Managing a small business that has a significant online aspect to it can be a daunting proposition. The big guys of bricks and mortar retail plus online specialists such as Amazon can afford the best technology available. With a small business budget, how can you afford to execute on anything like a level playing field?
Let’s look at some of the biggest parts of the solution set you’ll need, and see how we fit this into your budget.
If you are starting from fresh, you need to get the best URL you can, then get your website hosted somewhere where you have a Content Management System (CMS) available to create and manage the content of your website. Far and away the most popular CMS today is WordPress, and we would recommend it to you for its low cost and wide range of design templates and plugins which can bring all sorts of advanced capabilities to your site. Just make sure you keep it well backed up and updated, as WordPress needs frequent updating to patch ongoing issues with security.
Choosing the right design template (and be smart – choose a responsive template which works well on mobile devices) will get you well on your way to having a professional web presence at a bargain price. See sites like themeforest.com and elegantthemes.com for a great selection of themes. You can find your URL and web hosting at places like godaddy.com and bluehost.com. Then shop locally for help with website design and content.
If you are planning to actually sell products or services online, you’ll need some form of eCommerce store. You’ll see a wide range of offerings available to get a store up and running quickly: weebly.com, wix.com, magento.com, shopify.ca, squarespace.com, fastspring.com and 3dcart.com are some common options.
Many of these options will produce a store which is not really a part of your website. They can do a reasonable job of covering up the seams between your store and your actual website, but there may be issues with data privacy, percentage fees and gathering your own store traffic data that may persuade you against some of these solutions. Another key factor to bear in mind is your overall system integration. How will you gather customer data and sales data from the online store and make it part of your overall sales and accounting management processes?
Our recommendation in this area is WooCommerce, which installs as a free eCommerce plugin for WordPress. WooCommerce now powers 30% of all online stores — more than any other platform. With WooCommerce, you can sell both physical and digital goods in all shapes and sizes, offer product variations, multiple configurations, and instant downloads to shoppers, and even sell affiliate goods from online marketplaces.
And as you’ll see below, WooCommerce can be one of the key information pillars on which your business will operate, all of which can link to each other without paying for expensive custom systems integration.
Aside from just selling things to your customers with an eCommerce store, your site will need to interact with customers in many other ways. After all, in a bricks and mortar store staff do a great deal more than just ring up sales! Some of these interactions may include:
- Collecting customer information via Lead forms
- Providing a knowledge base where clients can look to answer their questions themselves
- Enabling clients to register customer service issues, and check on the status of issues previously filed
- Providing an area where clients can examine and approve quotes you may prepare for them
- Allowing clients to lookup their recent invoice and payment history, and see any outstanding amounts
- Two-way interaction on Projects, with file uploads/downloads, and communicating progress
- Enabling clients to update their contact profile information in your CRM system
- Providing a means for clients to manage any subscriptions they may have with you, for anything from sock-of-the-month club to subscriptions for Newsletters or SaaS services
- Enabling clients to book appointments with you for services, or to re-schedule them
- Registering for events like seminars, workshops and conferences
This capability is typically called a Customer Portal or a Self-Service Portal. Like your eCommerce store, the Portal will need to integrate nicely with your (WordPress-based) website, and it will also need to link to your internal system containing all this client data: contact profiles, knowledge base content, appointments schedule, customer service issues, projects, quotes and invoices. This integration of the Portal with customer data in your CRM is one of your most critical challenges as an online business.
You’ll need to be very careful as you make decisions on what solutions to use for your website, your eCommerce store, your Portal and your CRM that you don’t simply pick one element without knowing how you will solve the integration issues with the other three.
You may look at your business’ CRM system as simply a tool for salespeople to track, manage and progress their sales opportunities, and for management to gain an overview of this information. If so, you’d be wrong! We can see above that your CRM will need to integrate with your Portal to provide and house the data behind the many customer interactions available on your website.
So for example, if you need clients to interact on your website re Projects or Subscriptions, it’s going to be hard if your CRM doesn’t know anything about those things!
Clearly, when you select your preferred Portal solution, you’d better know which CRM that data is going to integrate with! In fact, it’s fair to say that for a customer-focused approach to business, you need to work from your website and backwards into your organization. Decide what capabilities your website needs to provide, then work backwards from there to select the Portal and CRM combination that can enable what’s needed. Remember that you also need your eCommerce store to work with your CRM, to store the online customer and transaction records with the rest of your customer and transaction data. If you plan this all in advance to play together nicely, you can do it very inexpensively. Don’t, and the custom integration bills will have your name on them!
The last leg of your five-legged stool (CMS, eCommerce, Portal, CRM & MAP) for online success is a Marketing Automation Platform (MAP). Your CRM may well cover some basic email marketing functions, so it’s up to you if you need the complexity and horsepower of an MAP. It’s usually added as an online marketing refinement, not as a Day 1 must-have.
An MAP will do things for you like:
- Send out client communications via email or text (SMS) either singly, or as part of a time-based campaign, with dynamic logic that lets prospects’ ongoing actions affect how you choose to message them. The complex decision trees of these campaigns can become extremely valuable corporate resources.
- Track client activity on your website – pages they visit, PDF’s they download
- Track emails they open
- Track if they follow you on Twitter, or Tweet about you
- Aggregate this and other ‘client journey’ data and maintain a lead score which eventually may rise to the level where the lead is passed to sales for closing
Some of the solutions in this space can be pretty expensive, such as Hubspot, Marketo, Pardot and Act-On. Others less so, such as Infusionsoft or Lead Guerrilla. But other than the cost, you need to make sure your MAP can integrate fully with your CRM, and also with your website. As you can see above, the MAP needs to collect all kinds of data from your website visitors, which it can only do if it works well with WordPress. And your MAP will be sending Lead data across to the CRM, as well as receiving all client data for communications campaigns to existing customers, so clearly the CRM and MAP need to integrate well.
So far we have seen that WordPress and WooCommerce are free – although we may want to enhance them with some paid templates and plugins. What is available to address the CRM, MAP and Portal requirements, complete with the close integration required between them?
To solve exactly this requirement, at 1CRM we built the 1CRM Customer Connection portal which is a WordPress plugin. It integrates with both 1CRM for small businesses and Lead Guerrilla to provide a cost-effective CRM/Portal/MAP combo to work with WordPress and WooCommerce. With these five systems orchestrated to work together right out of the box, you don’t need to pay for any expensive custom integration, and you get a website and business platform that compares well against anything the big guys can throw at you.
Overall, your online technology platform, and the integration between its five components, will look like this:
If the solution described above sounds like what you need, check out the various links provided or drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.