Charles Camisasca helps aspiring entrepreneurs and small business owners to start and grow their e-commerce stores. He is passionate that anyone with a wifi connection and a willingness to work hard can start a successful online business. He’s the founder of The E-Commerce Boardroom and the creator of the 5 Step Framework for starting an e-commerce business.
As much as 97% of e-commerce businesses fail.
That’s an anxiety-inducing statistic for any entrepreneur to read. Especially when you’re someone who has poured months or years of your time and thousands of your own dollars into your business.
But why is the failure rate so high? And how do you make sure your business is one of the 3% that succeed WITHOUT burning the candle at both ends?
We’ll cover all of that and more in this post.
How to Grow an Online Business
Did you know that EVERY online business has the same goal?
Yes, every e-commerce business has a singular purpose: to convince massive numbers of its ideal customers to become repeat buyers and brand evangelists.
Side note: What’s a brand evangelist, you ask? Neil Patel puts it well: “A brand evangelist is a person who believes in your product or service so fervently that he or she aggressively promotes it to others.”
The 4 Steps of Digital Marketing
You’re probably thinking: “OK, great. The goal of every business is to make money. Not exactly groundbreaking stuff, Charles.”
I know, I know. But let’s break down exactly how to do this at your business. That’s where the fun begins. I call it the 4 Steps of Digital Marketing.
- Find communities of your ideal customers.
- Convince them to buy once.
- Convince them to buy over and over again.
- Encourage them to tell their friends.
Master these 4 steps, and watch your business grow.
By the way, what I’m covering today is Step #5 of a proven 5-step process to starting an e-commerce business. If you are struggling with anything, like figuring out what product to sell, choosing a supplier, getting your store up and running, defining your target customer, or marketing, you can learn more about all 5 steps (for free) here.
Step 1: Find communities of your ideal customers
You can’t sell anything if you don’t know who you are selling to. Said another way, you need to figure out how to get the RIGHT traffic in front of your product.
The biggest misconception about “traffic” is thinking that you have to CREATE it. The truth is that the digital “highways” are filled with lanes of your ideal customers.
All you have to do is… “stand in the middle of the road”, so to speak.
What do I mean by that?
Well, the internet has advanced to such a stage that online communities exist for just about every interest, hobby, and business market. Once you’ve defined your target customer, it becomes a simple matter to locate their existing online communities.
To put this into practice, conduct a series of Google searches and create a spreadsheet listing the Facebook Groups, Blogs, Forums, Podcasts, YouTube Channels, Keywords, and Influencers that are relevant to your target customer. Take note of the audience size, URL, and contact info of each community, if it’s available.
(Psst. This task is a great candidate to be outsourced to a virtual assistant.)
When I explained this secret to Loren, an entrepreneur who took my bootcamp course, she said “Charles, it’s like the lights just came on. I can’t wait to implement this!”
I completely understand her excitement. Completing this exercise gives you the direction you need for the rest of your marketing efforts, including all of the strategies outlined below.
Yup, it’s time to “stand in the middle of the road.”
Step 2: Convince your ideal customer to buy once
Once you’ve found your ideal customers, it’s time to meet them where they are.
If you can effectively communicate how your product solves their biggest pain points, you will barely have to convince them to purchase your products. They will be chomping at the bit to buy!
But how should you get your message across to them?
Unfortunately, many business owners become fixated on a single marketing strategy – most commonly, Facebook or Google Ads.
However, the right way for how to grow an online business is not to use a singular method, but instead a network of interconnected tactics.
I call this a Systematic Marketing Strategy. It has three components – Outbound, Inbound, and Subscriber Marketing.
Outbound Marketing is any proactive tactic used by a company that is designed to interrupt a potential customer, capture their attention, and present them with an offer.
The most common formulations of this are Paid Ads and Cold Outreach (cold calls and cold emails). These serve to rapidly drive growth in traffic to your site, sales, and subscribers.
Tips for best results:
- Experiment with ad platforms, copywriting, targeting, and creatives.
- Be sure to use a mixture of prospecting and retargeting ads.
- Outsource key functions where you need help.
Inbound marketing is the creation of web pages and consumable content that resonate with your target audience. With Outbound, you proactively “go after” your ideal customer. With Inbound, on the other hand, you encourage them to come to you.
The way to implement inbound marketing is to first create carefully designed websites, social media profiles, and landing pages.
Be sure to craft these so that they quickly convey your main value proposition and are set up to capture the contact information of your web visitors.
The second step is Content Marketing.
This involves creating…content…that is curated according to the principle desires, problems, questions, and preferred media of your idea customer. This could take the form of a blog, social media posts, a podcast, YouTube Channel, or many others.
