Hatching a great idea for starting a business? Here are 10 questions you need to sit on first.
What is business agility and why is it important in starting and growing a business? Veteran SBDC Business Advisors weigh in on how to know if your company is agile and what to do if you want to build more agility into your business operations.
Running on empty and feeling like you could use some fresh ideas to revitalize your business in 2021? Adding a couple inspirational and informative business podcasts to your personal routine may be the ticket to renewed enthusiasm. We have cross-referenced five “Best Of” lists to reveal 10 popular podcasts that consistently make the cut. […]
Whether you’re a seasoned small business owner looking to increase sales by adding an online store or a newbie just starting your business, having an ecommerce option for customers is more important than ever. Even though building a web store for customers is a no-brainer, sorting out the options is more like a brain cramp! Because getting an online store up and running can be such a big commitment of time and money, and choosing a platform prematurely can be a difficult hurdle to overcome later, it’s especially important to understand the terminology, differences between platforms, and perhaps most importantly, your operational capacities for adding ecommerce.
FIRST THINGS FIRST – Know the Terms
What’s the difference between an ecommerce platform and an online marketplace? An online marketplace has multiple sellers like eBay, Amazon, Walmart, and Etsy. An ecommerce platform is software that allows one seller to create and operate their own online store.
Do I need one or the other to sell online? The short answer is yes. The only other options to using a marketplace or ecommerce software are to build from scratch (expensive) or use a plug-in to your website (severe limitations).
Which is best for my business? This is where understanding your business capabilities comes in. In brief, online marketplaces generally have more traffic, provide some marketing and customer service support, and offer simplified store creation. They do not assist with inventory management, charge a commission, and inherently create more competition among sellers. On ecommerce platforms, there is inventory support, but the seller is responsible for a more complex store set-up, attracting traffic, generating leads/sales, and customer service support. Fees only apply to hosting/maintain the site or special added features.
CONSIDERATIONS – What does your business need?
Revisit what you sell, how you source it, and who your audience is. If you have been or will be operating a brick and mortar retail store, look again at your products, supply chain, and customer profiles.
- Which of your products lend themselves well to online sales? Is your unique selling proposition the same instore/online? How do you know that?
- Do you have enough profit margin in those products to add the expense of set-up, listing, managing, packing, shipping, and providing customer service required for online selling?
- Who are your potential online customers, where do they shop, and what are their expectations?
- Is your brick and mortar store name right for your online store? If it does not make what you are selling online immediately apparent, you may want to explore an alternative domain name for your ecommerce store.
Take a hard look at your technical capabilities, staffing, equipment, and space.
- Is the technical side of listing and promoting products online a challenge for you?
- How strong is your existing marketing plan? Do you have a robust social media presence and decent website traffic? Do you have ideas for generating online traffic and sales?
- Do you have or can you hire the staff or help you needed to manage the tasks of online selling?
- Do you have the right equipment/systems for great photographs, inventory management, and easy packing/shipping?
- Where will you do these extra tasks?
Make a budget for costs associated with adding ecommerce.
- Figure the costs of changes required to add online shopping to your existing operation.
- Based on your reexamination, decide what your goals and expectations for your e-commerce effort should be.
WHEN TO CHOOSE A MARKETPLACE OPTION
- You don’t have many different items to sell online and can manage inventory on your own.
- You are limited in time, expertise, or the ability to hire help, but want to make some products immediately available online.
- You don’t want to invest in ramping up your online marketing effort right away.
- You’re willing and have enough profit margin to pay a commission.
- You understand and have a plan for maximizing your use of the marketplace platform.
Top Marketplace Sites
We looked at current comparisons/ratings of the top marketplace selling platforms, and the following were consistently ranked tops for fast-startup, established programs, and large customer bases.
Check the detailed reviews of marketplace sites below for more information.
- You have a lot of different items to sell online and would benefit from inventory assistance.
