The Gold Rush of the 21st century, for many small entrepreneurs, has been the creation of online stores. Profits can — and have — been made selling everything from homemade crafts to high-dollar electronics. And many of these businesses have been built from spare bedrooms and small offices around the world.

This post is the first in a new series by eCommerce expert, Bret Williams. Beginning with this article, he’ll take you through the process of planning and executing an SMB eCommerce operation. Even if you already sell online, you’ll find that re-evaluating your business could yield huge dividends.

We first dove into eCommerce in 2005, quickly growing a drop-shipping business from our front living room. In four years, it not only made us a very nice living and reached the top positions in its niche, but we were able to sell it at a healthy multiple of net profit.

Thar’s Gold in Them Thar Hills

Despite — or, rather due to — the dominance of Amazon and others in the online commerce space, the opportunity to build and grow an online business is just as rich today as it ever was. And that’s not hyperbole. Just look at the growth of Shopify as an indicator of how many new online businesses are being created. In the fourth quarter of 2016, over 51,000 new merchant stores were created on its platform.

According to Statista, global eCommerce was just above $1.8 trillion last year. By 2021, they predict global eCommerce will top $4.5 trillion. That’s a huge growth in only the next three years.

Yes, there’s always competition, though. Even franchises — long considered the best business investments around — will occasionally fail. Smart businesses know how to compete. And, above all, they know how to plan.

DIY eCommerce

We live near a Home Depot. As a typical male, my palms get clammy whenever I see all the gleaming tools lining the shelves. Today, I can spend less to get tools that make woodcraft and home maintenance easier. Interchangeable battery packs allow me to use a variety of routers, saws and drills that share the same power cells. As a do-it-yourselfer, I feel capable of building a house from the foundation up!

The reality is that although the tools are more accessible and there’s a ton of YouTube videos to guide me through the process, serious construction requires experience. As with starting a business, home building requires thorough planning. Even though I might be able to saw the lumber and nail the boards together, I’ll still need experts in electric, plumbing, masonry and more to complete the job in a way that will give me the returns I want. Undoubtedly, I need an architect before I break ground to make sure I’m building a house that will last and meet all applicable codes.

eCommerce is much like that today. The tools are easier to use and less expensive. However, there are many areas in which deep experience is worth more than the price you pay.

If you’ve started exploring eCommerce, you know that every online platform, service and tool gives you the impression that you can do it all yourself. That’s just not the reality.

At novusweb, we do have among our team a very deep level of expertise in all aspects of SMB eCommerce. That’s because we’ve built hundreds of stores and we have enough bandwidth to explore and vet all the new developments hitting the market.

The good news is that you can do a lot of it yourself. In fact, we’re excited when our clients feel ready to take on additional eCommerce functions. The more self-sufficient they become, the more we can work with them on the remaining aspects that still need a master’s touch.

The purpose of this series is to help you discover what you can do yourself and with what you may need help. For some businesses with in-house teams, most, if not all, of what it takes to succeed in eCommerce can be tackled, with only some initial training and guidance. Some of our smaller clients need more of our assistance until they grow to take on more.

Therefore, as you read through this series, with each action step, note whether you have the inherent skills to tackle it or if you need assistance. With the tools we explore in this exercise, I think you’ll find you can handle a lot of what it takes to succeed online. Just be prepared — and honest enough — to assess your own capabilities.

Aim for Success

No one reasonably starts a new business with the express purpose of failing. But, even as easy as it may seem to start an online store, you will fail if you don’t take a moment to set your goals, map out your plan, and gather your resources.

That’s the purpose of this series: to give you enough knowledge to intelligently create a plan for success. It may seem like a lot at first, but, as my father always told me, “if it’s worth doin’, it’s worth doin’ right.”

Do your eCommerce right and you could join the millions who are making money online.

