As an experienced eCommerce executive advisor and the founder of several successful web-based businesses, there’s not much that Paul Waddy doesn’t know about selling online. He joined editor Cec Busby on the Flying Solo podcast to share why it’s high time for all businesses to take advantage of the online space.
Paul Waddy is the CEO of The Horse, former head of operations at Showpo, an advisory board member at the National Online Retail Association and a strategic advisor at Wayflyer.
Not willing to sit on the learnings he’s gained throughout this impressive pedigree, he’s also written two books aimed at helping small business owners achieve their eCommerce dreams: Shopify for Dummies and Selling Online for Dummies (available now for pre-order).
Pre-order your copy of Selling Online for Dummies, launching 13 June 2022.
eCommerce: the great leveller
With one in three Australian businesses still without an online presence, Paul’s mission is to help these latecomers realise the vast growth potential they are missing out on and how easy it is to dive into the eCommerce space.
“I love eCommerce,” says Paul. “I think that it’s a great leveller. Anyone can get into it and have a go. Selling online is pretty new, and they don’t tend to teach it in universities and TAFE, so eComm folks have varied and vast backgrounds. It’s not always easy, but when you get it right, and if you’re prepared to work hard, you can compete with some of the big players.
“The point of writing my books was to show people that it doesn’t matter how old you are, what background you’re from or what industry you’re in, you can pick up your laptop and join an eCommerce platform like Shopify, and you can be trading in 24 hours. You can get a 14-day free trial on Shopify; you can use their stock images; they’ve thought of everything.
“It’s not that hard – the barriers to entry are low, and that’s why I like it. So I’m doing my best to encourage people to get in there and give it a go. Because I’ve seen so many businesses experience life-changing growth through becoming smart eCommerce operators.”
With the recent online shopping boom occurring globally, some business owners are concerned that the online space is ‘saturated’ and too hard to find a foothold in, but Paul begs to differ.
“The thing to remember is that online retail in Australia is still only 20 per cent of total retail,” he reveals. “You might think it’s too late for your business, but it’s not. The industry is growing rapidly – inevitably, eCommerce will eventually be around 50 per cent or more of total retail.
“I tell people that we’re in this golden age where people who are in eCommerce now are going to be looked at as pioneers. The world’s getting smaller because eCommerce is borderless – and all ships rise with the tide. That’s why I love eCommerce. It’s just a huge opportunity.”
Listen to Paul Waddy on the Flying Solo podcast:
eCommerce is easier than you think
One common reason small businesses hesitate to bring their business online is that it seems too hard, especially for business owners who aren’t particularly ‘tech-savvy’. But Paul says it’s much easier than you think.
“While we still have to give eCommerce due respect, as it is a profession that requires some knowledge and skill, my point is that it’s absolutely learnable, and there are some excellent resources out there to help you, like my book.
“There is no excuse for a small business owner not to pick up a book and learn about eCommerce. I think you’ve got to because you’ll get left behind if you don’t. More and more people are browsing online for products and services, mostly on mobile devices. If you are not online in some format, you miss out on opportunities.
“I’m talking about all industries,” says Paul. “I work with people who sell clothes, alcohol, joinery, bathroom equipment, hair products, rugs, furniture … it’s not just for fashion. So I’d encourage people who are still not entirely sold on it to give it a go because you’re likely to see incremental activity, whether that’s inquiries or leads or sales or brand awareness. And good operators don’t have to spend a fortune – you can get in slowly and scale it.
“I think it’s time that everybody considers having at least an online store or a virtual shopfront. Pick up your laptop and get into it.”
Paul Waddy, eCommerce executive advisor and author
Finding customers online
So, you’re ready to set your store up online, but what about customers? Suppose your business hasn’t had an online presence before. In that case, many business owners worry that they’ll open their online shopfront to crickets, or that they’ll have to pay even more money for online advertising. Paul says it’s simple – go back to basics.
“This is probably where many online retailers go wrong,” Paul reveals. “When I started in eCommerce, you could throw money at Facebook, and they’d throw sales back at you; it was legitimately that easy. It’s not anymore – Facebook no longer has any organic traction for businesses; it’s a pay to play platform. That’s a real ‘gotcha’ – people have this misconception that they can just give money to Facebook and Google ads, and it’ll roll in.
“Paid media is not a strategy; it’s a channel. If you’re going into eCommerce and your strategy involves spending – trying to get the bulk of your traffic through paid sources – it will not work. Competition has never been greater in eCommerce, so you’ve got to be cleverer than that.”
Back to basics
“This is where I encourage online retailers to go back to basics,” Paul says. “Focus on the organic or free channels for marketing and acquiring customers.
“It’s about old-school guerrilla tactics like word of mouth referrals, online reviews, family and friends shouting it from the rooftops, posting it on your social channels, building your email database. Make those cool videos on TikTok that go viral, or leak your product to the press and get a news story about it. Reviews are an essential part of any online store – a nice little tip for a new business is to send new customers an email after their order and ask them to review your product.
“Spruik your brand, hype your products, get into forums, write about it, talk about it, shout about it … and then add paid media as a small part of that overall strategy,” says Paul.
“You should aim for more than 50 per cent of your website visits coming from those free channels. Once you’ve got that, you can introduce a paid media strategy to supplement those organic visitors.
“The average online business that I work with spends roughly 15 to 20 per cent of their net revenue on paid advertising – that’s a rough benchmark for all businesses.”
Paul shares lots more great tips for businesses keen to consider bringing their venture online; listen to the full Flying Solo podcast now.