Small businesses are vital to the domestic and global economy, but 58% of women-owned small business (SMB) owners cite growth as their top challenge based on a 2019 poll by the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO). Hiring, management, payroll, insurance, bills, marketing: SMBs have a lot on their plate running the business day-to-day. Finding opportunities to grow the business can be a daunting addition without expending crucial resources – and with the rise in online purchasing, local marketing efforts and a nearby customer base are not as relevant for growth.
According to the 2019 U.S. B2B Ecommerce Market Report, B2B e-commerce websites and online marketplaces increased their sales in 2018 to $1 trillion. For woman-owned businesses, a critical piece of the solution to growth is to leverage the right e-commerce tools.
Take Jacqueline Canny, CEO of Ultimation Industries – a material handling machinery and equipment company, for example. Jacqueline foresaw an opportunity to expand her e-commerce business by uploading her products and business certification to an online marketplace. She was ready when a customer had an immediate need to purchase a part for an emergency repair at a popular theme park. The customer was able to easily search for and locate the part needed and Ultimation was able to ship it out the same day.
Women-owned SMBs today can become more relevant and profitable by incorporating e-commerce into their business plans. Here are three considerations for women business owners searching for the right e-commerce partner.
Identify an e-commerce channel that prioritizes diversity certifications. As a women-owned SMB, being able to display diversity credentials on an e-commerce store sets them apart. Business customers, especially those in the public sector and at large corporations, often have policies that require a portion of their contracting spending to support SMBs with diversity credentials, such as woman-owned. An online store that allows customers to easily search by these filters allows them to find a woman-owned business to purchase from more easily.
For example, Patricia Sanford, founder of Alexander Perry, wanted to grow her customer base by pursuing public sector customers. She tried to attract these consumers through traditional sales and marketing channels, but it soon became too costly and time-consuming. Patricia soon discovered Amazon Business’ credentialed seller program as an avenue to engage with state and federal government agency customers. Displaying her woman and minority-owned business credentials made Patricia’s company more discoverable for government customers looking to buy from women-owned small businesses, and she’s been able to scale her growth without expending resources to improve discoverability with this audience.
Find an online store with a broad, built-in audience. Reaching new customers is one of the most difficult aspects of growing a small business. Rita Bonarrigo, founder and CEO of The Office Tex, a small, woman-owned business in Texas, wanted to promote her company with new customers, but had a limited budget for marketing and advertising. In 2018, she implemented an e-commerce business model with the capabilities to reach new customers in the US and abroad. “It was the equivalent of hiring several full-time sales people, but for far less money,” said Rita. “We effortlessly bridged the gap between our inventory and our suppliers, reaching tons of new global customers without having to get out there and knock on doors or launch a nationwide marketing campaign to find them.”
Leveraging an online store with an expansive, built-in audience helped The Office Tex reach larger business customers than it had been able to before. Today the company is able to scale to meet demand and can utilize new digital tools for future planned expansions into additional product categories.
Work with an e-commerce partner that can help you scale economically. While expanding customer reach is critical, scaling to meet new customer demand is just as important. For Jacqueline of Ultimation Industries, delivering new products and materials used to be cumbersome and time-consuming. Once she found the right e-commerce partner, that time was cut in half.
As new customers became familiar with the company’s products, Ultimation quickly learned what types of products their customers wanted and needed most. One example was a popular meal kit company that initially bought a small roller conveyor through Ultimation’s online storefront for one of its distribution centers. The company needed the conveyor quickly and was satisfied with the product and Ultimation’s service. Then they bought another one. Now, they are ordering customized conveyor systems directly from Ultimation. Knowing what the customer wanted enabled Ultimation to deliver faster service, while encouraging its customers to make larger purchases. Recently, Ultimation expanded its product line to include indoor vertical farming conveyors and food grade systems, and its online store continues to be a critical tool for growing that business.
Women-owned SMBs, like many small businesses, may start out at a disadvantage, but leveraging online stores can level the playing field. E-commerce stores help SMBs expand their customer reach and scale to meet growing demand, while enabling customers to meet their small business participation and diversity requirements. By matching small businesses with customers, technology accelerates the potential to build and grow across sectors.
Anne Rung is director of the public sector for Amazon Business and the former administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy.