Overcoming Common Challenges Faced by Online Entrepreneurs

Starting a successful online business is like starting a tug-of-war between your time and money. For early-stage entrepreneurs, you constantly have to ask yourself if you should invest your hours into learning new skills, like web design and video editing, or if you’re better off hiring experts. And then there’s the question of how you’ll pay for their help. For some would-be entrepreneurs, these questions are enough to make them quit before even starting.

Unfortunately, every online entrepreneur has to solve a long list of problems in order to get their business off the ground, but you can also overcome these obstacles with a combination of strategy, commitment and support.

Three common challenges for online entrepreneurs

Selling products and services online is different from running a storefront. Digital entrepreneurship is isolating by nature, so you might feel like you’re the only one who’s facing a mountain of business challenges. But in reality, most online entrepreneurs have to solve similar problems. Here are some of the most common obstacles you’ll encounter.

1. Marketing spend

You want to stand out from the competition and generate website traffic, but you’re not sure how. When it comes to spending money on ads, you don’t know how much to spend, if it’s worth the cost or if there’s even money for a marketing budget.

2. Conversion

Website visitors and social media followers don’t always translate to sales. If your “conversion rate” is low, meaning few people who visit your site end up making purchases or subscribing, then you’re probably panicking about revenue. But even a conversion rate as low as 3% could be a high bar to aim for depending on your industry.

3. Shipping

For ecommerce businesses, shipping can be a logistical nightmare. Packaging a product and mailing it quickly and safely can be expensive — especially if you want your packaging to stand out. According to Shopify, shipping makes up 8.7% of annual expenses for ecommerce businesses. Sure, you can pass shipping costs on to the customer, but they’re almost 50% more likely to abandon their carts if they have to pay extra fees.

The solution: Leveraging your resources

Your business growth won’t be linear. When you accept that the learning curve is never-ending, you can view each obstacle not as the end of your business but as part of that growth. Here’s how to take some of your biggest challenges in stride.

Get support ASAP

Ideally, you’re in a position to hire a whole team to support your online business, from tax advisors to web designers and more. But most entrepreneurs have to find free professional help. That’s where a team of peers, mentors and coaches comes in.

When you build a support team, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you need to solve a business problem. Instead, you can save time and money by asking seasoned professionals for advice, recommendations and referrals. Here are a few places to start:

  • Join a professional network for online entrepreneurs.
  • Become a NASE member to get 24/7 access to NASE consultants who offer expert advice on marketing, taxes, finance, social media, operations and more.
  • Sign up to be matched with a free business mentor through an agency like SCORE, your local Small Business Development Center or the Urban League.

Use social media strategically

According to FundingCircle, the active relationships you build on social media can drive revenue and even help you stand out to prospective business lenders. But social media requires a major investment of time, and followers don’t always translate to sales.

Here are a few tips for getting the most out of your online presence:

  • Start with one platform. Focus on one platform, and choose it based on the type of business you own. For example, LinkedIn can be valuable for promoting business-to-business (B2B) services, but Facebook and Instagram both have features that can increase ecommerce conversions by letting you sell products directly to customers.
  • Schedule regular times for engagement. Avoid the trap of spending all day posting and scrolling. Instead, schedule your posts in advance and then block off regular windows to engage with customers and respond to comments.
  • Build a connection. Focus on building an authentic connection with customers. Answer their questions and respond to their comments in a timely manner, and make sure your business’s contact information is up-to-date so customers can easily get in touch.
  • Use the sales tools: Make it easy for followers to initiate a purchase by utilizing the sales features on the platform, like product tags or links to your website. Where possible, eliminate unnecessary steps between scrolling and buying, and take time to address problems that arise with your sales funnel.

Make customer reviews a priority

When customers have exceptional experiences with your business, they’re more likely to be loyal to your brand and give you valuable word-of-mouth marketing. But you can also harness their feedback to strengthen your brand. When you receive positive reviews, take time to post them on your website and social platforms like Instagram, which is where 34% of consumers go to research businesses before spending money.

Here are a few ways to get more reviews from your customers:

  • Send a direct message or an email after each transaction to ask for feedback.
  • Offer an incentive like a discount, a gift card or a giveaway in exchange for completed surveys.
  • When a customer gives you positive feedback, ask if they’ll write a review or if you can post their comment online.

Ship thoughtfully

Free shipping is a major incentive for customers, but it’s not sustainable for most businesses.
You can, however, offer other incentives to shoppers, like setting a spending threshold for free shipping or letting customers choose from multiple shipping options, including faster shipping at a higher cost.

Keep in mind that your shipping and packaging strategies will need to shift as your business scales. At each stage, be prepared to do some research on safe, cost-effective packaging for your products. Try these tips for keeping costs down:

  • Look for small, lightweight packaging that works for your products.
  • Buy wholesale or find bulk pricing discounts.
  • Negotiate with carriers to get lower shipping rates.
  • Use recycled materials or repurpose your packaging materials.

It’s also worth spending a little extra to personalize the package, since 62% of business leaders say personalization has helped them retain customers. Consider including a handwritten note, an insert that has a short brand bio or branded wrapping tissue. Adding a QR code to a coupon for the next purchase can help, too.

Use other free resources

Until you have the revenue to hire freelancers or employees, you may just have to learn a few new skills. Fortunately, there are lots of agencies that offer free online business workshops and courses, including SCORE, the Small Business Association and even Harvard. NASE’s Succeed Scholarship can also help you cover business education costs.

Another way to expand your business is through small business grants, which are funds that you don’t have to pay back. Your business might be eligible for certain grants based on your business type, industry or other specifics.

To find grants, start by looking to see what’s available through your state and local agencies, or by checking out NASE’s Growth Grant, which rewards businesses up to $4,000 for certain expenses. Whichever grants you apply for, just remember that you’ll have to pay federal and state taxes on the funds you receive.

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