have to.

For a good idea of what not to do, call the IRS. To know what to do, call Amazon.

2. Give Your Reps Discretionary Decision-Making Power

Policy at any company is necessary – up to a point. But too much policy stifles and confines, which leaves your reps and customers angry and frustrated.

Talk with your reps every quarter, at least, to see what you could to improve service for your customers. Give them a budget for making their own decisions for helping customers, rather than a long list of company policy.

3. Make 99% of Your Customers Ecstatic

Every business, no matter how good, is going to have unreasonable customers with ridiculous demands. You can choose what you want to do with those customers.

But Nordstrom, a high-end specialty fashion store, did go to absurd lengths in one case. They took back 2 snow tires, worth $145, in their Fairbanks, Alaska, store.

And they’ve never sold tires, or anything even close to car parts, in their 114-year history!

4. Ask Your Customers What Would Make Them Happy

Not too many businesses do this. Usually they make an offer.

In some cases, you’re going to have extremely bad situations that don’t fit policy. Or maybe you don’t want policy at all.

Most customers will be fair and reasonable. So simply ask what would make them happy.

As Warren Buffet says, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and 5 minutes to ruin it.”

How’s Your Customer Service?

Get feedback – both online and over the phone. Remember, if one customer makes a criticism, there’s 100 more thinking the same thing.

Analyze your customer service. Make the changes necessary to improve.

The money will follow.

Posted in Ecommerce Essentials & Tips

How to Write Targeted E-mails that Build Partnerships

fortune3-business-partner-handshake-imageThere can be no better growth accelerator for your e-commerce business than building a partnership with another company.

But, the “dance of the relationship” has key steps you need to take to maximize your chances to get a response.

Here’s what you should do to make your targeted e-mail work:

1. Have a Clearly Defined (And Tested) Value Proposition

It’s easier to test than you think. Sign up for a niche forum for online/e-commerce business owners.

Run your e-mail subject line and body copy by people on the forum. You’ll get honest (sometimes unpleasant) feedback on what you’re saying and what you should say.

People hold nothing back when they critique you online.

2. Leave No Doubt Your E-mail Was Personally Crafted

When you contact businesses through this method, they’re looking for any reason possible to delete your e-mail. If it, in the slightest bit, represents a canned spam e-mail you’ve sent to thousands of other businesses, it goes straight to the trash.

But, you shouldn’t write raving fan e-mail, either. You simply need 1-2 sentences that clearly identify you’ve taken time to research the business, its owner, or both.

3. Make Your E-mail Short

“Short” is 125 words. Even that may be long.

The subject line should be 40-50 characters.

4. Speaking of That Subject Line…

You should customize it too. You can even include your contact’s first name in it.

And make sure you capitalize only the first word. If you capitalize every word, that comes off as a marketing message, rather than a personal message.

Experiment with different variations. Try to arouse a little curiosity by not giving away the entire subject of your e-mail.

Something like:

“Just saw you mentioned at [big-name] blog”

5. Make It Low-Pressure and Non-Salesy

At the end of your e-mail, ask your prospect if you can “just chat to see if there’s a fit.” That turns what you and your prospect have into another conversation, not an annoying sales conversation.

If they see it as low-pressure and just two individuals chatting, they’re more likely to respond. That’s because they get inundated with countless sales and marketing messages each day.

6. Don’t Follow-Up Like a Crazy Pest

You get this advice all the time. But what’s it mean specifically?

Simply follow up another 3-4 times by e-mail every 1-2 months.

That’s all.

If you don’t get a response from any of those contacts, move on to other businesses.

Most People Spam, Call, And Follow-Up Like Crazy…Or Not At All

So being casual, personal, and just staying top-of-mind greatly improves your chances of landing some discussion time with your prospect.

Go ahead and try it – you’ll get better results with the same or less amount of time.

Posted in Ecommerce Essentials & Tips

Should You Join a Mastermind Group?

fortune3-mastermind-pictureWhat comes to mind when you hear the word “mastermind?”

“Mastermind” groups are similar to your mental image, but have some key differences.

What are they anyway? And why would a business owner of any kind join one?

Find out in this post.

Masterminds Are for Business People Who Want To Fast Track Their Success

In a nutshell, they’re groups where you can go to share and learn business and personal growth ideas from other people interested in the same. You’ll also get held accountable for your actions.

But don’t sweat it!

