Chapter 12: Store Operations

Chapter 12: Store Operations

Even though the stuff we'll be going over here in Chapter 12 is pretty dry, your execution of the principles and concepts we'll be talking about will have a huge impact on the long-term profitability of your business. Time management is absolutely critical, as is leveraging the opportunity to offload non-critical tasks so you can focus more of your time on profit-maximizing activities. Finally, we'll finish off Chapter 12 by going over my "Top 10 Operational Tasks for Running a Successful Store."

Time Management

I have to be honest with you here... I am far from the world's foremost authority on effective time management. In fact, I'm probably somewhere around the 17th percentile. 🙁 But I have learned a few things over the past decade in this industry, and this training course is all about sharing what I know with you. So at the risk of being called a hypocrite for not always practicing what I preach, let me highlight 3 keys to effective time management specific to running an eCommerce store. (Then in the next section we'll talk about a 4th key: outsourcing.)

Key #1. Set Aside Blocks of Time for Marketing

  • Set Aside Blocks of TimeDon't let SEO/marketing take a "back seat" to everything else (which is easy to let happen because there's no deadline or timetable for getting it done)
  • Get started with marketing your store immediately (don't wait until your store is "100% finished" or even to a certain point)
  • Set aside at least a few 60-90 minute blocks of time each week to focus on SEO/marketing and nothing else
  • Close everything else (email, store admin panel, Skype, etc.) and work exclusively on SEO/marketing for that block of time

Key #2. Set Up & Stick to a Schedule for Monthly Site Reviews

  • 6-Month Web Marketing StrategyIt should only take 60-90 minutes to do a good store review
  • These site reviews allow you to escape from the "trenches" of day-to-day operations once a month and look at your store at a high level (i.e. 40,000-foot view)
  • Analyze your store's key performance metrics and trends from month to month
  • Set goals & make an action plan to accomplish those goals
  • Analyze your A/B split testing results & make a plan for upcoming A/B split tests for the coming month

Key #3. Set Aside Blocks of Time for Order Processing & Customer Service

  • If you drop everything & process individual orders throughout the day as they come in, you'll never get anything else done
  • We recommend reserving a specific block of time each day (or maybe 2 blocks of time per day) to process all orders that have come in & do all other customer service tasks
  • Process OrdersDuring this block of time, take care of all of the following:
    • Process new orders
    • Send tracking information for previously processed orders
    • Respond to email and live chat messages that have been left
    • Call back customers and potential customers who left voice mail messages
    • Deal with sale follow-up issues

Outsourcing Options

Want to know what the biggest bottleneck is for your store's growth and profitability? It's almost certainly YOU! There simply aren't enough hours in the day to do everything you can and really should be doing to make your store as successful as it could be. That's why outsourcing is so crucial to your long-term success. Those who "make it big" are almost never the people who try to do everything themselves. They're the people who surround themselves with talented, capable people and teams and use their time to direct and coordinate others' efforts to build something big. Let's discuss the top 5 outsourcing "candidates" for an online store...

1. Content Writing

  • My Blog SquadWriting content is time-consuming, and most people either don't enjoy it or aren't good at it
  • But having unique, well-written content is critical for getting ranked well in Google & the other search engines
  • For your ongoing social marketing through an on-site blog, consider using our My Blog Squad service

2. SEO, Marketing and Link Building

  • SEO, marketing and link-building are hands-down the most complex, challenging and time-consuming part of running an online store or website
  • It's also a very logical, stand-alone thing to outsource
  • Consider our Rank Booster Plus service for significantly improved rankings in Google and the other major search engines

3. Expanding Your Store or Building a New Store

  • Adding new categories and products to your store is time-consuming and requires a lot of unique content
  • You may also want to hire a person/firm that specializes in taking your store onto Amazon, eBay or other selling marketplaces

4. Customer Service Work

  • Outsourcing the daily order fulfillment/customer service work to an employee or "virtual assistant" will free up A LOT of your time to do higher-level, bigger impact things
  • One good option is to hire somebody locally (child, grandchild, cousin, niece/nephew, neighbor OR post the job on CraigsList)
    • If you do this, you should technically pay them as an employee, which will require you to set up federal & state payroll accounts and pay payroll taxes & unemployment insurance & such
    • Because of the administrative hassle of doing all this, some people opt to pay their workers as independent contractors instead of as "employees"
    • Read this article on IRS.gov for a discussion about whether workers should be treated as employees or independent contractors, the tax requirements for each and the consequences of wrongly classifying an employee as an independent contractor
  • Another good option is to hire a "virtual assistant" through a service such as Agents of Value
    • Pro: Extremely affordable for quite intelligent workers
    • Con: Difficult to oversee & manage since they're not local and you only work with them online
    • We've used Agents of Value many times in the past & have been quite pleased

Pro's Edge: Finding Solid "Employees" or Service Providers on Upwork

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Optimal Store Operations

We've talked a whole lot about building and marketing and optimizing an online store. But we haven't talked much about how to actually run a store on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis. Let's do that now.

