Give Yourself an Hug!
Every single owner of a small eCommerce business should give themselves a pat on the back! Just look back six months or a year and ask yourself how your priorities have shifted in that time and how many adjustments you've made to your business operations. You've probably dealt with more changes in your business in that time than some industries have seen in 5 years.
In fact, if you've been at this more than 5 years, you've weathered the worst recession since the 1930's and been successful operating in a marketplace of constant change. We all deserve a vacation - but how do we find the time when our to do list is longer than ever?
Step Back in Time
I write this after spending a week last month where I traveled back in time, or seemed to. I spent a week as a sales coach at a sales training workshop for companies selling printing solutions into enterprise accounts in the United Kingdom. I had some background in that industry and a extensive of background in direct sales and sales management. I was worried that my skills would be eroded or that the industry had changed so much that I would feel out of place. Instead, I found an industry almost frozen in time. Sales strategies and issues are the same, products really have not changed much. I felt like the year 2000 was repeating itself. It was kind of like a "vacation".
When I came back to my eCommerce reality, I realized how insane we are to work in a business where dozens of variables change instantly and constantly!
Here's a sampling of the challenges that each and every eCommerce business faces every day in 2010:
Maintaining visibility in search engines with ever changing algorithms. Have you checked on your SEO rankings since the latest Google changes? If you've dropped off, do you know what to do about it?
Creating, growing and maintaining a presence on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and/or Linked-in. Pick any one of these and you have new content to create almost daily. Social media is no longer an option, you must play if you want to survive and to play you've got to invest time to create content and interact
Responding and reacting to ever more aggressive competitive discounting and marketing. I just checked my inbox and 3 of my competitors are running sales with discounts in excess of 30% and have sent email reminders for them EVERY day for the last several days. In total, there were 10 new email campaigns from competitors in my inbox - from the last 24 hours!
Finding new sources of revenue from new customers, products, or services. Competitive pressures and market changes are constantly eroding our customer base and we need to make sure to find new opportunities to stay ahead.
Keeping operating costs in line while faced with increasing costs from rent, shipping, wages, and inventory that is purchased from overseas suppliers. The weakness of the dollar and the cost of oil are razing havoc again for our new inventory purchases and fulfillment costs.
Developing a strategy for dealing with mobile devices and eCommerce. Every month our visits from these devices increase and I still don't have a mobile strategy.
New competitors like Amazon.com and Buy.com who are beginning to sell virtually everything - from dozens of your competitors. How many of your customers will eventually settle on them as a central place to buy their products? If you sell on Amazon as we do, how do you get more visibility and real estate there?
I could go on and on, but this is enough to ponder for now.
What to do?
We are jugglers! Keep your eye on the balls, mix up your time investment, and delegate. Put the balls down occasionally. You can't do it all yourself. Here are some things we do to make the juggling more efficient.
First, decide a fundamental issue, are you striving for revenue growth or profitability growth or a balance somewhere in between. You need to understand that before you can make other business decisions. For many years, most eCommerce business owners focused on revenue and customer growth. Is that the right strategy in 2010? Don't have an answer for you, but you need to have one for yourself.
Next, I find myself re- prioritizing my own tasks every morning. I'm delegating my old daily tasks to others so that I can spend more time on strategy and planning.
Filter out the noise. I've started unsubscribing from dozens of trade newsletters to reduce clutter. Don't push something aside into a "todo" that you can just deal with in a few minutes.
Focus on revenue and costs. Which activities and investments can you make that show a measurable return? Which costs can be reduced or at least managed?
Sit down with your top managers every month and evaluate your strategy and current priorities. It's not enough to do an annual review anymore. You'll be left in the dust by some new market force if you do that.
Ask yourself what activities will lead to higher revenue. Is it more new customers through PPC advertising, or is it something simpler like making an exclusive offer to your existing customers via an email newsletter? Or adding more products in a line that already sells well?
Mind your inventory! Buy items that have good turnover and good margins. One of our biggest selling lines is Sterling Silver jewelry findings. The cost of silver has risen almost 100% in the last six months, most of it on speculation. We've decided to put a hold on buying new Sterling until the price goes down or at least shows signs of stabilization. It will cost us some short term revenue, but we simply can't afford to be a speculator. We're also adding large, new product lines made from alternative materials.
Watch your website development costs. It's easy to spend more there than really necessary. Do you really need that new graphic? Will a style change buy you new revenue? Do you really have to be the "fastest" site? Maybe the answer is yes, but is that the best place to spend your money and time?
We're basically minding the operations, not focusing on anything too sexy, and monitoring all the change. When its obvious that we need to invest in something, we will, but we likely won't be the first in.
All in all, make sure you take the time to review and plan. Don't spend all your time "doing". You may be doing the wrong things!
So, put that vacation on hold and start minding the store, you've got work to do! Just kidding - take that vacation - you deserve it!
Louis Camassa says:
Hi Dale, you raise some great points! Regarding your competitors promotions/emails; are you sending out as many emails as them, and as frequently?
Dale Traxler says:
Hi Louis, No, we do not send out that many emails. We do 2x a week for different stores and products. I am evaluating doing a "re optin" for emails by freqency or topic to gain a bit more permission, but right now I don't think our subscribers are opted into daily emails. I know I did not with the competitive ones I subscribed to and that would lead me to unsubscribe at some point.
That's a personal thing, so others may think differently.