Thinking an Online Store: 15 Tips To Get You Started

With the Internet all around us, selling your product, service or even both is much easier and affordable than ever before.

But at the same time…

It’s vital to study all of your options first, before falling victim to one of many pitfalls. From finding yourself “trapped” in a contract with services you don’t need to building a website that doesn’t attract the customers nor convert them into buyers, you could wind up in the middle of a mess.

Here are 15 tips to setting up your first (or second or third or fourth…) online store, all while maximizing your profit potential.

1. Start with THE best offer

Before creating your online store, it’s imperative to have an offer which will blow your customers away. It’s time to figure out what your target buyers really want, and make your product or service revolve around that.

After that is accomplished, get busy crafting an influential  unique selling position (USP – what makes you different than your competitors), to go along with the can’t-believe-it value, and double-check your method of delivery.

2. What’s in a name?

When it comes to the Internet, consider your domain name as being the big sign outside your store broadcasting your business to the entire world. It is how many prospects will remember your site. While making your domain name easy to remember, you can also make sure it provides an accurate description of what your business has to offer.

3. Choose a website host with your success in mind

There are no two website hosts which are exactly the same. Some are just better suited for ecommerce purposes than others for example. Consider what you need for your own site, and start comparing notes.

A website builder like Internet Based Family makes building your online store a breeze. There’s even a built in shopping cart, so no more worries about compatibility issues. Plus, there’s really no need to worry about webmaster slavery ever again. Adding new products, or anything else for that matter, can be done without having to know how to code.

4. Maximum usability design

While thinking of your site’s image and design, consider it from the point of view of the user. Can they find what they need quickly? Have you provided enough product information for them to make an informed purchase? Is the order button easy to see?

Remember some of your personal online shopping experiences. Take note of the biggies, such as Amazon while also considering some of those you vowed to stay away from at any cost.

5. Creative copy conversions

Creative copy, from the headline right on down has a lot of responsibility on an online shopping page. Attractive headlines to keep buyers on the page, accurate descriptions with a little pizzazz added in. All the important aspects of success on a page, right down to the calling out to action “Click here to order”.

6. Great Services

When planning an online store, you can’t do it without a shopping cart to receive and process orders. Shop around for one, but be sure to remember the importance of reliability, affordability, the ability to manage affiliates and providing fantastic customer service.

7. A growing business needs a merchant account

To receive payments online, a merchant account is a must. PayPal is fine in the beginning. It’s important to remember that you may eventually need to upgrade and process credit cards directly. Ask about any online merchant accounts your financial institution may have to offer.

8. Balancing act between need and want

There is any number of options available to you, and it can get out of hand. With each set of options however comes a new price. It’s important to keep your budget as well as needs in mind, so you aren’t tempted to pay more than what is required.

9. Search Engine Optimization or SEO

Now that your store will be on the internet, making it easy for search engines to find you as well as rank your site high for level for relevant keywords. By the way, Internet Based Family can provide you with tools and free training to help you site rank well with search engines.

10. Systems you can use

You’ll have the need to update your website often, with new products and updates, so it’s important your site uses a system which will let you these things easily, as well as handling orders as well. If you’re calling on your webmaster to do each task on your site, it won’t be long before you end up overwhelmed with the online store.

11. Capturing leads

You’ll have many customers who won’t make a purchase the first time they see your site. In this case, you want to retrieve at least some contact information – their email address for example, in order to keep them updated on offers and other information they may find useful.

12. Keep it simple

Online stores covered in animations, images and graphics simply slow down your site’s loading time and can annoy potential buyers. Stay with the minimum elements to keep your visitors’ attention on your call to action.

13. Keep costs front and center

Marketing Sherpa has quoted 60% of buyers online will abandon their online shopping order at the shopping cart stage. This can be avoided by hidden charges. All costs should be stated upfront, where possible, so your customers don`t end up being caught off guard at check out time.