- You have a strong marketing plan and web presence that will transition well online.
- You can create or can hire someone to create an online store that fits your brand.
- Your business has the capacity, space, and time to integrate online selling into your operations.
Choosing an Ecommerce Platform
If you’ve decided ecommerce is for you, it’s time to choose a platform for putting it all together. Fortunately, there are some great ways to break into ecommerce that will get you up and running in no time. When looking at the various options, be sure to think about the following (besides cost):
- Is it easy to use and have adequate support features?
- Are there design options to complement your brand?
- Does it have the integrations you want such as payment options, social selling capabilities, or apps?
- Is it scalable? How many products can be listed?
- Are there Search Engine Optimization and customizable URL features?
We looked at four different comprehensive independent reviews of multiple ecommerce platforms and “compared the comparisons.” Given that this decision is always something very personal to your business, it would be worth digging through the articles provided below to learn more for yourself.
If that’s more than you want to tackle and want to just investigate the top performers of 2020, the consensus of the experts seems to be that these four platforms (in no particular order) offer the absolute best tools for launching an online store.
Have questions? Schedule a session with one of our business advisors to discuss what’s right for your business.
According to an often cited study from Ohio State University, 60% of new restaurants close their doors for good within the first year, with 80% failing within 5. While there are a number of factors behind this statistic, many of the mistakes business owners make are unfortunately avoidable. Noting this fact, Felix Clay of Cracked.com compiled a humorous list of 4 Awful Mistakes Restaurants Make All the Time. This article includes many solid points that should be taken as a lesson for anyone considering starting up a business, restaurant or not. These are the adapted 4 Business Mistakes to Avoid.
1. Location, Location, Location
Off the top of your head, can you think of a location that has had at least three businesses fail within the past few years? Just as an example, our office assistant Daniel grew up near an old Pizza Hut building that had been used for years as a successful Italian restaurant. After the owners retired and put the building on the market, however, at least three businesses have opened and failed in the same location. Just to name a few there was an upscale Mexican restaurant and a coffee shop. While no one would bat an eye at putting an Italian joint in an old Pizza Hut, the white table clothes of the Mexican restaurant weren’t fooling anyone. And no coffee shop in his hometown of Roanoke can beat Mill Mountain Coffee and Starbucks, who already dominate the market.
It seems obvious, but poor decisions made for business locations happen all the time. No matter how good your product or service is, you simply cannot just set up wherever you feel like without doing some extensive research. You need to know the economic market, demographics of the people living and working in that area, your competition, how many people drive past your establishment, and so on.
Your business needs to solve a problem for the area it is located in. There are no pizza joints in a 15 mile radius? Building one may be a good idea then. There are already five clothing shops downtown? You better make sure yours is different somehow. Which leads us to the next point:
2. Don’t be like Everyone Else
A hot topic in business right now is differentiation, or what Stan Phelps of 9 INCH Marketing calls “Your Purple Goldfish.” What makes your business unique, or at least different enough from your competition to make people want to come to you? For example, it’s okay to have more than one restaurant in the same area, but yours has to be the best at something, whether that be the best hangout spot for a college crowd, the best bang for your buck, or simply the only Greek restaurant in the city. Every business needs to give customers a reason to come and continue doing business with them.
A great way to think about how to make your business stand out during your planning is to make a list of three products or qualities that your competition has to offer and then come up with ways to improve on those. Better yet, come up with three things you can offer that none of the competition have. Go to your competitors stores, take notes on what they offer, their service quality, what they excel in, did they offer a little extra, etc. Having a great product simply isn’t enough to pull people away from the shops and restaurants they already frequent. You have to stand out!
3. Don’t be lazy
Have you ever been really impressed with a business, only to be disappointed the next time you went due to bad customer service or poor quality? Often times this seems to be due to just plan laziness. Many businesses need a large number of people to keep everything running smoothly, but it only takes one person to start skipping steps, making mistakes, or rushing people to make clients and customers not want to come back.
