Starting your own business is no easy feat and there have been countless articles on finding a mentor, understanding your analytics and using data to figure out who your audience is. The bottom line: there is no easy route to success. If there was, everyone would have already taken it.

No one knows this better than Melinda Emerson, or as she is more commonly known, the Small Biz Lady. Named Forbes’ #1 woman for entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter, Emerson is considered a top small business expert and her social media and blog posts reach an audience of roughly 3 million people a week.

Of course, none of this was achieved overnight and it is Emerson’s honesty and charisma that truly help entrepreneurs looking for business tips and advice. After more than six years of running her own small business, Emerson developed a system to help people transition from corporate job to small business ownership. Her first book, Become Your Own Boss, became an international hit and the second edition of the book is launching January 2, 2015.

Online retail is no field of dreams. The biggest misconception is: if you build it, they will come.

Helping online entrepreneurs over the past several years has given Emerson a wealth of knowledge about the ecommerce space.

“Online retail is no field of dreams,” says Emerson. “The biggest misconception is ‘if you build it, they will come.’ I think small business online retailers need to know how to stand out online, especially since your competition is worldwide. Pick a specific niche focus and be better, cheaper or faster than your competition.”

Last week, Steve Power, President of Bigcommerce, joined Emerson’s weekly Twitter chat, #SmallBizChat, to answer the questions most asked by those looking to open their own online store. Below, we’ve grabbed the best information from Powers, Emerson and all of the Twitter community to help you figure out the nuts and bolts of starting out on your own.

How do I decide what to sell online?

“Choosing what to sell online is one of the most important decisions you’ll make as an entrepreneur,” says Power. “To be successful, try sticking with what you know while solving issues you see in the real world – life hacks, contraptions, simple solutions and services are great places to start brainstorming.”

How do I choose where to sell my products?

“A full-service ecommerce platform can help you get started with very little technical effort, plus its flexibility will support your business as you grow,” says Power. “Keep in mind that any platform that doesn’t let you test it before you buy is a red flag. Once you settle on a platform, their team will guide you through setting it up.”

What’s the easiest way to start selling online?

“I’d recommend starting with a full-service platform because it’s cheaper and you can learn more about your audience, which means better conversion and more dollars in your pocket,” says Power.

 

 

 

How is an online store different from selling on Etsy or Ebay?

“Setting up shop on sites like Etsy or Ebay may sound easier initially, but having your own website gives you complete control of your product, marketing and pricing so that you can truly scale your business,” says Power. “Plus, Etsy and Ebay take a percentage of your cut from the start.”

How do I know my product will sell?

“Not everyone on the web will want to purchase your product – you need to dig in and find your target market and affirm your product’s market viability,” says Power. “Focus on the problem your product solves, and who needs to solve that problem. That’s your target market.”

How do I get funding for my online business?

“Finding a source of funding can be a challenge, especially since the average cost of starting a business is $30,000 – but it can and must be done,” says Power. “There are three main ways to fund your business: securing money from investors, crowdfunding campaigns and bank loans.”

 

How do I make my online store look beautiful?

“Keep in mind that conversion should be priority No. 1 – it’s about making money and driving shoppers to the checkout page,” says Power. “‘Pretty’ is a stellar bonus, and the design should always reflect your brand. To do this, focus on quality from the beginning so that your store looks professional and attracts the right shoppers.”

 

 

What’s an ETA for getting my business off the ground?

“If you’re committed to buckling down and getting a beautiful online store off the ground, you can get through the entire process in a weekend,” says Power. “You can always make changes and tweaks to your store and marketing strategy as you go.”

How do I uncover and develop my brand?

“People purchase products because of the emotional connection they feel with a brand, not because of a logo, set of colors or catchy tagline,” says Power. “A brand is something that customers feel, that makes them excited to interact with your company or others who love the brand, too. From social media to emails, the checkout page and packaging, each consumer touchpoint should be considered and reflect a unified brand experience.”

How do I generate repeat customers?

“Email marketing is 100% measurable and highly targeted, so often-times this will generate your highest ROI out of any organic channel,” says Power. “It’s easy to do, and free apps like MailChimp can walk you through the entire process. Customer service is crucial, too – focus on providing the best customer experience you can to create brand trust and loyalty.”

How should I use social media marketing for my online store?

“First of all, you need to pick which network(s) is the best fit for what you’re selling,” says Power. “Is your product beautiful and highly visual? Consider Pinterest or Instagram. Do you want to tap into larger conversations relevant to your brand? Twitter and Instagram are best for that. Facebook is still the social leader in driving traffic and purchases to online stores, and it can be the best place for building a community around your brand. No matter the channels you choose, form a content theme that links all of your marketing mix together.”

 

How do I track the success of my online store?

“The most important ecommerce benchmarks are AOV (average order value), repeat revenue, and CLV (customer lifetime value),” says Power. “Get comfortable with purchase and customer data to help you pick out the rich insights you need to crush these benchmarks. For example, review your sales data to find out what products are most popular. Focus on getting more reviews of those products so more people will add them to their carts – in fact, product reviews create a 74% increase in product conversion.”

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