By Sabrina Parsons
You did it. You established your online business and are making your dream a reality – an amazing feat that few can say they’ve accomplished. But before you celebrate, you’ll have to take a step back and create a plan that ensures you have the most grand, online opening. We live in a time where you can buy almost anything online so if you want to compete with e-commerce titans like Amazon or Jet, a focused strategy is a must. This means it’s time to close that door, turn off distractions, and get to work. Don’t have a formal office? Don’t worry! With Wi-Fi, focus, motivation, and the right playbook, you can grow just about any company from your home office. In fact, Jeff Bezos founded Amazon from his garage in Washington in 1994 and remote work capabilities have come a long way since then.
So how do you do an online opening right in 2017? In many ways, starting an online business is like starting a brick-and-mortar store. You’ll plan your business, produce your product, and get to work. But, there are unique aspects of running an online-only business that today’s entrepreneurs need to consider. The key here is understanding the differences between launching a digital company and the tried-and-true methods of grand opening at retail. To help, I’ve created an opening day checklist, which encompasses all the steps you need to take to get your online business ready for that big day, and finally open your doors (metaphorically speaking, of course).
Establish a business story, or value statement, that leaves a lasting impression
Before you open your business, you need to get your story straight. Now, the term “story” can be a little misleading – it’s just what sets your business apart, makes you unique, and creates the connection or curiosity factor to attract customers to check your business out. Maybe you started your business to solve a personal pain point that the industry wasn’t solving. Or, perhaps your story is about how you bootstrapped your core business by starting several side businesses – and never gave up on your dream, even in the face of adversity. Think of your story as the book jacket description of your company’s success story; it should be succinct, memorable, and deliverable in a few sentences or a short conversation.
Build a buzzworthy presence across social channels
Don’t wait until after your business has opened to start establishing your social media presence. Get in early and start building interest as soon as you can. Your social media channels are a great way to get in contact with the media and influencers in your market sector or locale; they’re also a great place for you personally to spread the word about your business’s grand opening. In an effort to start building these relationships, you can offer a first look by sending your products before you make them available for sale – or by more simply posting thoughtful comments and direct replies to their page. By connecting with local social media groups and personalities across LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram that align with your business, you can create a groundswell of buzz that will have people excited about your business before you even begin accepting orders.
Put your business to the test
Take a page out of the brick-and-mortar playbook. For retailers, a soft opening or a VIP night gives them the chance to work out the kinks, while also upping buzz around their business before it opens for the public. How do you do this with an online store? Consider opening your store to a select group of friends and family through an email only offer, or use a social media channel to invite a select few and see how your online commerce engine works. Can people get through the process? Do they actually buy, or drop out of the process at some point along the way? This type of “soft opening” will allow you to test the market, test your online commerce site, and collect customer feedback so that you can make necessary tweaks before your official launch. Trust me, the last thing you want to happen on day one is finding out your shopping cart feature isn’t working properly. By giving yourself the opportunity to fix any potential problems, you can guarantee yourself a seamless and successful launch.
Offer enticing sales or limited-time specials to early shoppers
Have a strategy in place for sales, discounts, or special promotions for your opening day. This could be in the form of taking a percentage off purchases, offering a free gift with purchases above a certain price point to celebrate the day, getting a special deal if you recommend or email your friends, and so on – the possibilities are endless! To keep the hype high following your grand opening, continue offering a special pricing structure or certain discounts for a week or so to encourage shoppers to visit your online store as soon as they can. However, when offering promotions, always make sure you protect your business. A good forecasting tool for online businesses – which can be found in web-based business planning applications like LivePlan or a session with your accountant – can help you consider and prepare for worst/best case scenarios, and make sure you understand your margins when offering deals and discounts. You don’t want to realize a few months into your venture that you are underwater for your sales and discounts. Plan your strategy, understand your forecast, and be fiscally smart.
Avoid the “reverse curse”
One final note: beware of attracting too many customers. Wait, what? While this can seem counterintuitive, it’s something to be aware of. Avoid the “reverse curse” by getting a sense beforehand of what your product stock looks like and how long it would take you to reorder, or what your booking prospects look like if you’re a service business. Be realistic with your customers, and with yourself, and you’ll avoid unhappiness on both ends. The best way to scare off customers is enticing them with a product that then is oversold or out of stock, and can’t be shipped for weeks or months. Your prospective customers won’t wait – they will move on and find another solution.
It’s no doubt that the idea of finally opening your business is both exciting and terrifying, but equipping yourself with a solid opening strategy is your key to making your first day unforgettable. Let’s not forget the popular adage that’s often attributed to Benjamin Franklin, failing to plan is planning to fail. Make sure you’ve got a solid strategy, and strategic forecast for your business in place, a great website, and have dotted all your i’s and crossed your t’s before you open sales. Starting an online business is a great opportunity for today’s entrepreneurs, with no physical restrictions, access to a worldwide market, and relatively low overhead costs, the payout on your investment can be tremendous. Good luck!
Sabrina Parsons is CEO of Palo Alto Software, developer of the best-selling business management software, LivePlan. Palo Alto Software develops software and tools specifically targeted for entrepreneurs and small-business owners. Sabrina assumed the CEO role in May 2007 and is responsible for Palo Alto’s business planning, fiscal and strategic goals and all of the company’s traditional marketing. She is a graduate of Princeton University.