It’s your accountability partner’s job to simply ask if you did what you agreed to, and if not, why. And then it’s their job to help you overcome the hurdles necessary to progress.

So accountability’s not such a bad thing!

Why You Would Want to Join a Mastermind Group

It’s pretty straightforward why:

1. You Save Years, And Thousands of Dollars, of Making Mistakes

Napoleon Hill created mastermind groups in the late 1920s. He observed the most accomplished people of his time – Thomas Edison, Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, and around 90 others.

They all had a habit of meeting with others to help them accomplish a task. Sure they didn’t call those meetings “Mastermind” meetings, but they did the same thing those groups do today.

Bill Gates was a former Mastermind group member too.

2. You’ll Stay Motivated

What’s one of the biggest benefits of business success? You get to tell people what you’ve accomplished. That’s the most motivating part.

And then there’s a negative motivator too. You don’t want to tell your group members what you failed to do since last time.

3. You Get Support

Think of a hard time you went through already in life. What kind of support did you get from the most important people in your life at the time?

If you had great support, consider how much easier it is to achieve your business goals with support too.

If you didn’t have good support from others, think about what it would be like to have moral support from people who see eye-to-eye with you.

Doing anything gets much easier when you have someone along with you on the journey.

4. Someone May Be Able to Help You in One of Your Weak Areas

Did you ever run into another person in life who you just wanted to tell,”You know, if you just did this, you could easily solve the problem you face right now.”

Every person has their blind spot.

Other group members will have the opportunity to help you identify that and make changes, so your business can move forward. It could take you years to do the same on your own.

You’ll also have the chance to be of service. And remember, what goes around comes around, so whatever you give comes back to you many more times over the long run in unexpected ways.

Mastermind Groups Benefit Everyone…

But make sure you find or start one that’s a good fit for you. You still need to be at roughly the same place in business as the others in your group (or nearly so).

That way, you and everyone else, get the maximum benefit.

Posted in Ecommerce Essentials & Tips, How To

Should You Use Kickstarter to Raise Startup Funding?

fortune3-crowdfunding-pictureAhhh, the internet’s great – you can quickly get the funding you need to begin your e-commerce site through crowdfunding.

But it’s not as easy as it seems.

This Forbes article recommends that, yes, every startup should at least give Kickstarter a crack. One company was even seeking funding on Kickstarter even though it had strong support from real-life venture capitalists.

The reason, it says, is simple: low-costs and good marketing.

You’ll find out one of three things after a Kickstarter campaign:

  • Your idea has no public support and isn’t a viable business
  • Your idea doesn’t have public support now, but could with the right marketing and presentation
  • Your idea is already awesome and will sell well upon launch

So the answer’s a resounding “yes.” But you should keep these tips in mind too to make the most of your campaign:

  1. Kickstarter Costs are Low

If your idea doesn’t meet its funding goal, you don’t pay any fees at all. If it does, then you have to pay the following fees:

  • Kickstarter fee: 5% of the total amount you raise
  • Payment processing fee: 3% + 20¢ per pledge
  • Pledges under $10: 5% + 5¢ per pledge

You’ll have to factor those into your costs. But they’re plenty reasonable given the business potential.

  1. Don’t End Up Losing Money on Kickstarter!

Kickstarter’s an honest company, so this responsibility falls on its users. Say you fill a bunch of orders as a result of a successful campaign. Some companies don’t budget carefully enough, says Crowd Crux, and actually end up owing money on their campaign.

The site advises to add 10% to your originally estimated amount to account for unexpected costs.

  1. Study People who Consistently Rank at the Top

Some people have received millions of dollars through Kickstarter for multiple campaigns. So, analyze every nuance of their campaign like there’s no tomorrow. In business, it’s often wise to go with what’s known to work than it is to reinvent the wheel.

  1. Accurately Estimate Your Shipping Costs

Believe it or not, this one can be a real killer for many Kickstarter campaigns. Remember, you may have to ship all the way to countries like Great Britain, France, and Australia. Figure out how much your incentives weigh, and calculate their shipping costs to different areas of the world.

Put a surcharge on shipping, and explain it to the people about to pledge to you, advises this post.

Will You Use Kickstarter?

Should you use Kickstarter? Yes!

Will you? That’s up to you.

It’s worth a try, and the worst that happens is that you find out you need a better way to market your products.

Posted in Ecommerce Essentials & Tips, How To

4 Bankrupting Mistakes E-Commerce Entrepreneurs Make

Whether you’re starting a small e-commerce business just so you can lead a certain lifestyle, or if you want to create the next big brand, you are an entrepreneur.

