How to set up your business for online sales in 5 easy steps
For many brick-and-mortar shops, diversifying revenue streams means putting products on an online marketplace. If your store is already online, it means putting more time into your site’s quality so that shoppers have a seamless shopping experience. It might mean running sales on social media or finding new ways to market your products while being mindful of global conversations. It could also prompt you to form new partnerships and make your products available on multiple sites. If e-commerce is new to you, here are five steps to help you get started.
1. Identify your best online marketplace
There are a ton of sites on the internet built specifically to help you sell your products. So it’s easy to make the mistake of selling your products on the wrong platform. That’s why you should start your e-commerce journey by identifying the best online marketplace for your products and customers.
Here are some things to consider:
- Your products’ look and use. If your products are handmade and crafty, open an Etsy shop. If they’re made in a factory and have a more commercial appeal, sell them on Amazon.
- Where your customers hang out. Consider the people who buy your products. Would you peg them as likely to shop on eBay? Or, if your products have a local appeal, might you get more traction on Facebook Marketplace?
- Your time. Building a website on Shopify or Squarespace is ideal for consistent branding and maintaining the most control. But it’s a bigger time commitment, and only you can decide if that’s a problem or not.
- Your resources. Another thing to consider before you create a website is how you’re going to promote it. If you have your customers’ email addresses and think they’d like to hear from you online, great! Or maybe your business has a large following on social media, and you can promote your website there. If you don’t communicate with customers online, you may find it more useful to sell your products on Amazon or another global platform.
2. Capture your products in the best light
Literally. Selling your products online means every item must have a photo and a name, if not also a description. If it’s clothing, you need to describe the fabric, care instructions, or an occasion to wear it. If it’s a cooking utensil, tell your customer what it can do, just as you would if they turned to you in the store and asked, “What is this?”
But most importantly, you need to capture high-quality photos of each product to catch the eyes of online buyers. After all, you’ve got a lot of competition now—every other similar vendor selling online.
To start, consider the best place to take photos of your products. Put time into details like lighting and background. Maybe even enlist a friend if you need someone to model the product in use. If all that sounds too overwhelming, hire someone with a bit more experience from a gig-work site like Behance or Fiverr. These gig-work sites can help connect creatives with local work.
3. Add products to your store
At this point, you may be more concerned with getting your products online fast than perfecting your own online retail space. So let’s focus on a few sites that make setup quick and easy.
Good news! Once you’re ready to start selling on Etsy, setup is easy. Simply upload your business’s logo, complete the “about me” section and shop announcement, and outline your store’s policies. Etsy has additional resources to help you list your products and market more effectively. Depending on how many items you intend to list, you can get an Etsy store up and running in a day. That said, it may take weeks to get your first order. So it’s essential to focus on things like search engine optimisation (SEO) and store setup.
eBay provides resources for business owners looking to sell on their site. And the good news is that setting up a store on eBay doesn’t take a ton of time. That said, some users—particularly those new to e-commerce—may find the process confusing. If that’s the case for you, you can hire other companies to set up your store. They can help your store stand out as a professional retail space on a site with lots of competition.
If you decide to list your products on Amazon, you’ll enjoy benefits like stellar brand analytics and access to millions of consumers. But consider these things before jumping into Amazon as a selling platform:
- Getting approved to sell on Amazon’s marketplace is getting tougher. You’ll have to provide a lot of documentation upfront.
- If you plan to sell items on Amazon during the coronavirus, you may run into challenges. As of April 2020, Amazon may prioritize the delivery of essential medical and household supplies. They may also prioritise essential goods over third-party and nonessential shipments to their warehouses.
4. Connect your online store to your QuickBooks account
It’s easier than ever to keep your business financials up to date because QuickBooks integrates with a variety of e-commerce platforms.
- Choose a platform and launch your custom store through the vendor’s site.
- Follow the steps within your platform to connect your online store to QuickBooks.
- Process, track, and deposit customer payments from QuickBooks directly.
