Should my business sell online?”

In my last column, I addressed the question of “Should my business sell online?”.  I suggested the option of using an online marketplace.   Let us consider two other options that are included in one of SCORE’s projects that was developed with the help of and in partnership with FedEx.  This project is called “Startup Roadmap” and outlines every step in starting a business.  I suggest that you ask your mentor about this great resource.

Social Media Selling.  Just about every startup business will use social media as a marketing tool. When your social media followers see the products you sell, making it as convenient as possible to buy them can help you make the sale. 

Social media selling is constantly changing. In general, most social networks are making it easier to sell from within their apps. While this is ever-changing, here’s a look at a few channels to consider:

Channels to Consider:

  • Facebook: If you have a Facebook Business page, you can set up a Facebook Shop where customers can buy from you directly on Facebook. However, you can also sell on Facebook Marketplace—an online marketplace where both individuals and businesses sell products—if you work with an approved network of e-commerce website partners.
  • Instagram: “Shopping on Instagram” lets you feature products using product tags or stickers. Users who tap on the tags or stickers go to a product page, where they see more information about the product and a link to your website, where they can buy it.
  • Pinterest: This social network is very shopping-oriented; users are often looking specifically for things to buy. Users can click on Pinterest Shopping Ads to go to your website, where they can buy your products. 

As you can see, most social media sites still require users to ultimately go to your website to make a purchase. As a result, selling on social media is usually better as an add-on to your existing e-commerce strategy, not your entire strategy. Look for an e-commerce website builder that makes it easy to post and sell products on social media, and you’ll have the best of both worlds. 

E-Commerce Website.  The biggest benefit of selling on an e-commerce website is that you own the site. You control what happens on the site, what it looks like, what it says and what your customers can do there. There is no competition from other businesses or products to distract visitors from yours. The look and feel of the site promote your brand, not the brand of another company.

However, a startup e-commerce website will have to do a lot of marketing to attract visitors, unlike a marketplace such as Jet that has millions of built-in visitors per day. You’ll also be responsible if something goes wrong with your website–even if it happens at 3 AM on Black Friday.

The simplest way to set up an e-commerce website is by using an e-commerce website builder. (Your mentor can help you find some of these).  Also called e-commerce platforms or shopping carts, these companies provide everything you need to build and run an e-commerce website, from site design templates to payment processing and order management tools. 

When choosing the right e-commerce website builder technology, start by determining your needs; then ask yourself these questions about the solution you’re considering.  These will help you define what you need but also provide guidance as you consider several website builders and compare their costs.

Defining your website needs:

  • How many products do you plan to sell? 
  • How much detail do you need to include in product descriptions? 
  • How easy is it to add products to your inventory or make changes to your listings? 
  • How customizable do you need your website to be? 
  • What marketing and sales tools are offered? 
  • What security features are offered? 
  • How scalable is it? 
  • Does it include social selling or online marketplace integration? 
  • What payment options does it offer? 
  • Which inventory management, shipping and fulfilment applications does it integrate with? 
  • How robust is customer support? 
  • What is the total cost? 

Most e-commerce website platforms offer free trials. Take advantage of these to play around with the platform for a week or so and see how well it suits your needs.

About the Author(s)

Dean Swanson

Dean is a Certified SCORE Mentor and former SCORE Chapter Chair, District Director, and Regional Vice President for the North West Region, and has developed and managed many businesses. The Rochester Post Bulletin publishes his weekly article on a topic geared toward the small business community. The articles here are printed in their entirety.

Certified SCORE Mentor for the Southeast Minnesota Chapter
Options For Selling Online