You Don't Have to Be an Expert--You Just Have to Know One

When we hastily launched our company in 30 days, we were forced to learn on the fly and pick the path of least resistance in setting up our e-commerce business. Recently, it dawned on me: This is my first e-commerce business. Maybe I'm doing this all wrong!?

As someone who believes you don't have to know all the answers but you do have to know when to ask for help, I decided to call the best person I could think of: bona fide e-commerce guru Andrew Youderian. A legend in that world, Andrew runs a number of online businesses, including eCommerce Fuel, a community for e-commerce store owners, but he's best known for the public online sale of his business TrollingMotors.net. If you don't know someone like Andrew, you could easily and affordably connect with experts using a service like Clarity.

Andrew graciously accepted my "offer" to give me free consulting and went away with a login to our Xero accounting platform, Shopify site and store, and Google Analytics.

Andrew didn't come back and say I was doing a terrible job. But given that he had six solid recommendations relatively quickly, I assume he was being kind to my ego. If you have an e-commerce component to your business, consider implementing these easy, but high-impact tips for success:

The Expert Says:

1. Make Your Customer's Life Easier 

Andrew immediately noticed two things about our online store. We have a good proportion of repeat customers, and a lot of our orders are for gifts. However, we have no option that allows customers to specify a gift order to add a note, gift-wrap, or remove pricing on an invoice. We also have no service to make it easy for our regular customers to automate repeated reorders. Andrew suggests you pay attention to what your customers are really trying to accomplish, and make that task easier for them. For us, that means adding a gift option in checkout and considering a service like Chargify to allow subscription ordering.

2. Know Your Numbers 

Xero makes it easy to see the high-level numbers, and Andrew was amazed to learn we have a 90 percent profit margin on our spicy honey. Then he realized we are a bit lazy with our accounting, and haven't been updating inventory levels every month.

Using cash-based accounting (vs. accrual) is usually easier and often preferred by small businesses. However, be sure to make regular adjustments, like inventory levels in our case, so you have accurate numbers on key measures like profit margin. Having accurate numbers will allow you to make easier and smarter decisions on spending, such as advertising to acquire customers or joining paid events.

3. Sell the Benefit, Not the Package

Andrew knows and likes our spicy honey, but he explained that he isn't really buying a bottle of hot honey. He is buying the experience of mouthwatering goodness that makes any meal incredible. From that point of view, our homepage was totally missing the mark, as it featured our bottle of honey as the hero and was devoid of any high-resolution images of food porn, featuring spicy honey.

Consider what your customers are truly buying from you. Does your website do a good job of conveying that emotional experience or benefit customers will get as a result of doing business with you? If not, make a small investment to illustrate and sell that benefit rather than the package.

4. Maximize Your "About Us" Section

Andrew could see from our analytics that prospective customers visiting our site are frequently looking at our "About Us" section. This section is where customers go to become familiar with us and decide if they want to trust us. We were falling short because most of our "About Us" section failed to mention our love for the product, how much hard work and fun goes into every handcrafted batch, and the value we place in our ingredients and sourcing.

Your "About Us" section is the place where you get to be you. This is the place to tell your customers why they should want to be your friend. If they are going to part ways with their hard-earned money, this is the place where they should be convinced you're a great person to give it to.

5. Know (What to Do With) Your Analytics

Even staring at the Google Analytics dashboard can be daunting. But Andrew suggests focusing on some simple but important points, like the value of your traffic sources. We previously focused on our highest revenue traffic source. Instead, we should focus first on our highest converting sources of traffic. If we can expand those sources, they can be a revenue gold mine. Don't shy away from the power of analytics just because it can seem like a daunting topic. Sign up for your free Google account, and follow their instructions to sync with your website. Also consider tools like KISSmetrics or MOZ, which can give you easy-to-understand but deep insights into your sources of traffic and activity on your website.

6. Advertise, For Free

With relatively small order value (on average $28 per order), we can't afford to spend much on advertising. However, Andrew explained that we're missing a few big opportunities to advertise for free, like on Pinterest. We should curate Pinterest boards of beautiful food porn images, with some linking back to our website and product.

Consider Beardbrand's Tumblr Magazine as a great example of what is possible. Become a source of expert content for your customers. This will not only drive more relevant traffic (the most valuable kind of traffic) but will also cement your position as an opinion leader and trustworthy player in your community.

If you want to take a deeper dive into your e-commerce business and access more of Andrew's expertise, check out eCommerce Fuel. Want more on our startup journey? Visit our journey blog at http://www.mixedmade.com

Published on: Sep 18, 2014