5 tips for setting up an online business
Whether you’ve been daydreaming about starting a small business for years, or you’ve had a sudden spark of inspiration, there are many factors to consider before going out on your own.
Everything from budget, contacts, staff, and office space impacts those crucial early months as a fledgling business. Online businesses, in particular, come with a host of added elements you’ll need to tackle to succeed, including digital marketing, social media, search engine optimization, and changing consumer demands and expectations.
As the Director of Ecommerce behind an online bathroom brand that’s grown from just family to over 11 employees, there’s certainly been difficulties and challenges to overcome along the way.
1. Invest in automation technology early
Investing in technology at the earliest possible stage is likely to save time and valuable budget in the long run. Tech has proved vital in the growth of our business, with tools like Brightpearl – a CRM system which helps manage customer information and order data – helping us better look after our customers and keep on top of orders.
We also use a digital stock system called WITS Warehouse Solutions which is integrated with Brightpearl. This allows order details to be sent to our warehouse, giving us complete visibility of what’s in stock at all times.
If you’re a retailer, automating as many processes as possible will save you time that can be used strategizing about the future of the business, rather than getting bogged down in the day-to-day running of it.
2. Be agile at all times
As the business grew, we established an online presence, initially using eBay, then our own e-commerce website. The business moved away from installation shortly after, focusing purely on online sales, supported by a list of recommended installers. Other small businesses may make the same progression – we identified the most profitable part of our offering and made that our focus.
The biggest success was the changeover from using eBay to our website, which cut out the fees we were spending to process orders. This allowed us to personalize our service further and grow the business into the size it is today.
Don’t underestimate how much it costs to stay up-to-date with online trends, either. The Sanctuary Bathrooms website has been the biggest investment over the development of the business, with steady updates required to keep the design modern and to stay competitive in terms of service, functionality, and reacting to changes in Google to retain and grow our search engine rankings.
3. Pick the right times to grow
Growing organically and at the right speed is vital to keep your new business on the right track. At the start, our business only employed family members. Since those early days, we’ve grown enough to employ 11 members of staff, as well as moving from purely serving local customers to making international sales across Europe.
Sometimes growth is unexpected, too. When a competitor announced that they were going out of business, we acted quickly to purchase the business and website from them, extending our product range and using our experience to turn the fortunes of the brand around.
4. Look after your customers
It seems obvious, but making sure the customer is at the heart of everything you do will help a new business grow more quickly. Offering exceptional purchasing experiences is vital, as people will share good experiences in real life and on social media – and share bad experiences even more freely.
We like to keep in touch with our customers via email and live chat to offer help with the installation of our products, or advice before they invest in a new bathroom set. We also leverage this channel of communication to aid sales, using HappyFox to update customers about new offers and promotions.
5. Invest to keep your best staff
One of the hardest challenges as a new business is finding good staff. A team that will support each other is vital, as is finding candidates with the right attitude that will enhance the company ethos.
Once you’ve built a small but professional team, it pays to take staff engagement seriously. Invest in team bonding experiences such as staff days out, activities, and weekly treats in the office. This will help bolster morale and make your best employees more likely to stick around.
James Roberts is Director of Ecommerce at bathroom and interior retailer Sanctuary Bathrooms, based in the UK. He offers advice and guidance to all small businesses who are looking to establish themselves and grow into a successful brand online.
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