5. Tell your customers where to find you
Once you have an online shopping space up and running, tell your customers. Here are some places where you should be getting the word out:
- In a Google search. Many businesses have listings on Google, making it easy for customers to get directions or leave a review. Not only is it free to create a Google My Business listing, but you can control the information visitors see. Besides giving your business a great intro paragraph, be sure to link to your e-commerce site, so customers can start shopping.
- On your physical storefront. Do this if you’ve had to close your doors temporarily. Loyal customers want to know where to find you. And you can make it easy for them. You might create and post a QR code in your window, directing customers to your website. QR codes are also great for sending customers to coupons or your social media profile.
- Everywhere your market. Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter are all good places to post about your new site. Change your Instagram bio to include a link to your website. Then post a photo showing off your new retail space. Encourage followers to share your new site in their own stories or posts for a percentage off their first order.
- In an email or text message. If your business has collected customer email addresses or phone numbers, it might be time to use them. After all, customers who are loyal enough to want coupons and points sent to their phones will want to know you’ve got an online store. Just be thoughtful in your messaging, and give them the option to opt-out of future messages. EZTexting and Textedly are two services that can help.
Meet your customers where they are—online
The fiercest, bravest individuals run small businesses. But even small disruptions can disrupt sales and foot traffic. As a business owner, you already have what it takes to be successful. You eat challenges and setbacks for breakfast. And there are resources out there that can help you along the way. Going online doesn’t mean giving up on your storefront dream. Quite the contrary. Simply, it’s an expansion into another dimension, and it’s an option the customers love.
Is cloud accounting safe? Here’s everything you need to know
As you read this, people around the world are using the cloud to easily access everything from email to family photos (e.g., Facebook and Instagram) to their favourite playlists (e.g., Spotify). You’re probably one of them. You’re probably one of them. But, it’s not just individuals who reap the benefits of seamless integration and real-time backups.
According to a 2018 cloud computing survey by IDG, 73 per cent of organisations have at least one application or a portion of their enterprise computing infrastructure in the cloud. What’s more, enterprise organizations predicted that they would invest, on average, $3.5 million into cloud apps, platforms, and services within the year. Growing and complex businesses followed suit at $889,000 (which is up from $286,000 in 2016).
There’s no doubt about it: The cloud is shifting the paradigm of software solutions for growing businesses, but this raises an important question: Should you trust the cloud to securely store your business’s sensitive data?
If you’re looking to learn more about cloud security, the following insights will enable you to make a more informed decision.
Is your financial data secure with cloud accounting?
Stories about hackers and data breaches might have you wondering: Is cloud accounting really as safe as everyone says it is?
Before we answer that question, let’s consider the alternative to cloud accounting: self-hosted accounting software. Data stored on a server at your office or business may seem secure and convenient, but if there’s a fire, flood, or a coffee spill, all of your files could be lost in an instant (which nearly happened to businesses like Absolute Drywall and Southern Services & Equipment). Not to mention, data stored on a computer is still vulnerable to viruses and ransomware.
Fortunately, you can mitigate these risks with cloud-based software. From backups and encryption to 24/7 onsite security, cloud-based accounting software offers a defense for threats to your information.
No system is 100 percent foolproof, but it’s safe to say cloud-based software is safer than traditional options. In fact, Microsoft reports that 91 percent of growing and complex business owners said the security of their organization was positively impacted after switching to the cloud.
Wondering how, exactly, all of this works? We’re glad you asked.
How is your data protected in the cloud?
You might envision “the cloud” as bits of data floating around cyberspace, waiting for an app or service to call them into use. The reality is slightly less sci-fi, but far more secure.
Let’s take a look at four factors that ensure optimal security for cloud-based accounting.
Cloud data is stored on physical servers, typically lined up in large rooms or warehouses, that are connected to the internet. Vendors often have servers in several states or even different continents to ensure data doesn’t reside in a single place.
For example, Intuit’s servers are stationed in multiple data centres for redundancy. This means that multiple copies of your information are stored to essentially eliminate the risk of destruction of your information due to equipment malfunctions, power outages, or a natural disaster.
On top of that, Intuit’s data centers and offices maintain 24/7 onsite security.
