It is estimated that by 2040, 95% of all purchases will be made from eCommerce, so it should be no surprise that eCommerce is growing by leaps and bounds. In fact, 71% of people believe they’ll get a better deal online, even if the item isn’t technically on sale. So there is a huge scope of online business growth.
The two main reasons consumers give for shying away from online purchases currently are that they want to see and touch the item before purchasing and that delivery takes too long.
Small online businesses, however, have some advantages. The first is that they may offer unique products that people are more willing to take a chance on and the second is that they can often offer local delivery.
Even if they can’t offer local delivery, 88% of consumers say they would be more willing to shop online if they are offered free delivery. No matter what type of product or service you sell or what size your business is, here are nine rules for online business growth.
There’s No Business Without Marketing
Rule #1: Get crystal clear about your target market
Too often, businesses attempt to find the “best” marketing outlet without having a very clear and specific understanding of who their target market is. While mass marketing certainly has its place, it is no match for targeted marketing.
Social media, in particular, has given businesses an unprecedented ability to get their message in front of an incredibly narrow and specific market, but you can’t take advantage of that if you have no idea who your target is. The clearer you are about exactly who your target is, the more likely you are to hit it spot on.
Rule #2: Cater relentlessly to your target market
You might be surprised to know that even global giants like Nike and Apple cater relentlessly to a microscopically small target audience. In Nike’s case, they purposefully target the most elite athletes and create their footwear and apparel just for them.
Their success comes from all the people that, in turn, buy their apparel specifically because they want to align themselves with the elite athletes that wear their brand. The more clear and specific you are about who your target market is, the more successful you will be at marketing specifically and solely to them.
In fact, many businesses actually narrow their branding down to a single individual. They know every single trait and characteristic of that person and that is who they market to.
Rule #3: Get personal
The predominant reason that you want to get crystal clear about who your target market is, is that the most successful products meet a very specific need or solve a very specific problem. By identifying your very specific target market, you can also get to know exactly what they want, what they are looking for, what problems they encounter that you might be able to solve and what their needs are.
By understanding all of this, you can personalize your services to meet their very specific needs and offer creative solutions to their very specific problems. Do that, and you will quickly build an avid and loyal following.
A Trusted Business is a Secure Business
Rule #1: No business is too small to not need premium security
At one point in time, the biggest thing most businesses had to protect was their physical location and/ or inventory. Not so anymore. Even the smallest of online businesses have a treasure trove of information to protect. From email lists to credit card information, all of your customer data is your responsibility to protect.
While consumers certainly have a certain responsibility to protect their own information (including login credentials) no business can consider itself too small to not need to invest in top-of-the-line security.
Businesses can help protect both themselves and their customers by enacting measures like 2-factor authentication, password strength indicators and even captchas to ensure visitors trying to access your site are actual humans and not bots probing for vulnerabilities and weaknesses.
Rule #2: Hackers are not the only thing you need to protect your customer’s data from
As the IoT grows exponentially each year, wars are already raging over what kinds of data can legitimately be collected and who owns it. At the moment, the entity that owns the data is that entity that creates the software – and this is something that small businesses in particular need to be keenly aware of.
As more and more small businesses have apps and websites developed for their companies, you need to make sure you know exactly what data is being collected and how it is being used. Even more importantly, you need to make sure you have iron-clad contracts in place to ensure both you and your customers know exactly what type of data is being collected when they use your site or app. After all, it is not the software designer that will lose business if it is discovered your app is collecting personal data it shouldn’t be.
Rule #3: Your customers are not the only thing that needs to be protected online
More than half of all consumers (55%) will search online for reviews and recommendations before making a purchase. This means that your online reputation is actually critical to your business. For that reason, it is vitally important for you to protect your online reputation.
One way to do this is to scan frequently for reviews left of your business on major websites and particularly on social media. While you can’t eradicate the review, in many cases you can at least respond to it.
Sometimes, just showing that you are listening and that you care is enough to negate the review itself and even create more positive support in spite of it.
Use the Right Tech for Online Business Growth
Rule #1: Automate everything you can
It is a common misconception that technology is taking away jobs. What it is actually doing is taking on the more routine and mundane tasks that humans are often required to perform, which frees them up to focus on tasks only humans can accomplish like innovating and inventing.
There are literally hundreds of daily, weekly and monthly tasks that can be automated and the list is only growing. It may be time-consuming at first to take stock of what can be automated and set up systems to do so, but it will be well worth it in the end.
Rule #2: Find the right tech solutions for your specific needs and problems
Imagine you broke your left arm and got used to doing everything with your right arm. Now imagine the cast came off your left arm but you continued to only use your right arm because that’s how you got used to doing things.
How efficient do you think you would be? Many businesses and companies are using inefficient technology simply because it is what they are used to. It is very important to be consistently doing regular audits of all of your software and current needs to determine if there is not a better solution available that fits your needs better.
Many platforms are now becoming more and more integrated so you always want to be on the lookout for ways to streamline your operations. For instance, if you use one program for accounting and another for payroll, there may be a newer system that can streamline the two.
While the initial move to a new system may be somewhat laborious and time-consuming, think of it like moving out of a cramped, tiny apartment into a spacious new house. Chances are good it will be well worth it in the end.
Rule #3: Use technology to help take care of your customers
One of the biggest pitfalls of most businesses is that as they grow, their customer service generally tends to decline. When they are small businesses, they have plenty of time to offer the most personal and personalized attention, because they have few customers to take care of.
The more customers they have, however, the less time they have to give each customer the personal attention they have become accustomed to. This is where technology can help. From chatbots that can answer basic questions and help your customers with basic needs to virtual receptionists that are available to answer your phones 24/7, there is no need any longer for customers to not get service any time of the day or night from even the smallest of businesses.
You can also save your customers a lot of time, frustration and hassle by offering as many self-serve options online as possible. The more you can help your customers help themselves, the happier they will be.
Final words on Online Business Growth
While there are certainly some similarities between building an online business and a physical brick and mortar business, there are also some unique challenges. On the one hand, your overhead and startup costs tend to be much lower, but so is your visibility.
It can be challenging enough to build a physical business when you have an actual store or location that people can see. Online business growth can be even more challenging.
Challenging does not mean impossible, however, and there are just as many tools to help you succeed as there are challenges to overcome. The same problems that technology creates can also be solved by using the right technology.
BIO: Joe Peters is a Baltimore-based freelance writer and an ultimate tech enthusiast. When he is not working his magic as a marketing consultant, this incurable tech junkie enjoys reading about the latest apps and gadgets and binge-watching his favourite TV shows. You can reach him @bmorepeters