27 Aug How to prepare your ecommerce business for expansion
Important advice for making sure your online retail store is ready to grow
Having a small business operation is good in some ways, but you’re probably not in business to settle for limited success — you want to get bigger, better, and more profitable. It isn’t easy, though, and you must be ready. Here are some vital tips to follow before you commit to growth:
#1 Form a set of brand guidelines
What’s the essence of your business? If you’re serious about expanding, it won’t be enough to simply offer more products in more locations. You’ll need to have a brand identity that can become established in the minds of your customers. This will lead to more recognizability and a steadily-growing stream of visitors who are interested in your ecommerce.
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Sooner or later you’ll need to establish a social media presence, do PR outreach, and develop high-quality marketing materials. A set of brand guidelines will allow you to keep it all in-line, setting everything from your color scheme and logo, to your tone of voice and preferred topics. Start with your core value proposition. What do you hope to achieve through your business beyond simply making money? Then, continue from there until you have a comprehensive brief.
#2 Build up an emergency fund
Anything can cause a shutdown in business: a product shortage, a power failure, a workplace injury, or even a change in consumer habits demanding a total revision of a product line. Any business that doesn’t build up the savings to survive a short-term shutdown assumes a lot of unnecessary risk.
This is true of the smallest businesses, but they can generally survive moderate shutdowns because they don’t have extensive ongoing costs. The bigger your business becomes, the more your costs will grow. This makes the prospect for disruption become more dangerous. There’s no use growing by 100% over the course of a year if it all comes crashing down shortly after. Sustainable long-term growth should be your goal.
#3 Secure your product supply
Whether you create your own products or source them from local, national or international suppliers, you need to know that your level of supply can meet a greatly-expanded demand. Your growth should take you to a new tier of prominence. Leaving a negative impression caused by being unable to fulfil orders will significantly set you back.
Arrange long-term deals with product and/or material suppliers so they can’t change terms down the line. Knowing exactly what level of demand you can reliably meet will also make it possible to be targeted with your marketing efforts. That way, you can scale them back when you feel you’re at risk of over-committing.
#4 Ensure your website can handle more traffic
Not all ecommerce websites are created equal. Some are poorly optimized, while others are finely polished. Some are self-hosted with performance depending on the quality of the chosen hosting. Others are hosted and thus more predictably scaleable (though hosted solutions also vary significantly). As such, you must ensure that your website can handle an increase in traffic and engagement before you start seeking it.
If you don’t have a pressing reason to develop or maintain your store on a custom system, you should migrate to a major ecommerce CMS. An option like Shopify’s one-size-fits-all storefront creator will be superior for most. It also provides a more robust and affordable range of add-ons such as Clever Adwords. That kind of standardized system will support you in growing near-indefinitely.
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#5 Build a strong team
If you currently run every aspect of your online business, start relaxing your grip immediately. More orders means more work, more complaints and more costs. One person can only endure that kind of workload for so long before they hit a wall.
Surround yourself with a team that you trust and shares your hunger for success, then scale up their responsibilities as you expand. Your focus needs to remain on the core business model — that’s where you’ll make the most difference.
Growing a business from a tiny startup to a global contender is an incredibly exciting prospect, but it’s not something to be taken lightly. If you mess it up, you’ll hamper your progress for a long time. Follow these tips to prepare your business fully and give it the best chance of achieving great success.
Patrick Foster is a writer and ecommerce expert from Ecommerce Tips — an industry-leading ecommerce blog that shares the latest insights from the sector, spanning everything from business growth hacks, to product development. Check out the latest posts on Twitter @myecommercetips.