In the movie “Field of Dreams,” Kevin Costner’s character, Ray, is told to build a baseball diamond in the middle of his Iowa cornfield. After building the field, his friend tells him, “People will come, Ray. People will definitely come.” Many e-business hopefuls think all they need to do is build an e-commerce Website and customers will roll in with their credit cards flying. But it takes more than a good idea, a Website and faith to create a successful e-business.
Richard Robbins learned this lesson the hard way. When he and his brother decided to start an online sports apparel Website, Outersports, it didn’t come together quite as expected. Robbins admits they made a lot of mistakes before creating an online Website that attracted visitors.
“It was two or three months, working a lot of hours, before we had the first sale on our Website,” Robbins says. “We were thrilled to finally have a sale. A lot of people think it’s going to be an instant, overnight success—but it’s not.”
After much trial and error, tons of research and involvement with online discussion groups, the Robbins brothers developed a template for e-business set-up. Since then, Robbins has gone on to create RobbinsSports, a successful Website devoted to outfitting sports teams with uniforms or sports equipment.
If you think you’ve developed a unique product or service you can sell on the Internet, there are some necessary steps to make it work. Although e-commerce can be very lucrative, one misstep can result in lost time and money.
Know Your Competition
Chances are, even if you’ve created a one-of-a-kind kitchen appliance, something similar is available on the Internet. Research other Websites selling comparable products and see what works. Notice the marketing, the Website design and how quickly the products can be found using search engines like Google. Also, make note of what doesn’t work so you can avoid making the same mistakes. Corresponding with the competition can help determine the demand for your product or service.
Organize Your Shipping Plan
If your Website sells a product, decide how you will manufacture and ship the item to your customers. Whether you’re shipping cartons out of the garage or working with a manufacturer who can drop-ship products to your customers, keeping a detailed inventory and creating a reliable shipping process is vital to the success of your e-business.
Attending trade shows, reading trade magazines or simply looking through the Yellow Pages can provide a list of possible shipping or manufacturing partners.
Set Up a Merchant Account
This account will be the cash machine for your business. Having a shopping cart and the ability to finalize financial transactions is a must-have on your Website. A basic PayPal account can be used for some transactions, but eventually a more sophisticated merchant account, set up through a bank, hosting service or other provider, will allow your Website to accept credit cards directly. Keep in mind, a transaction fee is charged for every credit card payment processed.
Market, Market, Market
To create a successful Internet marketing campaign, search engine optimization can help improve the quality and volume of traffic at your Website. The higher a Website ranks in search results, the more visibility it receives. A marketing campaign might include buying advertising on other pages, linking to blogs or connecting to a social Website like LinkedIn or Facebook.
Clint Sanderson, vice-president of sales for Orem-based StoresOnline, stresses the importance of Internet marketing and the ability it has to make or break an e-business. “Lack of marketing is one of the pitfalls that so many people make,” he says. “Then they’re very disappointed because they never get a visitor. It’s not so much the Website, but it’s the marketing and getting people to your Website.”
StoresOnline has offered e-commerce assistance to the entrepreneur/small business marketplace for more than a decade. With a constantly changing Internet environment, StoresOnline provides updates to its customers including a monthly newsletter. In fact, e-commerce owners who send out a monthly or weekly email to their customers with tips, coupons or case studies see an almost immediate surge in traffic.
While Robbins and his brother figured things out and got their e-business moving, others aren’t so lucky. However, for those who don’t have any idea where to begin their online business, StoresOnline provides everything a business needs, including Web hosting, merchant accounts, research tools, search optimization and marketing.
“Someone with basic computer skills can go in and build an e-commerce Website,” Sanderson says. “But we do it all in one. We simplify the process. Things change so rapidly that if these businesses don’t adapt to the changes, they’ll fall away and won’t exist anymore.”
Internet marketing is a bright spot in today’s bumpy economy. In a poll conducted by RetailMeNot.com, an online coupon Website, almost nine out of 10 consumers adjusted shopping habits as a result of higher gas prices. More shoppers are turning to e-business Websites instead of driving to their local merchants and malls, and price comparison shopping is made easier with Websites like TheFind.com that search thousands of Websites looking for specific products.
StoresOnline representatives present workshops all over the world to train customers about the art of e-commerce. Because the Internet marketplace is a rapidly growing industry, it can be hard for small business owners to keep their Websites current with necessary changes. Although starting an e-commerce Website is relatively inexpensive, the time and money it takes to operate and update a do-it-yourself Website can be overwhelming.
“I’ve seen a lot succeed and a lot of them that don’t ever get off the ground,” Robbins says. “The ones that don’t succeed throw a little effort at it, but it’s a long-term thing, not a get-rich-quick scheme. Make sure all the effort [you] put into marketing comes back and makes everything worth it.”
The prediction made by James Earl Jones in “Field of Dreams” came true as visitors started rolling in by the carfull to see the remarkable ball diamond in the middle of an ordinary Iowa cornfield. And for those who put in the time, investment and dedication to their Websites, visitors will definitely come.