But, the entrepreneurial world is so different from employment that there’s plenty to learn.

You can learn things the hard way -through experience – or by following these tips:

1. Thinking You Have to Risk All the Money You Have

A popular misconception is that you have to take a stupid crazy risk to get your venture to succeed. There’s no doubt some startups begin that way and become a resounding success.

But that’s only one high-risk way to start your e-commerce business. It doesn’t make sense to go that route unless you’ve already proven to some degree that consumers want to buy your product.

The other way to do it is to work on your e-commerce venture part-time, while keeping your full-time income. Once you’re confident your business will remain profitable, then you can take the full leap.

Both ways work – and you can use the one that makes you most comfortable.

2. If You Build It, They’ll Come

That might have been true on the internet a decade ago when competition was less intense. But now, e-commerce sales are skyrocketing across the board – with room left to grow.

Yes, building it is important. But you must have a good promotion strategy now too so people actually hear about you.

3. Money Doesn’t Buy Success

If you do have a substantial amount of money to invest in your business, be careful how you do it. There’s plenty of companies more than happy to take it…with no intention of helping you experience an actual return on that.

Initially, your money is best spent on proving your product has demand to sustain future growth. As you grow, you can outsource tasks you don’t want to do or don’t like to do to others. And you can hire people smarter than you to help you grow your business.

4. Your Biggest Competition is Yourself

Every entrepreneur has their own mental traps, which could be:

• Thinking they can do it all themselves

• Thinking they should do it all themselves

• Being filled with fear and self-doubt

• A high need to always be in control or be right

• Not trusting others to do their job

• Lacking a certain skill and not being willing to hire someone to perform the skill

And the list is actually almost endless! Every person is different, and you have to identify your own personal traps. As you progress past those, your business follows suit.

Once You Master Yourself, Everything Else Gets Easy!

But it’s hard to master life. It takes years and decades to accomplish. But the sooner you do it, the sooner you succeed.

Posted in Ecommerce Essentials & Tips

How to Underpromise and Overdeliver & Skyrocket Your Revenues

fortune3-e-commerce-happy-customers-imageBelieve it or not, while many businesses say they “put customers first,” most don’t. In fact, they’re often mediocre in their customer service.

It’s not hard to stand out well enough to at least make your company a strong competitor. It is hard to be the best in your industry.

But, first thing’s first, so let’s talk about these ways you can stand out from the competition:

1. Map Out All Possible Customer Touch Points You Can Have

A “touch point” is anywhere you can interact with a customer. That could be your social media profiles, every page on your website, the checkout process, or even the whole post-checkout process.

2. Find an Area that Needs Improving in Your Niche

Read reviews about your competitors. Analyze what they currently do on their website. Subscribe to their e-newsletter. Interact with their social media profiles. Maybe even buy a small thing or two from them. Call their customer service and see how helpful they are.

Get intimately familiar with what your competitors do.

3. Use Your Creativity to Exceed Expectations

This is the hard part. But, it’s a nice thing because in business, you can do almost anything you want. Take a look at a couple ways to wow your customers:

• In your “thank you for your purchase e-mail,” give your new customers a 10% discount when they buy again. But, don’t ever give them any warning this discount was available in the first place.

• With your blog content, go out of your way to craft the most useful articles in your niche. Show customers how to get more from their products, without having to pay more.

• If you sell candy dishes, give your customers a free bag of candy for ordering (but again don’t tell them about it!).

4. Review Your Own Feedback

Most customers have reasonable expectations. They want a good value for their money. They want you to answer their questions clearly and promptly. They want a return if your product broke or didn’t work as expected.

But, get their feedback over the phone or on your website. Your website may be best because customers are fearless when writing online.

That gives you some clues for ways to meet and exceed their expectations both now and later on.

5. Reap the Rewards

Most e-commerce businesses have their revenues take off in year 3, once they’ve built strong relationships with loyal customers. This is according to the RJMetrics 2015 e-commerce benchmark report.

Follow those tips, and you’ll reap healthy profits for years to come.

Posted in Ecommerce Essentials & Tips

How to Use Your Smartphone to Take High-Quality Product Photos

fortune3-crystal-clear-image-qualityIf you’re starting a new e-commerce business, you probably don’t have a couple grand available for top-shelf photography equipment. And you won’t have the money to hire a professional photographer either!

