Dealing with the Accidental Success of Your Online Business
Imagine finding yourself in the throes of a major public relations blitz, with skyrocketing sales following close behind. The reality is that you might be unprepared to handle the level of business that this scenario brings. But your success is really no accident.
How do you prepare for an onslaught of hard-won business? After all, if your site is merely mentioned on a TV talk show or featured in a short segment on one of the news channels, your URL can be rocketed into the glare of the spotlight (in an extremely good way). Before you know it, you would have back orders and your site would be bogged down from the jump in visitors. You wouldn’t be able to get UPS to pull into your driveway fast enough. Lest this blitz of good fortune turn into your sudden demise, you had better be ready.
The following list describes both immediate and short-term actions you should take when opportunity comes knocking at your domain:
- Identify your pressure points. Determine where the biggest demand for your time or resources is coming from. You might be beseeched by the media for interview requests and can’t make it to the phone. More than likely, your production and distribution cycles have kinks, and you have to get (or keep) products stocked at the higher demand levels. Also, your customer service functions must handle the incoming request load. Maybe your biggest problem is figuring out how to pack and ship this steep increase in orders. After you identify your most immediate (and demanding) source of frustration, you can begin developing a solution.
- Hire temporary help. When your manpower runs out of “man,” you have to call in the cavalry. Going from a solo operation to one with a dozen employees, however, is daunting. Screening and hiring people and putting benefits in place take time. The solution is to hire temporary workers to provide an immediate boost to your productivity levels, without the hassle. Use a professional staffing agency to quickly add qualified and prescreened workers. An added benefit to this approach is that you can pull back on staffing levels if demand slows down.
- Outsource certain tasks. After a sudden influx of orders, the most economical solution (for both the short and long terms) is to outsource some of your functions. As the owner of a small site, you’re probably used to processing each order and then packaging and shipping the product yourself. Factor in a 50 percent to 75 percent increase in orders, and you can no longer physically keep up the pace. Combat the problem by finding a local call center that can take over functions related to customer service. Or try contracting with a distribution center to warehouse your products and handle order-packing and order-shipping functions.
- Adjust the back end. Another victim of your site’s growing pains is the back-end function. From your shopping cart program to inventory control, the programs that were once suited for a start-up site can quickly become antiquated. To survive an unexpected sales rush, work with your vendors to make minimal improvements to your existing support systems. Then schedule time to research advanced products and features that can be better scaled to your new sales levels.
- Seek funding. The changes you have to make to your business require money. Even if you decide not to invest in new equipment or tools, you need money to handle inventory spikes and hire staff. One of the best things you can do is take a trip to your bank — or another lender. As long as your credit score is reasonable and your relationship with the bank is good, establishing a line of credit is an easy way to gain access to cash. A line of credit is basically a loan with a preestablished limit. Rather than take out the full amount at one time, you can withdraw money in smaller amounts only when you need it.
- Talk, talk, talk. Now, more than ever, you need to communicate with vendors, distributors, employees, and customers. Take time out for daily or weekly 10-minute staff meetings. Take the opportunity to share operational changes and find out about problems that might otherwise fly under the radar in your stepped-up pace of activities. Let customers know about back orders, shipping delays, and any other minor problems that are surfacing. The worst thing about overnight success is that if you don’t address concerns effectively, you lose the customers who came to you during this crunch time of good fortune.
Take notes when you’re talking to customers, especially when they have a positive comment or a success story concerning your product. Turn these stories into case studies or testimonials that you post on your website, and use them as offline marketing materials, too.
- Spend wisely. We hope that your burst of success is proportionate to the rising number in your bank account. With years of hard work behind you, you might be tempted to splurge. Instead, think of this influx of funds as investment capital and put it back into your company as much as possible.
Meet with your accountant to review or update your financial strategy. A substantial increase in revenues, and subsequent expenditures, brings along plenty of tax implications. Ask your accountant to discuss your options to maximize the use of your money.
- Take it to the next level. With momentum on your side, consider leveraging it a little further. With increased recognition and revenues, you have a good shot at negotiating partnering opportunities, developing another line of products or services, and riding out a wave of expanded publicity. Use your moment in the spotlight to further establish your site’s brand and position it for the future.