Tips for best results:
- In web design, simplicity is key. There is no shortage of well qualified designers that you can hire to do this for you.
- For content marketing, check out the best performing content in your niche, and model off of them (but never copy!).
- Include a personalized lead magnet with every piece of content to dramatically grow your subscriber base.
Subscriber Marketing encompasses every piece of content you send to someone that volunteers to receive messages from you.
This typically incorporates both social media followers and email subscribers. However, of the two, email marketing is by far the most effective. Whereas social media is primarily used for entertainment, the email inbox is associated in our minds with business.
As such, one of your business’ primary goals should be to grow your email list.
Notice how both Inbound and Outbound strategies produce email subscribers for your brand as a byproduct.
One of the most effective strategies for long term growth in sales will be following up with these email subscribers through a coordinated campaign.
Tips for best results:
- Use social media to grow your email list. Include a link to your best landing page on your social media profile, and include a CTA in your posts to go check it out.
- Don’t attempt to sell products in every email you send. Include a good mix of valuable content and product emails.
- Create a Welcome Series using the Soap Opera method to introduce people to your brand and make a special offer to them.
How to Grow an Online Business: The Systematic Marketing Strategy
Do you see how the best plan for how to grow an online business is to deploy all 3 of these components?
Let’s look briefly at how they work in concert with one another.
Outbound strategies (like a nuanced, multi-step, educational paid ad campaign) can boost sales and quickly drive traffic to your website. Inbound strategies (like content marketing) help to take a percentage of those website visitors that don’t immediately make a purchase and convert them into email subscribers. And that’s when subscriber marketing takes over and helps nurture prospects, close sales, create repeat customers, and drive referrals.
Step 3: Convince your ideal customers to buy again and again
Wow, we just spent quite a while on how to convince an ideal prospect to buy from you just one time. That’s the hardest and most important step, but what about growing repeat business?
You will need to intentionally deploy certain vehicles for encouraging your existing customers to buy over and over again from you.
Having a well-functioning sales funnel is integral to this process.
A sales funnel is a multi-step marketing strategy designed to turn cold prospects into repeat customers. Start by plotting out your product offerings in order from least valuable to most valuable.
This is your value ladder.
For example, the value ladder for a coaching business might look something like this:
A sales funnel is concerned with methodically advancing prospects up from the lowest value products to the highest value products.
To do this, make a concerted effort to present your customers with complementary offers (upsells, downsells, cross sells, and order form bumps).
The best time to do this is during and after the checkout process. The idea is to “strike while the iron is hot”, since someone is far more likely to make a second purchase immediately after or during the first purchase.
But that’s just the beginning.
Email Marketing for Follow Up Funnels
After a customer checks out and leaves your website, the funnel doesn’t end.
At that point in time, email marketing will become your greatest weapon in selling to your existing customers.
Email marketing automation software (MailChimp, MailerLite, ActiveCampaign, etc.) allows you to segment your email list by what products they have purchased. Use this to your advantage. You should talk to subscribers differently from how you talk to your customers.
Over time, this will help to drive repeat sales and boost your average customer lifetime value.
Step 4: Convince your ideal customers to tell their friends about your brand
Ah, yes. The time has come to create brand evangelists. But how?
Well, like everything we’ve discussed today, it doesn’t happen by accident. It required deliberate, intentional strategies.
Try these out:
- Referral Programs: create financial incentive for your customers to share your brand with their friends. You could offer rewards points, discounts, branded swag, or even cash!
- Affiliate Marketing: Look into paying a professional marketer to write a blog post reviewing your product (or something similar). In exchange for a modest commission, this will really serve to get people talking about your brand!
- Customer Experience: Focus on the experience that each customer has with your brand. This includes customer support (which should be outsourced) and customer success. Customer Success means ensuring each customer achieves their desired result from using your product. Proactively reach out to them to make sure they are LOVING your product or service!
Put these all together, and word-of-mouth growth is all but assured.
How to grow an online business that you work ON, not FOR
Hopefully you can see how the 4 steps of digital marketing comprise the RIGHT way to grow an online business.
I submit to you that a large percentage of e-commerce businesses fail because they do not implement a cohesive marketing system like the one I’ve described today.
Many other business owners DO master this method, only to become buried under the deluge of the day-to-day grind. They create bottlenecks in their business and they get burnt out quickly.
Don’t let that happen to you.
Instead, identify the processes that require repetitive, manual work at your business. Create SOPs to document the best way to do each process.
And then, use a killer platform like FreeUp to work with world class freelancers, freeing up your time and resources to focus on ONLY the highest-value tasks at your business.
That’s how to grow an online business that you work ON, and not FOR.
PS – Want to learn more about the framework taught in this article? Check out our free blueprint.