Why E-commerce Businesses Need to Develop a Brand

Kayleigh Alexander

By: Kayleigh Alexander

A strong brand is essential for any business, whether you’re a freelancer or run a multinational corporation. But in an environment as competitive as online business, a failure to create a strong brand puts you at a huge disadvantage.

Every business must have a brand. It has always been important, but now it is more important than ever. Here’s why you cannot afford to neglect building a brand—along with some tips for how to go about doing so successfully.

Recommended reading: 7 Easy Business Concepts Every Founder Needs To Know

Why branding is essential

Branding has never been more important for ecommerce stores. Your brand will have a strong say in whether your e-commerce business is a success or a failure.

With any business—but e-commerce in particular—you need to create a bond with your customers. After all, there are plenty of other e-commerce stores waiting to take their money if you don’t provide what they want. 

While people are more comfortable with the idea of spending their money online than they were even a few years ago, they still need to feel comfortable when they arrive at your store. They need to trust you before they type in their credit card details, and this is where your brand can help.

It boosts brand recognition

Branding also boosts your recognition online. You need to be recognized online because you need to stand out. There may be dozens of stores selling what you sell, and you have to find a way to make your store memorable for positive reasons.

Your brand makes you unique. It’s something that other stores cannot offer, and it is what helps to set you apart.

It creates (and capitalizes on) emotion

Branding is all about the emotional connection and how you make your customers feel. When people think of your store, you want them to immediately feel a positive association with it, which will help to drive more business. 

Essentially, you want them to feel good when they shop on your site because this increases trust and increases the chances that they will choose your store rather than the competition.

It inspires loyalty

Finally, a strong brand inspires greater loyalty, which is essential for your e-commerce store to survive and thrive.

You want your customers to not only come back but to tell all their friends how great you are. You want to convert them into brand advocates so they will promote your business for you and provide compelling social proof.

It helps you stand out in a saturated market

The market is saturated. Competition from other e-commerce stores is tough enough, and then you have marketplaces like Amazon to compete against. 

Your brand can make the difference, not only in tempting customers away from the industry titans either. It also gives your business value beyond its essential operations (should you ever want to test out direct selling, an increasingly-popular pursuit for e-commerce entrepreneurs, that value would be essential).

How to brand an e-commerce store

Now you know the importance of branding, you need to know how to build your brand.

It all starts with your design

Start with the basics, which means setting up a website that is well designed, mobile friendly, blazing fast, and with a simple and straightforward checkout. When people come to your store, they should have a memorable experience from the off, and that starts with your website design. 

Focus on a strong and attractive design. Make wise choices with your color, fonts, logo, tagline, and more, and use the same style in everything you do to increase recognition, including your emails, blog posts, social updates, and guest posts.

Implement a strong content strategy

Part of a successful website involves creating amazing content. Create blog content based on user guides and helpful information surrounding the products you sell. Consider the tone of your content and decide whether you want it to come across as funny, upbeat, friendly, welcoming, or anything else.

A quick hack is competitor research. Identify what your competition is doing and the topics that they cover, then do the same, but better. Check out ecommerce websites for sale in your niche and get a feel for the kind of content they publish. Find those e-commerce businesses that command a higher price than their competitors — these are the ones that have perfected their brand, boosting their value as a result.

Look out for trends and popular posts. These will help you flesh out your content strategy quickly without resorting to (often expensive) research tools.

Create a genuine customer relationship

Engage with your customers on social media and in your blog comments. Always reply to their comments, and use every contact as an opportunity to build your brand. This extends to your customer service too. 

Provide exceptional customer service, whether on your website, over the phone, or via social marketing. Amazon is known for its focus on brilliant customer service, and you can do the same. Get known for this, and you’re sure to drive more business.

Appeal to your USP in everything you do

Know what your unique selling proposition (USP) is. Work out what makes you different and why people should shop at your store and not the others. 

It could be that you offer more choice, better prices, better customer care, free shipping on everything, no-questions-asked returns, or something else entirely. Ensure you keep your USP at the heart of everything you do, from  sure everything you do has this as the focus.

