How to start and grow a business online - 17 tips

Taking your business online can seem daunting on top of the day-to-day running of your business. To bring you the most practical tips, we spoke to three people who live and breathe the challenges and opportunities of ecommerce. Have a read, then call us on 08000294864* to discuss your options when it comes to ecommerce payment systems.

 Start a business online

Practical tips for taking and growing your business online, from:

  • Tricia Stirling - a small business owner who did it in lockdown
  • Konrad Kelling - Managing Director of Barclaycard Business Payment Acceptance
  • James Rix – the CEO of an online marketing agency
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  • “When we closed at first, it was a real shock and revenue pretty much hit rock bottom. We didn’t have an online store.”
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  • Tricia Stirling, owner of Vanity Fair Scotland Ltd, a fashion and footwear retailer, faced a steep learning curve when her bricks and mortar stores were forced to shut due to lockdown.
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  • “When the money ran out, I had four shut shops full of new season stock. We went from being a buoyant company to having no means of income. I had a 10-strong team who were relying on me to keep their jobs. I didn’t want to lose any of them. I knew customer spending habits were changing and that I had to do something very quickly to save my business. I knew straight away that I had to get online.”
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  • But, in her own words, she didn’t know where to start. Talking to Konrad Kelling, Managing Director of Barclaycard Business Payment Acceptance, Tricia explained how she went about taking her business online.
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  • “I knew if I was doing it, I wanted to do it really professionally. Niall from Barclaycard Business was recommended to me and as soon as I spoke to him, I trusted him. So that meant I didn’t have to worry about how to accept payments, or any of the legislation or technical integration.”

I desperately needed to get online quickly. That was a no brainer. But I feared the legislation. So, my main focus was working with experts.

Tricia Stirling, owner of Vanity Fair Scotland Ltd

“It’s amazing the impact the pandemic has had on business models. But also of course on customer and consumer behaviour.” So said Konrad Kelling, who speaks to independent businesses like Tricia’s every day. 

Take Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the festive peak trading season as a potential benefit of taking your business online. Tricia doesn’t normally take part in Black Friday, but now she’s got an ecommerce website, she knows she’s ready to get involved and change her mind at the last minute if she needs to.

Konrad says the key is to be prepared: “We see increasing number of consumers looking to Black Friday, not necessarily the day itself but as the prelude to Christmas. So, for every retailer, be they online or face to face, the advice I would give is have your stock ready, finesse your customer payment journey, and look for ways to maximise sales during a Christmas season that’ll likely start sooner and therefore go on longer.”

“And that ability to focus on your customers is absolutely key for you as you look to navigate your business in fast-changing environments.”

Tricia couldn’t agree more. In fact, knowing who your customers are and who you’d like them to be is one of her top tips for any business looking at how to start selling online

Tricia’s four top tips for taking your business online

  1. Do a proper job, not a rush job. It’s got to be done professionally in my view, so that your existing customers trust you because they know your business is secure. If I’m buying online, I need to know that that business has covered all the legislation and that my money’s safe. Barclaycard really helped me with that side of things.
  2. Use the experts. They’ll ensure you’ve got a legal and robust business in place, so that you can concentrate on the day-to-day running.
  3. Search for unused skills in your own team. It’s very rewarding online but also very time consuming. My business has adapted in the sense that I’ve recognised skills within my team that I didn’t realise were there. You can’t do it by yourself.
  4. Have realistic goals. It’ll take time to invest in and grow your online business, it won’t happen overnight.  

She sums up the power of a great website and ecommerce marketing strategy for her:

“Some shoppers don’t like being online. However, having the website is a great tool because they’ll go and look at it and they’ll come into the shop with a list of things they would like to try. So, you’re still engaging with them. They’re still coming into the shop and you’ve got an opportunity for them to purchase from you, even though they may not do it online until they gain some confidence.”

James Rix, owner and co-founder of modern-day marketing agency Crowdify Global, agrees.

“The primary objective is to win customers online and I’d start there and work backwards.”

James’ other top tips include:

  1. Consider selling directly to consumers online. In the six months after lockdown, we took 30 brands online. A lot of that is well-known brands who you’d be very surprised to hear weren’t selling directly to customers. And as shops, gyms and beauty salons shut, they needed a way to go direct to customers online, and they came to us. Some have already seen astronomical growth.
  2. Unlock a much further reach than with a physical store. It’s great to target your existing and local customers at first. But you can quickly reach further using things like lookalike audiences (don’t worry if you don’t know what that means, your digital marketing agency will help you) that are available through social media.
  3. Humanise your brand online to replicate face-to-face interaction. It shouldn’t always be about flashy adverts and well-edited images. You want to include behind the scenes content, content shot on phones, not overly edited, not overly practiced, real images, especially in your organic (not ads) content. See our social media guide for more information.
  4. Use the power of digital analytics. I can sit down with you and show you a customer journey. I can tell you how old these people are and where they live. I can show you people going to baskets and not purchasing, or your second product outselling your first product and why that’s happening.
  5. Work with experts. To give yourself the time and headspace to work on your business, use experts who can do the heavy lifting on things like building your website, setting up your analytics and integrating a payment gateway. For example, working with someone like Barclaycard for online payment systems is easy and reliable, which is what you need for an ecommerce website.
  6. Don’t let ‘designer ego’ get in the way. Pick a good designer who will drop the ego of the design and listen to your story or journey, because that’s what sells a business.
  7. Don’t try and launch everything at once. And make sure you test everything. It can be really frustrating for business owners because it means you have to have some budget that you’re willing to lose in order to get to a place where you’re winning all the time.
  8. Treat your website like a physical store. When you open a store, or when you open something physical, you have to invest in it before it’s opened.

The power of communication has never been more important. Work with partners who can help you know your customers and how to give them what they need

Konrad Kelling, Managing Director, Barclaycard Business Payment Acceptance

And Konrad believes there are five things that are valuable for all types of businesses looking to adapt by going online:

  1. Know your customer. It’s critically important that you know who your customer is or who you want it to be.
  2. Focus. The courage sometimes to say no, whether that’s to website designs you don’t like, or to side projects that you’re tempted by.
  3. Be disciplined. So you can say, ‘I know my customer’, ‘I’m going to focus’, and ‘I’ve got the discipline to follow that through and maybe avoid chasing the next thing’.
  4. Look out for and capitalise on trends. I think we’ll see a trend of customers looking for face-to-face time, but as things perhaps return to some sort of normality that they’ll stay loyal online, too.
  5. Make sure people know who’s behind the brand. One of the things I’ve seen, leading a business that serves and supports SMEs is the power of storytelling. Not only do people typically want to know the story behind the brand and products, but people typically want to support local business too.

What we see at Barclaycard Business is that consumers increasingly want to understand the business they’re interacting with or buying from. The power of social media is that it allows business owners to tell their story, which is arguably more important than it has ever been when it comes to taking a business online successfully. That and the right online payment gateway, of course. 

 Start a business online

Looking at how to start selling online?

Adapting your business to fit changing customer needs and the landscape for your sector can be easier when you work with experts. Call 08000294864* and talk to us about how to choose an ecommerce partner and the right online payment system for your business.