What Kind of Success Is Realistic for a Small E-Commerce Business?

What Kind of Success Is Realistic for a Small eCommerce Business

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Reality check: What kind of success can one really expect from a small online business?

Whether you’re in the beginning stages of your business or just stuck in a rut, this question is likely in the forefront of your mind. But while I’ve wanted to address it for a long time, when I juxtapose my knowledge of ecommerce with my enthusiam for it, I find myself conflicted in my answer.

I want to say, “There’s no limit on the success you can have with the right product.” Or what’s maybe a bit more accurate, “You get out what you put in.” But this isn’t nearly the whole story. And so the answer I feel most comfortable serving up is everybody’s least favorite: “It depends.”

What I can tell you straight, though, are the factors it depends on.

1. It’s not just about working hard

It’s easy to equate “hard work” with success, but the reality is not quite so simple.

It’s possible to spend lots of time and energy going through the motions, even following step-by-step guides, without creating anything of value for other people. And it’s that value creation + the ability to communicate it clearly in presentation that earns money in the end, not necessarily the hours you put into it or the amount of stress you felt.

The most important thing is offering customers a product (or product-buying experience) that they can’t just get anywhere else. If your work is not achieving this, sadly it’s in vain.

2. “If you build it, they will come”? Nope. No way.

Whether it happened to us while we were writing an old personal blog or with our first Facebook fan page, at some point all of us go-getter types realize we can’t count on an “if you build it, they will come” strategy.

If you haven’t already experienced this yourself, think of it this way. Web traffic is comprised of real, human people. People like you and I. And people like you and I don’t habitually seek out brand new websites that no one’s ever heard of. If you don’t actively work on reaching customers (through SEO, content marketing, involvement in online communities, or other promotion in front of relevant audiences) it’s not realistic to expect traffic or sales.

3. Numbers start small

And now, this is as real as it gets: The average ecommerce website’s conversion rate is just 1-3%. This means that it will likely take 30 to 100 visitors to your website for every one that makes a purchase.

But people who know this going in don’t lose their motivation when they see very, very small numbers of sales at first. Rather, these people immediately focus on betterment– how they’ll keep promoting their website to get more traffic, how they’ll get higher-quality traffic by promoting in the most relevant places, and how they can make their website look more professional, be funner to shop, and easier to use.

4. One (wo)man’s failure is another one’s success

Finally, what is “success” to you anyway? Is it defined by a number, like 10K? $50K? $150K? Or $1M+ and nothing less?

Is success, for example, being able to work part-time from home with your kids, while not getting behind on bills? Or is it having enough supplementary money to go out on the town more often?

Is success independence? Comfort? Notoriety? Possessing the affluence to lavishly support a worthy cause?

Your idea of what success is makes a huge difference in how you go about pursuing it– consciously or otherwise. Combined with the above knowledge, this individual feeling you carry into your business is a huge indicator of what will come out.

I share a lot of specific tips here on my blog, but the truth is that the smaller things won’t have much benefit unless the larger foundation is solidly in place. For those of you in a shaky situation, I hope you find this info helpful! I’d love to hear your feedback.

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