Why does one e-commerce entrepreneur enjoy immense success while another gets left behind? Is it fate? Innate ability? Luck? Or is it a very particular set of skills that helps them see opportunity where others can’t?
Let’s say you and nine other people each started a business on January 1st. According to data from the U.S. Small Business Administration, by the time December rolls two businesses will have closed. In five years time, five businesses would still be left standing and at your ten year anniversary celebration, there will be three left. When it comes to e-commerce, the numbers are even less reliable because of lower entry barriers. What skills do you need to ensure your place among the victors?
1. Problem solving
Things will go wrong more than you like. You’ll face inventory issues, accounting nightmares, hiring problems, system breakdowns, account suspensions, customers from hell, and vendors from that same neighborhood. You’ll have to make crucial decisions and fix a multitude of problems as they arise. And, you’ll need to do that while keeping a relatively cool head, maintaining relationships and investigating opportunities to expand.
Hone your critical thinking and analytical skills
In 2011, Netflix was having a hard time. They were hemorrhaging subscribers and share prices plummeted from around $300 in July 2011 to $60 by the end of the year. Five years later, Netflix are at the top of their game again and if you’d bought one $60 share that Christmas, it would be worth about $1100 today (based on current stock prices.)
None of this would have been possible without some serious critical thinking on the part of the Netflix team. Expansions and changes will always carry risk. While as an e-commerce entrepreneur you don’t have shareholders to justify to, you still need to justify to yourself, hires, and your family. It’s easy to try to avoid risk altogether and stay in your niche. In today’s active e-commerce environment, that decision is potentially deadly.
Meticulously gathering data and analyzing market trends isn’t the most glamorous part of being an e-commerce entrepreneur. However, that’s what will help you decide which risks are worth taking, keep you ahead of the pack, and help you act on potential trends before the rest of the market catches up with you.
Ability to flip a situation on its head
If Jon Snow and Tyrion Lannister each started an e-commerce business, Jon’s would fail within the first two years. He’d write a heartfelt op-ed taking full responsibility for the whole thing then run off to New Zealand so he can’t hurt any more people with his failure. Tyrion would become the next Jeff Bezos.
It all comes down to one key ability that a successful e-commerce entrepreneur has. When put into a challenging situation or backed into a corner, they don’t play by the “unspoken rules.” They reframe the game until it suits them.
When you face a challenge in your e-commerce business, don’t accept certain things because “that’s just how it’s done.” Examine the situation from a different angle. Flip it. Re-frame it. Look for the disruptive approach.
Before Netflix waltzed on the scene, if you returned a movie late, you got charged a late fee. It’s just how the world worked. Netflix didn’t eliminate late fees, they reframed the situation so that late fees were no longer needed. Don’t be Jon Snow – he knows nothing.
2. Tech curious and proficient
Great entrepreneurs tend to be big picture people. They know how the various processes work and how they need to fit together.
Delegation and the value of time
Do you have the time to be an SEO expert, conversion copywriter, full-time blogger, paid advertising marketer, video creator, inventory specialist, warehouse manager, software developer, and a company founder? If you want to try, you’ll have to live longer than a few lifetimes.
When you are first starting out, you’ll end up doing bits and pieces from many of these roles to understand how the different pieces come together. But, if you want to scale your operation beyond a single super-preneur that burns out in a couple of years, you shouldn’t need to be an expert at everything.
The successful e-commerce entrepreneur understands the value of their time. While you could learn all these skills, you can’t master every single one and build a successful business. When you are first starting out, you’ll just scratch the surface of what those skills have to offer.
At the beginning, SEO mostly means researching long tail keywords, optimizing product listings, using keywords in blog posts and ads and crafting a guest posting strategy. But, as your business evolves your marketing strategy needs to evolve with it. At that stage it may be time to delegate and start bringing on experts that have dedicated their careers to mastering their craft. That way, you can scale your business and use your time to focus on discovering new ways to increase profits and please customers.
Create systems and optimize
Systems save you time, help you measure success better and make it easier to find the breaks in the process and fix them before they have a chance to become deal breakers.
Effective systems help you automate key processes, saving you and workers’ valuable time which you can invest in growing your business instead of doing paperwork. Because, if we are being honest here, nobody actually likes paperwork.
You’ve got so many amazing e-commerce tools at your fingertips that can automate time consuming processes, improve efficiency and help you provide a customer experience so delightful that even the Inbound team at HubSpot would be a little proud of you. Use them.
3. Relationship building
Relationships are everything. It’s how you get customers, gain partners and entice investors. It’s how you market yourself and grow your business.
Building strong relationships with customers is key to success. I’m about to drop a truth bomb here. Listening is really, really important. Never heard that one before, right? Bear with me.
The difference between listening and waiting to talk
Imagine the two of us are sitting down to talk about a potential partnership. You’ve got an idea you’d really love to tell me about! But, when we sit down I start telling you about this amazing idea I’ve been working on. You can see that I’m super excited so, you listen, nod politely and ask a few questions. When I’m done, you tell me about your idea.
The problem here is that neither of us is fully engaged in listening. We are both politely waiting for our turn to talk. Instead of focusing on each others ideas, weighing their potential profitability and asking tough questions we are focusing on our own awesomeness.
As an e-commerce entrepreneur you can get a lot more out of conversations with potential partners, vendors, workers and customers by actually listening to them. You can ask questions, weigh the pros and cons, ask them about the research and see if it’s worth testing further. Don’t just listen to the words – listen to the problem they are highlighting and match them to a solution.
Developing your skillset as an e-commerce entrepreneur
An entrepreneur’s work is never finished. But, if you learn to value your time, invest in developing key relationships and actively solve problems before they have a chance to become obstacles, your chance of success is pretty good.
Crucial Vacuum and Skubana Founder Chad Rubin grew his e-commerce business to an 8-figure business in 7 years. He is a Top 250 Amazon Seller, and co-founded Skubana as an all-in-one ERP system and operations platform designed for high volume sellers to run and automate their business. It integrates with most e-commerce marketplaces, 3PLs, and warehouses, provides profitability and multi-channel inventory management, and compiles all of your marketplaces on a single convenient dashboard. Learn more at firstname.lastname@example.org or sign up here.