14. Interactivity works

Amazon.com is one of the most interactive sites there is. There are a number of steps you can perform, from submitting ratings or reviews to enquiring about other buyers. This is a positive note for online stores, as shoppers like this type of interactivity.

15. Always leave the best for last…

Your online store is up and running, but your work is far from complete. Now it`s time for marketing, using such methods as article marketing, sending press releases, video marketing and social networking.

It’s Not the Idea – It’s What You Do with It

Many people struggle with finding just the right business idea to pursue. The idea IS important, particularly for businesses requiring large investment, but I’d say that it’s what you do with the idea that matters most.

  • Just because you want to open an Italian restaurant and some Italian restaurants can do very well, doesn’t mean your Italian restaurant will be hit.
  • You may want to sell ebooks to homeschoolers because you see other people selling them, but demand doesn’t necessarily equal success.
  • A lot of people use a personal trainer, but deciding to offer your services as one, may not translate into more clients than you can handle.

Not to put a damper on your business plans, of course. The point is, it doesn’t matter what your business does as long as you stand out from the crowd and connect with a healthy supply of target customers.

If you’re looking for business ideas, go here.

But if you’re looking to attract the right kind of people to your offers, differentiate and brand your business.

Now this may start to sound like a basic Business 101 lesson, but you’d be amazed at how many people don’t do this or don’t go far enough with it.

Target Market: It all begins with a deep (really deep) analysis of your target market. Who are they (age, sex, income, career, family status, etc.), but more importantly, what are their beliefs, fears, needs. What makes them tick?

Unique Selling Position (USP): Here’s where people really struggle. They come up with ideas on what makes their business appealing, but not necessarily what makes it unique. In other words: What makes your target market want to come to you, instead of your competitor?

What you discover in those 2 exercises should be a part of every aspect of your business from your products and service to your sales copy and communications.

After all, we can all set up dog-walking businesses, but those who differentiate will get the fiercely loyal clients. A dog walker who also trains pets, can reach a clientele of extremely busy people who might be struggling with a naughty pet. Or perhaps, a dog walker who offers grooming services to posh pets will reach another clientele. If you can successfully reach a specific area of your target market that readily spend money and your competitors ignore, you’ve got it made.

Online Marketing: It All Comes Back to the Written Word

No matter how you communicate with your online business, to potential and existing customers, words are always the cornerstone and more to the point, the written word.

Today’s online business owners are moving into other forms of media like video and audio to market to their prospects. But, in this arena, it is the words that you pen which will have the greatest impact.

When speaking of the written word, did you know:

  • Your headlines (composed of written words) are what catch the reader’s attention. Multi-media tools use headlines to catch and grab the attention of the audience so they will “tune in.”
  • Written content is just about universal. A large majority of the public can access a piece of written content, even when they can’t audio or video. Think about your mobile users and those in rural areas with slower connections. Words are easily accessible.
  • The written word is the most effective form of communication to keep your customers satisfied. If you provide online customer service (as opposed to telephone support), you’re going to be relying on the written word to decipher your customer’s issue and to resolve them.
  • You can’t send an email without words. No subject line or no explanation means no response. You use words to get your subscribers to open your emails AND to click to view a video, listen to your audio, etc.
  • Social networking needs written words Everyone seems to be connected through some social network. Think of the ever popular Twitter which is a system of short texts. MySpace and Facebook rely on words to communicate information, even with other forms of multi-media tools at their disposal.
  • People surf the Web for information. Giving them an article or review they can read or a step-by-step how-to that they can follow requires you to use words – everywhere.

The truth of the matter is that words will always be big part of marketing your business online – and it’s worth learning how to do it well. The Internet runs on words. Even though some envision a television-type experience sometime in the distant future (personally, I don‘t buy it – we don‘t need another TV…we want the Internet!), words will still play a big role. The Internet is a user-controlled experience and through words, people can easily find what they need and utilize it.

