As I write this, we are in the depth of battling the COVID-19 global pandemic. The human casualties have been devastating, and our hearts go out to anyone that lost friends or family during this crisis. Sadly, the human loss is only part of the sad story. The devastation to economies around the world, including the many fantastic small businesses that will not survive this is heartbreaking. Those businesses with stable eCommerce operations before this started have a higher chance of survival.
As with any national or in this case global crisis, the world is being reordered. Old ways of thinking about everything, from healthcare to business to our daily interactions with our fellow man is being altered. Some of those alterations are temporary, and some will be permanent.
One thing that is happening is many people depend heavily on eCommerce to ship products to them and becoming very comfortable working and interacting online. Of course, this is a trend that has been going on for many years. I believe this pandemic has accelerated many of those trends and made others irreversible.
It will take months and possibly a year or two to see how everything will shake out from this, but some things are becoming apparent. Those businesses that have a strong online presence are weathering this storm better than those that don’t have that ability. This covers everything from services being online to eCommerce. Small businesses that have these tools and have eCommerce are doing better than those that don’t. I don’t want to discount the challenges everyone is facing, but the fact is those businesses with a more robust online operation will, all things being equal, survive better than those that don’t.
If you are a small business, you might be asking the question that comes up often, which is how do we compete in a world with Amazon and Wal-Mart’s eCommerce operation? Fair question, but let me bring your attention to one critical point here. Amazon stopped many third-party sellers except for essential products for weeks. Wal-Mart is struggling to fulfill all the orders they are getting. Everyone hits these two sites, and they do get a massive amount of traffic and business; there is no getting around that, but they aren’t indestructible, and there is still a lot of business out there for others. You just have to know how to get it.
Be in the eCommerce Game
The first rule of the game is to actually be in the game. You can’t compete if you aren’t even on the field. That means building out your website, online marketing, and eCommerce operations. What is the very best time to build out your digital marketing platform? It is before you need it. What is the second-best time to do it? Now. Ideally, businesses plan things out ahead of time, but nobody who saw this COVID-19 disaster coming. There are so many things businesses can do to pivot and get into the game. It just takes some creativity. So pick up the phone and call a digital marketing agency and start brainstorming how you can implement some digital strategies to help your business right now. The wonderful thing about digital tools is that they can be implemented very quickly in many cases. Ask a teacher how many of them were tech wizards and were ready to fully implement their school day to an online platform at the drop of a hat. I am going to hazard a guess that you won’t find one. Yet, we have thousands or even millions of kids learning online from their teachers right now.
Don’t just sit there and watch your hard-earned business vaporize because of a global pandemic nobody could have envisioned 4 months ago. Get creative. Get a plan. Get into motion and let’s make a difference. Get into the game right now. Drastic situations call for drastic measures taking action right now to start implementing a solution, even if it isn’t perfect, it is better than doing nothing.
Riches in Niches
Yes, it is true the big guys seem to get all the press, and it would seem all the business, but don’t fool yourself. There are plenty of small companies out there with flourishing eCommerce operations, and it is becoming a good piece of their annual operations.
My team and I work with a manufacturing company right now that has expanded into eCommerce for one product line and is working on doing it for a second line as we speak. Because they manufacture these products directly, they can offer their products directly to their customers at prices no middleman company like Amazon or Wal-Mart can touch. They understand who their customers are and tailor their website and marketing to serving this unique niche. During this entire pandemic, they are still doing business, and their traffic has taken only a small dip.
Even if you aren’t lucky enough to be a manufacturer with compelling price advantages, you can still market to unique niches of customers who will do business directly with you because they know you. You know how to reach them, communicate with them, and give them what they are looking for. It will not occur to them to get it on Amazon for 3 cents cheaper. It takes different approaches and tools, but you can do it. You can competition proof your eCommerce site.
The other approach is to have products that are completely unique to you that can’t be sold by Amazon or Wal-Mart because they can’t get them. Examples of these types of products are items like books you produce, online courses, videos, etc. Think of intellectual information that only you can provide.
It could also come in the form of products, but again are unique to you. I routinely purchase T-Shirts from one company that has hilarious phrases on them that I have not been able to find anywhere else. I am guessing they write these themselves, copyright them, and then sell them on shirts. You can also do this with unique craft items. We work with a couple of different artists that create completely unique products that are not available anywhere else except through them.
It is true, you probably can’t take products that are available everywhere, buy them from a wholesaler, and sell them successfully in your own eCommerce site where price becomes the only factor because the product is close to being a commodity good, but that would break the rule of finding a niche.
