Want a Small Business Website? 3 Missouri Entrepreneurs Answer 7 E-Commerce Questions
How do you take your small business online?
That’s a question we’re always fielding from curious entrepreneurs like you, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing and 20-second hand washes. But we know that getting your Missouri business online (and sharpening your digital presence) right now is more important than ever.
So here are some e-commerce hacks, tips and tricks from three fellow Missouri small business owners who’ve wrestled with the same questions you’re pondering about running your own website.
Here are three e-commerce entrepreneur experts who’ve answered your questions:
Stephanie Campbell of Blue Willow Boutique | Maryville and St. Joseph
And a big thanks to Missouri Procurement Technical Assistance Center and the Missouri Main Street Connection for hosting some great events where these three entrepreneurs shared their wisdom, just two of 600+ Resource Partners in Missouri who can move your business forward. Check out our calendar for more upcoming events, like Mornings on Main.
And if at any time you want to talk it out and connect with the best organizations and experts who can help your business (or business idea) reach the next level, call us at 866-870-6500 or schedule a one-on-one here. We can connect you to the right resources you need to start or grow your business, no matter if it’s e-commerce and marketing help, sales, funding, business pivots or anything else you might be navigating.
And be sure to explore the most comprehensive small business events calendar in the state for more sessions on e-commerce, marketing finance, hiring, starting a business and much, much more.
If you’re ready for some answers, let’s get started …
Do I need a website?
The classic “Field of Dreams” advice doesn’t apply here: If you build it, customers won’t necessarily come. Our three entrepreneurs recommend that you first develop other parts of your customer funnel that will direct folks to your website.
“If you don’t have a website, that’s OK because you first have to have an audience that you can direct to your website,” says Stephanie. “If you don’t have that audience, there’s no funnel to your online store.”
How do I cultivate an audience to direct to my website?
This is where social media can be so big for small businesses, especially during a time when your customers (including potential customers) are glued to their computer screens and might be looking to fill parts of their quarantine life with new products or ship something to friends and family at a time when they might not be able to physically connect with those they care about.
“Start simply with a low-cash investment,” Scott says. “Use Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn or another suitable platform to build your audience.”
Laura suggests picking one platform, maybe it’s Facebook, and starting there.
“Find your people and build your local identity,” Laura says.
So naturally, your biggest swath of customers might be perusing Instagram or on Facebook as they look for a diversion during the workday. And if you’ve done a good job creating a community on social media, you have a primed and ready audience to feed to your website. So the best place to start would be on one of those platforms where the majority of your customers are.
Or maybe you’ve done a great job collecting emails during your time at fairs or public events, like Laura did. If you’ve got that option, now would be a great time to start building that email list and develop some simple email campaigns to let folks know your website is coming soon or to join you on social media … because every part of the funnel is important and feeds another, which leads to that important sale.
What are some strategies to direct more traffic to the website from my social media platforms?
The answer is different for every business, but you might think of ways to incorporate video into your social media strategy. And all the equipment you need is the device that’s at your side every day: your smartphone.
Video was a game-changer for Stephanie’s boutique. She recommends developing a strategy around video to reach more customers (because the social media algorithms love sharing and promoting content that keeps people on the site longer, also called native content; think posts like images, video, etc., that don’t have a link that takes people off that site. Facebook loves content that’s only on Facebook). That’s one way she says she’s leveraged the platform to her benefit and recommends business owners think about how they can leverage platforms for their own needs.
If you’re still shaky on video, you might try blogging. Why? Laura says it allows you to build authority on a topic and give the customer something genuinely valuable without just selling to them. You develop trust with the reader and they might venture further into your site because of that genuinely helpful information you gave them. Maybe you blog about how to brew cold brew coffee at home (you roast and sell coffee beans) or ways to manicure your lawn between trimmings (you run a lawn maintenance business) or the best ways to reduce stress (you run a health and fitness store).
Laura said that one of her blogs was republished in a magazine and that someone made a purchase based on that article, even though that article was published years ago. It all started with her blog.
“That’s why it’s important to build a community and build a funnel that drives to your sales avenue,” Laura says.
How can I test the waters of e-commerce without making a huge commitment, like building my own website?
If you wanted to go further than just running a social media account but not quite as far as building your own site, Laura says you could try a third-party site, like Shopify, Etsy or eBay.
