Preparing for Online Sales
Many people’s first inclination is to rush onto the internet and generate instant success. Market first and ask question later. The truth is that many preparations must be made before you will be ready to take full advantage of what the internet has to offer. The better you prepare, the better your chance for success.
First you must decide your long term business ambitions. Do you wish to start small and stay small? Are you driven to become the next Microsoft or CISCO? How much risk are you willing to take, and how fast do you want your business to grow?
Many mistakes new businesses make is to try and grow too fast or to start big without growing big. The internet provides a unique opportunity where you can start small, test small, and prove your business plan before your start-up investment breaks you. Hundreds and thousands of DOT-COM businesses sprung up during the DOT-COM boom, fully furnished, expensive floor space, and 50+ employees before they had their first customer. For the low-risk takers, you can launch a tiny company, pay tiny bills, and prove that your business is viable before making an investment you can’t recover from. A failed campaign does not have to translate into a failed business, but rather one more test data point
Your website makes the first impression to customers.
During the early days of the internet, just about any web site could generate a sale. However as the internet has evolved, higher and higher expectations are made, and your professional online image is vital. There are so many web sites and competitors on the internet, that the quality of your web site is now a major factor. However, your professional image must transcend beyond your web site design, as people will do their homework and research your company. Customer service, BBB listings, online business monitoring systems (such as Yelp.com), and other reputation building resources will all come together to build a customer’s impression of you.
Fortunately through the web, starting small does not translate into looking small. The internet is still new, and many people are not comfortable purchasing through the web. While web scams, unfulfilled orders, and terrible customer support abound, people are rightfully cautious. In every way, you must convey an image of professionalism and trustworthiness. Your first impression cannot be underestimated. It is necessary to implement a professional image and back that with excellent customer support. You have a few seconds through your website to inform your potential customers that your business is reliable and trustworthy.
Your business web image is an area that must be done well and in particular, your website design (more on this topic later.) If you fail here, all of your marketing investment, effort and potential sales will be lost. It is also recommended that you set up a professional business name. People will become nervous if they are instructed to send checks payable to an individual’s name. You should register a business name with your State of residence (Secretary of State), or set up a more formal LLC, Corp., or other legal business entity. There are numerous affordable online resources for setting up a new business.
Conveying a Professional Image on the Web
- Invest in a professionally designed website. It doesn’t have to be a BIG or FANCY web site: Functional and attractive will do. If you sell products, you will need a shopping cart and a secure payment method.
- Acquire a domain name that matches your company. Do not settle for a free web hosting account or a sub-domain of someone else’s domain. Through your web hosting account, create an Email address which includes your domain rather than a freebie Email address. Yourname@yourcompany.com conveys a more professional image than firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Design business cards and letterhead that match your website. Don’t forget to include your website address and Email address on your business cards
- Use a registered business name, preferably one that matches your domain name (yourcompany.com). Create a bank account under your registered name.
- Implement a toll free phone number with voice mail that sounds professional.
Other considerations for your business image include your voice mail, Email, business cards, phone demeanor, customer support, toll-free phone number and a well planned business process. If you ship products, do you have a shipping and packaging process? Can you take credit card payments? Will you accept product returns or refunds? Have you registered your business name with the State or created a corporation? Do you have a bank account to go with that business entity? Think through your entire sales process and have these issues worked out before trying to lure in customers.