Fortunately, your smartphone can do a great job for now, until you can afford amazingly clear photos later.

The iPhone has a good camera, while the Samsung Galaxy S6 has an even better one.

1. Basic Equipment You’ll Need to Start

You will have some purchases to make, but they’re affordable. You’ll need a backdrop, table, light, tripod, and optional external lenses. If you want to photograph your product from way up close, you’ll want the lenses for the best photo quality. If you don’t need those kinds of images, no need to purchase the lenses.

2. Your First Concern: Lighting

Natural light always gives the best effect in product photos. So wherever you choose to shoot your photos, make sure plenty of natural light comes in.

You can also use a white foam board to reflect light to other sides of your products for a consistent effect. Small details, yes, but important in your customer’s decision to buy.

3. Set Up Your Table, Backdrop, & Stabilize Your Smartphone

Yes, you do have to buy a tripod. It’s almost impossible to take high-quality photos simply using your arm. A roll of white paper without seams works well for a backdrop.

4. Is Your Product Ready to Go? 

Make sure it doesn’t have any price tags, and that it’s in perfect condition. Photo editing programs can be used to remove minor imperfections like dust and dirt. When you work with the zoom on your smartphone, that should be adjusted so the product fits the entire image.

5. Fine-Tuning Photo Settings Before Shooting

This isn’t that hard, although it is one of the more technical parts of the image capturing process. The zoom should be set so the product fills most of the screen, but do leave enough room so you can crop the photo a little later on.

Hit the “WB” button (white balance), and then press the background so the white balance matches your light temperature. Next, press the exposure button and then your product so the exposure sets properly. Do the same for focus.

Now, examine your image to make sure it looks the way your customers want – natural.

After you finish adjusting these, press each one again so the settings are locked in place. This keeps the camera from messing up your settings and auto-adjusting them as you take photos!

6. Take Your Photo! 

Now that you’ve got all that done, you can actually shoot the image. If you follow those steps, that saves you time and work on the back end.

Finally, watch the sales roll in…and enjoy the profits.

Posted in Ecommerce Essentials & Tips, How To

Instead of Investing in a New Marketing Channel, Do This!

fortune3-investment-imageA new marketing tactic comes out on the web almost every month. Instagram, marketing automation, guest posting…it seems like there’s something new you “need” to do.

But then you run into the problem almost every small business owner encounters.

You spend too much time working on all these different tactics. And none of them produce any measurable results because you haven’t had the time to perfect them.

It’s an easy trap to fall into.

So instead of spending all your time and money attracting new customers, focus on the ones you’ve already got. It’ll be easier to earn more purchases from them anyway because you know they already like you.

Here are some ways to plug those “leaky holes” you have in your website’s customer purchasing bucket:

1. Give Your Customers a Discount for Joining Your Newsletter List

Doesn’t need to be a large one. All you need is 10%, and you can try out some other levels too. But, rather than having people come and go, you keep them on your list. And your list has your best customers. They’ll purchase lots from you down the road.

2. Ask Your Customers for Their E-mail Address on Your Checkout Page

This should be the first page that simply confirms what they’d like to purchase. You always lose some customers during the checkout process.

But if you have their e-mail address. you can send them a follow-up e-mail reminding them that they never completed their purchase. You can even offer them a 10% discount just for finishing it.

Any way you can make that initial sale so you can build relationship with your customers is huge.

3. On the Checkout Screen, Suggest Additional Items Your Customers May Like

If you’ve been in business a while, you may already have a good idea of what these items are. Your customers are already in a buying mood at this point, so it’s a great time to show them what else they might enjoy.

4. Use Retargeting Ads 

None of those tactics worked? No sweat.

Fortunately, in 2015, you haven’t lost the sale yet. Use retargeting ads that “follow” your customers as they browse the web.

You’ll draw in a few more sales because you know those people already had some interest in buying from you.

5. Consider Using Popup Ads to Get Newsletter Subscribers

Like it or not, popups are making a resurgence here in recent years. For a while there, most web marketers condemned them.

Of course, that doesn’t mean they’ll work on your website. But they’re worth a test at the least.

In sum, this is a great way to reduce the number of customers that “leak” out of your website bucket. It’s easier and more profitable to turn them into buyers, so focus on them first.

With the additional profits in hand, you can focus on hiring help to develop new profit streams.

Posted in Ecommerce Essentials & Tips, Online Marketing Strategies