As part of the SC WIN Scale-Up Support series, we asked Melissa Shannon, our Global Head of Digital Sales and Marketing, to share her best practices for growing your business through an online marketplace.
Why should SMEs use an online marketplace?
With COVID-19 driving us all to spend even more time online, business owners are realising that having a digital marketplace to transact and sell their products and services has become essential.
An online marketplace allows you to personalise customer experiences and automate communications at scale, reaching a larger pool of customers.
What are the essential steps for business owners getting started on an online marketplace?
Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Do your research and tap into industry best practice, peers or internet searching to find out what are the best modular and scalable platforms and processes to support your business goals.
Shopify, for example, is a platform that enables you to create an e-commerce engine and shopfront without requiring you to create the infrastructure yourself. Likewise, Etsy is an excellent marketplace for new business owners with a product to sell who want to reach a large audience yet are only starting out.
Learn how other businesses have done it and why it worked well, account for any risks it could pose, and then find a way to bring it into your business plan if it works for you.
With limited resources, what should SMEs prioritise when marketing their online business?
Understand your unique value proposition - what are the products or services that are truly different, where is there a growing need, where can you make the most money from or deliver the biggest impact.
Once you get that right, you can then scale up further. When there’s a proven business model with a good client experience, it will be easy to establish a clientele that’s fairly loyal.
Using smart marketing techniques and technologies, you can attract relevant, high-value prospective customers, and nudge existing customers to try new products and services as you bring them to the market.
You should also make sure you are investing wisely on digital paid media. Optimise your natural search rankings to maximise free traffic and minimise wastage on advertisement spend. What’s more, consider how your audience likes to be engaged, and when is the best time of the day and day of the week to reach them. Make sure you stop advertising to them once the consumer has purchased your goods and services, as there is nothing more annoying than having the thing you just bought constantly following you around the internet.
How can business owners take their businesses to the next level?
Once the fundamentals are in place, innovation is necessary to take your business to the next level. You need to test new ideas and see if it works. You need to constantly look for new audiences. Think about new ways to attract and inspire consumers. Then find a way to service them well, so they remain loyal. You start small and if it’s successful, get everyone behind it to make it part of your daily operation.
What is your advice to women business owners?
Have fun! It may not be a simple journey, but the only way a business can thrive is if people enjoy the work they do. Engaged people will be brave enough to challenge conventional wisdom, innovate and inject new ideas and thinking to take your business where it needs to go.
In times of uncertainty, ride out the short-term challenges and focus on the customer. Nurture them to find out what they want and need at that point in time and deliver it.
What are the key things women should think about as they lead their business?
Growing and expanding an online business is no easy task, especially for business owners who are new to the digital world. Women entrepreneurs, in particular, face unique challenges as they try to get their businesses off the ground.
While there is so much work being done towards achieving true meritocracy, in reality, the gender gap still exists. We live in a world where unconscious bias is hard to shake, so women need to work harder to earn their rightful spot. As a result, women run the risk of being afflicted by impostor syndrome, where they feel that perhaps they don’t deserve the achievements that they have. But do remember what you bring to the table and be confident! A good idea can come from anywhere, regardless of gender. We are all equal, and all play a role in driving change.
What is something that business owners need to remember as they embark on their journey?
Your partners and staff need to be onboard and understand the north star – what are you trying to achieve and what are the steps for getting there. Then, make sure that the way you operate day-to-day helps you work towards that goal and make progress trackable.
If everyone is just focused on doing their own jobs and you are not bringing them together to an aligned narrative around what they are trying to achieve, it’s difficult to move the needle. Likewise, be willing to stop doing certain things to make space for work that is truly accretive. Understand what success look like and have everybody work towards that.