This is a guest post by Paul Hanna, the director of White Flag - a design, development & marketing studio in Sydney, Australia.

E-Commerce is a rapidly growing and exciting industry.  With so many available platforms to work with you can have a store up and running in no time.  It’s turned the internet into an incredibly eclectic marketplace for just about anything you can imagine.  I love it.

In my years of building websites and talking ‘new businesses’ with people, I’ve noticed a common misconception: “If I build the site, the orders will come”.  Unlike Kevin Costner in ‘Field of Dreams’, things won’t magically happen for you.  Unfortunately, this isn’t really the case.  You may have a brilliant product and you may have an amazing online store but if people don’t know about it, then they’ll keep shopping on their regular sites and you won’t see an order come through.

There are many ways you can market your business and launch your site but I want to focus on how you can use social media/email-direct-marketing.  The way we see it, if your business is online, then social media holds most of your potential customers.

Following is the process that White Flag encourages clients to consider when starting their business – To make it easy, I’ll address the article to ‘the new business’.

Define your customers and know where you can reach them

More often than not you’ll be starting a new business based around an area of interest you have.  So, defining your customers won’t be that hard.  Chances are they’ll be someone just like you.  Finding out where you can reach these customers is really important.

Where are your customers connecting online?  Are they sharing photos on instagram of their new shoes?  Are they talking about the latest watches in a facebook group?  Are they critiquing wine in a forum?  How are they connecting?  Every niche has it’s geek group.  Again, this may not be hard for you – if it’s your area of interest you might already be involved in these communities online.

When you find those communities, take notes.  What is capturing their attention?  What are these customers excited about What are they looking for?

Understanding your customer will help you focus your marketing so you’re not running 7 different social media accounts, writing a blog and sending out a daily newsletter.  Find the channels that will work best for your business and focus on them.

Practical tips:

  • For instagram, search obvious hashtags related to your product and check out a bunch of photos.  See if there are any other common hashtags that people are using or accounts that feature similar products.
  • Look up competitors facebook pages and see what they do well as well as what they aren’t doing well.  Read customer comments and suggestions and take those thoughts on board for your brand.
  • Read blogs and get to know bloggers. Send them an email and introduce yourself, get their thoughts on your business idea, ask if they’d like to interview you, offer them first look at the store for feedback.

Launch your business before you launch the Store

Give yourself a ‘run up’ for the launch. Focus on getting a solid brand and a business pitch you are comfortable repeating. Register your business name, buy the domain, construct up a simple landing/information web page, and set up your relevant social media channels.

This way, you establish yourself.  You may have nothing to sell at this point, but that doesn’t matter.  Start connecting with people online, share your pitch and start paving the way for when you ‘open your doors’.  Build that database of potential customers whether it be through ‘likes’ on a facebook page, ‘followers’ on an instagram account, email addresses in a database or all of the above.

The best advice I’ve heard about Social Media was to: “Be social”.  It sounds simple, it’s the heart of the whole medium.  People online want to connect, make friends and find others with similar interests.  If we solely use our social media for direct marketing, people will be instantly turned off.

I compare it to being at any social or networking event in person.  If I walked straight up to people and said “WHITE FLAG!  WE DESIGN YOUR BRANDING AND WEBSITE!  BUY NOW!” then that’d be about the length of the conversation.  Nobody wants to meet that guy – we’re sick of it.  Be social, get to know people and lay some foundation for when you’re ready to launch your store, THEN when the time is right, lay it on them.

Practical tips:

  • Set Up A landing page while your e-commerce site is being constructed.  Something simple with your logo, your pitch, social links, and a newsletter sign up form.  It’s professional and gives people the opportunity to connect with you.
  • Do the manual ‘Like’ and ‘Follow’ rounds.  On your social media channels, find all the pages/accounts/potential customers that you want and connect with them and follow them/like them.  Don’t market to them yet.  Just connect with them and start the conversation.
  • ReadGary Vaynerchuk’s ‘Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook’ about social media marketing.  Great read,, funny guy, and really helpful for any business marketing online.
  • Make time for running your online marketing within yourday/week.  It’s crucial to your business.

Take care of your shopfront

If I was to walk into a clothing store and the lighting was bad, the shirts were thrown into the corner and I had no idea about price/size or how to purchase… I’d be leaving faster than you could say “hipster pop up store”.

It’s a great experience when you walk into a store where the space has been designed well, the products look great on their displays and all the information you need is right in front of you.  It’s effortless and it’s enjoyable.

Taking care of your online shop is no different.  If you’ve used your camera phone for product shots, shoved them in a template next to a  ‘BUY NOW’ button with no thought about information or the checkout process, people will move on faster than you can say “The new myspace”.  They won’t be interested.

If you’ve put time, effort and thought into the presentation of your products and the design of your site, people will shop. They’ll be interested, they’ll spend the time there and they’ll enjoy themselves.  That’s what you want.

As you are  constructing and designing your site, think of these things – plan it all out.

Practical tips

  • Become best friends with a photographer or do a course. Keep the photo style consistent across your catalogue too.
  • Plan out, step by step, your user experience.  How will my customer go from browsing to purchasing on this site?  Is it easy?  Is it hard?  How can I make it easier?

When you launch your site, go large!

This is the fun part.  This is a big moment – one that you’ve been working towards for weeks or months.  So, I say, make a spectacle of it!  Get creative about how you launch the site.

On the day of the launch, do something that people will take notice of! Plan a party and invite your suppliers, people you’ve connected with, people from the industry.  If the budget isn’t there for something like that, invite 10 of your best friends to a great restaurant and have a good night.  Share photos of your party on facebook (no matter what size the party was – everything looks better on facebook!)

If an actual launch party won’t work for you, plan an online ‘event’ – get all your friends, fellow business owners, and anyone else who has a decent social reach to commit to sharing your ‘launch announcement’ online – all at the same time. Expand your social media reach at that moment to get your site address out there.

If you wanted to try a more personal angle, send out actual welcome packs to people with a sample of your product inviting them to visit the new online store.

Whatever it is, get creative, plan for the launch and when the time comes, make it a spectacle.

Following that spectacle, get on to your social media channels and milk it.  Share the photos, thank everyone for being involved, show a video of the event.  Anything and everything you’ve got. Get the most mileage out of it cause you can only launch once and you want it to be as effective as possible.

Practical tips

  • Start planning your launch early on.  Don’t let it be the last thing you think of.
  • Be overly generous with your main supporters (or potential supporters).  Send them thank you packs, give them discounts. Really make them feel special.

Keep on keepin’ on

After you’ve launched your site and people are visiting, then comes the daily/weekly challenge of keeping them interested.

Make time within your week to not only develop your store/products, but to stay connected with your customers.  Whether that’s sharing photos about what’s inspiring you/what you’re liking that week or whether it’s emailing loyal customers about sales or discounts.  Put together a loose plan for your marketing and keep it consistent.

Practical tips

  • Plan for 3 posts on your relevant social media channels per week.
  • Make time in your day to attend to social media channels or direct marketing.
  • Be social :)

Conclusion

Launching an online store in a market place as big as the internet can be really daunting.  If the orders don’t come in, it can be really discouraging.  However, if you do your research, know your market and get involved in those communities then people will be excited to check it out.

Author Bio: Paul Hanna is the director of White Flag – a design, development and marketing studio in Sydney, Australia.For more cool advice like them on Facebook.