What are your ultimate goals for selling online? They might include one or more of the following:

  • Build a cash-flow and asset for retirement.
  • Expand a brick-and-mortar business by selling online.
  • Create a second income source.
  • Grow a business-to-business (B2B) operation by making it easier to sell wholesale.
  • Taking an existing online store to a more profitable level.

All good reasons to do it right!

The Series for Mastering eCommerce

As an agency that provides a full-range of related services to SMB online merchants, it seems a bit incongruous for us to offer up our insights on eCommerce success. After all, our clients have paid us over the years for this knowledge.

But, there’s a reason our clients stay with us for a long time. We believe that what you give, you receive. The more we contribute to the eCommerce community, the more we’ll reap. The more success you have with your business, the more the entire eCommerce industry will benefit.

And that helps us all.

Therefore, we are launching this series as our gift to you and others who want to succeed online. I believe that if you truly study and follow the guidance presented, you’ll have a much better experience with your online efforts. It’s not necessarily easy, and sometimes, you may feel overwhelmed with all the information. But, don’t worry. We’re here if you get bogged down. Feel free to ask any questions you have in the comments on this page or on our Facebook page.  Use the “Ask” button at the bottom of the page, as well. We want you to get a lot from this series.

I’ve broken down this series into 8 discrete sections. Each is a course by itself; they’re that detailed. Together, they represent a Master’s “course” in eCommerce.

  • Products. It all begins with what you’re selling. We’ll explore niche selling, competitors, suppliers, pricing strategies, and content and presentation.
  • Customers. You have to really know your target audience. Whether you’re B2C or B2B, you’ll learn how to explore demographics and acquisition strategies.
  • Channels. Today, you can sell through a variety of outlets beyond your online store. Learn more about Amazon and eBay, social media selling, and Google Shopping.
  • Fulfillment. Once a customer buys from you, it’s your responsibility to get their products shipped. We’ll cover warehouse operations, Fulfillment By Amazon (FBA) and drop-shipping.
  • Marketing. Ever hear the tree fall in the forest? Neither will your customers if you don’t tell them about your offerings. Even B2B businesses need to be aggressive with list building, email marketing and social media. We’ll explore the rise of online influencers, pay-per-click advertising and search engine optimization.
  • Customer Service. A sale really never ends until the customer is completely satisfied. Learn ways to build your brand value before, during and after the sale. Believe me: this is one of the most important chapters you’ll study!
  • Operations. Running an online business can be smooth as silk if you have your operations hitting on all cylinders. You’ll know a lot more about payment methods, shipping, taxes and accounting. And you’ll know how to run a lean, mean back-office.
  • Technology. Notice how this section is last? There’s a method to the madness. New online merchants often focus more on the technology first, then try to shoe-horn their business into a system ill-equipped to profitably meet their needs. Once you learn the previous chapters, you’ll find identifying appropriate tools much easier.

Prepare to Grow

To get the most from this series, I suggest you:

  • Read them in the order presented above. There’s a logic to this order, as each chapter builds on the previous one.
  • Follow our Facebook page. I’ll be answering questions from readers and sharing updates to this series. This industry evolves quickly.
  • Subscribe to our Masters Series newsletter. As we update this information or add important information relevant to this series, we want you to stay on top. Plus, we’ll notify you of special offerings or products we discover that may be of value to you.
  • Request a personal consultation. Once you read through this series, contact me and request a free consultation. It’s not a sales pitch at all. I just want to answer your questions, help you move in the right direction, and learn from you if there’s anything we may have missed.

Note: I’ll be releasing each chapter in the days after this post. If you’re coming to this page soon after it was posted, be patient. We’ll get all the sections posted over the next few days.

Stay Informed.

If you’d like to receive updates as future installments are released, subscribe now.

Bret Williams

Bret is the a co-founder and the Managing Partner of novusweb®. He is also author of several books on Magento and e-commerce and is sought as a speaker and trainer. Bret has been crafting internet innovations since 1995.