Before we jump in, let me make a quick recommendation: It's a very good idea to create reminders and/or calendar events in whatever app/program you use for a lot of the things we'll be discussing in this section. A lot of these things are easily forgotten and overlooked if you don't have a notification popping up on your phone/computer to remind you to do them. One other thing to note: Many of these tasks can be outsourced to an employee, virtual assistant or an outside firm. As long as someone is doing them on a regular basis, you're good.

Optimal Store OperationsAlright, here are the 10 tasks that made it onto my list of "Top 10 Operational Tasks for Running a Successful Store"...

1. Do a Periodic Competitive Pricing Analysis

  • It's very important for your prices to remain competitive (not necessarily the lowest in the market, but right in there among the lowest)
  • Use the exact same process we covered in Chapter 5
  • Frequency depends on whether your supplier(s) have & strictly enforce MAP and how aggressive your competitors are with changing their pricing
  • If competitors are breaking MAP, report them to the manufacturer

2. Periodically Check Your Shopping Portal & PPC Feeds

  • You can lose a lot of traffic and sales if one or more of your feeds goes down
  • Shopping portals and PPC portals are notorious for periodically updating their feed file structure, which causes old feeds to break
  • Some feeds have expiration dates and your product listings will go down if you don't replace them before they expire

3. Process Orders & Avoid Fraudulent Transactions

  • See the expandable section below for step-by-step instructions on fulfilling orders
  • We strongly recommend using NoFraud to screen orders (they charge a very low per-transaction rate) and consider getting full-blown "chargeback protection" for only 0.25% of the order total (if you get a chargeback, they'll reimburse you for it!)
  • See the Pro's Edge box below for a good discussion on how to detect & prevent fraudulent transactions
Step-by-Step Instructions on How to Process Orders

Pro's Edge: Critical Advice on Preventing and Detecting Fraud

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4. Always Have a "Sale" Going

  • Limited-time "sales" create a sense of urgency & give customers the "warm, fuzzy feeling" that they're getting a good deal
  • Try to have your "sales" coincide with current holidays (it makes your site look current & up to date), but at least have a generic "blowout sale", "overstock sale" or "annual sale"

5. Use a Simple Order Log

  • Using an order log helps you stay on top of orders (together with the 'Orders' page within your store admin panel)
  • It also makes month-end accounting & managing an employee/virtual assistant much easier
  • It helps ensure that your suppliers aren't overcharging you or double-charging you on fulfilled orders
  • Download and use the Order Log spreadsheet (in the Pro's Edge box below) for tracking orders, revenue & costs

Pro's Edge: Order Log Spreadsheet Download

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6. Check Google Webmaster Tools Periodically

  • Check WMT at least once per month
  • Make sure your sitemap is still in place & current (re-submit your sitemap if necessary)
  • Check your error log to see if Google has encountered any crawl errors, duplicate meta titles, broken links, etc.
  • Check to see if Google has sent you any messages about your site's health or link-building practices
  • We recommend checking WMT monthly

7. Maintain Your Store's Product Catalog

  • Update product stock statuses as necessary
  • Don't delete out-of-stock products from your store (don't hide/delete the page)
  • Generally, you'll want to either:
    • a) change their status to 'Available for Pre-Order' (and indicate a realistic back-in-stock date), OR
    • b) leave their status as 'In Stock' even though they're not (when customers order them, you'll need to contact them & talk them into waiting until it's back in stock OR switching to another product)
  • Check to see whether items previously marked 'Out of Stock' are back in stock now
  • Add new products just released by the supplier/manufacturer
  • Delete any items that have been completely discontinued by the manufacturer (i.e. they are no longer being made)

8. Review Google Analytics Stats Each Week

  • You should be looking at your key traffic metrics each month as part of your site review, but it's a good idea to just pop into Google Analytics every week to make sure everything looks good
  • Specifically, look at your traffic pattern for each source of traffic: organic, paid, referral, direct and social
  • If you see a major drop in traffic in any area, investigate the reason for the decline in traffic
  • Also check to make sure your conversion rate hasn't taken a sudden drop, which could be indicative of a problem with your checkout process or SSL Certificate

9. Review Your PPC Ad Campaigns Periodically

  • Regularly check each ad campaign's key performance metrics to make sure it's profitable
  • First and foremost, make sure that your Actual Cost Per Conversion is LESS than your maximum allowable Cost Per Conversion (as we covered in Chapter 8)
  • Review A/B split test results, declare a "winner" and introduce a new challenger to continue improving your ads

10. Conduct Monthly Site Reviews

  • Once per month, conduct a full-blown site review (as covered in Chapter 11) to look at high-level, big-picture issues and opportunities
  • Analyze your store's key performance metrics, set goals & make action plans to accomplish them
  • Think about what you can do to increase your conversion rate & plan your upcoming A/B split tests
  • Explore ways to increase your average profit per order
  • Consider potential growth opportunities
  • Consider ordering a premium site review every few months to complement the monthly site reviews you're doing yourself