Building a Profitable Online Business: 3 Mistakes to Avoid

When you’re first starting out selling online, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and confused. With so many “gurus” offering advice, what should you be focusing on first? Sometimes it helps to know which things you shouldn’t be doing, as much as the things that you should. So if building a profitable online business is high on your list of priorities (as opposed to any old online business), here are 3 mistakes to avoid. Don’t think these points only apply to newbies either…..we’ve seen plenty of established businesses making these!

Some mistakes are easier to avoid than others....

Some mistakes are easier to avoid than others….

Trying to do it all
Facebook. Twitter. LinkedIn. YouTube. Google Plus. Tumblr. Vimeo……despite what social media experts would have you believe, you don’t have to be on every social network under the sun. In fact, being on every single social network is probably a bad idea! If you want to build a profitable business online, there’s no point in spreading your resources too thin. Work out where your customers are hanging out, and engage with them on the social networks they’re actually using.

Not following up
So you’ve got Google Analytics installed on your website…..but are you actually using it to follow-up? Do you know how effective your online marketing activities are? Which social networks are driving traffic? Which channels are actually driving sales? If you’re not constantly evaluating your marketing activities against the amount of time and budget your team is spending on them, you’re probably leaving money on the table. In fact, you’re likely throwing money down the drain! Make one person in your team accountable for using, and taking action on Google Analytics. Data without insight is pointless, and insight without action is even worse.

Skimping on Content
You’ve heard it a thousand times before, but when it comes to search engine optimisation….content is king. So forget about tinkering with your website’s meta descriptions and fiddling with meta keywords. If you want to start gaining traction in the search engines and getting more traffic from Google, work out which keywords your prospects are searching for, and find (legitimate) ways to include them in your website content. Product descriptions, buyers’ guides, category pages, blog articles….these all present lots of great opportunities. So do some keyword analysis, plan out your content, and start optimising that lovely content for SEO!

What mistakes have you made since starting your online business? Do you recognise any of the above, or have you others to add? Let us know by tweeting us @icept_tweets, or drop us an email.

Want More Time to Spend on the Things That Count?

Here at iCEPT, we’re a bit obsessive about helping customers be more productive and save time. Everything about our e-commerce platform is designed around that goal, and we’re constantly trying to think of ways to be more efficient in our own business too. Could you and your team use more time to spend on the things that count? If so, here are some tips based on things we’ve tried-out over the past few months:

1. Track your Time 

Need more time? Try these tips

Need more time? Try these tips

To get clear on how you are spending your time, start a time log. Put a reminder in your calendar or phone, and make a note of how you’ve spent each hour of the day. For example – did you spend the last hour in a meeting? Talking to a supplier? Answering emails?  

Try keep a note of any times you were distracted away from whatever it is you were working on. At the end of the day write down all the major tasks that you accomplished. Plus any you didn’t manage to get finished (or maybe didn’t start). Look over your list at the end of the week, and you’ll get a clear idea of what needs to change. Once you get into the habit of measuring how you’re spending your time and what you’re getting done, it’s hard not to start being more effective and productive at work!

2. Talk to your Team

If you want your team to become more productive (as well as happier, more engaged employees!), the best thing to do is talk to them. Explain that you’re looking for ways to help them spend more time on the things that add value to your business, and get rid of time-wasting tasks.  They’ll almost certainly have a long list of suggestions of things that you wouldn’t have even thought of, especially if you don’t have hands-on experience of their day-to-day job. Typical complaints from e-commerce and website teams include time spent waiting for products and pages to load on website backends, re-keying data from order management systems, and time spent searching for customer details on clunky CRMs. Our customers have saved hundreds of hours each month by using a central tool like the iCEPT e-commerce platform to manage their online business in one place – just imagine what difference that kind of saving could make to your business?

3. Have Less Meetings

Nearly all of us spend far too much time in meetings! Could you cut down on the number of meetings you have, perhaps by being more efficient with email or (even better) using a collaboration tool like Campfire or Asana? Could you make the meetings you do have shorter and more productive, for example by circulating an agenda and objectives in advance?

4. Eliminate Distractions 

Most of us work in open-plan offices these days, which is great for communicating and sharing ideas. But the downside of a vibrant, busy office environment is that getting on with work that demands concentration and focus can be a complete pain. If focused work is important to you or your team, agree on a signal you can use when you want “do not disturb” time. Headphones is always a good one (whether you’re actually listening to music or not), or placing something symbolic on your desk.

5. Eradicate Email

OK so you probably can’t get rid of email altogether (wouldn’t that be nice?!) But if your inbox is groaning under the weight of too many emails, it’s time to make a change. Not only is time spent reading emails dead time, but having hundreds of unread emails in your inbox can leave you feeling stressed and anxious too. Again, a collaboration tool  or ticketing system can drastically reduce the amount of time you spend reading and answering email as a team. An informal training session on email best practice could be a good idea too – try reading this Email Etiquette for the Super Busy post for some top tips. Lastly – answering each email as it lands in your inbox is distracting and leads to wasted time. So try batching your emails and doing it twice or three times a day.

