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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.

Amazon
EBay
Etsy
Walmart Marketplace
Facebook Shops

Check the detailed reviews of marketplace sites below for more information.

                                               WHEN TO CHOOSE ECOMMERCE

  • 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.

Shopify

BigCommerce

Wix

WooCommerce

Have questions? Schedule a session with one of our business advisors to discuss what’s right for your business.

 

RESOURCES

Marketplaces

The Best 20 Online Marketplace Options for Selling Products in 2020

What are the Top Online Marketplaces?

The World’s Top Online Marketplaces

Selling on Online Marketplaces: Best Platforms for Selling Your Products

Ecommerce Platforms

10 Best Ecommerce Platforms Compared & Rated 2020

Ultimate List of Ecommerce Tools for 2020

8 Best Ecommerce Platforms | Build Your Store Today

The Best Ecommerce Platforms for 2020

 

The Federal Reserve is conducting a national survey of small businesses. This survey amplifies the voices of small businesses and provides timely economic data to policymakers who are weighing decisions that affect small businesses. The survey is open to businesses currently in operation, those recently closed and those about to launch. All responses are confidential and survey results will be shared with participants. Make your voice heard and take the 10-minute survey today! The survey closes October 31, 2020.

TAKE THE SURVEY HERE

 

According to the World Intellectual Property Organization, Intellectual property refers to “creations of the mind, such as inventions, literary and artistic works, designs and symbols, or names and images used in commerce.” Whether your company creates or uses what others have created, intellectual property rights should be a major concern, regardless of your business’ size.

World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)

For up-and-coming small businesses in particular, even common intellectual property mistakes can be detrimental. To help safeguard your business from fines and or other legal costs, understanding intellectual property rights is paramount. A great first step towards protecting your business is recognizing the myths surrounding intellectual property.

The following are David G. Oberdick of Entrepreneur.com’s 7 Persistent Myths About Intellectual Property‘:

Myth 1: Businesses Automatically Own Intellectual Property Created by Employees or Contractors.

While it makes sense to think you have rights over the work created by your employees or vendors, this is only the case if their contract explicitly states this. Without such a contract, entrepreneurs actually have limited or no rights at all to employee’s creative work.

Myth 2: Patents Grant Worldwide Protection.

If you are a company that conducts business abroad, you must file for a patent in each country that you operate in. Obtaining a patent from the U.S. Patent Office will only protect your intellectual property in the U.S.

Myth 3: If it Sounds “Official” it is.

Don’t be tricked by scammers asking for money to protect your intellectual property. Even if an email or invoice looks legitimate, there is a good chance it is simply not real. Some common examples of fraud include emails asking businesses to pay a fee to protect trademarks or domain names, or invoices for “protection services.”

Photo Credit - JordanHill

Photo Credit – JordanHill

Myth 4: If it Doesn’t Have a Copyright Symbol, Anyone Can Use it.

While that may have been the case decades ago, the laws have changed. Just because a photo doesn’t have the copyright notice or (c) symbol on it, that does not mean it is free for public use. This rule is especially important for you and your employees to recognize when using images from the internet, such as from Google. It is good practice to assume any material found on the internet is copyrighted and that you should ask permission from the owner before using it.

Some great ways for your business to safely use images without risking the fines is to start an account on a stock photo database such as iStock, or simply use the Creative Commons search for high quality and royalty-free images.

Myth 5: Trade Secrets Provide Easy Catch-all Protection.

Another common mistake young business owners make is assuming information not covered by a copyright or patent can be protected as a trade secret. A trade secret, as Entrepreneur.com defines it, is “information used by a business, which can be legally protected, that is secret to the general public and is critical to the livelihood and success of a business.”

The problem with trade secrets is that they are difficult to enforce in court. To be successful, a company must prove 1. the information gives the company a competitive advantage because it is not known by the public, 2. the company took reasonable measure to protect that information, and 3. the information is not generally known to the public or competitors.

Myth 6. The Markings Don’t Matter.

Many business people misuse the intellectual property markings on a regular basis, either by overusing them or not using them when they should be. A few examples include marking a patent number on items that don’t actually have patents or don’t bear the exact patented design. This simple mistake can result in fines as high as $500 per mislabeled item. However, if you do not use trademark markings like TM or (R) when you should, you also run the risk of letting your brand name become generic, as was the case for aspirin, zipper and thermos.

