Reaching an audience online requires clever use of internet marketing techniques. And keeping that audience satisfied means you must pay careful attention to factors like delivery, logistics and payment processing.
Previously we examined the basic steps required to set up an internet business. Here, we take a look at the planning that is required in order to make that enterprise succeed.
Remember the back end
Before you sell a single product online, you need to make sure you have the support in place to take payments and deliver goods with ease.
“If you are serious about shipping an online product you have to plan to put in a proper payments system,” says Fergal O’Byrne, chief executive of the Irish Internet Association (IIA). “You have to decide which payments provider is best for you. They can help you set up a system on your webpage.”
Firms like Irish business Realex Payments can help you get started in setting up payments procedures. There are several steps you may need to go through, such as setting up a merchant account. “When considering selling online, merchants need to talk to their bank to apply for a merchant service agreement,” says Colm Lyon, chief executive of Realex.
Lyon says businesses also need to consider issues such as fraud and payment protection when starting an online shop. “Fraud is an issue that must be managed on an ongoing basis. Merchants should implement a review of their transactions for [unusual] patterns, study any fraud that has occurred in the past and use this to update the rules and processes you have in place to detect fraud,” he says.
On top of managing payments, businesses need to look at how they store goods and deliver them to customers. “If you are selling physical products there are offline logistics that have to come into play. You have to make sure the physical products are available and that you can manage the transport,” says O’Byrne. “This is something that has caught out a few start-ups who didn’t realise the work needed to actually store products.”
Cork-based clothing firm Puddleducks.ie had just such an experience when it first started out, being overwhelmed by the amount of storage space needed for products. “The stock took over our house,” says Aedan Ryan, director of Puddleducks.ie. “We’re looking at developing an extension to better manage it.”
Once you are in a position to manage order fulfilment, you need to find a way to reach your target market. Start by putting yourself in your customer’s place.
“Get five blank pieces of paper and write what you would want from your website if you were your customer,” says O’Byrne. “Set it out from day one; phase out a plan so you can add on other applications later on.”
There are simple and cost-effective ways to reach your market through the web. Some of these require little monetary investment. “There are good basic search engine optimisation (SEO) techniques you can do that only involve your time,” says O’Byrne.
He says firms should look at a broad range of internet marketing tools to find the best combination that works for them. “You don’t have to be technical to set up a strong marketing strategy online. You can do it pretty handily if you invest the time and effort,” says O’Byrne. “Look at things like pay-per-click advertising, email marketing and social networking. It’s also worth considering the strategy of social network marketing or bolting on a business blog to your website.”
Puddleducks.ie is one such business that has succeeded in large part due to its use of social media marketing. Ryan says the firm has used its blog and other social networking tools, such as Facebook and Twitter, to reach out and cultivate an audience online.
One of the major attractions of going online is the opportunity to find a market further afield. Any Irish SME looking to use its website to expand beyond the local market needs to understand the needs of overseas customers.
The competition from native businesses in foreign markets poses a strong challenge for Irish firms. “Imagine you are a French consumer and you are looking for a particular product. There’s a likelihood that there is already a French version available online,” says Mark Rodgers, managing director of translation services firm Cipherion. Rodgers works with the IIA on its International Strategy Working Group.
Rodgers says that for Irish businesses to overcome this barrier, they should look to make life as easy as possible for consumers when they visit a firm’s website. “If you are not speaking their language then you are not doing a very good job of convincing customers. When the customer doesn’t speak English as their native language, it doesn’t make sense not to translate,” he says. “The easiest way to sell to people is to make it easy for the customer. If all your content is translated then it is easy for them.”
Full translation may be beyond the budgets of many Irish SMEs. There are, however, steps that can be taken for businesses seeking a more affordable means of reaching clients overseas. “You can put up Google ads in the local language or you can put up a homepage or two pages in the [target] language to increase awareness of who you are or what your products are,” says Rodgers. “The amount you spend has to match your budget.”
This is particularly critical to any plan to market your business overseas. German, Italian and Spanish companies will have native marketing teams developing their websites. Irish SMEs need to examine whether they can invest the resources required to compete with such firms. If businesses spend the time and money required on adapting a website for foreign markets, then they will reap the rewards in the long run.
“There is an element of ‘ah sure we don’t need to do this’. [But] if you get the mindset right, you’ll be better placed to succeed,” says Rodgers.
This article originally appeared in the eBusiness Live newsletter from Enterprise Ireland’s eMarketing Unit and was written by ENNclick.