Do you have any tips or tricks of your own to share? If so, let us know! Tweet us @icept_Tweets or drop us an email - we’d love to hear from you.

Photo Credit: Peter Hellberg via Compfight cc


How to Write Great Product Descriptions for your eCommerce Website

Writing product descriptions can be a bit of a chore. But if you want to convert browsers into buyers and keep the Google Gods happy, fresh and original product descriptions are the order of the daySo we’ve put a few suggestions together to help you and your team write great product descriptions for your e-commerce website. Not only will they make writing compelling copy easier, but implement these suggestions and you’ll see sales start to increase too.

1. Describe benefits, not just features 

We Brits are often so scared of coming across as “pushy” that we go too far in the opposite direction and don’t try to sell at all. Now of course we’re not going to advocate going down the used car salesman route. But dry, un-inspiring product descriptions aren’t doing you or your customers any favours.

In the words of legendary ad man David Ogilvy:

The more informative your advertising, the more persuasive it will be

What does this mean? It means you need to describe the benefits of your products and not just the features. Measurements, materials, specifications and styles are all important information for you to include. But don’t miss the opportunity to engage potential customers and paint a picture in their minds.

Would your organic cotton dress be great for wearing over leggings on chilly days as well as on sunny days in the park? Could it easily be dressed-up with a pair of heels, or dressed-down with casual flats? Will it become a summer holiday must-have thanks to its crease-free credentials, or indispensable throw-on for mornings on the school run?

These are the sort of details that will turn browsers into buyers, create a connection with your brand, and have customers salivating with excitement as they wait for the postman to arrive.

2. Why should browsers buy this product from your  website? 

Your Snuggly Soft Fair Trade Hoodie might be an exclusive product that’s not available anywhere else online. But the browser visiting your website could spend the £40 she’s ear-marked for a pay day treat on a totally product on another website instead.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that because you are the only website that offers a specific item, your customers’ don’t have a choice of other places they could be spending their money right now. They do.

So why should browsers buy from you? What does your company offer that is going to make the shopping experience a complete no-brainer for them?

Can an alpaca help you write great product descriptions for your e-commerce website?

How can Alpacas help you write great product descriptions for your e-commerce website? Answers on a postcard please….

Do you offer a range of delivery options to ensure little Johnnie’s present will get there in time for his birthday? Easy, un-complicated returns? Free shipping on their first purchase? Are you the only shop in Europe licensed to sell limited edition cardigans  knitted by rare breed Alpacas in a remote area of Peru?!

Think about what is going through your customers’ minds in those moments before they hit “add to cart”. What buttons do you need to press? Work out what information customers are going to be looking for, and make it ridiculously easy to find. If that means including additional information in your product descriptions – do it. Just don’t make them hunt around.

Internet shoppers have short attention spans and limited patience – you didn’t need us to tell you that, did you?!

3. Understand your customers and what makes them tick

Of course, all the above will be a lot easier if you have a clear idea of who your target customer is. If your current definition of your target market is something like “women aged between 25 and 55 who like fashion” – sorry, that’s far too vague. Yes there will be some overlap between different niches and market segments and you may think your brand has universal appeal. But unless you have some kind of understanding of your target customers and what their day-to-day life is actually like, you’re going to find it hard to write product descriptions that hit the spot.

Luckily, finding out about your target customers is a lot easier now we have social media to help.

Make a start by looking at who is already engaging with your brand on social media – what information can you glean? Are they mostly middle-aged mums, or sophisticated socialites? Use your Facebook insights to see who has liked your page, and what attributes they share. Who has commented on your blog? What can you learn from product reviews customers have left on your website? Are they more concerned with the ethical provenance of your products, or your fast delivery and amazing customer service team? What type of language do they use?

Once you start doing this, you’ll have a better idea of the types of the features and benefits you should be highlighting in your product descriptions, as well as elsewhere on your site.  By echoing your customers’ language and tone in your copy, you’ll build a stronger connection prior to purchase and increase the chances of them buying from you.

4. Don’t use duplicate content

Having duplicate content on your website is a big no-no when it comes to SEO. So if you want your product pages to rank well in search engines, don’t use manufacturer or supplier product descriptions without re-writing them first. Although this might seem like a bit of a pain, the time spent re-writing your product descriptions will have two important benefits:

- Search engines will perceive the copy as being unique (and so won’t penalise your website for having duplicate copy)

- Potential customers will connect with your descriptions as they have been written with them in mind (leading to more sales)

Of course this doesn’t apply to industry standards like product codes, technical specifications and manufacturer model numbers. Customers want to compare like for like, and know exactly what they are buying. But the bulk of the product description should be written with your customer in mind (see 1, 2 and 3 above!).

5. Do your research 

If you’re not doing this already, spend some time researching and reviewing the keywords and phrases you include in your product names and descriptions. Because it’s all well and good coming up with clever and creative product names – but if you’re using words that aren’t used by your customers – you’ll be missing out on sales.

