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ONLINE MARKETING

Selling Online: The Bottom Line on What it Takes

Focus on engagement and relationship building, and the sales will come.
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The good news is that small businesses often have an edge over bigger brands when selling online--if they know how to use their size to their advantage.

Even better, the key tactics for growing a business online actually go against the conventional wisdom on the subject.

Here some do’s and don’ts for navigating the world of selling online:

Don’t try to build your own online shopping destination and expect it to drive sales growth.

Online storefront companies make incredible technology, but once you build your store it’s hard to actually create a growing commerce business unless you have a big budget to buy advertising.

While you may believe that having your own website will attract lots of new shoppers, website development and maintenance is expensive and time consuming. The hard truth: Consumers aren’t searching for you. If they do search “bracelets” or “bbq sauce” the big companies bid up the keywords, making it near impossible to appear on the first page of search results. Bottom line: page 2, 3, or 400 of search results never built a brand.

Don’t expect your unique products to sell on a large online marketplace.

While big online marketplaces such as Amazon or eBay attract millions of shoppers, unless customers are searching specifically for your brand, they will never see or discover your products. (And if they do, you’ll be in a sea of other similar goods.)

The only way to drive volume in the big marketplaces is to be super cheap. (That means no margin.) Bottom line: List your goods for the occasional sale, but don’t count on much volume, margin, or brand building.

Do actively use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and OpenSky to promote your brand.

These are powerful channels for engagement and for creating direct-to-consumer connections. On OpenSky, the more followers a merchant has, the more goods it sells.

But to make the social networks work for you, you need to post. If you don’t engage, you don’t sell. Merchants use OpenSky to create posts and share them across all of their social networks. It saves time and coordinates their marketing. And they see that as a result, they get ten times the sales of merchants who do not post. Bottom line: Invest in relationships on social platforms.

Do create eye-catching content and do it frequently.

No one remembers the bland brand. Bottom line: Let your voice out.

Create tips, recipes, or behind-the-scenes snippets.

If your products are naturally sourced, why not share photos from the beautiful hike that provided your inspiration for it? Sharing relevant and relatable content will keep your customers coming back. Bottom line: Teach and engage.

Do use your size to your advantage.

Build personal relationships with your followers on social platforms. Answer questions, engage, and interact by sharing product news, relevant content, and personal reminders about new items you think your followers will enjoy. Remember that what makes your small business special is your customers’ opportunity to feel a personal connection with you, the entrepreneur, and your passion (your product). Bottom line: Build your brand by connecting with people in personal, relevant ways.

Selling online can build your brand and business. But don’t go after sales first. Focus on engagement and relationship building, and the sales will come.

 

IMAGE: Richard Drury/Getty Images
Last updated: Sep 18, 2013

JOHN CAPLAN | Columnist | Founder and CEO, OpenSky

John Caplan is the founder and CEO of OpenSky, a social network for shopping. OpenSky launched in April 2011 and now has more than 2.5 million members. Before OpenSky, Caplan was the CEO of Ford Models and president of the About Network, which sold to Primedia in 2001 for more than $500 million.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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