Did you remember to save last month’s expense reports? Did you make a copy of those invoices? You can spare yourself these questions (and countless more) with cloud-based accounting.
We’re not just talking about one backup file, though. Multiple copies of your data are stored in several locations to ensure that your information is never lost. You get the convenience of automatic offsite storage without the extra effort and cost of creating and managing physical backup copies on your own.
And, should the unexpected ever happen to your system, all of your data will still be instantly accessible to you from any computer connected to the internet—all with little to no effort on your part.
(Digital) Paper Trails
Advanced uses unique always-on activity log and audit trail features, both of which record every login to the service as well as any changes made to every financial transaction. A user cannot turn these features off.
The always-on activity log is a complete record of activities, while the audit trail is an easy-to-read history of all changes to a specific transaction. That means nothing can happen to your records without you or your accountant knowing all about it. Plus, you’ll always have a paper trail should you need to trace a transaction back to its source.
Cloud-based accounting software uses encryption to move and store data. In other words, your information is rewritten into a code. For example, Advanced utilises 128-bit SSL encryption, which is the same technology used by some of the world’s top banking institutions.
Advanced is a VeriSign Secured product. VeriSign is the leading secure sockets layer (SSL) Certificate Authority.
Best practices for keeping data safe in the cloud?
According to McAfee’s 2019 Cloud Adoption & Risk Report, 89.6 percent of organisations experience at least one insider threat incident each month. This can be due to malicious activity, but usually involves instances where sensitive information goes to the wrong people.
Cloud service vendors go to great lengths to keep data safe, but you have an important role in the process, too. Here are three important steps you can take to maximise your cloud security.
Define Your User Permissions
First things first: Put the right information in the right hands. Fortunately, QuickBooks Online Advanced makes that simple with custom roles and user permissions, allowing you to delegate work and manage access to sensitive data.
Each person you invite to use Advanced must create a unique password that nobody else can see. You’ll also get multiple permission levels that let you limit the access privileges of each user.
For example, you might grant a sales rep access to sales transactions like invoices and estimates, but nothing else.
Change Passwords Regularly
Switching up your team members’ passwords is one of the easiest in-house methods to bolster your security in the cloud. Ideally, passwords should be changed every 30 days. Just make sure they’re long and utilize numbers and special characters.
If you want to add a second layer of security, consider multi-factor authentication.
Stay On Alert for Fraud
Fraud prevention is one of the biggest challenges facing small business owners today. Data protection can seem like a complicated responsibility, especially if you have limited resources. That said, following these three tips can help you identify and prevent fraud:
- Only work with companies and individuals you have vetted and trust. Be sure to verify all unsolicited contact with external parties.
- Be wary of malware. Clicking on ads, links, or opening attachments from outside organizations may compromise your information.
- Train your employees to stay aware of potential scams. Your employees are your first line of defence, so be sure they understand what to do if they encounter any red flags.
Legal best practices (read the fine print)
When you transition to cloud-based accounting, there are a few legal matters to consider:
- The American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) reminds accountants they are legally and ethically bound to protect their clients’ sensitive and confidential information. When it comes to choosing a cloud vendor, the AICPA recommends that businesses should write a clause directly into the service contract requiring the vendor to “assume responsibility and legal liability for confidentiality of data.”
- In the event that law enforcement would ever request data from your business, you’ll want to comply without compromising the security of your data. This can be accomplished with a zero-knowledge cloud provision. This puts the only decryption key to your data in your hands, which means law enforcement must speak to you directly instead of going through your cloud provider.
- Your cloud provider can help you avoid commonplace legal issues by working with you to craft a service-level agreement (SLA). This might include a “force majeure” clause that covers unforeseen circumstances.
As a rule of thumb, the more you have in writing, the better.
Ready to Make the Switch?
Does transitioning to cloud-based accounting sound like the right move for your business?
To recap: Cloud accounting is quickly becoming the go-to solution for growing businesses, primarily because of enhanced security and ease of use. To maximise your security in the cloud, be sure to define your employees’ permissions and be on the lookout for suspicious activity. Lastly, don’t forget to cover your bases when it comes to legal fine print.