Why? Because customers’ don’t search for words they don’t use themselves. Not on your website, and not on search engines either.

Use tools like Google’s Keyword Tool to see how many people are looking for specific words and phrases, and try to incorporate them in your product descriptions. Don’t be tempted to go overboard though. Over-the-top keyword craziness will look spammy to humans, and lead to penalties from search engines too. Just use your judgement and keep your customers in mind.

Do you have any tips or tricks to share when it comes to writing product descriptions for your e-commerce website? If so, we’d love to hear them! Tweet us @iCEPT_tweets or drop us a line on G+.


5 Signs You Need a New eCommerce Website

Most of our customers have had another website before moving to iCEPT. That’s not to say we don’t work with start-ups or shops who are new to selling online (we do – Twist Kids and Lucy & Sam are two recent examples of these). But over the years we have worked with a lot of customers who have decided to switch from another e-commerce provider to iCEPT.

As you’d imagine, we tend to learn a lot about their reasons for moving during the sales process. Most of them are simply looking to ramp-up their online operations, and want an e-commerce provider who can grow with them over time. Others have told us they’ve had enough of battling with a “free” open source website like Magento or ZenCart, and never want to see another line of code again!

We thought we’d pass on some of this knowledge in a handy little list post, in case its handy for you too. If you’ve got an inkling you might be due for move, here are 5 signs you need a new e-commerce website:

1. Your website keeps letting you down

How many times are you willing to say “sorry” to your customers? What about partners, investors, bloggers and journalists?Apologising is all well and good. But you can’t buy back your reputation (or sales) when a peak in traffic means your website grinds to a halt.  Not only does a slow website cause your customers pain, but Google will penalise you for slow page load speeds too. Outgrowing your website might be a nice problem to have, but it’s one that needs to be fixed – fast.

2. It isn’t doing what you want it to do

Don’t blame your website.  It was probably perfect when all you wanted was for customers to browse your catalogue online. But now your needs have changed, and you want to actually sell your products online. Whatever your business aim is right now, every element of your website should be designed with that goal in mind. Yes you can tweak, primp, add bits on and move things around. But how much time and money are you willing to spend pushing water uphill? If you want an e-commerce website that will convert browsers into buyers, you need a website that is built from the ground up with that specific goal in mind.

3. You’re being penalised for success 

We see this happening all the time, and it makes our blood boil! What happens when sales are good and you have a particularly good month? You get hit with a higher website bill! Transaction charges, bandwidth fees and storage limits are all well and good when you’re just starting out. But how can you accurately forecast costs and try out new promotions if you’re worrying about additional costs? At iCEPT we have just one monthly charge, with no usage limits or hidden fees. Because we want to help our customers get more visitors and sales, not less!

4. Staff are complaining 

If staff are complaining about updating your website, listen and take a closer look. How much time does it make them to make basic changes like adding products or changing over promotions? A slow and clunky admin system doesn’t just waste time, it wastes your money and zaps goodwill. Would you rather your team were spending their time on projects that add value and interest them? Or struggling with technology that makes life difficult?

5. Your systems aren’t talking to each other 

Perhaps you’re re-typing orders and entering them into your customer database. Or using spreadsheets to keep on top of different areas of your business. We’ve all been there, so there’s no shame in that! But when you really want to take things up a gear, you need your systems to be working together like a well-oiled machine. iCEPT includes everything you need to manage your entire online business through one interface, and we also integrate with third parties such as Sage, Shutl, PayPal and SAP. Customers tell us this helps them be more efficient and transparent. And we’re pretty happy with that….

Do you recognise any of the tell-tale signs above? Or perhaps you have some insight of your own to add? We’d love to hear from you if so – drop us a line by emailing, or tweet us @icept.

Welcome to our new blog…

Hello! Thank you for popping over to the iCEPT blog and to our first ever post :-) We’ve been making e-commerce websites for our clients for more than seven years now, so you might be wondering why this is our first foray into the blogosphere! If so, here’s a brief explanation and some company history for you:

iCEPT is the sister company of Inventive Consultants, a networking and IT support company based in South London. We started developing the iCEPT e-commerce platform in 2004 in response to requests from clients….and things have grown pretty organically since then. We’ve been continually developing the platform and new clients have been coming to us via referrals or word of mouth – which is obviously a very nice position to be in!

This year we decided we’ve been hiding away for far too long, and want to help more businesses discover the iCEPT e-commerce platform. We’ve had fantastic feedback from clients such as People Tree, Mantis World and Twist Kids….we’re really proud of the solution we’ve created and the results it gets for clients, so why not share it with everyone? With that in mind we’ve given the iCEPT website a complete overhaul, and put together a strategic marketing plan. And that is where this blog fits in.

We’ll be sharing e-commerce advice, news, and some behind the scenes stuff from iCEPT HQ. One of the things we hope to do with the blog is help you get to know us – and us you. We’d love for you to drop us a line if there is anything you’d like us to cover on the blog or just to say hello. You can tweet us, or follow us on Google+ / LinkedIn.