Write a brand story with heart

Create an About Page that tells your story. Provide details about the people who started the store, why they did this, and what your mission is. Make it personal — by giving your brand a human history, you breathe life and personality into it.

And get creative with your story delivery too. A written story works fine, but so too does a video telling. Interviews with your brand founders, Q&A sessions, or even an interactive timeline all make for an engaging brand story delivery.

Embrace a multichannel social presence

Be present in more than one place. Build your presence on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and other sites. People find brands in different ways, and you want to make sure they encounter you.

And creating a sprawling social presence gives a human element to an otherwise flat business. Regularly posting on social shows that you’re more than just a business — you’re a lively, active brand that your customers can engage with on a human level.

Your brand is how people feel when they think about your business, and you want to make sure that the emotion is a positive one. The more people trust you and enjoy buying from your store, the stronger the relationship will become—and the more they will want to continue being your customer. 

Everything you do affects your brand. So decide how you want people to feel about your business, and then set about defining a strong brand in everything you do to make your business more competitive in the e-commerce space.

Data Loss: 4 Ways to Help Your Small Business Recover

By Amy Collett

By Amy Collett

Data is invaluable to any modern-day business and losing it can mean the death of a company. According to Clutch, 58 percent of small businesses are not prepared for data loss. Because of this, the majority of small businesses that lose their data are forced to shut down within six months of an event. Don't let this scare you just yet! If you act quickly and take the correct next steps, your business can recover and you can prevent this problem from occurring again. 

1. Call in Professionals

When you first notice missing data, don’t try to recover it yourself. It’s very possible your data is still accessible somehow, but messing around in your storage system can lead to permanent loss. Specialists like Secure Data Recovery know their way around hardware and software, which makes them the best bet for safely recovering data without causing additional damage. They can also help you keep your important business operations online while you work to recover from the loss. Until the pros can conduct an analysis of your problem, it’s best to shut down your computer completely.  

2. Determine the Cause of Data Loss

Most often, people have no idea why their data is missing. Try to find out what went wrong so you can help your data recovery specialists get your data back and prevent the problem from happening again. Data is most often lost due to human error, technical failure, or targeted attacks. For example, it’s easy to accidentally delete the wrong files or overwrite existing files when updating your business records. On the other hand, your data loss may be the result of a virus or malware. In this case, it's very possible that attackers are stealing data rather than simply deleting it. Look out for the signs of a data breach if you suspect this may be occurring. 

3. Write a Letter to your Customers 

Most states have laws in place requiring businesses to notify their customers if their data is stolen. Although this can hurt your company’s reputation, it’s much better than facing class action lawsuits. You may be required to send your customers a written notice detailing everything you know about the data breach. Two of the most important things to include in your notice is what your business is doing to fix the situation and what specific actions your customers can take to protect themselves.

4. Be Prepared Next Time

Just because you already lost your data once doesn’t mean it won’t happen again. Preventing data loss is an important part of business planning and should be one of the first things you do as your business recovers from this setback. Set up a solid recovery plan and a system for conducting regular backups. Mashable recommends backing up your files to more than one computer and storing at least one copy off-site. Ideally, you should backup your important files every day and a minimum of once per week.

 

An IT disaster recovery plan should also be developed so you know exactly what to do the next time you’re faced with a major system problem. This should include a way to quickly switch your operations to run on backup data so you can reduce downtime. 

Finally, be on the lookout for signs of a failing hard drive

●      Frequent error messages

●      Slower computer performance

●      Scrambled file names

●      Frequent program crashes

●      Files and folders that disappear

●      Grinding or clicking sounds in your computer

If you notice any of these problems, back up your data immediately and have a professional take a look at your system. Your computer's hard drive is the device that stores and retrieves digital information. When it goes, your data goes with it. 

Although being faced with significant data loss will likely cause immediate panic to any business owner, there’s a very good chance you can get it back. The greatest cost to your business will be the downtime you're forced to endure as you get everything back up and running again. This is why you should turn to professionals who know how to fix the problem as quickly as possible.

