The world has debated endlessly about which skills, attributes or traits are most necessary for “successful” entrepreneurs. This post will not answer that question. It will, however, list the must-have skills needed if you plan on growing your own successful e-commerce business, especially if you’re a solo founder.
Above everything else, the ability to successfully market your e-commerce site is the #1 most crucial success factor. It’s more important than your niche. More important than your site design. WAY more important than your name or logo. It’s even more important than conversion optimization.
Why? Without traffic and customers, you have no sales. A beautifully designed, perfectly optimized site with a professionally designed logo still makes zero dollars if no one knows about it. That’s why, early on, it’s so important to focus on marketing over nearly any other aspect of your business. Are design, conversion and honing your sales message important? ABSOLUTELY. But focus on them at the expense of marketing early on and you’ll suffer. Don’t be one of the thousands — if not millions — of people who have launched sites only to have them die a slow, obscure death because they didn’t prioritize marketing. You know the guy who said “Build it and they will come”? It turns out he’s broke.
How to Master It
- Focus on people and networking. Great marketing opportunities usually stem from great relationships.
- Always think about what you can offer OTHER people, sites and businesses. Mutually beneficial arrangements are much easier to secure.
- Become an SEO expert. In e-commerce, getting love from the all-mighty Google is crucial.
- Always be thinking about how you can leverage your existing customer base. If you have a happy base (and you’d better), they’ll be happy to spread the word.
- SEOmoz - Arguably the internet’s best resources and community on SEO. Their blog is great — subscribe today. They also have a FANTASTIC beginner’s SEO guide. If you’re new to SEO, this is a must.
- SEOBook - While not quite as good as SEOmoz in my opinion, still a good resource for SEO and marketing advice.
- Mixergy.com – Interviews with successful entrepreneurs on multiple topics, including lots of marketing tips and strategies.
- eCommerce Marketing Training - The comprehensive eCommerceFuel video course has an entire module dedicated to e-commerce SEO and marketing.
- eCommerce Fuel Marketing & SEO Posts – A list of all eCommerceFuel posts on marketing and SEO.
2. Teaching Yourself New Skills
E-commerce aside, being able to teach yourself new things is one of the most valuable skills you can have, period! As a solo business founder, it’s absolutely crucial for success. Starting out, you’ll almost certainly be a one-person show responsible for marketing, operations, accounting, IT, graphic design, copywriting and more. Sure, you can outsource a few things here and there, but early on you’ll need to do much of it yourself. If you can’t learn the necessary skills to fill the gaps in your tool belt, you’re going to have problems.
How to Master It
With the wealth of readily available information, tutorials and online classes, you can teach yourself just about anything. Great self-learners are experts at:
- Researching new topics in-depth
- Asking detailed questions
- Applying/practicing without worrying about making mistakes
- Not getting easily frustrated — learning new skills takes time
If you traditionally haven’t been one to teach yourself new things, it’s time for a paradigm shift. The most interesting and successful people in the world are EXPERT self-learners. You need to be, too.
3. Working Knowledge of Web Fundamentals
One of the great things about e-commerce is that it’s not necessary to be a world-class programmer to build a successful business. Services like Shopify make getting an online store up-and-running nearly as simple as setting up a Gmail account. That said, everyone I know who has been really successful online, particularly in e-commerce, has a working knowledge of fundamental web technologies.
Early on, you might by able to get by with limited technical knowledge. But as your business grows, it becomes an increasingly larger achilles heel, especially if you’re a solo founder. If you don’t understand how basic web technologies work, it leaves you completely at the mercy of others. Need to make a basic change to your website? Sorry! That’ll be $100 and two days’ lag time to hire an outsourcer. Interested in installing Google Analytics or doing some basic A/B testing? Unfortunately, you’ll need someone else to help out again.
You don’t need to be able to program the next Facebook. But understanding the basic building blocks that make up your e-commerce business’ foundation is critical, for both your productivity and your autonomy.
How to Master It
- HTML – A format for marking up/tagging web content. At their root, ALL web pages are built using HTML.
- CSS – This styles your web content. Referencing the tags in the HTML code, it defines how the content looks: font size, colors, layout, etc.
- Hosting fundamentals – How to register and host a new domain, and how to use FTP to transfer files to a server.
Creating detailed HTML and CSS guides is beyond the scope of this blog, but there are many great tutorials and resources for learning all these concepts online, including those from Codeacademy and W3 School.
Although I’ll leave the nitty-gritty tutorials and guides to others, I WILL be creating some video overviews that discuss how these technologies work and interact at a high level to create a webpage. As a beginner, the largest challenge is often understanding the basic concepts of a technology, and how they work together with other parts of the web, an area usually glossed over by most tutorials.
If you can get a firm understanding of the underlying purpose of a technology, learning the detailed implementation becomes MUCH easier and more intuitive. Watch for these videos soon, or subscribe to eCommerce Fuel to be notified when they’re posted.
4. Problem Solving
Running a successful business is fundamentally about being a creative problem solver. Most importantly, you need to understand what problems your customers have and offer great solutions. This is crucial in e-commerce. At TrollingMotors.net, one of the eCommerce sites I own, you could say we “sell” trolling motors, which is technically true. But I’ve never heard a customer say “I have NO IDEA where to buy a new motor. If only I knew, I’d purchase immediately.” My customers don’t need motors, they need solutions. An actual problem is:
“I have a 16′ bass boat and need a new motor. I’ll be upset if it’s not strong enough for my boat, but I don’t want to pay too much.”
When we understand the REAL problem(s) facing our customers, we can solve it with expert information and advice. This will lead to exponentially higher customer satisfaction and business success.
In a more tangible sense, you need to be a creative problem solver to SURVIVE. Starting a new business is like accidentally starting a dozen grass fires and then trying to put them all out. Websites go down. Suppliers make mistakes. Customer orders get botched. You run out of product when you need it most. Being able to come up with working solutions is crucial to ensure you continue to move forward.
How to Master It
In terms of effectively solving customer problems, you’ll want to focus on:
- Surveying your customers and asking for feedback
- Really listening to what problems and stresses they have
- Marketing your product(s) in a manner that solves customers’ specific problems