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Growing your business online

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. The internet allows small business owners to expand their target market across borders and sell their products or services online. Transitioning to online trading could be just what you need to grow your business.

Benefits of expanding your target market across borders

The great thing about the internet is having a global market to showcase your business. An effective, easy-to-use website that’s available internationally means you’ve expanded your customer base to potentially thousands.

An online store frees you from geography and time, since it’s open 24/7 worldwide. It’s also a great money saver, since you’re not paying commercial rent for a bricks-and-mortar store. Compared to opening new branches in new territories with new sales staff, taking your business online is comparatively less expensive and has greater reach.

Online marketplaces

You may consider selling online through a third-party online marketplace like eay 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 websites

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.

Make sure you accept online payments

Most people use internet banking, and if you’re selling online, it’s important to give customers different options, such as:

  • Credit cards
  • PayPal
  • Online banking

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.

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.

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. It’s worth getting a professional designer who can not only make the site comprehensive and attractive, but also easy to navigate and most of all, easy to pay. They’ll also make sure the site is properly set up for Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).

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. It’s 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. 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

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 you’ll need to estimate the sales mix of those items.

Summary

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.

Because selling online means you can dramatically reduce your expenses while increasing your sales, it’s a great way to improve your profit margin. You can sell 24/7, to a global customer base, while boosting your brand in the international marketplace.

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