About the Author:

Amy Collett is creator of Bizwell.org, a website that helps professionals and entrepreneurs build and strengthen their personal brand. She is author of the upcoming book, You, Exemplified: The Role of Personal Branding in Your Professional Life. When she isn’t helping clients boost their careers or businesses, she enjoys coaching her daughter’s soccer team and training to become a yoga instructor.

How To Repurpose A Blog Post: 3 Ways To Supercharge Your Content

By: Kayleigh Alexander - MicroStartups.org

Content is great for your business. It drives traffic to your website, sells the value of your brand, and converts visitors into customers. Repurposing blog posts is a way of producing brand new content quickly.

Below I’ve explained 3 great ways to repurpose blog posts, each of which adds immediate value to your business.  

Recommended reading: 25 Ways To Improve Your Content Marketing & Get More Traffic

Make an ultimate guide from existing articles

Long-form content is excellent for SEO. Blog posts over 3,000 words are more likely to get shared on social media, earn backlinks, and appeal to Google. You can create long-form content by making a guide from your existing blog posts.

Drill down to the root of your business. Are you a content marketing website, a e-commerce brand, or a female geared creative agency?  

Whatever your area is — that’s what you want to focus on.  

Then, give yourself a broad title and use your existing content to thicken it out. I’ll show you how this works using content marketing as our example.

●      Title: Content Marketing 101: The Ultimate Guide To Content That Converts

●      Existing blog titles:

○      Why Pinterest Is The Best Marketing Tool

○      5 Top Tips For Writing Content For Your Blog

○      How To Improve Your Blog Shares On Facebook

Add in every article relevant to content marketing and make each one a subheading. Then include a few new points for each one, so that the content isn’t duplicated. In no time at all you have an enormous mega-guide, giving you supercharged long-form content. 

Turn your blog posts into a free eBook

It’s over a decade since Kindle was launched. Millions of units have been sold and billions of eBooks have been published with the device in mind. Kindle has had its time in the sun but people still love eBooks, especially free ones with specialist advice.

Turning your blog posts into a free book is not so different to making an ultimate guide. Group your articles around a title and create a larger resource. I’ll show you now: 

●      Title: An Expert Guide To Content Marketing

●      Existing blog titles:

○      Why Instagram Is The Best Experiential Marketing Tool

○      5 Reasons Niche Content Is Perfect For Your Business

○      How To Boost Your Business With Email Marketing   

You add the “expert” flavor to your content by including quotes from your own business:

●      Your Head of Marketing gives their rationale for Why Instagram Is The Best Experiential Marketing Tool

●      Your Creative Director summarizes How To Boost Your Business With Email Marketing

●      Your CEO includes one reason Niche Content Is Perfect For Your Business  

Simple. Where it differs is in the value it adds to your business. Ultimate guides are great for SEO, eBooks are excellent as lead magnets. Lead magnets are a great way of driving customers to your business because they give them an incentive to do so – it’s a gift for their attention.

Overthink found HubSpot’s ten most lead magnets of 2017. Four of these were eBooks:

Once you’ve decided on your title, selected your blogs, and added the expert quotes, turning it all into a traffic-driving eBook is easy. Using a tool like Designrr allows you to create an eBook in minutes. Then add your eBook to your website and start getting more customers for your business using your repurposed content.

For more on lead magnets, check out the video below:

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Optimize for a niche audience

Niche audiences let you target quality over quantity. Narrow audiences are more responsive to topics angled to them. This is because they address their needs, not a general idea. This also makes them more receptive to sales promotion in your blogs. It’s simple enough to take an existing blog and optimize it for a niche audience.

Millennials are a great example of a niche that many marketers and brands want to appeal to right now. 

I’ll start with those same titles:

●      Why Pinterest Is The Best Marketing Tool

●      5 Top Tips For Writing Content For Your Blog

●      How To Improve Your Blog Shares On Facebook

Now they become:  

●      Why You Should Use Pinterest To Market To Millennials

●      5 Content Writing Tips Designed For Millennials

●      How To Reach More Millennials Through Facebook

Next you’ll need to optimize the content so it’s angled towards the topic of millennials. A quick way of doing this is to change references to “customers,” “audience,” or “readers” to millennials. This needs to be done naturally in order to show Google your blog isn’t a spam post, and you will obviously need to add in more data and research to show you understand the topic. 

