A 21st century business owner doesn’t necessarily need a building to set up shop. Instead, some choose to do business through virtual storefronts.
Take two Fort Worth businesses, The Chef Shelf and Fox Hollow Design Co., for example. The Chef Shelf sells specialty foods from chefs and restaurants, while Fox Hollow Design Co. sells hand-painted home decor depicting animals and scenes of country life. Both retailers sell products entirely online.
Whether the business is entirely online or has a brick and mortar location, having an online presence is becoming more important in marketing to today’s shoppers, said Price Glomski, executive vice president of integration at digital marketing agency PMG. Based in Fort Worth, PMG handles online advertising and marketing for clients such as Beats by Dre, J. Crew and Adidas.
“People are absolutely shopping in store,” Glomski said. “But the front end of that purchase is typically starting to be researched on a device or on desktop. Having that relevancy, having exposure online, especially for a local or a small business, is extremely important.”
The challenge of selling online is competing with the vast market of Internet retailers selling similar products, he said.
However, there are a few tricks to running a successful online business without breaking the budget. Glomski, Fox Hollow Design Co. owner Tabitha Schmitt and The Chef Shelf founder and CEO Tanner Agar shared their tips with Fort Worth Business.
1. Build a website … using another website.
Paying a web developer to create a website can cost thousands of dollars, Glomski said, so a better option would be to use a host site such as Squarespace to create a business’s website. Squarespace allows users to choose from a catalogue of website templates specifically designed for retail. Users can then customize the website and add products to sell. The price to run a company website through Squarespace starts at $26 a month.
A similar website is Shopify, which Agar uses to host his company’s website, TheChefShelf.com. Starting an online store with Shopify starts at $29 a month.
Businesses can also sell through online markets such as Etsy, which Schmitt uses for Fox Hollow Design Co. Rather than setting up a full website, users can set up a page that lists the company’s products for sale. Starting an Etsy account is free, but there’s a 20-cent fee to list the item on the page, as well as some additional fees once the item sells.
2. Use online analytics.
Once the website is up and running, a business then needs to focus on analytics to see how the audience is interacting with the website, Glomski said.
Online analytics give businesses an idea of how many people are visiting the website, how people are finding the website, what search keywords people are using to find a particular product and other statistics.
Squarespace, Shopify and Etsy already have analytics built in. Google also has its own analytics site, Google Analytics, which is free to use.
3. Be social with a purpose.
Social media is another crucial element for online marketing, Glomski said, but it has to be used strategically.
Schmitt, whose company Instagram page has over 3,000 followers, has a schedule for when to post, how often to post and what to post. Schmitt said she has discovered that 11 a.m. is one of the best times to put something on Instagram.
“Right before lunch, when people are getting antsy, looking on their phones, that’s a really good time for me that I’ve noticed,” she said. “Any earlier, if I do it really early in the morning, it gets lost in people’s feeds. If you do it later, people are in the throes of their day so that really isn’t a good time. When people are on their lunch break, they usually flip through Instagram.”
4. Connect with customers.
One issue with having an Internet store is not being able to personally interact with customers, which is why it’s important for businesses to make an extra effort to connect with their buyers, albeit virtually, Agar said.
Ways to build that relationship include giving customers the ability to directly contact the store owner or sending a follow-up email telling the customer “thank you” for the purchase, Glomski said.
Schmitt said she also makes an effort to answer everyone who contacts her on Instagram.
“A big piece of using Instagram as a marketing tool and as a tool for sales is the importance of engaging with my viewers and engaging with my audience,” she said. “Without engagement, there’s really no point to it.”
5. Set aside a small sum specifically for online advertising.
Glomski said the companies that do the best online are the ones that are willing to spend some money on online advertising – and it doesn’t have to be a large sum.
Small businesses, especially, can do well advertising on Facebook with a $500 advertising budget, he said.
Because there is so much personal content on Facebook, Facebook has the ability to target specific audiences that may be interested in a certain product, which is a more effective way to advertise, Glomski said.
For businesses with larger budgets, Glomski said, investing in paid search is another option. Paid search allows a business’ advertisement to appear at the top of a Google search, ahead of other search results, when someone searches for a product.
However, buying search terms can be expensive, especially if larger businesses are investing in the same term. Businesses need to be strategic in what search terms to buy and consider buying terms that are specific rather than broad, Glomski said. Using analytics can help determine which search terms are most effective.
He also recommends hiring someone who specializes in online marketing to help run the virtual side of the business.
But no matter what strategy a business uses for selling online, Agar said, the key is to be patient.
“If you are consistent with creating quality content, with delivering a great customer experience, with taking care of your customers after they buy from you, it may be steady, but it will be strong growth,” he said.
About The Chef Shelf
The Chef Shelf sells chef- and restaurant-branded food products, from special sauces to do-it-yourself cheese kits. The company also does personal consulting for chefs looking to take their products to the market.
Founder and CEO Tanner Agar started the business about two years ago as an undergraduate at Texas Christian University. Today, The Chef Shelf’s online sales have grown eight times over last year’s, not including sales from this Christmas. Agar said the company is selling the retail side of the business but terms of the sale have not been finalized.
About Fox Hollow Design Co.
Fox Hollow Design Co. founder Tabitha Schmitt quit her job as a speech pathologist to pursue her true passion – art. In March, she launched her business on Etsy, selling art, calendars and other home decor hand-painted in the “modern farmhouse” style. She also showcased her work at Dallas flea market, The Dallas Flea.
With the help of her husband, an account supervisor for digital advertising agency PMG, she built a following and generated a steady income from the business within a few months. She hopes to sell larger works of art through her website, TabithaPaige.com, which is still under construction.