E-Commerce Platforms for Small Businesses

Written by, Samuel K. Burlum, Investigative Reporter and author of The Green Lane, a syndicated column, Published on 9/22/2018, a www. SamBurlum.com Exclusive

Tags: Business, Community, Economy, Entrepreneurship, Small Business, Commerce, Technology, Innovation

Source: In today’s fast-paced society, where the world of commerce is not limited by borders, small businesses need to expand their ability to exchange their goods and services in return for payment. With more consumers shopping online from the comfort of their living rooms, small businesses need to consider alternatives to traditional payment systems.

One of the residual benefits of technology advancement for small businesses is that it brings small businesses and distant markets closer together. Fifty years ago, an independent retailer on Main Street USA would have never been able to communicate with a potential customer in a foreign country, let alone sell their goods or services from afar. Today, many small businesses can offer their value propositions outside of their zip code with the help of electronic commerce platforms and digital tools.

Small business owners have a two-fold win. Firstly, small business owners have a multitude of digital advertising options available to them to reach potential consumers in other geographic locations outside of the physical reach of their businesses. Secondly, by using ecommerce platforms, small businesses can collect payment for their products and services without the customer ever having to step foot into their physical business location.

There are two kinds of ecommerce platforms to consider: Self-Hosted and Hosted. There is a difference between the two types of platforms which a small business owner should consider before choosing the platform and service that works for them.

Self-Hosted platforms are designed to be coupled with web hosting. These systems work similarly to partnering a web blog roll to an existing website. However, instead of partnering content, you are partnering a payment system. These systems can be tailored to the specific needs of the business, such as the implementation of a shopping cart for an online store. When using a self-hosted ecommerce platform, businesses are afforded the flexibility to alter their system, website, or even transition from one service provider to another.

Hosted ecommerce platforms are ecommerce platforms that integrate all of the moving parts of an ecommerce system into one. Hosted ecommerce platforms include access to the master web servicer that services multiple end users, the online shopping cart, bill collection, transfer of funds, and technical and design support. Because hosted ecommerce platforms are designed to be universal platforms utilized by many ecommerce participants, these systems and functions are more uniform.

Some of the most recommended Self-Hosted ecommerce platforms include Magento, OpenCart, WooCommerce, Zen Cart, and Big Cartel. What these platforms have in common is that they are designed for use by both the home-based business and the small brick and mortar business. These self-hosted platforms allow users to customize their own tools without the help of outside tech support. They also allow for the business owner to take advantage of search engine optimization tools, and user-friendly systems for shoppers. Much like creating a website, these platforms offer multiple templates, built-in blogging tools, and individual control over design and tool integration changes.

Shopify, Big Commerce, PrestaShop, Volusion, and YoCart are highly recommended Hosted ecommerce platforms for the small business owner to the major corporate-run online store. Shopify is the most recognizable and popular ecommerce platform of the bunch; however they all offer an elevated service package. Many of these systems are mobile friendly, include full blogging capability, offer a number of payment gateways and options, support multiple languages, have app capability, and include automatically integrated back office security. These platforms have some flexibility for custom features to be added, and can be integrated into almost any digital marketing advertising tool.

Alternatively, Facebook now offers a purchase button on business pages, allowing for small businesses to share their products on one of the largest social media platforms in the world, and some of the most popular ecommerce websites where products can be offered include Alibaba, Amazon, Craigslist, E-bay and Etsy.

Several payment processing options are available with ecommerce platforms, such as Payline Data, Stripe, Dharma Merchant Services and PayPal. Choosing the best fit for your ecommerce platform may require a little research, since you will also want to consider which options are most secure and what the fees will be.

One of the most common ecommerce payment gateway options is PayPal, which can be used as either the primary payment gateway or as a secondary payment option, since many consumers have PayPal accounts. PayPal has served many small businesses and online marketers as a payment collection option. PayPal’s functionality is the reason it is preferred by so many small businesses and online shoppers. PayPal serves as an online e-bank account where consumers can hold money for use in making online transactions. Small business owners can put PayPal to work just the same as a cash register, where they can generate an invoice and bill clients, collect from clients, and then either hold their revenue in their PayPal account, or transfer their money to a traditional bank account.

Cost will vary between ecommerce platforms. Some require a monthly or yearly subscription flat fee while others will waive the flat fee in exchange for a percentage of the purchase-sale transaction – much like operating a merchant account tied to a credit-debit card terminal. Business owners should consider how many online transactions they project their online store will generate and compare the percentage rate against the flat fee rate. Shipping and handling costs, taxes, and import-export fees (when warranted) will also need to be factored in.

Before deciding on the platform for your small business, consider all of the options, costs, and how well your potential consumers will respond to the ecommerce tool. If the process is overly complicated, you may lose sales if potential customers are not comfortable with the transactional platform.

