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Growing your business online

The internet lets small business owners expand their target market across borders and sell their products or services online. But what’s involved with creating an e-commerce website or adding merchant services to your existing site?

An online presence is essential for being successful in today’s business world. The traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ business doesn’t have the scope or potential that a web venture does.

Transitioning to online trading could be just what you need to grow your business.

Taking online payments is important

With mobile and tablet technology opening up new avenues to generate sales, the potential for selling your business while people are on the move has increased significantly.

An e-commerce website allows your clients and prospective customers to read about your business and order what they want any time of day or night. Public holidays and closed businesses don’t exist in the online world.

According to PR Newswire, 89% of consumers conduct their research using search engines, meaning you need an online presence to have a chance of reaching to these people. Choosing a competitor is only a click away so you have to be best positioned to offer what people want and when they want it.

Selling online helps capture potential customers who prefer the convenience to purchase on the web.

Benefits of expanding your target market across borders

The great thing about the internet is having a global market to showcase your business. If you build a effective website with a user-friendly shopping cart experience, thousands of people could be purchasing from your online store each week.

With an online store there may be no need to have a physical location, saving you money and possibly allowing you the freedom to do business from anywhere in the world.

Compared to opening new branches in new territories with new sales staff, taking your business online is comparatively less expensive and has greater reach.

Selling online

Online marketplaces
You may consider selling online through a third-party online marketplace like EBay or Amazon. This option wouldn’t require a large investment and you won’t need a website.

Online marketplaces let sellers list and sell their goods or services for a fee or commission. The benefits of using these sites include low set up costs, easy product listings and integrated payment procedures.

E-commerce website
An e-commerce website involves having secure web hosting, an online payment system and an online shopping cart.

Whether you have an existing site or are in the process of building a website for your business, it’s important to consider integrating a shopping cart into your site. By establishing an online store you’ll be able to sell directly to your customers.

You can present your goods or services in a unique way, tailor-made to your needs, known as a bespoke e-commerce site. Alternatively, choose an off-the-shelf solution which has limited customisation but comes at a cheaper price.

Options for payment
Your online payment system will require an Internet Merchant Account (IMA) and a payment gateway.

An e-commerce site should allow you to accept credit and debit cards, authorise payments and transfer funds to your account.

Find out more about Clydesdale Bank
ecommerce payments solutions

Advantages and costs of selling online

Your largest cost when deciding to sell online will probably be the formation of your e-commerce website, so treat it like an investment.

Reducing expenses

By receiving orders through an online store you’re reducing the need for customer service staff. You could find yourself in a position where you can decrease office space and related costs, and staff.

Creating a customer forum and a comprehensive FAQ section should answer most of your potential customers’ questions, leaving you with more time to focus on running your business.

Make use of online service providers and take all facets of your business online, such as purchasing, invoicing and organising delivery.

Break-even point

Your break-even point is where your costs equal your revenue. When starting to sell your business online, calculate the costs involved with setting up an online payment system, such as:

  • Web design and maintenance
  • Domain name and hosting fee
  • Shopping cart or merchant service costs
  • Online marketplace fees
  • Backing up your data online
  • Packaging and shipping costs

'Break-even' is simply the number of units needed to be sold to match the total costs during a period of time. Variable costs, such as shipping fees, can push this target higher.

You can calculate your break-even point over any time period based on how much you believe you’ll sell in a week, a month or a year. If you’re selling more than one product or service online you’ll need to estimate the sales mix of those items.

Manage a successful site

Your website will be competing against local and international businesses, so you’ll need to update and maintain your site’s content regularly to keep it ahead of the pack. Fresh and unique content encourages people to return to your site, while keeping it free of mistakes protects your credibility.

Your site should be easily found by people searching for your business with Google. By writing Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) friendly content you’ll help your site get a higher ranking in search results. Find out what key words your customers use to search for your business so you can optimise your site.

It’s vital to measure the success of your website by monitoring its visitor statistics with a web analytics package. You want to know how many people are visiting your site and how they’re getting there.

Google Analytics and AWStats are often included in services by web hosts or they can be downloaded free of charge and as commercial packages.

This guide is intended as general advice only, and not intended to cover specific circumstances and needs. The information in this article is also not linked to any of the products offered by Clydesdale Bank PLC.

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