Hello! Who are you, and what business did you start?
I am Mike Doherty, founder of Understanding eCommerce. I launched the business in 2003 to help innovative companies build brand awareness, grow their online reach, and convert visitors into customers.
We offer worry-free hosting for WordPress sites, including maintenance, performance, and security. We will take care of your website so that you can focus on growing your business. Trust me; nothing sucks more than – "Your site is down…." Wait, what, when, how? And then the fun begins.
Does your host provider answer the phone, or does it support a bunch of FAQs posted on their site? Are they helpful, or do they tell you we do not support WordPress? You can go back to your web developer if you can find him, and he will charge you by the hour to troubleshoot. Sound familiar?
Meanwhile, your site is down. You are losing business and credibility by the minute.
We can help.
“Many of our clients have not talked to tech support in years, and when they do, they speak to us.”
What is your backstory, and how did you come up with the idea?
Before we launched Understanding eCommerce, we were building our eCommerce sites for friends. Our first store was a Yahoo! Store. The options were limited, and the backend was complex. At the time, there was no support for the product. We were constantly frustrated, and the site was often down.
I find the best way to stay motivated is to remember why you are doing this - to make a better world, to leave something for your kids, or to create a legacy.
After a while, we found WordPress. This gave us greater flexibility, and we were able to build the kind of websites we wanted versus being restricted to eCommerce templates. That was great, but every time there was a problem, our host provider blamed WordPress (because it couldn’t possibly be their service) and offered no help because “We don’t support WordPress.” Sound Familiar? Over the years, we became WordPress experts and could differentiate a WordPress-related issue from a hosting issue. When we finally got through to tech support, we knew how to help them solve our problems. We pretty much did their jobs for them.
Anyone who has ever had to contact tech support knows what a timely, arduous process it is. And most small business owners are better served spending their time growing their businesses than arguing with tech support. We sweat the details to make sure your site is up and running. Our suite of products protects against cyber-attacks, malware, and rude customer service agents.
Many of our clients have not talked to tech support in years, and when they do, they speak to us. We answer the phone or text and work solving their problem while they go back to work, knowing it is being handled.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Over the years, our services have adapted to the changing nature of websites and hosting. Websites used to primarily serve as online business brochures. Today’s website is a community where we interact with our clients to enhance the user experience. As a result, we can automate many processes, seamlessly integrate to social channels, and deliver a complete set of metrics for the business owner to better understand what is and is not working on their site.
Armed with this information, they can make better decisions around AdWords spending and content marketing. Many of our clients outsource their content development and SEO to us, as well.
Describe the process of launching the business.
When we first launched our business, we immediately signed up for a business planning course. Our favorite resource for business planning is Disciplined Entrepreneurship by Bill Aulet. I know most people want to jump right into the building, but we spent a lot of time planning and researching. I highly recommend writing your business plan. Don’t pay someone to do it, do it yourself. The lessons learned will stay with you for years to come.
Some critical areas are:
- Understanding your ideal customer – we create user personas of our customers to better understand their needs and pain points to develop solutions that meet their needs, not ours. We don’t build until the client tells us what the unmet need is.
- Understand the competitive landscape – Who are your competitors, what are their solutions, how do you differentiate, and what makes your clients buy from you and not them.
Understand the metrics – CAC, LTV, and Churn.
Customer acquisition Costs CAC – How much does it cost to acquire a customer (your sales/marketing costs are divided by the number of new clients acquired).
LifeTime Value LTV – How much profit do you make over the lifetime of the client. We want to make sure that the cost to acquire does not exceed the lifetime value. We want to make sure at the end of the day we are spending $1 to make $3, and not the other way around.
Churn is how many clients either leave or do not renew. First, it reflects customer satisfaction. Second, you do not want to be feeding the funnel to have your customers leak out the bottom – that gets expensive, really fast.
Understand Finances – What is breakeven? How many units do you need to sell before your make a profit? What is working capital? How much money will you need to support the business until it can support itself? Understand cash flow – many businesses experience seasonality, so you need to build cash reserves to get you through the slow periods.
Writing the business plan will help you understand how your business works. Your assumptions will be wrong; your numbers will be wrong; it does not matter – because you will know why they are wrong and learn how to realign to get back on track.