Don’t let laziness and procrastination start running rampant at your business, and always be sure to give your customers an experience that will make them want to come back. While you simply can’t please everyone, recognize that it only takes a few poor customer experiences for bad word-of-mouth to spread, and bad reviews to appear online about you.
4. Don’t Try to be Everything
Like we touched on before, your business needs to be the best in your market area at at least one thing, whether that is the best warranties on your stock, the best quality of gadgets, the best nick knacks store on main street, etc. Many businesses, however, make the mistake of trying to offer everything. When they do this, they are spreading themselves to thin to the point that while they may sell a huge variety of goods, none of them are any good.
As an owner you must except that your business simply won’t interest everybody. The target audience for a local bike shop will inevitably be different than a bakery or a video game store. Instead of fighting this, embrace it!
Small businesses are all about finding both that niche audience and that niche product or service. Find your target market and work on making your business the most appealing to them. Find what is your highest selling product and make it the best it can be.
Make Your Business Succeed!
While it may seem obvious or common sense, these mistakes are made all the time and can be detrimental to any starting business. Remember these tips to avoid them and help your business succeed!
Comparing your employees to animals might not be the most flattering analogy – but Michael Kerr’s “Serengeti Management” is a vivid way to consider the personality types of your staff. In any organization, you need leaders and followers; you need go-getters and yes ma’am-ers; you even need a little playfulness. How can you spot the gazelle, monkey, hyena, lion and rhino in the interview? How do you manage them in the workplace and keep them from “struggling for survival at a watering hole?” Read Kerr’s full article; The 5 Types of Employees You’ll Find on Your Start-Up Journey (and How to Manage Them)
Joe Robinson of Entrepreneur Magazine summarizes a research review of the personality traits of entrepreneurs. What the review found was that entrepreneurs have different characteristics than corporate managers. Which makes sense when you consider the demands of each career path. The seven prominent characteristics of entrepreneurs outlined in Robinson’s article are tenacity, passion, tolerance of ambiguity, vision, self-belief, flexibility, and rule-breaking. Do you share these traits, or are you the exception?
There’s so much to consider when starting your own business that it can be easy to feel overwhelmed. Using a checklist like this post from the Small Business Administration can help you stay on track and make sure you’ve got the recipe for success. #10 on that list may be on the bottom – but Planning Your Business Funding Strategy may be the most important step you can take in ensuring your business’ success. On our resource page, we have an excel template to assist in figuring out your cash flow, a business plan outline, and our own checklist of what every small business needs to do when they get started. If you’re really getting serious about your business idea, then come to one of our Start Smart workshops. We’ll then be able to meet with you one-on-one to iron-out all the details and get you rolling in the right direction.
The team at the Shenandoah Valley SBDC has called 1598 S. Main Street our home for many years… during that time we’ve met thousands of amazing business owners, managers, and entrepreneurs. We’ve imagined and planned and worked with you, laughed together and shared your dreams here.
But it is now time say goodbye to 1598 and move into a new home – the renovated Ice House at the intersection of Liberty & Bruce Streets in downtown Harrisonburg!
Some will remember the Cassco Ice Factory, built in 1934 and a landmark in the city for more than 75 years. Renovations to our section of this multi-use complex included creating four floors of office, classroom, and conference space. This amazing transformation is taking place under the experienced and creative guidance of Matchbox.
We are happy that we will continue sharing space with our 1598 friends from the Institute of Certified Professional Managers and the Center for Economic Education, and now we have new neighbors from JMU’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Office of Technology Transfer, plus our good colleagues from the Shenandoah Valley Partnership and Shenandoah Valley Technology Council along with other JMU departments. This new arrangement will certainly make collaborating and planning easier when we can just go up or down the stairs instead of driving across town!
New Location: 127 West Bruce Street Harrisonburg, Virginia
All phone numbers, emails, and the mailing address will stay the same.