Add a couple of new subheadings so there’s some fresh content in your blog post. Use a software like Ubersuggest to give you ideas on what you include. You should also try Google’s People Also Ask:

After doing all this you’ll have a new blog post that’s niche focused and targeted to engaged readers.

Busy business owners don’t always have time to produce new content. By using these three tips you can turn your existing blog posts into a fresh asset. So go away and get repurposing!

All You Need To Know About Starting A Home-Based Business

By Amy Collett

By Amy Collett

Working from home is a dream for thousands of people, but making that dream a concrete reality is one of the most daunting things you will ever do. After all, it takes a lot of guts to let go of the safety net of a steady paycheck to work for yourself, but the rewards are well worth the risks. Running your own home-based business gives you flexibility, control, and incredible job satisfaction, but getting started can be the hardest part. That is why we’ve compiled everything you need to know to finally take that step and answered some of your most burning questions. 

Where Do I Start? 

There’s not one correct place to start when setting up your home-based business, but your website and social media presence is a good place to start. If you don’t have any experience with building a website, don’t worry: it’s not nearly as intimidating or expensive as you would imagine.

Essentially, you will need a domain (the name of your website) and a web hosting provider. Both are usually available through web building services, and doing everything in one place is better if you are a beginner who is making a simple website. Modern web builders feature intuitive, easy-to-use, drag-and-drop interfaces, allowing anyone to put together a good-looking website with little to no design experience. Check out this detailed guide to web builders to help you choose the best one for you.

Think about what your website needs, and try to keep it simple to start with - an “about me” section, portfolio, and contact page are usually enough. Then, consider which social media platforms you want to be on. Doing something visual? Instagram is a must. Showing off your way with words? Keep a witty and engaging Twitter feed.

Make sure you regularly set aside time to maintain your online presence. Don’t worry if you don’t have anything to show off on your website or social media yet. Just setting the processes in place and having these ready for when you do will save you loads of work down the line. Online tools like Later (which allows you to schedule Instagram posts on a calendar) and IFTTT (which can help you update multiple platforms at the same time) can be a huge help.

How Do I Start Getting Clients?

This is probably the biggest question for most budding freelancers and entrepreneurs, and the answer is that it depends. If you already have an established network in your area due to past jobs, then this part can be easier for you. Reach out to any contacts that could be interested in your services, and let them know what you can do. Even if you don’t have an extensive list of professional contacts, you can start by reaching out to friends and family members to get the ball rolling.

 If you are freelancing, you may find online platforms like People Per Hour or Upwork extremely useful for getting your first clients. However, bear in mind that the jobs listed on these portals are not likely to be high-paying ones and that you will be competing with people from all over the world who can afford to request lower rates. If you do choose to use these services, make sure you take your time setting up an attractive profile and writing careful, tailored bids for work. 

Finally, you have the option of cold pitching. While this can lead to great opportunities, it does come with its challenges - think about how many unrequested marketing emails you receive at work or in your personal inbox that you actually read and pay attention to. Make sure any emails you send are personalized and engaging, and always try to find a specific email address on LinkedIn rather than a generic “Contact Us” one. This guide to cold emailing by the Harvard Business Review is a good place to start.

 What Should I Charge?

Again, it depends. It depends on the work you do, your level of experience, and your ongoing expenses. Take some time to look up the average rates for your area as well as the different ways you can charge for your work. For example, writing work can be paid per word, per piece, per hour, or per day. Consultancy rates can be hourly, daily, or weekly.

It is a good idea to set your ideal rate for each of these methods, as this gives you a starting point for negotiations. Be realistic - you won’t be able to charge high rates if you are a beginner with a small portfolio. However, you should also be able to take pride in your work, so know how low you are willing to go. One option is to offer different rates based on the complexity of different clients’ work and their budgets, and then establish a set rate based on what seems to work for the majority of them. Using an invoice app (Square Point of Sale is a popular option, and it’s free) will help you keep track of what you’re charging everyone and which rate(s) are the most widely accepted among your clientele.