Listen To Your Target Market And Reap the Rewards

Do you pump out plenty of content, but sometimes feel unappreciated? Many content site owners and blog owners for that matter, tell me they don’t understand why their content is not appealing to their readers. No matter how hard they try, there seems to be a break in the connection.

It could be that your connection problem is simply traffic. Implementing new strategies like link building and more targeted marketing would be the answer here. When nothing changes after that the problem might just be a disconnect between you and the market. To cure that, simply try LISTENING.

It really seems like listening is a lost art these days. When we listen, we find out what we didn’t know before and that could be the difference between success and failure. To know what your target market wants, listen to what they have to say first and then provide the content that they seek. You’ll develop a deeper understanding of your audience.

Need to learn how to listen just a little better? Here are 8 tips to help you do just that:

1. Keyword Research: Before beginning any new project, it is important to know what words people are using to search for a particular product or service. But, this is only the tip of the target market iceberg. You still need to know WHO is searching for the information. Keywords can only get you so far. To build the all-important relationship with your blog readers you will have to pull a few more tricks out of your hat.

2. Commenting: When your readers leave comments on your posts, read them. Drink in what they are telling you. Use that information to meet their needs.

3. Track your Links: Keep an eye on the links on your website. Who uses them? Track the offers and emails that people are acting on. It could be that what people are saying and what they eventually do are not the same.

4. Submit Questions: This is for your readers and not you. Ask them to offer their suggestions for better, more insightful content on your part. To make it easier, create a form that is easy to use and convenient. What are the most popular requests?

5. Message Boards: Peruse some of the more popular message boards pertaining to your target market. Here you will find out what everyone is talking about. Take the time, but don‘t get so engrossed you forget your purpoase.

6. Facebook and Twitter: These are addictive and easy to get lost in for hours – so use your time strategically. Stick with groups on these social networking sites that represent the target market you are trying to reach. Check in from time to time and you will certainly find the information that you need.

7. Blogs: You are not the only one with a blog – just about EVERYONE has one these days. Check out the blogs that your readers and other target market members own. Configure your blog reader so that you can scan the headlines of these blogs to gain insight into the target market.

8. Competition: Keeping an eye on your competitors is wise. Look at the type of content they post and the feedback they receive from readers. Again, you can create a spot in your RSS reader to scan the headlines on the competitor’s blogs.

Listening is important, but don’t be concerned about the time it takes. Once you have listening skills, It can happen as a natural occurrence throughout the day. And the value it brings back to your business is priceless.

Content & Copy: Bring Those Goals Together for Better Results

Those who believe that content and copy (i.e. “copywriting”, using words to sell) are two separate entities have this to say:

“Providing content on your website is for the purpose of information and not necessarily to sell a product.”

“On the other hand, writing copy is definitely to sell products to potential customers.”

If you think this way, then consider the following points:

When potential customers come to your website, you don’t just want them to look; you want them to do something. Your content is versatile in that it can build a relationship with the prospect and, at the same time, it can call them TO DO something.

If your copy is good, it will not only convince customers to buy but will build a solid relationship as it informs them of what you have to offer and why it is better.

Both copy and content have similar goals. You can use both to inform and to call your customers and potential customers to action. No, it doesn’t mean that you have to turn your content into a sales letter, but you can tweak it a bit so that customers are inspired to buy.

Here Are Some Tips to Bring More Copy (Results) to Your Content:

Don’t neglect your headlines. Here is where you will be grabbing your reader’s attention. You want them to have a hard, almost impossible time looking away.

Know what you want to accomplish with your content and then call the customer to action. What is it you want your words to do? If you want them to sign up for a mailing list for a free product or newsletter, then say that in your article. This is no time for subliminal messages. Including keywords that link to other pages on your site is not good enough to direct them. Use the keywords by all means, but also be specific with your words.

Show your confidence through your writing. When you waver on a point in your article, customers may lose faith. Know what you are talking about and pass your confidence on to the prospect.