Laura cautions that while each might offer shortcuts and that your items could potentially reach a larger audience, she says that your products will compete with many others on those sites and says that you’ll also have to factor in sellers’ fees into each transaction. For example, Etsy requires that you pay per listing and will invoice you monthly, but if you’re not selling enough (that’s why it’s important to know your break even) using the site might not be worth it.
What are some other pros and cons of using third-party e-commerce sites vs building your own?
For one, Laura says that if you build your own site, you’ll have access to all that customer information, which can help you re-market to them after they’ve made a purchase or placed something in their cart. On the other hand, third-party sites will control that customer information and may require you to pay for access to customer data or might never let you access that data.
Additionally, third-party sites can opt to shut down your operation overnight if they choose.
On the flipside, if you build your own site, you’ll have to drive customers to your online store yourself. Third-party sites already have massive followings and will showcase your products, albeit along with a slew of other similar products from other sellers.
And lastly, the scalability of building your own site and making changes as you learn more about your customers is endless. It can just require a lot more of your time and attention.
So it all really depends on what’s right for your business and the time and money you want to invest.
My business has a healthy following, and I want to actually build my own site. How do I do it? Any tips?
You’ve basically got two options here:
You can build it yourself, or you can hire a contractor to build it for you.
If you build the site yourself, it will cost time (and probably some money). If you hire out the build, obviously, that’ll cost you more money. The point is that you’ll pay either way. You just have to research and decide which is best for your business.
But before you choose a path, Laura recommends that you do some planning, like making sure that the domain name you want is available. There’d be nothing worse than realizing later on that the URL you want is already taken. Or you might make sure that your in-store point-of-sale system interfaces well with your site because you’ll need other tools to make things work (more on that below).
Once you’ve made a plan, checked that your software is compatible and know what your best options are, it’s time to actually build the site for your business.
Scott, who runs a farm and a farm store and doesn’t have a background in computer programming, decided to build his e-commerce site himself. He says he spent a lot of late nights (sometimes staying up until 5 a.m.) trying to figure things out, but he says, for him, it was worth it.
The DIY approach also allowed him to build the site incrementally, test some things out and (of course) save some money. He also found that Weebly’s template gave him a good head start and that it interfaced nicely with Square, the point of sale system he used in his physical store (which may or may not be a factor for you). He says a consultant wanted to charge $1,500 – $2,000, and he had the time to work on it, so he opted to pocket that cash for himself and pay with some sweat equity with the DIY strategy.
Laura says, bottom line, no matter what route you choose, it will cost you money, so be sure to do your research and factor in those costs.
You mentioned you’ll need other tools to interface with your site. Any recommendations?
The right tools for your site will vary based on your business, but here are a few suggestions from our three entrepreneurs:
Stephanie recommends Shopify for e-commerce and point of sale because if someone buys a product online, it pulls that product out of her physical inventory. She says it also lets her send an invoice to customers through Quickbooks, Square, PayPal, Venmo or another payment method her customers prefer.
Years ago, when she was selling online through Facebook Groups, she used CommentSold to connect Facebook to Shopify. It’s just one of many tools to bridge the platforms you use and sales, she says.
Square keeps Scott’s inventory in his physical store connected with the stock that’s displayed online. Scott picked Weebly as a platform to build his site because he says it integrates with Facebook and Instagram. All this primed him to develop a “Shop Now” button and targeted campaigns, which helped spur the success of his online store during COVID-19.
Additionally, Facebook has let him communicate updates with his customers and opened up the door to test out some live cooking “shows” on Facebook Live using the beef he sells.
Laura recommends letting customers pay the way they want to: PayPal, Venmo, telephone, etc., because some customers may not be comfortable with certain payment methods.
And, yes, depending on your business, a phone call can be huge. Laura says when she included her phone number on the site, customers did call, allowing her to connect with the folks who buy from her, while also letting her get some great customer information and insights. It also led to new leads, and someone even sent her new strains of plants she could grow for her business.
I’ve got more questions. Who can I call?
We knew you’d ask, and we got you. You can give us a ring at 866-870-6500 or sign up for some virtual facetime here, and we’ll outline your next steps, no matter what you want to accomplish with your business or business idea.
You can also explore the most comprehensive small business events calendar in the state for more sessions on e-commerce, marketing finance, hiring, starting a business and much, much more.