It takes guts to start a business, particularly in the crowded and competitive world of retail. Besides courage, you’ll need a lot of determination and resilience. The process can take months and will likely involve a lot of sleepless nights, but when everything clicks, there is almost nothing as rewarding as seeing the business you built from the ground up succeed.
I won’t say starting a business is the easy part of the process because it’s anything but easy, but in a lot of ways, growing a business is harder than starting it. You know there’s demand for your product, you have fulfilled some orders and maybe even turned a profit. So what comes next to help you grow?
Scale your marketing strategy
Most small retailers can get by on word of mouth and selling to friends and family in the earliest days, but you can’t grow if you don’t uncover new customers. That’s why your marketing channels are so important. Even if you’ve dipped your toe in with a Facebook or Instagram page, you’ll want to scale your marketing strategy early. I’d recommend hiring a consultant who can efficiently help you set and execute your strategy, even if it’s only focused on social media and creating content at first. If you’re not ready to add a person, research the best strategies for SMB marketing tactics and implement them yourself.
Know your competition and market
Doing a little research and getting the lay of the land is something every small business owner should invest time in. Do an analysis of product-market fit. You might have big aspirations for your brand, but if the market demand is small, you’ll hit a wall early. Make sure you know all of your competitors in the space and figure out what differentiates you from them. Is your product better or cheaper? Do you have better shipping options? Sign up for their mailing lists (don’t use your work email!) so you can see how they market their products and what types of promotions they offer so you can stay one step ahead.
Invest in a Swiss army knife
You’ll need extra arms and legs as you grow, but figuring out what role to hire is tricky. As an entrepreneur, you’ve probably already realized that you have to do a little bit of everything, including ordering inventory, posting to social media, packing boxes, printing shipping labels and dealing with customers. Odds are your first employee will have to do much of that too, so hire someone who is willing and able to be scrappy, and plug in wherever needed.
Focus on customer service and loyalty
Once your business model and marketing strategy are set, it’s time to figure out how to keep all those customers you’ve won. It’s one thing to have great products and pricing, but it’s another to keep customers coming back when your competitors are constantly trying to lure them away. Implement a loyalty program to give returning customers more incentive to come back. Hit them up with special deals and promotions to encourage them to keep purchasing. Reward them for referring their friends to your store. Don’t just try to sell them things either. Ask questions of your customers and listen to what they have to say. When they have valid problems, provide real solutions.
Upgrade your website
Along the lines of customer service, now is the time to really invest in your online store. Your general strategy for your site should be to make it easy for people. Easy to navigate, easy to buy. Go through your site and figure out where your bottlenecks are and get rid of them. It’s so easy for potential buyers to leave the site, and you need to make it easy for them to stay.
As you go from a simple startup business, you’ll be tempted to try all kinds of new tactics, and that’s OK. There is a lot of trial and error in entrepreneurship, and what works for one might not work for another. As long as you learn from things that don’t work and keep your focus on the bigger strategy, you can become the next ecommerce powerhouse.
Amber Remm is vice president of customer success at Springbot