Throughout the history of the business world, the practice of running a company from home has had a major stigma attached to it. For a corporation to be respectable, the typical line is that it must have a conventional office.
Thankfully, things have changed quite significantly in recent years. In fact, starting a home business has become a popular and respectable action: instead of being mocked, it’s lauded as efficient and forward-thinking.
In this post, we’re going to look at some tips for how you can run an online store from home. Ecommerce is one of the most accommodating industries for home contractors, but there are still challenges to staying indoors and away from a regular office. Here are my suggestions:
When running an e-commerce store with any level of ambition, you’ll need to speak to people on occasion. Perhaps you’ll be negotiating with a new product supplier (finding good suppliers is vital), trying to convince a particular company to allow you to stock their product, being interviewed by a digital publication for some useful exposure, or interviewing a prospective hire.
Regardless of the exact situation, you’ll need to be highly aware of your working area, because having it be visibly obvious that your working space is a mess will negatively affect the perception of you and your company. We mentioned how often businesses are judged by their office space: well, even someone who’s completely accepting of home businesses will expect you to have a well-organized home operation.
That means no clothing strewn across the floor, no used cutlery lying around, and no gaudy decorations or posters in sight (decorate your home however you like, but the area that’s visible through your webcam must reach a different standard). And don’t forget to get the lighting right. Great lighting isn’t just important for your mood and productivity: it’s also necessary for high-quality video, avoiding the impression that you’re working from a dungeon, taking product photos, and creating a viable display area.
Yes, a display area: just as a conventional store can display its products to showcase them, you can — in principle, and only when this COVID-19 situation is resolved — use your home as a showroom of sorts. Per Milicent Armstrong of Artemis Design Co. on having a room full of products: “I would have people come over if they wanted to look at something or try something on, and that’s how I made my first sale.” People can easily be on the fence about online products because they can’t properly inspect them, after all. This can really help.
The point of your professional working area isn’t merely to look good for the other freelancers you hire, clients, and current or prospective business partners. It’s also to support you in being optimally productive, something that’s hard to achieve but absolutely worth the time and effort. Office layouts have been incrementally improved over the years (for businesses with decent budgets, at least), ensuring a consistent rise in freelancer productivity — and you need to learn from this.
Perhaps the core element is ensuring the broad elimination of distractions. Whether you’re deep into a search for a new product or simply trying to figure out the best approach for your email marketing campaign, you’ll often need to enter a state of concentration that can be disrupted all too easily by a car alarm going off, music being played, or even a door being opened.
These things aren’t generally issues for client calls, because no one is going to hold against you if your pet cat leaps into view looking for attention, but they are major issues for your general productivity. If you can seclude yourself in a suitable corner with noise-canceling headphones and even lighting, it’ll make it markedly easier for you to get work done.
Instead of putting a lot of your time towards customer support, use freelancers to provide live chat, and perhaps combine that service with a chatbot capable of covering some basic queries.
An optimal setup would involve using the chatbot to field and parse the initial queries before answering those it could handle and passing the others to the freelancers. This should account for your needs while saving you money and demanding relatively little of your essential time.
Becoming a member of assorted business communities is standard practice for small retailers. It allows them to have superior bargaining power, avoid mutually damaging price wars, and share information concerning everything from the latest legal changes to the best security standards. And when you’re running an online store, you can still go down this route: it’s easier, in fact.
Reddit is typically the best place to find online communities. There’s a good chance that it has something suitable whether you’re looking for something broad or specific — and if you can’t find anything right (through searching in Google or the internal search, or through using the r/findareddit page to get some direction), you can always create your own subreddit and attempt to form your own community.
Over time, you’ll want to strengthen and build upon your skills. Perhaps you’ll want to cultivate some graphic design prowess so you can spruce up your product images without needing to bring in a freelance designer: if so, you can simply locate more communities to join. Whatever information you need to know, there’ll be someone out there willing to help you for free.
And as you become more known in your communities, you’ll have many more opportunities to promote your store without needing to leave your house or spend any money — particularly since those communities often have decent social media followings. Establishing yourself as someone willing to help others will earn you a lot of goodwill that can lead to sales.
Part of running a thriving online store is ensuring that your product inventory is competitive at the very least. If possible, it should be industry-leading. Bigger e-commerce stores with standard offices will often have dedicated areas for product research and testing: if they’re thinking about selling electronic devices, they can buy them (or request samples, something that’s fairly common) and compare them fairly simply.
One of the first challenges of running an online store from home, then, is the relative lack of space — but it might not be a major issue. It depends on a few things: how big your home environment is, what types of product you stock, and in what quantities you need to test them. Keep in mind that you will likely need to deal with product returns at some point, and you won’t be able to pass the buck, so your testing area will also need to be used for faulty products.
If you have a room you can spare, that’s the route to take. It’ll be a hassle, sure, but it’ll be worth it if it makes your regular work significantly easier. There’s a stark difference between what you’ll need from a working area and what you’ll need from a testing area. The former will need to be fairly organized and clear of clutter — while the latter will inevitably end up teeming with products in varying states of manufacture and disrepair.
As for the shipping, consider how annoying it would be to keep being interrupted by the doorbell: look into having the sample products delivered to a nearby collection point (Amazon Lockers can be great for this), or invest in a smart lockable parcel delivery system that you can install outside your front door. I noted earlier how important it is to keep distractions at a minimum, and the minute or so it could take to sign for a package could derail your train of thought to such an extent that it set your work back hours.
Lastly, while it’s entirely possible to handle almost every facet of running an online store from home, there will inevitably be occasions on which it’s practically essential to go elsewhere. This will typically involve meeting prospective suppliers or business partners to negotiate terms.
This is understandable because people naturally want to get to know the people they might be doing business with. No number of phone calls or Zoom meetings will ever account for the body language that’s immediately apparent when you actually meet someone, and there are still plenty of professionals out there who still defer to gut feelings when making vital decisions.
Accordingly, you need to know when it’s worth meeting in person and when it isn’t. If you refuse every suggestion to meet, you could end up offending a prospective business partner and losing their interest altogether.
On the other hand, if you make too much of an effort to meet up, you’ll set a precedent that could easily work against you in future — imagine attempting to win over a new partner only for them to wonder why you won’t meet them in person when you were willing to travel repeatedly for the potential partners you’d previously sought after.
Running an online store inherently allows you to get away from a lot of the trappings of traditional office life, but there are still going to be things about working from home that you’ll find tricky. Focus on these three tips to ensure that your at-home e-commerce store runs as smoothly as possible.
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