Scenario: You’ve made the decision to start selling online but have little or no experience with e-commerce. Perhaps you’ve got a new product or service that’s ready to be shared with the world, or are the owner of a specialty shop looking to expand a small but loyal fan base. Or maybe you are the company web junkie at a promising start-up.

Selling direct-to-consumer generally provides businesses with the best margins. But those profits can be offset dramatically, evenly fatally, if not approached with a well thought-out and strategic plan. The first steps are critical. Here then is a brief guide to selling online. First up: the most important things to consider and put into place as you begin your e-commerce adventure…

Build Your Shop (Start Small, Plan Big)
With off-the-shelf e-commerce platforms like Shopify, Magento Community and Amazon Web Services, you can begin selling online relatively quickly and with minimal investment. Some of these services also offer fulfillment options, making them attractive all-in-one solutions (though beware the limitations and don’t expect a high degree of individual attention from Jeff Bezos himself). Different levels of customization are available on each platform, so pick the one that’s right for your business, and always build with an eye towards scaling quickly and efficiently when things take off. And to that end…

Make Friends With A Developer
A knowledgeable technology partner will help you sort through the pros and cons of each platform and service, then set you up for success. S/he should become one of your most intimate associates — you two have a lot in common (the need to succeed) and will be spending lots of quality time together. Investing in qualified, reliable tech talent probably costs more than you think it should, but it can be the difference between success and failure. Engage the best you can afford, and save yourself the trouble of repairing the hole in the wall you’ll make by banging your head against it when you try to do it on the cheap or (gasp) go it alone.

Get Customers with Search Engine Optimization
Potential customers need to find your shop, and SEO is the most efficient, cost-effective way to start. There are a bazillion online resources around SEO (including here at – read a dozen of them and the patterns will begin to emerge. As soon as you can afford it, connect with a professional to analyze your content, hone keywords and plan strategy. Side benefit: SEO consultants often work for agencies or are loosely affiliated with networks that provide other valuable marketing services you may require in the future.

Measure Everything
Keep it simple to start – Google Analytics is free and effective. Figure out how to set up tracking links and goals. Learn about conversion rates and visitor flows. Become intimate with your e-commerce platform’s native reporting tools. You’ll feel like a genius, and create a solid foundation for expanding your direct sales.

It’s Not Your Fault (Unless It Is)
If you work for yourself, a start-up or small brand, you are probably on a team of one or two people keeping several balls in the air at once — technology, creative, marketing and promotions, budgets, and even customer service. It can be exhausting, frustrating and thankless. You will miss monthly projections, hire the wrong consultant, and otherwise make costly and sometimes embarrassing mistakes.

Accept it. Learn from it. And keep moving.

At the end of the day, success will come from setting meaningful goals, owning the KPIs and generating real revenue — not adding overhead. Read all you can about every discipline and find ways to apply that knowledge every day. Say ‘yes’ more than ‘no’ — to cold-calling service providers, cross-channel team meetings and random LinkedIn invitations. These can be fast, efficient resources for finding solutions to problems you may not even know exist. Alternatively, if you are a small business owner, hire someone to run e-commerce for you as soon as possible — your job is to grow the business, not get bogged down in Internet quicksand.

Slowly, surely, you’ll start to see results, and have the tools to craft strategies based on solid data and proven tactics. Then the case can be made — to an executive team or simply to yourself — for investing in talent and resources that will  grow your direct sales.

In Part Two we’ll explore payment options, fulfillment and search engine marketing . Share your e-commerce start up stories with us.

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