This year, like no other, we have all had to adapt. To remain relevant and generate an income many small businesses and entrepreneurs have had to embrace online sales for the first time. So… you’ve told all your existing customers that they can buy from you online and you’ve directed them to your page, but what’s next? Well now is the time to think about attracting new customers, especially with Christmas approaching and people housebound during November.
Marketing and Selling Online for Small Businesses
If, like many companies at the start of lockdown in March earlier this year you rushed to get your products online any which way you could, you’re now wondering how to take the next step. Or perhaps, as a result of the new lockdown measures which come into effect in England on 5 November, you feel you need to up your game.
If you’re a non-essential business and forced to close your premises as a result of lockdown, you can still stay open 24/7 365 days-a-year online. There probably won’t be time to take full advantage of Black Friday or Cyber Monday this year, but it’s worth considering similar opportunities for the future.
Fortunately, the internet is an amazing resource for promoting products and services. It enables small start-up businesses to compete alongside established brands, in a way that wasn’t possible with traditional marketing tools.
The challenge is that no matter what you are selling, there is extensive competition. Search for anything on Google and tens of thousands of results will be listed in an instant. As a result, getting your products found takes considerable effort. It isn’t feasible to create a social media company page or a website and expect the enquiries and orders to come rolling in. So how can it be done?
Where to Sell Online
The first decision is where to sell – the options are:
- To create your own e-commerce website
- To set up a Commerce Account to sell through Facebook and Instagram
- To sell through a Third-party retailer, such as Amazon, eBay or Etsy
Sales through an E-commerce Website
Creating an e-commerce website will require an investment of time and money, but it will give you the greatest freedom as you control how your brand is presented. Remember that the domain name purchase and hosting fees have to be renewed annually. And if you use something like WordPress, it may require regular maintenance updates. If you are going down this route, here are a few additional things to consider which you may not have thought of:
- Create a Google My Business listing to help you get found online
- Make sure your website is indexed with Google
- Ensure the Meta data is completed across the site
- Name all product images on your website meaningfully
- Make sure your business is also listed on the likes of Bing, Yell.com and TouchLocal etc all of which offer free business listings
Sales through Social Media
A Commerce Account is a cheaper alternative and, if your target audience buys through Facebook and Instagram, you could be onto a winner. Remember though that not everyone with an account is going to see social media as a trusted sales platform, so research is essential.
Sales through a Third-party Website
Third-party retailers are a good option, especially for those starting up a new business. There will be restrictions and commission payments, but the site will have a robust data protection policy, established delivery process and trusted payment options – all of which you won’t need to worry about – and assist with marketing. This can help you to get the word out and it is a way to test the market before investing in a website.
Third-party Website Options for Selling Handcrafted Goods
The need for new revenue streams has been an incentive for many people to turn their skills and hobbies into a business. If you are a maker, selling online is not restricted to eBay and Etsy. Here are a few alternatives:
- Folksy and nuMONDAY – for quality British craft makers
- Not on the Highstreet – great for gift items
- DEPOP – ideal for fashion items if you are targeting teens and young adults
- Fruugo – much like an online department store, with a presence in 23 countries
- Yumbles – an online artisan food market
Ensure a Good User Experience
Key things to consider include:
- How easy is it to browse, select and complete the checkout process?
- Is it intuitive on a desktop, tablet and phone?
Where relevant, involve your teams and get different areas of the business to conduct their own UAT (user acceptance testing) to iron out any bugs before the site goes live.
Once your chosen sales platform is live, get friends and family to test it out. How easy is it to browse, select and complete the checkout process? Is it intuitive on a desktop, tablet and phone? Was there any point where they wanted to give up? What more would they have liked to see?
Promoting your Sale Platform
When you know the process works well, include a link to your sales platform on every communication. Add it to your email signature, make it visible on your social media profiles and print it on your packaging. Put links to your pages in social media posts and blogs and tell people about the site at networking.
Collaboration with Other Small Businesses
Going it alone can feel like an uphill struggle, so find like-minded souls and collaborate. Discover people who are targeting the same buyers. Like and share each other’s posts and join up for a marketing campaign to spread the cost.
Provide Inspiration and Add Value
Showcase the potential of your product. If you sell clothes, what could they be paired with for a stylish seasonal look? For food, give serving suggestions or perfect accompaniments. Include gift items in a list of suggestions for ‘What to buy dad for Christmas’. In short, help people to see the product as exactly what they are looking for.
Ask for Feedback from your Buyers
Happy customers are your greatest marketing asset, so make every customer feel special. Commit to providing the best customer service and then ask for reviews on your sales platforms. Thank reviewers for their comments and if you get negative feedback, respond quickly and professionally. Do not get into arguments online and, if necessary, take the conversation away from the online platform in order to resolve it. Competitions and other incentives can encourage customers to engage, with the cost of the prize being a small price to pay for increased brand awareness.
The internet has the potential to put your products in front of global buyers, yet many consumers are keen to support local independent businesses. For this reason, it is worth researching local online opportunities.
Your local magazine may have an online business directory and there could be a chance to feature in an editorial. Independent businesses may be willing to stock goods from local suppliers on their website.
Can you provide free local delivery to encourage custom from within your neighbourhood? For added publicity, consider donating a prize to a local school or charity raffle, or sponsor a community event. Their promotion could help you to get noticed within your community.
Boosting Sales on a Small Budget
Even with a tight marketing budget, it is possible to promote your products and encourage sales.
- Be specific about your target buyer and get to know them well
- Remember that happy customers are a great asset, so actively engage with them, request feedback and make them feel important
- Seek out collaboration with other sellers, local businesses and organisations to help spread the word
We have helped numerous businesses improve their online selling presence by creating an e-commerce website and would be delighted to talk with you about your plans and ideas. Once you’ve cracked all of the above, it will be worth investing in a digital marketing strategy.
If you would like to discuss any of the above points in more detail and their relevance to your business, please call Alison Page on tel: 07963 002065 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can of course browse our website to see what our existing clients have to say about our work.