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Small Business Success Index 4

Index Score*   Grade
73 marginal
Capital Access 67
Marketing & Innovation 65
Workforce 76
Customer Service 88
Computer Technology 73
Compliance 92
*Index score is calculated on a 1-100 scale.

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Posts Tagged ‘ecommerce’

Adding Information Products to Your Ecommerce Line Up

June 22nd, 2010 :: Thursday Bram

When we think about ecommerce, more often than not, we think about selling physical products — stuff that may be sold online, but has to be boxed up and shipped in the real world. But products that you have to handle offline aren’t the only options for ecommerce, especially if you already have an established presence online. Information products can be a good alternative.

The Benefits of Information Products in Ecommerce

The obvious benefit for dealing in information products online is that you eliminate the need to ship your products to your clients. They pay their money and can immediately download a copy of your product. There’s no inventory to manage — just a digital file that you make available through your ecommerce website.

But there are other benefits, as well. Information products can complement physical products, letting impatient buyers get a head-start on giving you money, even if they’re not prepared to wait for a shipment of a physical product. They can also help you become the expert in your niche, leading buyers to you even if all they need is answers to questions they have with a product they’ve already purchased.

Information products can cover a wide range of niches: an software seller could offer an online training course on using QuickBooks effectively, while a vacuum shop could offer an ebook on how to remove stubborn stains. The real question in creating an information product is if your customers have a need for specific types of information, to the point that they’ll pay money to have that need addressed quickly.

Start With What You’re Already Offering

Odds are good that you’ve already got some options for creating ebooks, audio courses and other information products. If you offer any kind of consulting or technical support for the products you sell, those areas could be ripe for creating some sort of training or resource. Similarly, if you’ve had to create a FAQ page or you routinely get the same questions over and over again, those questions may be expanded into an information product. More than a few companies have been able to take materials originally created for internal use (like a consultant’s guide to training new buyers) and, with a little adaptation, put it on the market.

If you’re already taking steps to market your business, you may not have to do much to separately promote any information products you decide to sell. That is, of course, provided that your information products are targeted towards the same audience that buys your physical products. If you decide to look for other markets — such as selling templates or internal tools you’ve created for running your business, your marketing efforts may have to grow to reach out to potential buyers who aren’t necessarily interested in the products you’re already selling online.

In general, focusing on what you’re already offering and augmenting it is the best way to move into creating and selling digital products. It’s not a perfect fit for every ecommerce website, but you may be surprised how easy it is to add information products to your line up.

Image by Flickr user Edans

5 Ways to Make Sure Your Customers’ Information is Safe

June 16th, 2010 :: Thursday Bram

Especially when you’re dealing with ecommerce, securing your customers’ information is absolutely crucial. If your buyers don’t think that they can trust you with sensitive details — like credit card numbers — they’ll take their business elsewhere. That means understanding how you can make that information safer is crucial.

  1. Understand ecommerce security: You don’t need to go out and get a degree in computer security, but having a general idea of what terms like ’128-bit SSL encryption’ means are crucial. Most of the tools you use in an ecommerce website have certain security measures built in and understanding what those measures are — and if they’re enough to reassure your customers — is an important step. You need to be able to discuss at least the basics of the steps you’ve taken to keep information safe.
  2. Limit physical access: One of the weak points in many business’ security measures is who has physical access to your computer and information about your clients. Even accidentally, someone can make a lot of information available if they’re messing around on your computer. Limit the people who have access to your computer, as well as your accounts online to those you truly know you can trust with your customers’ information.
  3. Evaluate your security regularly: Just because your security measures are top of the line today doesn’t mean that you don’t need to keep moving forward and improving — you can be that the other side is working hard to break existing system. Check up on the status of those tools and systems you rely on regularly to make sure they’re still the best option. If necessary, like when your business has grown significantly, it can be worthwhile to bring in a professional to evaluate how your security needs have changed.
  4. Respond to even the smallest problems: Small issues can be a sign of something bigger, especially in security. Keep an eye out for discrepancies in client information and respond to any issue (even the small ones) quickly. Such warning signs can help you avoid bigger problems down the road. Furthermore, notify your customers of such situations. It’s not impossible for them to notice discrepancies on their side and keeping them up to date will reassure your customers that you take such issues seriously.
  5. Explain what you’re doing in terms of security: Not only do you have to safeguard your customers’ information, but you have to tell them that you’re doing so. A basic shopping cart on your website that offers no explanation of what will be done with any information submitted through it can be scary for a customer, especially in these days of identity theft. Set out your privacy policy and explain what steps you’re taking to keep information safe. Don’t worry that explaining that you have security systems in place will make them more vulnerable to anyone trying to access this sort of information — if you’ve got good systems in place, just knowing what they are won’t help identity thieves.

Image by Flickr user Brad & Ying

5 Tips for Integrating Ecommerce into Your Blog Content

June 8th, 2010 :: Thursday Bram

A blog can be an effective way to sell products if you have an ecommerce store. You can provide readers with a reason to look at your products week after week, as well as convince them that your product is exactly the tool that they need. But promoting products through a blog must be handled carefully: if your blog is nothing but posts about how great your product is, not only won’t you make any sales, but it’s likely that you won’t have any readers, either. These tips will help you integrate your ecommerce efforts into your blog without scaring off your customers.

  1. Provide tutorials for your products: If you can show your prospective customers how to use your product to its fullest potential, along with some of the great results they can expect, you can avoid your posts looking like just another product example. Taking tutorials a step beyond and bringing in past customers to talk about their experiences using your products can provide social proof that your products are particularly useful.
  2. Write about specific problems: Your prospective customers have specific problems that your products (hopefully) will solve. Those problems can provide extensive topics for blog posts. You can write about how those problems can occur, the right mindset with which to tackle them and other information your audience will find useful. Then, at the end of such posts, you can give a quick mention tying in your products.
  3. Review relevant products: Go beyond your own products and discuss those tools and services that work will with what you’re offering. If, for instance, you’re selling pianos, you could review piano tuners, piano movers, piano teachers, sheet music and much more. You can also review the competition, but that can be a tricky proposition — you don’t want to look like your bashing the other guys, but you also don’t want your customers to think that the competition is actually better.
  4. Discuss the process behind the product: If you have a story about how you came to be in business, tell it to your customers. Put up profiles of the people involved in your company. Explain how you operate. Your customers want to know about what goes on behind the scenes — why you do the things you do. Give them that information and they’ll quickly come to feel like they know you.
  5. Explain problems: It’s a rare business where everything goes right every day. If something goes wrong, though, you shouldn’t try to ignore it. Instead, bring it out in the open on your blog and explain how you’re resolving the issue. You can actually come out ahead with a problem, provided that you can show your prospective clients that you take their concerns seriously and are willing to move heaven and earth to make sure that they’re happy.

There are plenty of other ways to discuss your products on a blog without overwhelming your readers, but these five approaches will offer plenty of variety in your posts, no matter what you’re selling online.

Image by Flickr user inju