By Katrina Chertkow, CED Research Assistant
Chris Fischer, co-owner of Alaska Beach Stone Lamps in Homer, shared his experience at an “E-Commerce Tips for Alaska Small Business” discussion. Joining him on the panel were Zoi Maroudas, an Anchorage-based business owner; Jon Bittner, the state director for the Alaska Small Business Development Center; Cat Mason, a SCORE mentor; and Kyle Walker, a representative from Amazon.
Five key pieces of advice for small businesses from the panel are:
- Know your company. Zoi Maroudas, CEO and co-founder of Bambinos Baby Food, a natural and organic baby food company, stressed the importance of understanding your company and its message: “Know about your business in all aspects and know what your company stands for.” Creating a strong brand helps people relate to your products, and it will aid in creating a successful online retail space. Having an understanding of what you are trying to convey will help you directionalize your marketing and target specific audiences.
- You can’t do it all yourself. Cat Mason stated that one of the most common downfalls of new entrepreneurs is that they try to do too much, too fast. E-commerce is constantly evolving and it is difficult to manage the technicalities of starting a business while also staying on top of these changes. Maroudas also commented on this issue, sharing that if she could go back and change anything about the creation of her company that she would have hired additional people to assist her sooner.
- Produce fresh ideas. The challenge with the ever-evolving e-commerce space is that you need something special to stand out and hook people. Chris Fischer uses social media for marketing his lamps and found that by sharing his experience of a smelly piece of driftwood, he engaged his customers in the process in a unique way. “People want the story,” agreed Kyle Walker. He went on to explain how the story of your company and your product is vitally important to how your audience connects with you.
- Have a plan. “Setbacks are normal but you have to be prepared and know how to handle and bounce back from them,” stated Mason. “Have a plan and do your research”. He believes that not understanding what goes into selling online is the downfall of many new businesses. Knowing your market and whom you're selling to, in order to understand if an online outlet works for your product, is a good place to start planning. Jon Bittner described how certain demographics are more likely to buy online than others and this should be considered when deciding if an online retailer is right for your product.
- Use multiple marketing sources, but only one selling outlet. “Scaling your company means using comprehensive marketing,” said Bittner. Online marketing allows your product to reach a global market. Walker stated that an online marketplace allows for “large scale selling with a lower overall investment.” However, he also warns against using more than one online marketplace, as that would not only double or triple the data to manage but could also lead to newly launched small businesses running out of merchandise to fill their orders.