When to Hire Experts for Your Online Business - dummies

By Shannon Belew, Joel Elad

Most online business owners are used to taking risks and calling the shots — alone. That’s why the hardest part of being an online entrepreneur is realizing that you don’t have all the answers. The second most difficult part is to understand when to turn for help, when you finally admit that you need it!

If you’re unsure whether your site warrants outside help, trust us: Ailing businesses leave plenty of clues to that answer. If any of the following problems sound familiar to you, you might need some outside help:

  • Declining sales: A steady drop in online orders is a sure sign that something is wrong. The number of products or services you offer doesn’t matter — if overall sales decrease month after month, you’re losing precious dollars.

    A sharp and immediate decline in online orders is treated differently from sales that drop steadily over a long period. If you suddenly lose a disproportionate number of sales, first check out these issues before you start panicking:

    • Your site lost its search engine rankings.

    • Your site or server is temporarily down.

    • You had a security breach.

  • Stagnant sales: If your online orders aren’t growing as your business matures, you have a problem. You might see an occasional spike in sales on a new product or from new customers. Stagnant sales mean that you’re losing loyal customers, however, which means that you’re either not attracting new visitors to the site or not adding enough products to account for attrition. No matter the reason, it’s money out of your pocket!

  • Recent management or partnership changes: Dissolving a relationship with a business partner or experiencing a high level of management or employee turnover is often a sign of more serious issues lurking in the background. Making bad decisions, experiencing limited or no growth, and tolerating a hostile work environment are issues that can scare away business partners and employees. Your business is in need of a fresh perspective.

  • Difficulty in attracting new visitors: Don’t blame the search engines! Websites with strong search engine rankings can have trouble increasing their numbers of visitors. The same percentage of visitors consistently hovers over your site. Why? Lots of possible reasons can explain why your site isn’t attracting more eyeballs — or the right eyeballs. The bottom line is that if your site isn’t gaining exposure, it’s time for you to find out why.

  • Fewer visitors to your site: Even worse than being unable to attract new visitors is watching your numbers decline — steeply or not. If the drop is consistent and it isn’t occurring over a holiday weekend or as part of a seasonal slump, it’s time to stop the bleeding.

  • Drop in search engine rankings: You used to be in the top ten returned searches in Google for your main product category, but now you aren’t even in the first ten pages of returned search results.

    This drop doesn’t mean you’re operating your business poorly or your product quality has declined, but it does indicate that you haven’t kept up with the changing rules for search engine optimization or made the most of search engine marketing (SEM) to keep your site visible. In return, your sales may very likely suffer if you don’t get help.

  • Increased customer complaints: If your customers take the time to complain, consider yourself lucky. Not all customers are kind enough to tell you about it — they simply go somewhere else to shop! An increasing number of complaints is one of the best indicators that something is wrong with your site, your product or service, or your customer service.

  • Increased negative chatter: Another side to customer complaints is negative chatter, or word of mouth. Unlike the customers who take the time to let you know they’re unhappy, an equally vocal group of customers prefer to let everyone else in the universe know you haven’t met their needs! These customers write negative reviews online, and chatter about their bad experience on social networking sites, such as Twitter, Facebook, and even YouTube.

  • Added competition: Your site likely has plenty of competition online — and offline. Even if you don’t think that you’re taking a direct hit from competitors, they’re probably targeting your customer base with competing products and services.

  • Profit void: Depending on how well you maintain your accounting procedures, you might not immediately realize that profitability is an issue. As you watch sales come in and pay your expenses, everything seems okay.

    Of course, as a more established online business, you analyze the numbers closely to allow the real story to surface. When the amount of money you clear begins to decrease (or isn’t increasing), you have to find out why and correct it.

These red flags are the most common signs that your business is in need of a tune-up. Of course, sometimes a flag is just the tip of the iceberg. You might be experiencing several problems simultaneously, some more critical than others.