Written by Giles Bennett
The second in our series on important things to bear in mind when starting an online business continues where we left off in part one.
Choose your platform wisely
There is a plethora of platforms to choose from, all with their accompanying pros and cons. Open-source, proprietary, self-hosted, hosted, subscription-based, the possibilities are endless. It's essential that you have. If you're only selling a few products, then it may be that a simple Wordpress site combined with the Woocommerce plugin will suit you. If you want completely low hassle - but combined with very low flexibility and on-going fees - then go for a hosted option like Shopify. If you want absolute power, no usage fees, but are prepared to stomach a learning curve, then head directly for Magento. We are happy to offer no-obligation advice on all the possibilties, so just get in touch.
Build your site for your target audience
It may sound self-evident when written down, but at the end of the day a site has to be designed with its audience in mind. If the majority of your likely users are liable to be young professionals accessing the site on mobile phones whilst commuting in to work on the train, then if your site doesn't work properly for them, on those devices, you're going to struggle. Make the most of the on-screen real estate, reduce images to speed up loading times (and reduce data usage, although that's becoming less of an issue these days), and make the purchase process as simple and streamlined as possible.
If, though, your audience is more likely to be older people, then there are different considerations to be taken into account in making sure the site caters properly for them. Eyesight may not be what it used to be, so use bigger font sizes, with darker font colours, to make things easier for them to read. There's a high proportion of tablet usage amongst the silver surfers, so make sure that the design of the site takes that into account - old fingers may not be as accurate as younger ones, so don't put links too close together so that the user can be sure about which link they're tapping. Make forms as simple as possible, only garnering the information you absolutely need - all too often we see requests for fax numbers (I mean, really, fax number? It's 2016!) - in the checkout process simply because that's what the site was set up to ask for and no-one thought to remove it. Finally, when things go wrong, make sure that errors messages are clear, concise, and help the user - highlight what the problem is clearly, and take them directly to it.
If you build it, they won't necessarily come
Actually setting the website live is the end of the beginning, nothing more - it's only then that the real business can get going, but only if you have visitors to turn into customers. Setting a site live and sitting back waiting for people to stumble across it simply won't work - you've got to get out there on the various social networks and, if necessary, pay for incoming customers through Google Adwords or Bing Ads. Be sure, though, to keep on top of tracking the cost, success and ROI of those (see 'Knowledge is everything!' below).
Not every channel will be appropriate for every business - if your products aren't particularly photogenic (mortuary supplies is one example we can think of from a recent site we worked on!) then you probably don't want to be posting them to Instagram - but work out which ones are appropriate, sign up to them and keep up to date with them.
Which ever social media networks you choose to use, be sure to use them. There's nothing worse than seeing a blog which hasn't been updated in over a year, or a Twitter account that ignores mentions because no-one's paying attention. You don't have to go overboard and tweet everything every five minutes, or Instagram every single thing you come across, but find the right balance and stick to it. Use tools like HootSuite to enable you to schedule some - but not all - tweets, posts and updates in advance, if it helps you to spend half an hour early on in the week to schedule most tweets for the remainder of the week. If you're using Wordpress for blogging, then use its in-built ability to schedule posts to be published at a certain time in the future, and then line up corresponding promotional posts to social media networks.
Knowledge is everything
Once you're up and running, be sure to make the most of the information that you can get about visitors to your site, where they're coming from, how they're finding you, and what they're doing (or not doing) on the site once they find you. Google Analytics is - put simply - amazing, and has about as much information as you could possibly want. To track how you're performing in the search results for various search terms we recommend Wincher for a low cost solution. Monitor your site with an online service - we're great fans of Statuscake - to ensure that it's available, and responding quickly.
Stay on top of everything!
You will find that you have an awful lot of balls to juggle once things are up and running. Key amongst those, of course, will be satisfying incoming orders promptly, but almost as important will be keeping your site up to date, keeping up to date with all your social media and other marketing, reviewing the site's performance and adjusting it accordingly, whilst also dealing with all the administration, financials and dozens of other things that come with running a business.
As the proprietor of any business, you'll always be drawn in three different directions, particularly in the early days. The entrepreneur in you will always be on the lookout for new opportunities and new directions for the business to take. The manager in you will be worried about making sure that the management and administration of the business is taken care of before the entrepreneur takes it off on flights of fancy. The worker in you will be doing the actual day-to-day work of processing and dispatching orders, handling customer enquiries and the like. Striking the right balance between all three is essential. Scheduling blocks of time when you'll be doing X, Y or Z is a great way to do that - be sure to stick to the schedule, though, rather than letting the entrepreneur in you disappear off in search of the next great thing at the cost of letting the worker in you actually get on with the business's business!