Finally, many business owners just starting out wonder if they should accept “experience” as compensation in the beginning of their new venture. The question of whether to offer free or extremely cheap work during the start of your career is a difficult one, and it comes down to personal choice. Some people believe it cheapens their work and can lead to being trapped with low-quality clients, while others swear by it as a way to build experience. It’s best to take this on a case-by-case basis - for example, this list by Forbes outlines four times in which it’s a good idea to take on work for free.

How Do I Stay Productive?

One of the hardest parts of running a home-based business is staying productive. After all, home is where you relax, and there are endless potential distractions lurking around every corner. Being your own boss is all fun and games until you realize that you have to monitor and motivate yourself.

First of all, focus on properly setting up your home office. Working from your bed or the dining room table is an attractive option (and you can always do that occasionally), but you need a desk with a proper work area to get your head in the right space for productivity. If you don’t have a separate room to turn into an office, then a partitioned corner of any room can work. The important thing is that it has everything you need to be productive and that it feels separate from your home life. 

Technology is a great ally to the home worker, so use it to be as productive as possible. There are apps that can streamline your invoicing, web extensions that can block certain websites (we’re looking at you, Facebook), and thousands of online playlists filled with music to promote focus and concentration.

Now that you know the basics, it’s time to start putting your plan into action. Don’t worry - anyone who has ever started a business has been slightly terrified, but the truth is that millions of people have fulfilling, prosperous careers working from home. With some planning, organization, initiative, and motivation, you can join them and have the business you always wanted.

7 Easy Business Concepts Every Founder Needs To Know

By Kayleigh Alexander

Over 500,000 new businesses are set up every month, but only half manage to get to the five year mark, a statistic that can be a little alarming if you’re thinking of founding one of your own. 

The infancy period of any start-up is volatile, and it can be especially difficult for entrepreneurs who don’t have any previous business experience.

Having a grip on some basic business concepts will give you some of the tools you need to successfully establish your brand and then keep it growing. Don’t blindly fight against established business norms — learn them, boss them, and then choose to subvert them if you want.

Here are seven easy business concepts that you need to know to help you realize your wildest creative business dreams.

Competitive advantage 

One of the main challenges for young businesses is finding a way to achieve and maintain a competitive advantage over other brands in a given market.

Put simply, a competitive advantage is an advantage you have over your competitors.  This is achieved by giving your customers greater value — either by offering lower prices or justifying higher prices by providing a better product or service.  

In his 1985 book ‘Competitive Advantage’, Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter outlined three core ways that businesses can achieve a sustainable competitive advantage:

●      Cost leadership means providing reasonable value at a lower price, which can be done by improving operational efficiency. Basically doing more with less — gig economy businesses are great for this

●      Differentiation means delivering greater benefits to the customer than your competitors can. This can typically be achieved through having an innovative product, a very high quality product, or delivering a similar product as your competitors, but offering exceptional customer service. Differentiation is often how creative businesses like yours stand out

●      Focus means that the company’s founders understand and serve their target market better than their competitors. The key to focusing is to choose one specific target market, often a niche that bigger companies don’t serve, and then concentrating hard on nailing it.

Supply and Demand 

The concept of supply and demand is directly relevant to any company competing in the marketplace, regardless of its size. Supply and demand means that a market will respond to changes in demand and supply to overcome surplus and shortages and therefore maintain an ‘equilibrium price’. For example, a shortage of gold leads to a higher price, because, as demand for gold increases, the upward pressure on prices would naturally prevent a shortage.

Supply and Demand Chart

Source: The Dasinger Daily

Understanding the specific supply and demand issues affecting both the sales and the purchases that your business makes will enable you to make more informed decisions.

Return on Investment

Return on Investment (ROI) is the financial benefit that is received from an investment, or, put more simply, a measure of what you get back compared to what you put in. For example, say you spent $1000 per month on Google Adwords, and your business made $2000 as a direct result of the ads, your ROI would be the difference. ROI is usually measured as a ratio, which in this case would be 2:1, because for every $1 you spend, you get $2 back.

