eCommerce survival tactics for startups
Survival of your online business is not guaranteed. But there are rules for survival for successful ecommerce startups, says Howard Rybko, CEO at Syncrony.
Survival of your online business is not guaranteed. But there are rules for survival for successful ecommerce startups, says Howard Rybko, CEO at Syncrony. With over 10 years ecommerce experience in the LINUX environment, Syncrony builds and develops leading-edge online stores and B2B portals on the Magento platform. Rybko says the online environment is treacherous. “If you have a great idea and you’re rearing to start an ecommerce website, I encourage you to do so. However, you have to make the right moves in the beginning. Mess it up and your website will become an open drain, swallowing your time and money.”
1. Why building an online store is hard.
If you survive to eventually make money online, it will be much harder than you expect. Self-confidence and rock-solid belief in your business plan can only take you so far. A little fear and doubt will go a long way to avoiding failure. The days are gone when you could make a splash online by showing up with a half decent product offering, semi-comatose delivery and take-a-ticket post-sales service. It’s a game of endurance.
2. How construction always takes much longer than you expect.
If you’re an entrepreneur with a sweet plan to sell online and you’re itching to quit your day job to get started, don’t! Things always takes longer than expected. This means that you need to plan carefully and think hard before you jump ship. Deadlines always stretch. So, spend your money carefully. Beware of taking on recurring expenses as they can go on for much longer than anticipated.
3. How do you start?
Start with a simple business plan. Think hard about your idea. Write it down and don’t stress if it starts with a few lines. Add and adjust as you go along. Do endless research, spend time online, search for examples of operations similar to yours. Look for potential competitors, study them, learn from them. The web is built on copycats, so don’t be afraid to copy (ideas, not the text!).
4. Why should you avoid being too cool?
Always keep things simple: strive to reduce features in the beginning; build on what works; don’t add functionality that sounds cool; wait for your customers to tell you what they want. The more you try to achieve in the beginning, the harder it becomes to be successful.
5. How important is your network?
Share your idea with the people around you. Listen and learn from their reactions. Don’t shy away from criticism, learn from it. Don’t be scared to lose your idea. Ideas are cheap and plentiful, it’s the execution that is hard. If you think your business plan is unique, snap out of it. There are thousands like you, each with a killer idea to coin it selling online. I know. I’ve had so many starstruck online plans talked at me over the last 15 years that I can usually complete the sentences before the entrepreneurs say them. Of all these plans I’ve endured, almost 100% have either died of debt or live in the valley between life and death, with just enough operating income to run the ventilator.
6. Listen to cautionary tales.
Learn from the tale of Linda, a high-flyer who ditched a 20-year career in banking to start an online store modelled on a USA-based niche market leader. She believed she could emulate it locally with open-source software and her inventive do-anything nature. She raised money, sold her house and worked like crazy for two years, only to drown in a stew of technical debt and software issues. The more she sold, the deeper the hole she sunk into.
7. Why you should avoid technical complexity.
If at all possible, start with entry level online store, hosted and managed in the cloud. Shopify (or a similar popular platform) is the perfect place to start for over 90% of online ventures. Arrange to setup a demo store (or get someone to do it for you) so that you can have a working model to test your plan. A store that is hosted and managed for you in the cloud at a fixed cost for the first year or two, is your best bet for survival in the early stages. If anyone comes to you with a plan for WordPress and a WooCommerce, I suggest that you say no. The time for going with a stand-alone ecommerce platform like WooCommerce or Magento will come later.
8. What is the problem with custom sites?
Resist the urge to have any custom functionality written. Custom “anything” can kill you quicker than most things. It takes deep pockets and deep patience to make custom development work. If any of your technical contacts says, “Let me write this quickly”, simply leave the room. There is no “quickly” in custom development. Only go custom if you have absolutely no choice.
9. Why agility is important.
Stifle any urge to automate manual back-end process in the planning phase. Keep processes manual for as long as you can. This will allow you to “turn on a dime” and ensure that your operation is agile enough to change a process in a heartbeat. By all means, automate when processes are bedded-in and become constipation points.
10. Get online as soon as possible
This rule is the only time that I suggest early action. This is because Google, who is the source of traffic to your site, partly judges you based on the age of your domain and the trustworthiness of your content. Your ecommerce success will depend on the traffic Google sends you. Become known to Google by getting out there in some simple way, as soon as possible. It will pay off at go-live time. Start with a single splash page. The process of getting your page up, will bring a host of small problems that will do you the world of good to solve early on.
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