Five things I learnt starting an online business

,I never set out to start an online store but when I realised that my hobby – Korean skincare – had both a market, a natural ability to sell itself and scalability, I took the plunge and set up Australia’s first online Korean Beauty store Style Story.

As you can appreciate, running a business that is 100 per cent online is very different to a traditional brick and mortar operation. It’s not as simple as throwing a few products up online and off you go.

After running my online business for more than four years, here are some of the things I’ve learnt.

1. Traditional business rules still apply

It might seem obvious, but just because your business is online doesn’t mean you can throw out the simple rules of business – you still need to have a market, be filling a demand, have your pricing worked out, a marketing plan and a strategy in place. If you have an ill-thought-out plan, a bad idea or simply no idea how to run a business, moving the operation online won’t solve your problems.

2. How to attract people to your online store

It’s not just as simple as creating a website and people will come – it takes a lot of work to find customers, let them know you exist and bridge the gap to actually make a sale.

This is where SEO, marketing and content creation comes into it. Do your research, as there is a lot that you can (and should!) do yourself but don’t be afraid to call on the experts if you need a hand.

3. People can’t physically experience products before they buy

Unlike a brick and mortar store, online is all visual. People can’t smell, feel or try the product on before they buy it. This means you have to take them on a visual journey to learn about the product so they feel like they’ve tried it – and actually want it – before they buy it.

Blogging, YouTube and social media channels are all great for this, as are practical strategies for getting products into people’s hands through samples, giveaways, pop-up stores, meetups and the like.

4. You need to rely on someone to deliver your products

It’s such an integral part of your online store, but it’s out of your hands – delivering the actual product to the customer. Despite your best efforts to wrap the products carefully, send everything out quickly and to the right place, it can all fall apart if your chosen carrier doesn’t hold up their end of the bargain.

No matter which courier you choose or how much you pay them, you will run into troubles from time to time. You’ll need to factor in lost, stolen and returned parcels, carriers that don’t deliver when they’re supposed to and unhappy, angry customers that will often blame failures of delivery on you.

5. There will be copycats

There is a much greater risk of copycats when you operate online. It’s frustrating, disheartening and can be hard to manage.

If you catch someone directly stealing your own work, confront them and ask them to stop. If necessary, involve lawyers. On a day-to-day basis however, you need to focus on what you’re doing and try not to let the copycats get to you; remember why you started, your USP and keep doing what you’re best at.

Although it’s often small comfort, the copycats are always a step behind and they often undo themselves, either by undercutting their own profits, taking shortcuts with laws and regulations or delivering a substandard product or service.

Lauren Lee, Founder, Style Story

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