The other day I was having a talk with a colleague that I had lost contact with over the past few years. It was a wonderful time to catch up, right before Christmas and to remember all of the fun and exciting projects we’ve done together over the past several years. He confided in me that in 2012 he would be leaving Sony to start his own online presence, an entrepreneurial dream that he’s held closely to his heart for several years and he asked me what recommendations I could provide him to help him ensure success, after all he was nervous, all the risk was standing on his shoulders. At the same time it was delightful to literally feel the passion in his voice and the anticipation of the rewards he could earn as a result of his hard work. Well after that discussion, I decided that it would be valuable to share with everyone my thoughts on what are the most important aspects of ensuring online success. I hope that you enjoy this read and it opens your eyes to something you hadn’t previously considered. If it helps you or your business to improve even marginally then I’ve accomplished my goals, after all successful businesses are built by one small accomplishment after another. Please note that my advice is assuming that you’ve already done your homework – business plan, competitive analysis, SWOT analysis, etc. and determined that your products and services are competitively viable in the industry. Now, assuming this, let’s get started…
In order to best position your online presence for success, you should ensure that your presence successfully accomplishes the following baseline requirements:
– It must be visually appealing and match the branding that your target customers desire
- Simply put, if your website is not visually appealing or does not match the branding that your target customers desire, they subconsciously may decide to purchase products or services elsewhere.
- Actively compare your site to your competitors (if you don’t know who your competitors are, find out by asking colleagues “where would you buy this product/service?”). Also, ask some colleagues to do the same. Sit down and review all of the comparison notes. Categorize any feedback into one of four categories (critical – must address, important should address, nice to have, ignored) and then make a gameplan to ensure that you stay ahead of your competitors by addressing any of the items within the first two categories and possibly the third depending upon your existing revenue, profit margins and budgets. Don’t just do this once… at the very least, perform this exercise twice each year (but I recommend quarterly) or you could get caught off guard and won’t notice until it’s too late and your revenue is negatively impacted! Caution: if you are unable to budget for any important items in this list, you likely have a bigger problem on your hands, because not only are you not keeping up with your competitors, they’ll likely increase the gap of their competitive edge even more over the next several months.
– It must be simple for potential customers to obtain important information regarding your products/services
- Easy and quick to read product descriptions. Too much content will overwhelm your customers, most customers do not read detailed descriptions so hide them by default with the ability of your customers to click a link to view more.
- When questions are asked and responded to, ensure that you consider if you want to add it to your online “Frequently Asked Questions” page. If you’re asked the same question every couple of days and it’s not in your FAQ, you’re wasting valuable time that you could use to help grow your business in other areas.
– It must be easy to understand
- Have colleagues that know very little about your products/services review your site and critique it. Have them write down all of their first impressions, good and bad. Be cautious, do not try to please everyone, that’s virtually impossible, instead try to please most and once you’ve made your decision stick with it and see how it goes. If you are indecisive you’ll never reach your goal.
– It must empower customers to make decisions quickly and easily
- When describing your products and services, describe them as a customer would identify their requirements and the benefits that they are seeking by purchasing your products
- Compare your products to other products, possibly even competitors. Enable your customers to do the same.
- Offer a reasonable warranty, if possible. This will increase the customer’s comfort in purchasing your products and services. Obviously, you’ll need to protect yourself as well, this should be fair to both parties (e.g. 30 day warranty on unopened products can be returned for refund less shipping costs).
Once you’ve dealt with these, you must ensure that your products and/or services are easy to purchase. If it’s difficult to purchase, customers will simply shop elsewhere:
– Provide your customers with all standard payment options (e.g. credit card, PayPal, etc.).
- Simply put, if you don’t have a common payment option you could be losing a percentage of your sales (and a large percentage at that!). Bare minimum implementation must include all major credit cards.
– Identify shipping and handling costs, as soon as possible.
- Without clearly identified shipping and handling costs as soon as possible, an individual may abandon their cart in fear that the shipping costs no longer make the purchase a “good” deal. More than 25% of carts are abandoned for this reason. Think about things from your own perspective, if you were buying a $50 item and shipping was not identified, would you take the risk during checkout? Think about it and answer honestly.
– Provide bulk purchase incentives.
- The easiest way to increase purchases is by offering free shipping for orders over a certain value. Amazon.com has increased their revenues by 30% alone with this tactic! All of their products are priced carefully so that in the majority of cases, individuals need to buy just 1 additional item to earn free shipping. Once again, think about yourself in these situations, have you added an extra item to your cart to earn free shipping? I know I have!
– Easy to checkout
- Can’t stress this enough, someone who gets frustrated with how difficult it is to checkout of a site will at one time or another abandon their purchase. We’re people, we all hate hassles, the easier you make it for us to checkout, the less abandoned carts you’ll be putting back on the virtual shelves.
Get your potential customers to the website:
– If your customers cannot find your online presence, you’ve already lost the battle, but don’t invest in this too early, because if you haven’t addressed the above points, customers will find you but be unwilling to purchase your products and services. This translates into wasted marketing dollars. Too many times I see companies rush to launch their online presence because of some perceived deadline only to watch it fail. Can you imagine what would have happened to Noah if the rain came before his boat was finished being built?
– Get in the top results for your targeted keywords. If you need to, pay for it, this is not the time to cheap out. Once again, read this sentence three times: Without interested leads you’ve got no revenue. If you’re still not convinced, read it another 3 times, rinse and repeat until you understand how important this point actually is.
– Make sure that your products and services are listed on as many complimentary websites that you can get them listed on. One of my clients enjoys a significant percentage of their sales as a result of their product listings in Google Merchant Center, another one of my clients gains significant sales as a result of having their products listed on Amazon. Not only do these increased sales result in increased revenue, but it also earns them hundreds (or thousands) of additional loyal customers for life. Most important point here is look around, take the time to experiment, don’t give up too quickly, keep at it and find what works. Most businesses are literally throwing away hundreds of thousands of dollars in potential revenue simply because customers cannot find their products.
What’s next? Make sure that you monitor and adjust your strategies and plans regularly. Do not become complacent.
– Those who become complacent or happy with the status quo, wake up one morning and wonder what happened. How did they let their sales dip so quickly. On the Internet things change quickly, competitors are always looking to increase their share, if you don’t monitor where you stand and adjust your strategies and efforts on an ongoing basis, you will lose ground. It’s inevitable. Stay alert, remain persistent and make a difference for yourself by monitoring and adjusting several times per year.
Finally, it’s time to plan and brainstorm for the future. Do this at least twice a year, schedule it and make it a mandatory process. Once again, do not become complacent.
– While it’s important to focus on your goals, it’s also important to step back from your goals and allow your focus to wander a couple of times a year. Consider all possibilities and plan and brainstorm for the future. Imagine there are no limits, where do you want to be in 2 to 5 years? I know… I know… it’s tough to just drop all our psychological barriers. Instead, imagine you’ve sold your business and moved half way around the world. You get to start fresh with unlimited funds, what would you do? There you go… now you’re thinking. I bet you’re 2 to 5 year plan is just rolling off of your tongue now. You’re welcome… now get back to work and make it happen!
Well that’s it in a nutshell, a recap of my call and the best advice that I could extend to a dear friend and colleague of mine who I’ve had the pleasure of doing work with several times over the last decade. I hope that it helps you and I’d sincerely appreciate hearing back from anyone that this helps on their pursuit to success in their online entrepreneurial efforts. Even if it improves things marginally for you, I’ve made a positive difference in your life and that puts a smile on my face.