Myth 7. I Can Wait to Figure out my Intellectual Property Strategy. 

Just last year, the laws about who own intellectual property changed from the “first to invent” system to a “first to file” system. This means that 1. just because you thought it first does not give you the automatic right to the patent, and 2. that your company has no time to waste in acquiring the rights to your intellectual property.

What Should I Do?

While intellectual property mistakes are all too common for small businesses, they don’t have to be for yours. There are a number of practical steps your business needs to be doing to protect itself:

1, Create an intellectual property strategy for your business.
2, Find a trusted intellectual property consultant for your business to help you create this strategy.
3, Be careful when using images you find online. Use Creative Commons search or a database like iStock whenever possible.
4, When it doubt ask the property’s owner.
5, Make sure your employees are aware of your company’s strategy and rules.

Following good intellectual property practices is the business smarts thing to do, saving you time and money in the long run. Make intellectual property rights a top priority for you and your business!

Many people have been commenting on Twitter’s new Facebook-esque profile layout, but what do these changes mean for your business? For any company that currently maintains a Twitter account, it is important to keep up with these changes to understand how to best use this medium to their advantage.

What’s New?

According to America’s SBDC, there are a number of changes that have led to the new look and feel of Twitter profiles, as well as some new features designed to help users sort and find content. These changes deal mostly with the aesthetics of your page, allowing for businesses to catch the attention of potential consumers. Each update has its own particular set of advantages that should be utilized for your business’ account profile.

Changes and Tips for Each:

twitter-phoneNew Header Image: Much like the cover photo currently used on Facebook and Google+ pages, Twitter now allows users to insert a banner image across the top of their pages. This large section of digital real-estate is the perfect place to push your brand, logos, special offers, contact information, and so forth. This is the first part of the page any potential consumer will see, so be sure to make it eye catching.

Larger Profile Picture: The sizes of Twitter profile pictures have also been increased. Because Twitter has automatically resized everyone’s current profile photos, be sure that your photo hasn’t been stretched or pixelated. Even if your photo looks the same, you can still take advantage of this increased space with a higher resolution photo.

More Visible Page Information: All of your business’ important information, including name, handles, descriptions, and links, have increased in size to become more prominent on the page. This is a good time to update your information and make sure it is accurate, professional, and most of all worth reading. As America’s SBDC put it, “having an informative and accurate bio is essential.”

Pin Tweets: Just like the Pinned Posts function on Facebook, Twitter users can now “pin” a tweet to the top of their page. This essentially allows you to choose what tweets individuals will first see when they visit your page. This should be used to promote important messages or links, such as upcoming events for your business.

Best Tweets: Another creative spin Twitter has implemented into their business pages is the use of Best Tweets. This works by enlarging tweets that have received more engagement, allowing users to quickly find the best content on your profile.

New Content Filters: Twitter has also allowed users to better sort what they are viewing. When you are visiting another profile, for instance, you can choose to view the content by Tweets, by Tweets with photos or videos, or by Tweets and replies. This added convenience emphasizes the importance of Tweeting interesting photos for your followers to see.

twitter-redesign-fb

Example of the new Twitter layout, photo courtesy of Mashable

So What Does This All Mean for My Business?

Twitter has always been a wonderful tool for quickly spreading short and interesting content from a company to its publics and vice versa. With these recent changes, Twitter can now more than ever help showcase your brand and make more meaningful impressions with the people that visit your page.

Remember, the secret to a successful Twitter account is still valuable content, regardless of how great your cover photos look or how many links you publish. Use these updates to help visitors learn more about you, and use your content to keep them coming back!

For more information about Twitter’s new layout, visit Samantha Murphy Kelly’s post, ‘Twitter Testing Major Profile Redesign That Looks a Lot Like Facebook‘ on Mashable.

Keeping up with social media campaigns can be overwhelming, but Constant Contact – one of the major social media guru’s has broken it down into some manageable pieces.  Here are three blogs with simple ways to keep your facebook page fresh, interesting and engaging:

How long has your company had the same cover photo?  How well does that photo represent your brand? Check out these ideas to freshen it up.

Not getting many likes, shares or comments?  Try these tips for getting more engagement.

And finally, don’t be caught looking like a doofus, avoid these faux pas and look smart instead.

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