It isn’t easy making a living selling on-line and it is crucial to success to be as efficient and lean as possible. Here are 10 of the things we use daily and which we would not want to do without.
In no particular order and each one has helped us to build the firm to where it is today.
I hope you enjoy reading them and take something from it. If you can add anything please leave a comment.
1. Multi-Channel Software
We actually took the decision to use a software solution very early on in 2006 when the business was around a year old. We had something like 100 SKU’s and were already finding it hard to keep everything in synch, in stock and under control.
There were only a couple of options then and they were basic compared with the powerful solutions now on the market.
I often hear people commenting that these solutions are expensive and unnecessary. Nothing could be further from the truth.
We recently calculated that the solution we use – Volo – saves us around 3 people in a 9 person company. If I thought about it more I could probably up that to 4 or 5 and I am not exaggerating.
In September 2014 we shipped just under 20,000 items. Don’t forget these items also had to be bought in the first place, booked in, stored and picked/packed.
Just 9 of us.
Why do I say it saves us so many people?
No. I’m not on commission.
There are of course the things you would expect it to do – it manages our stock across the channels we use ensuring we don’t oversell. It gathers orders, payments etc. and presents us with a list of orders requiring dispatch. Of course it prints packing lists and communicates statuses to the channels themselves.
But is also does things you might not immediately realise.
The software works 24/7. It manages our stock ensuring we re-order before we run out and warning us if we have dead stock which needs to be sold. It helps us to speed up answering questions by presenting them to us linked to products and customer orders along with stock answers for commonly asked questions.
Using clever algorithms it calculates our pricing and to make sure we continue to offer competitive pricing it can re-price items every two hours depending on our competitors pricing. If a supplier increases prices we can download a price file and within minutes the system has recalculated selling costs and updated listings. It is hard to imagine doing this manually.
The system updates stock information from suppliers each morning ending listings where stock is no longer available and warns us if items are becoming low at the supplier.
Accounts are a pain for most small businesses. Each day the system updates our accounts package with sales, VAT, cost of goods information making VAT returns and annual accounts a far less painful experience.
Communications with customers. Yes it does this as well confirming orders, despatch and sending receipts.
You have probably seen eBay Strike Through Pricing where you can see the crossed out RRP next to the selling price on the item listing. This and initiatives such as the Argos Click and Collect are often offered to Multi-Channel Software users before being rolled out to other sellers because the systems use the eBay API making these things easier to manage.
Yes Multi Channel Software costs £££ and that can be hard to swallow for a small seller but remember if you plan on growing you will need a solution sooner or later and its far easier to do is sooner.
My other piece of advice on the subject is to choose wisely. Its hard to and expensive to change providers later.
Talk to users who have used the system for at least a year and find out if it is suitable for the channels you use.
If you want know more take a look at Matt Ogbornes Ultimate Guide to Multi Channel Software
2. Our Server
Might seem obvious but the whole business is based on data. Our image library alone has taken countless hours to build up and if we were to lose the original images and files it would hit us hard.
So we have a server which is backed up daily and has redundant hard disks. Maintained professionally on a service level contract with a UPS in case of power failures and we feel as safe as we can be.
If you haven’t heard of Dropbox you must have been living in a cloud.
Low cost (or even free) secure cloud storage which is automatically synched with all your internet connected devices including tablets. The uses are many.
We use it for sharing files between us and its great if you also work from home.
See the next section for another great application for Dropbox.
We use TiddlyWiki as our own personal web holding all the boilerplate stuff we use every day. We store the file on Dropbox so the Wiki is available everywhere and updated whenever someone adds or edits.
In their words:
TiddlyWiki is a versatile note-taking web application you can download for free, store wherever you like and customise however you wish.
Use it to capture, organise and share your notes in ways that word processors and other note-taking tools cannot.
TiddlyWiki is designed to be non-linear, structuring content with stories, tags, hyperlinks, and other features.
You can organise and retrieve your notes in ways that conform to your personal thought patterns, rather than feel chained to one preset organisational structure.
You can use TiddlyWiki as a single file that you view and edit through any web browser, whether you are online or offline.
5. Photoshop (and our Photography area)
The camera you use isn’t really all that important these days most cameras can capture images of sufficient quality for on-line use.
Take the time to learn to use a good quality software package such as Photoshop and take your product shots in a properly lit area with a white background and you can be sure of standing out from the crowd with great images which didn’t take hours in post processing and preparation.
We asked Glen Tillyard a professional photographer to come along and teach us to use our camera and set up the lights and camera settings. Not cheap but the tricks we learnt save time every day and help us produce professional images.
This is a fast moving industry. If you need to know whats going on and get ahead of the game read the blogs. Here’s a list of the ones we check daily:
http://tamebay.com/ Tamebay is usually one of the first with news that we need to know. If eBay is down – Tamebay will know it.
http://lastdropofink.co.uk/ When it comes to selling online Matt Ogborne at the Last Drop of Ink has been there, done it and has the Tee Shirt. An ex seller who has worked for some of the big Multi-Channel software suppliers. along with Dave Furness he also runs the UnderstandingE website where you can learn a lot about developing your own solutions.
http://www.webretailer.com/ another great resource from Andy Geldman for us with regular reviews, information and advice for the on-line retail community.
Twitter is fast beoming a great resource for us with its unique facility to be able to follow key people, opinion formers and companies in this industry.
8. Great Suppliers
It’s not easy to make good margins on-line. anyone who tells you it is is frankly crazy (or they have a unique, in demand product).
It’s said that you make your money when you buy not when you sell and nowhere is this more true than on-line.
Find great suppliers and work with them to find offers and deals which benefit you both.
It’s not all about price. Service matters too. Look for suppliers who offer a great back up service and high levels of stock availability. It takes time to build a relationship but more than worth the effort.
9. A Great Team
Our little team does a fabulous job for us and we really would not want to do this without them (not that we could).
So if you are building a business the biggest piece of advice would be to recruit great people and encourage them every day.
Rightload is a small program that allows you to quickly upload files directly from a Windows folder to your server.
Instead of using complicated software just to upload a few pictures, you just right-click on the files, select the server and target folder and Rightload will do the rest for you! Fabulous.