Business tips

Launching an eCommerce website: ‘What I wish I’d known’

Felicia Rusher knew very little about eCommerce when she launched her business. Her online store is now a massive success and she is so passionate about all she’s learnt she runs SEO courses on the side. Here, she shares her many eCommerce tips.

It’s easy to get an eCommerce site up that looks good. Anyone can do that. Getting it to securely take payments, attract and convert customers at good margins 24-7? THAT is the tricky part.

I was on my way. I had decided what to sell. I had a name – I Still Call Australia Home. I had created a logo, style guide, and had found a graphic designer / web company to create my website. Great. I knew to pay a good price for this as I know my website is important. So far, so good. Then the reality started to hit.

Below are the seven biggest realisations I had on the way that I wish someone had told me about before I started!

My lessons in running an online business

  1. Ongoing web hosting. Oh really? I need to pay more? Yes. Unless you host it yourself, you need someone to host your website and be there in case anything goes wrong. This is usually one fee annually or a monthly ongoing fee.
  2. Product photography is unforgiving. You probably need a professional to create great photography of your products – or you need to learn fast including setting up your own light-box/studio at home and investing in a decent DSLR camera. You can make do with an iPhone, but I don’t recommend it if you are selling quality products.  I was really lucky in that I invested up front in a great photographer who helped me with my first images. She then showed me a ‘system’ for creating the perfect image every time – I cannot thank her for enough for that.
  3. Your web guys don’t manage your payments. You have to go to someone totally different to manage your payment gateway and actually take payments on your site. I’ve always used SecurePay, owned by Australia Post, as my payment gateway and I’ve been completely happy with that. You can offer different types of payment such as credit cards or PayPal to give customers options, while providing the security of a trusted payment gateway.
  4. Shipping is expensive. Your idea to offer ‘free shipping’ will only work if you have high-price ticket items. I negotiated with a freight supplier for Australian and International shipping so I could pass on great postage prices to my customers (and free in Australia).
  5. Tax. Yes you need to factor in GST payments to your margins. Usually 10% depending on what you are selling. You need to work out how to make this clear on your invoices that go out from your website. And yes, on freight too.
  6. Pricing. Never compete on price. You will lose. One of the first things everyone does after a month or so online is put their prices up. This is because by the time you’ve paid for stock, GST, freight, payment gateways, website hosting, product photography, and promotion, your margins need to be big enough so there’s something left in the bank for you.
  7. Getting traffic to your website costs a lot of time and/or money. Oh yes, here’s a BIG spend you didn’t count on. You can have the best website in the whole world, but if nobody knows it’s there, you’re screwed. When you first start, nobody realises just how much traffic you need to get to your website to make a sale. Especially when you are an unknown brand. Most small business web sites convert to a sale, on average, 1 to 2 per cent of the time. That means if you want to make one to two sales a day, you need at LEAST 100 people a day coming to your website. That’s a lot of people. So how do you do it?

SEO for eCommerce businesses

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) – getting on the first page of Google, for free, for what my ideal customers are typing into Google search – is the best way to get people to your website and I’ve been so burnt by ‘experts’ who haven’t given me results, that I’ve learned how to do it myself.

So if, for example, someone types “Australian gift hamper to send overseas” into Google, I take up the first three organic positions for this. Which means, statistically, 50 per cent of the people who see those results will click through to my website. I’ve done the same for over 400 search terms.

It has been my biggest success after a year in business. Last year, customers would ring me and say ‘I am so glad I found you, I’ve just spent three hours on the Internet trying to find a company that sends Australian gifts overseas’. Now I sometimes have over 500 people a day to my website and orders just come in. Nobody calls me up saying they’ve been on the internet for hours trying to find a company like mine – they now find me immediately on Google. And while it took me a lot of time to work it out and do it, it now doesn’t cost me a cent to be on there.

Read about SEO, do an online seminar or go to a short course … this will be a make or break element of your business.

Test and measure your website

My other piece of do-it-yourself advice is to smarten up and measure everything you’re doing. It’s called ‘Growth Hacking’. Try, test and measure. If it doesn’t work, stop doing it. Make sure the people working on your website are assessing what they do too. Whether it be a social media expert, Adwords specialist or SEO provider, find out what they are ACTUALLY doing to attract visitors to your website. If they cannot measure what they are doing by showing you how many people it is sending to your website per day, it’s a waste of your time and money.

Google Analytics is free to every website owner and shows you every single thing about every customer who comes to your site. There is no excuse anymore for digital marketers who are not measuring the effectiveness of your advertising or social media dollar in terms of getting you real, paying customers. And no, it won’t take six to 12 months before you see a return. You should get results within six weeks.

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