Build a Plan, Not Just an eCommerce Website
The mistake many businesses make is focusing on building the website without the structural supports that go around it. Marketing and operations are every bit as important as the website itself. A good analogy to think about is if you build a fantastic state of the art movie theater on a dirt road in bug tussle Tennessee and nobody knows about it, you won’t be successful. It might have worked for Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams to “build it, and they will come,” but it won’t work for you. You need to create a digital marketing plan around your online business and make sure you have the supporting operations like shipping and customer service in place at the same time. Don’t discount these areas as they are crucial to your overall success. Luckily, we have you covered as we wrote a detailed article that discusses this in detail… Digital Marketing Strategy – 3 Keys to a Successful.
Build a List
One of the most valuable marketing assets any business can have is an email list. This single asset is often the lifeblood of eCommerce operations for small and medium-sized businesses. Amazon is a household name. They spent and continue to spend billions, with a B on marketing and making sure they stay a household name. To compete effectively, you need an email list. If you take nothing else from this article, learn and absorb this fundamental truth…
An Email List is the Lifeblood of Small Business
Unfortunately, email lists can’t just be purchased, at least not good ones, and they must be built name by name. You must continually be finding ways to develop and cultivate this list. Items you will need to develop to help you in this task include:
Email Marketing Platform: Constant Contact, Mailchimp, AWeber, or one of the many others are good places to start looking. These platforms give you the tools to store your contacts, manage unsubscribes, and send out beneficial messages to your list.
Lead Magnet: A lead magnet is a critical item you will need to get people to sign up for your list. Essentially a lead magnet is a free item you give away in return for someone’s email address. You need to make creating a lead magnet a task that is at the top of your list.
Effective Copywriting: Copy is the text that you use to get the attention of your list. It begins with the subject line that intrigues your recipients enough to open your email message and keeps them engaged as they read the message and ultimately take action by clicking through to your website or landing page. There is an art to writing this copy, but it is vital to your success, which brings us to our next item you need…
Design an eCommerce Sales Funnel
A sales funnel is a part process, part strategy, and part technical implementation. In short, it is the path someone follows from the email that lands in their inbox to the checkout page on your website. That path is called many things from sales funnel to the customer journey, but regardless of the name it is a very important step and must be designed and built. It doesn’t just create itself. Essential components of a sales funnel include:
- Landing Page
- Lead Magnet
- Tripwire Offer
- Marketing Automation
Each of these areas has an entire strategy behind them. A landing page starts the whole process. It is, as the name suggests, the page people land on when they come to your website from some traffic source, be it PPC (Pay to Click Ads), email message, or social media campaign. The landing page picks up where the last item leaves off and encourages your customer or potential customer to take the next step in your sales process or the next step in the funnel. That could be giving up your email address to get the lead magnet, or it could be signing up for a low dollar, low-risk offer (Tripwire Offer). Once that step is complete, then marketing automation, lead nurturing, and analytics take over to increase both the number and size of sales you make to the customer over time.
A well-designed sales funnel will do more to improve your sales than anything else a small business can do. It cultivates a constant flow of new customers to your business. As you might have guessed it is called a sales funnel because a lot of prospects may come in the top, but as these prospects move down through the funnel some are slowly filtered out until you are left with a small number of customers. Some may lose interest, but some keep going and purchasing ever-larger amounts of services and products from you. Consider the following diagram:
The largest circle is the outside and represents those new customers to you that buy a basic service or product from you, generally one that isn’t very expensive and represents a low risk to them. The second circle is generally those “meat and potato” customers that know you and your brand, have already purchased from you, and are willing to buy more expensive items. The final inner circle is what marketers call brand advocates. These are the customers that like, know, and trust you. They have purchased from you several times and will generally be willing to buy your most expensive offerings or buy from you the most often. Each of these circles represents another stop on the sales funnel as well.
Utilize Business Building Fundamentals
All the strategies above and any other type of marketing you will ever do for your business are simply tactics to deploy. At the end of the day, building business comes down to three simple strategies
Get More Customers
Get Customers to Purchase More Frequently
Get Customers to Purchase Larger Items
Every digital marketing strategy you deploy should focus on one of these fundamental marketing principles to grow your business. If you can’t immediately point to a tactic you are using in your business and say which of those three rules it is meeting, then you need to change it or get rid of it.
Developing an eCommerce strategy and a more robust online platform for your business will, in one way or another, meet every single one of these basic rules. That is why you should run, don’t walk, to the phone, and immediately schedule a free 45-minute consulting session with us to begin mapping out a strategy for your business.
Remember, there is one certainty in business, and that is knowing the future is uncertain, and planning now will make sure that uncertainty hurts a lot less the next time a major business disruption occurs.