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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.

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

 

  Looking to take your ecommerce global? Take this webinar. Learn how to make your ecommerce strategy a gateway to global markets. Discover simple and incremental ways you can start selling online and go global by attending The Fundamentals of International eCommerce webinar on March 11 at 2PM. Register HERE. Ready to get started? Apply […]

The Virginia Small Business Development Center and Cureate Courses invite companies in the Charlottesville and Shenandoah Valley regions to apply for the inaugural cohort of the Food and Beverage Accelerator. This free, intensive 6-week program is designed to help the founders and CEOs of growth-oriented food and beverage producers acquire the competencies required to grow […]

In 2019, Main Street America partnered alongside American Express to launch the Future of Shopping Small Grant Program to provide 10 small businesses with $10,000 each to help them innovate in the evolving retail landscape. The program seeks to support small businesses that have demonstrated new approaches to traditional business strategies and those businesses looking to implement creative techniques, while also helping to revitalize and strengthen historic commercial districts.

We are thrilled to congratulate Jon Henry General Store for having been selected as an award recipient! Located in New Market, Virginia, the business features an assortment of gifts, snacks, produce, crafts and more. Their inventory represents over 50 local makers, growers and artisans from across the state with a strong focus on items from the Shenandoah Valley, along with a growing selection of women and minority-owned companies. The business will use grant funds for new points of sale, developing an online portal for cooking tips and recipes that use their produce, work with local restaurants to have pop-up meals and film quality chef videos to highlight local produce. The project demonstrates a commitment to the local community and principles in the Future of Shopping Small Guide.

Jon Henry General Store was established in 2018, reviving the historic stone building’s past use. The structure housed a general store in the early 1800’s for several decades. Owner Jon Henry and his family have lived in the Shenandoah Valley for the past five generations, mainly as farmers. The store builds upon the family’s past-time of produce peddling, and its “brick and mortar” location extends beyond seasonal produce. The business offers brooms, vintage license plates, jams and jellies, local honey, canned goods, children’s wooden toys, memorabilia, candies and more for residents and visitors. The general store also actively partners with local churches, schools and sports teams as sponsors, donors and participants.

If you find yourself in New Market, a proud Virginia Main Street (VMS) Commercial District Affiliate (CDA) community, swing by Jon Henry General Store to #ShopSmall. You can also follow the business on social media to view how they are planning for the future and staying ahead of the curve!

Myth 1: Be Your Own Boss

Being an entrepreneur does not necessarily mean you have no bosses. That’s only partially true.

As a sole proprietor, you actually end up with many bosses. Customers are the obvious ones. But then there are the people you owe money to, the people who owe you money, your partners or those you formed strategic alliances with and your employees. At some point, all of these groups call the shots in some fashion.

Investors, should you have any, are most definitely your bosses, considering their money carries weight into how you run things.

If ultimate freedom is what you truly seek, then you’re going to have to learn to live without any relationships or dependents. It may sound a bit harsh but it’s the only real way to have “no one to answer to.”

The only sense in which you are “your own boss” is that you have the freedom to decide what risks to take and what hours to work…as long as your customers and investors are happy.

Myth 2: Getting Investors is Always a Win

Business schools and entrepreneurship classes are to blame for this myth as they teach the steps to starting a business are: develop a business plan and get financed. While there is some truth to this, as investment in your company is often a good sign, it’s not always the case.

Finding investors is a conditional win. It’s a only a positive thing IF…

  1. You need investors and can use the money to grow the business
  2. You find compatible investors

 

If you can build your company without investment, take the chance to do it. Being the sole owner of your business without having to worry about the requirements of investors is worth the experience of finding financial support from other sources even if it’s a bit more difficult. If it’s a choice between growing slowly without investors versus growing faster with them remember, slow growth is still growth, and survival is what counts.

Myth 3: The More Money, the Better

For most startups, there’s a point where the resources should match the opportunity. Don’t be overambitious, meaning build your business without overspending. Just because you have the money, it doesn’t mean the more you spend the more you’ll grow.

So if you want to be an entrepreneur because:

  • You don’t want to answer to anyone
  • You think having someone else foot the bills for your business would be fun
  • Or you’ve got a pile of money stacked up, just begging to be put into a new venture …

… you may be asking to become a victim of alluring but dangerous half-truths.

Think it through.

 

 

By: Kevin Hickman

This content was re-blogged from Tim Berry, Guest Blogger for the sba.gov website

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.

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.

 

“A smart man makes a mistake, learns from it, and never makes that mistake again.  But a wise man finds a smart man and learns from him how to avoid the mistake altogether.”  -Roy H. Williams

There are tons of blogs and anecdotes online that highlight the tough lessons entrepreneurs have learned through their endeavors.  We’ve compiled a few here to start your journey of avoiding the mistakes that others have made.

20 Lessons You Don’t Want to Learn the Hard Way

Hubris: A Startup’s Worst Mistake

9 Lessons From A 10-Time Startup Failure

9 Biggest Mistakes New Entrepreneurs Make

Our business advisers also come with a wealth of information not only from their own experiences, but from their previous clients.  Contact us to start a conversation.

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