Calculating ROI will help you to track what’s working and what isn’t working for your business. If your ads aren’t generating a profit, you will know that you need to make changes to them, or drop them altogether in favor of another form of marketing. 

Fixed and Variable Costs

When you start a business, your costs come in two forms: fixed and variable. Fixed costs don’t change when your sales volume changes, but variable costs do. Examples of fixed costs include the rent you pay for the space that your company uses, such as an office or storage facility, insurance, marketing and management salaries. Examples of variable costs are material and labor, the costs of which go up and down depending on sales. 

Economics

Source: PrepLounge

Understanding which costs are fixed and which are variable will enable you to budget and plan accordingly, and help you to identify what is a profitable price level for your products or services. If you suddenly lost your biggest customer account and therefore 25% of your sales, you’d still need to cover your fixed costs to keep your company running; figuring out these costs could be crucial to keeping your company alive.

Customer Lifetime Value

Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) is the total worth of a customer to a business over the entirety of their relationship. It’s important to your business because it costs less to keep existing customers than it does to acquire new ones. According to the book Marketing Metrics, “businesses have a 60-70% chance of selling to an existing customer, whilst the probability of selling to a new customer is only 5% to 20%”. Increasing the value of your existing customers will really help to drive growth. 

However, measuring CLV isn’t easy, with only 42% of companies feeling able to do it, and citing poor systems, lack of coherent marketing and lack of integration as the reasons why.

If big, established businesses struggle to measure CLV, then new and small businesses are likely to find it hard to make accurate measurements, but you can make a start with this simple formula: customer revenue minus the cost to acquire and serve the customer. If you are prepared to really drill down into the concept, there are more complex calculations that will help you get a more accurate result.

Customer Acquisition Cost 

Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) means the price that your business pays to acquire a new customer. It can be worked out by dividing the total costs associated with acquisition by total new customers, within a specific time period. For example, if you spend $500 on marketing in one month and acquire 500 customers, then your CAC is $1. Web-based companies can roll out highly targeted campaigns and track customers from leads to conversions, making their CAC highly accurate. 

If you’ve just started a business, acquiring customers is crucial to making sure it is a success, but if you spend too much money on acquiring customers, then you won’t be able to pay your other costs and keep your business afloat. CAC is directly relevant to CLV, and combining the two will allow you to calculate what is the true value of a customer to your business.

Minimum Viable Product 

Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is a development technique where a new product is introduced to the market with basic features, which will capture the attention of early adopters. Companies such as Uber, Dropbox and AirBnB all started as MVPs and achieved very rapid growth. An MVP is a bare-bones version of a product that includes a minimum of features and directly addresses the core problem it is trying to solve. Once the initial product is successful, more features can be added.

Pyramid marketing

Source: Cheesecake Labs

An MVP allows you to release your product to market in the shortest possible time, reduce start-up costs and test demand before spending money adding all the bells and whistles.

An easy creative product-based MVP would be a print-on-demand business with low overheads. Simply set up shop, hook up with an app like Printful, and go out looking for ways to make your first sale. Using print-on-demand methods means you can keep costs of production down while you test your designs and brand out with your target market. 

On the service side, you might be looking to start a consultancy coaching business for creative entrepreneurs. Before going all-out, test the waters with a series of blogs, a webinar, or a training course (Thinkific is good for this) to gauge whether you have a viable market and compelling message. You may find that you need to adapt your messaging.

You can work directly with users to analyze behaviors and get feedback, allowing you to develop your product in ways that you know customers will like. Developing your business in this way can also avoid large capital losses, therefore attracting potential investors because it is a low-risk venture.

There’s a lot to learn when setting up a new business and there is no guarantee of success, but educating yourself about some of the basic principles will stack the odds in your favor. A firm grounding in everything from basic economic theory such as supply and demand to sophisticated development techniques like MVP will help you found a business that is both profitable and sustainable.


Kayleigh Alexandra is a content writer for Micro Startups — a site dedicated to giving through growth hacking and shining a light on innovative startups. Visit the blog for your latest dose of startup, entrepreneur, and charity insights from top experts around the world. Follow us on Twitter @getmicrostarted.