Samuel K. Burlum is an Investigative Reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Samuel K. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur, who currently lends his expertise as a Consultant firm to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration. He is also author of “The Race to Protect Our Most Important Natural Resource-Water,” and “Main Street Survival Guide for Small Businesses.”

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Every Small Business Owner is A Farmer

Written by, Samuel K. Burlum, Investigative Reporter and author of The Green Lane, a syndicated column, Published on 9/8/2018, a http://www.SamBurlum.com Exclusive

Source: Some believe small business ownership leads to overnight success and immediate wealth, time freedom and social status, when, in fact, the fruits of small business ownership are most often experienced only after years of long hours of toiling and after taking a significant financial risk. We will show how being a small business owner is much like being a farmer.

Small business ownership and farm ownership share many of the same attributes, responsibilities and challenges. The process of growing a business and growing crops in the field are very similar in nature. Most farmers are, indeed, also small business owners, but how is it that small business owners are like farmers?

Much like a farmer, a small business owner must plant the seeds of their future harvest. This means investing into a location, equipment and tools, inventory, and many other aspects of their value proposition before they reap any financial benefit. The small business owner must cultivate the field of potential client prospects and nurture these relationships the same way farmers nurture and provide for their plants, so that in the near future they can benefit from the harvest. The small business owner’s harvest happens when the relationships built with potential clients begin to yield purchases, and the financial exchanges are made for products or services of equal or greater value.

Just like a field of corn or a crop of select vegetables does not grow into a cash crop overnight, the small business owner must also wait for their business to mature. The small business owner must have three qualities that the farmer also possesses – patience, perseverance and vision.  Just as it takes time to grow a quality crop, it also takes time to grow a fundamentally sound business model. During the time in which the crops and business continue to grow, new challenges can arise. The business owner and farmer must both have a plan to deal with these challenges and a willingness to work through the adversity.

Both the farmer and the business owner have an opportunity to sharpen the ax. For the business owner, the downtime in between serving existing and potential clients affords attention to be concentrated on other areas of their business that are critical moving parts of the bigger wheel of small business ownership. Small business owners and farmers must always be looking for ways to make their respective enterprises more efficient. Whether it be dedicating time to education or industry training, development of a marketing-advertising program, or taking some time out to service and maintain equipment and tools, both the farmer and business owner must use downtime to make improvements that will maximize their return on investment.

The business owner and the farmer each have time constraint issues to contend with. The farmer only has so much time to get their ripened produce harvested and to market before the crops spoil. The business owner must also serve his/her customers in a timely manner or put at risk their reputation with the customer. In both situations, the farmer and the business owner must be postured to serve the needs of the customer in the expected time frame that the consumer has set, or they both risk losing the sale. A harvest must be presented to market in a set period of time or the crop becomes unwanted by the market. The same can be said for products or services, as every product or service has a life cycle before it becomes obsolete. New technology is developed each day, and as a society of entrepreneurs, we are always looking to make things better and more efficient for less money.

The farmer and business owner must also be good managers of the tool known as money. A farmer has to know the cost of growing fields of their preferred crops, as well as all of the indirect cost of operating their farm. Farmers must be able to budget their money wisely so that they have enough resources to operate their enterprise until the next harvest provides additional cash flow. Small business owners also must also be good money managers. They must plan and gauge their inventory and/or services, as well as turnover time in between sales cycles and projects, so they too can have enough cash to run day to day operations until the next wave of sales happens. The farmer works on slim margins and knows that a bad year in the fields means a hard year of managing expenses until the next harvest is available. The small business owner must also be prepared for long sales cycles and poor performing seasons.

The business owner and farmer both must be able to see the field full of harvest before they even begin. This is called having vision. The small business owner must have a short term and long term plan for creating a return on their original investment while also pointing to the future of what will happen in a year, three years, and even five years down the road for their enterprise. A farmer stands in the field in early spring, before the first rows have been tilled, and must be able to see the crop that is to be harvested in the fall, even before the first seed is planted. The vision provides the ability to stake a plan of action that brings the series of events into focus that leads both the small business owner and the farmer to the day when they can be proud of the investment they made into their respective fields of practice.

Small business owners are farmers, regardless of whether they own a retail business or a service-oriented business. They must always plant new seeds of potential customers in growing their consumer base, cultivate and nurture business and community relationships, and invest themselves in the “behind the barn” work that is part of the machine of their value proposition to the market. If you want to become a great small business owner, aim to become a farmer first.

Samuel K. Burlum is an Investigative Reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Samuel K. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur, who currently lends his expertise as a Consultant firm to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration. He is also author of “The Race to Protect Our Most Important Natural Resource-Water,” and “Main Street Survival Guide for Small Businesses.”

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