“Don’t pay someone to do it, do it yourself. The lessons learned will stay with you for years to come.“
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Always be networking! We regularly engage in structured networking both on and offline. We have been a member of BNI for over ten years. We meet weekly with our networking partners to exchange business partners. Think of it as word of mouth on steroids.
On social media, we focus on building and joining groups around our industries. We are active in LinkedIn groups and Facebook groups. You can get visibility on these groups without buying ads. To do so, you need to show up regularly, contribute, give, and support other members rather than sell. Your support and expertise will position you as the go-to thought leader in your industry.
Google My Business is your friend. About 70% of all online searches result in a user visiting a business within 5 miles of their home. Many keywords are expensive, but if you add a local destination – they are more targeted, and you filter out all the people who aren’t going to be your customers, anyway. For example, the keyword pizza competes with all the other pizza companies online. But the keyword Pizza Lakeview Chicago means you are only competing with pizza places with a specific neighborhood on the northside of the Windy City. Better odds, I would say!
Keeping customers is easy if you listen to them, acknowledge their pain points, and treat them how you want to be treated. Unfortunately, I find customer service a lost art these days; most big companies are too busy launching the next-generation product even to care. However, little things like answering the phone, genuinely fixing customer concerns, and being transparent will win you customers for life.
We also use WhatApp Chat to communicate with followers.
How are you doing today, and what does the future look like?
Our footprint keeps growing. We have clients in America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. A lot of our business comes from customer referrals, and we couldn’t be prouder. So many of our clients start with essential services, but when we become their trusted provider, they come to us for more.
Initially, they come to us for websites or SEO help, but then grow into other services such as Content Development, PPC/Adword Management, and reputation Management.
We have numerous partnerships to ensure that any need along the marketing journey can be met; need a podcast? We have you covered. Need video content? We have a partner for that! Want to try AdWords? We’ll be there for you.
“Little things like answering the phone, genuinely fixing customer concerns, and being transparent will win you customers for life.”
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Know your numbers (Profit & Loss, Breakeven, Cash Flows) and your metrics (CAC, LTV, Churn) – these will tell you how things are going. Then take an Agile approach to your business – be open to change. Be flexible. Adapt.
Forgo sunk costs – this one is hard, I know. But just because you spent a lot of money on it does not mean it is a good idea as we advance. When you evaluate a product or a project, try to focus on whether it makes sense from a business perspective to continue. This is hard because we can become both financially and emotionally invested in a long-term project. Try to approach it from the perspective of a new investor, based on what we know, the costs, and the ultimate potential – is this a good investment of time and money.
Lastly, be nice to your customers. Try to understand where they are coming from. If you can accommodate them – try. If you can not be upfront and honest, do not string them along.
And never close the door. We have had clients come back to us because once they change providers, they miss the service. So we try hard to make sure if they leave, it is on a good note, we wish them well, and we let them know they are always welcome back.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We build our sites on WordPress. It is a user-friendly platform with great plugins that pretty much can accommodate most web needs. For SEO, we use Yoast and Buffer. For security, we use Wordfence Security. For analytics, we use Google Site, Google Search Console, and Google Analytics. Since Google dominates search, we use Google products in conjunction with Google My Business for SEO. Finally, for writing assistance, we use Grammarly.
For communication, we use WhatsApp. And for file sharing and documentation management, we use Google Docs and Google Drive.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I follow Neil Patel for SEO. Between blog posts, video, and SEO tools, Neil Patel offers a full range of products to get you started on SEO and all the tools and advice to develop your skills. I am a firm believer in following those that are doing, rather than those who are just selling products.
For business planning and startups, we use Disciplined Entrepreneurship: 24 Steps to a Successful Startup. Bill Aulet offers a step-by-step guide to cover all the areas you need to consider when launching a new business. In addition, of course, he has steps for Market share, competitive analysis, and my favorite metrics: CAC, LTV, and Churn!
For podcasts, we follow the guys at Rise25. John and Jeremey offer tons of advice on getting started and sharing what they learned over many years on building podcasts. Heck, they’ll even manage them for you if you don’t have the time or inclination to edit sound, apply to directories, etc.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just beginning?
I have pretty much covered that in the above, but I’d say in summary – write the business plan, always be networking, and deliver exceptional customer service. This can be a tedious process. I find the best way to stay motivated is to remember why you are doing this - to make a better world, to leave something for your kids, or to create a legacy. Remembering why will help you through the tough times.
Where can we go to learn more?
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