Connect with your audience. Let them know that you are speaking directly to each of them with words like “you” and “your.” To many group pronouns like “we” and “they” may lead them to think that they don’t need your product and you are not talking to them. Say something like: “You are probably one of those moms who are too tired in the evening to always cook dinner;” instead of “Many mothers don’t have the energy to cook for their families.” Don’t miss the opportunity to be direct with the audience.

For the best results you can get, craft your content with an end goal in mind. Engage the reader with headlines that hook and invite them to read more. Be confident and direct, telling the audience what action they are to perform after reading your piece. If you don’t, no one will necessarily buy your products even if they are the best in the world.

Increase Exposure to Your Brand:Tips and Benefits for Distributing Articles Online

publishYou may already publish articles on your own site to provide valuable content to your readers and to generate traffic through search engines, word of mouth, etc. But there are plenty of benefits to distributing your content elsewhere online.

Here are just some of those benefits:

1. Expand your reach
2. Reach new (sub) markets
3. Increased brand recognition
4. Incoming links to your site for traffic and link reputation
5. Connection with other businesses, reaching a similar target market
6. Credibility – having your name out there

Tips to get your content out there:

1. Article directories like Ezine Articles and Go Articles, but don’t limit to that
2. Guest posts on blogs. Find relevant, high traffic blog
3. Sites like Squidoo and Hub Pages – these sites have a good source of traffic to tap into
4. Turn articles into press releases and submit to prweb.com and relevant media
5. Contact content site owners directly to offer your content for publication
6. Contact Ezine owners to see if they’d like to publish your articles in their ezine.

Other Tips:

1. Where original content is required, rewrite and repurpose articles for future distribution
2. Rework articles with relevant examples to suit slightly different audiences.
3. Choose quality over quantity. You don’t have to submit your articles everywhere. Monitor your results and focus on the best performing opportunities

The key is to think strategically and how to maximize the use of the content you create. Whether the same article is published in more than one place, or you rewrite articles for new audience, get extra mileage out of each and every piece. For even more tips on your content marketing, do come by Contentrix…content marketing is what we do.

Perpetuate Your Brand Through Content

One of the easiest and cost-effective ways to market your business online is through the publication and distribution of content. We’re talking blog posts, articles, reports, email content…and even audio recordings and video. Help people solve their problems, entertain them and you can win a loyal audience. Couple that with strong calls to action in your content and you can quickly grow your website visitors, subscriber list and sales.

Thousands of businesses use content marketing every single day…but most attempt to do so using so-so, generic content that does little to build true relationships and perpetuate their brand. Go the extra mile and  you’ll distinguish yourself from the rest, create stronger connections with your readers and get far more results from your content marketing.

Here Are Some Tips to Perpetuating Your Brand with Content:

  • Find Your Unique Voice: It doesn’t matter if you use a ghostwriter or work with multiple authors (like Vera does here at Small Business Branding), make sure all your contributors find that unique voice that makes them stand out from others. This can take time to establish, but writing in a natural way – imagining a one-on-one conversation with someone – can go a long way. Or put another way, “write the way you talk”.
  • Send a Consistent Message: Have a strong opinion and make sure your content is consistent with that opinion. Sending a strong and consistent message goes a long way to gaining confidence in your company and what it stands for.
  • Mention Your Resources & Products: As you write, always make sure to mention your relevant services and products. As you provide AWESOME information to your prospect, make sure they are aware of where they can get further information and help.
  • Use Bylines: Include biographical information at the end of your articles, but be strategic. How many cats you own and your bottle cap collection may be interesting to some, but a byline that focuses on your reader (i.e. what your company does and how it can help your reader) will go much further.
  • Brand Reports & White Papers with Your Logo: If you’re publishing reports or white papers, ensure the PDF file includes your logo or go the extra mile and have an ecover created that illustrates your visual brand.

Anyone can create informational content, but you can go even further. Keep your brand and the tips above in mind and you’ll be miles ahead of many of your competitors.

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