There have been plenty of promises made to small businesses about how e-Commerce can transform a poor business into a thriving success through simple technology. Let me say from the outset, e-commerce must be thought of as an extension to existing business models. What do I mean? Well, if you have a solid business model prior to expanding online, there is a good chance that your business will prosper through e-commerce. If your fundamental business model is flawed, then going online will only compound the problem.
OK that said, this article will deal with the latter scenario, i.e. you have a strong business model and are looking to propel your business to new heights and profit levels.

So what are the secrets to succeeding at business online?

1. Dont reinvent the wheel РHow often have you heard that saying? There is good reason why the phrase has become a clich̩. One thing you can be sure of is that you are not the first person to venture online, so dont make the same mistakes as others. In particular, I am talking about paying too much money for someone to build you a shopping cart (required for online transactions). Purchase an off-the-shelf shopping cart that is open-source, i.e. the code is free to modify. That way, you can customize the cart to meet your exact requirements at a fraction of the cost to build one from scratch.
I have seen it too many times, companies will outlay 10s of thousands of dollars to design a shopping cart which in the end may meet their exact requirements, but suffers from serious security flaws. Additionally, ask yourself the question; how long will it take me to make those 30 thousand dollars back?

2. Pay extra for a quality design – Some people are going to argue this one, but let me explain. Put yourself in the position of a consumer; you visit a website and it looks a little dodgy, are you prepared to submit your credit card details? Making a purchase online is all about confidence, a customer must feel assured that you are a reputable company, and the best way to project that image is through a quality designed web site.

3. Set up a real-time payment gateway – do not even think about accepting credit card payments online unless you have a secure merchant gateway to a bank. With the threat of hackers ever so prevalent on the web, you should NEVER store any credit card details. Let me repeat this point – NEVER STORE CREDIT CARD DETAILS, the risk is just too great. Besides, the benefit of real time payment gateways is that you will receive your money straight away, and more people will be willing to purchase online if you have the facility to charge their card at point of purchase.

4. Its not all about price – Dont fall into the trap so many businesses make when going online. Keep prices competitive, but concentrate on the value-added products and services. For example, offer next business day delivery; most people who shop online are strapped for time. Nothing impresses busy people more than having their goods delivered fast. Also, why not throw in some complimentary items? Youd be surprised how much people appreciate a gift with purchase, even if it is just a chocolate mint.

5. Keep them informed – A quality newsletter keeps your business fresh in the minds of your customers, but dont overdo it. The key is to send out newsletters only when you have something important to say or offer your customers. Nothing annoys people more than receiving newsletters every week.

6. Viral marketing is the key – This should be your PRIMARY marketing objective. People often spend thousands of dollars trying to promote their business through online advertising campaigns but forget the most important facet of a good marketing plan – the customer. You will receive more business through word of mouth than any other advertising medium. You must get people talking about your business (in a positive light).

7. Employ affiliates to promote your website – This is especially important when trying to promote online shops, because most e-commerce websites are dynamic. I.e. they are database driven. Why? Well it comes down to how search engines index your web site. Despite modern techniques, Google, Yahoo and other search engines have difficulties adding dynamic web pages to their index. Hence, getting found on the web can be very hard. A good affiliate can direct traffic to your website for a small commission should a sale be made.

8. Keep inventory levels to a minimum – This applies not only to online business, but to bricks and mortar operations also. Excess inventory ties up cash and reduces business efficiency. The trick is to improve your supply chain so that inventory can be replenished fast from suppliers. There is always a trade off between offering your customers everything and not making them wait for out of stock items. If in doubt, stock up on your main sellers and have a clause about availability of low selling items (keep in mind point 4 above -re: fast delivery).

9. Provide customer testimonials – OK, there is a golden rule about testimonials – dont fake it!! Nothing turns customers off quicker than hearing how you are the best thing since sliced bread. Keep it REAL – only post testimonials which are believable.

10. Dont wait! – Seriously, this is paramount. The internet is evolving at a rapid pace, most businesses realise that getting a web presence is essential, fewer realise that the window of opportunity is decreasing fast. I have seen it firsthand, those businesses that were making huge profit margins a few years ago, are beginning to see the market flatten out with increased competition.
There is still the potential to make a LOT of money through e-commerce, but the time to act is now.

There you have it, my 10 secrets to success; I cannot guarantee you will make a fortune if you follow the above principles, but I do guarantee you will be better off than someone that doesnt.