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Top Online Sales Tips For Food Entrepreneurs: Part 1

Updated: Jan 6, 2019

Our Dos and Don'ts of Launching Your Product Online!

Before jumping into your car or van (or hopping on your bike/moped/scooter) to make your next delivery, think about an alternative reality…

You’re in the middle of your daily routine: you’re experimenting with new recipes, on the phone to suppliers, updating your social media profiles or researching new business development strategies. Your phone bleeps. Oh, it’s another online order – yet another package to be wrapped up and set aside with the existing bundle of parcels that are ready for the courier who’ll call to your door at 4.30pm. The preparation of the packages is a little bit of a diversion; a little bit of a distraction as you try to work through today’s rigorous schedule and get a handle on that on-going ‘to-do’ list.

Still, you smile to yourself. It was only a few short months ago when your daily routine involved the monotony of sitting in traffic as you crawled from one sales meeting to another. While some meetings were productive and concluded with a substantial order being secured, on many other occasions, there was plenty of chitchat and humming and hawing before your potential client exclaimed something along the lines of, “Well, thanks for calling out to me. I’ll try these samples, think about it and get back to you”.

Several times per week, there were exasperating phone calls and emails to deal with: long-winded emails with unclear order details (why are so many people reluctant to use the order form provided?) and lengthy phone calls during which semi-decipherable instructions were provided regarding your client’s next delivery.

Now… how things have changed!

Your trial toe-dipping into the realm of online sales has now become a permanent endeavour. Long gone are the tedious afternoons inhaling traffic fumes as you wait for yet another set of traffic lights to change. No more are you stuck in in traffic chewing your nails as you mentally tally up all of the unfinished tasks back at your food entrepreneurial HQ.

The time spent zipping from client to potential client with stock for delivery, samples for tasting sessions and ready-to-impress brochures and sales presentations hasn’t 100% vanished entirely – there are still days when you find yourself on the road when you’d rather be elsewhere. However, your schedule has now returned to almost unrecognisable levels of manageability. Plus, and this part is vitally important, sales have increased.

Go on, google ‘Win-Win Situation’ – the top result is undoubtedly a photo of a very pleased-looking food entrepreneur sitting at his/her laptop, looking like the cat who got the cream… getting all those crucial day-to-day jobs done, all the while watching the online sales roll in….Now, I’m not saying that launching your product online is a failsafe means of reaching unfathomable heights of business success. In food business, as with any other sector, there is no silver bullet; there is no magic wand solution.

However, at this stage in my career, I’ve been lucky enough to guide numerous businesses through the process of launching their products online. Of course, every business has its own unique requirements, so the following Do’s and Don’ts comprise broad guidelines rather than a one-size fits all approach. If you have queries about how an online product launch should be managed within your own business, The Dirty Apron & Co. is here to offer individual advice – just tug on our apron strings and we can arrange an initial one-to-one business consultation.

1. DO: Get The Basics Right!

So, first things first… you obviously need a website – it’s a good starting point if you’re going to start selling online.However, it’s increasingly possible to start selling even if you’re an early stage food business without a website. A ‘shop section’ can be added to your Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/business/help/ShopSectionOnPages) or a Shopify storefront can, as the Shopify promo states, be set-up in “less than fifteen minutes” (https://ecommerce-platforms.com/ecommerce-selling-advice/build-online-shop-less-15-minutes-shopify).

My advice, however, is to step back, take a deep breath and get all your website ducks in a row before you start selling online​.

In fact, even if you are the super-impatient type who wants a web-store ‘like yesterday’, I’d recommend getting a basic website in place before your launch your e-commerce drive. This is particularly important where food businesses are concerned; consumers would naturally prefer to buy food products via a website that inspires trust. Your web presence needs to convey a clear sense of professionalism.

Remember, your website should be a central hub of marketing communications for your business.

The last thing you want is a disjointed set of information sources that confuses your customers and creates SEO chaos. Get a simple website online and launch an e-commerce add-on or ‘extension’ that meets your needs.

All of the big name web-store platform providers offer plugins that work with an existing website. Each option has their advantages and disadvantages - choose with care. For those of you using a WordPress website, WooCommerce would be a natural option; Shopify is also becoming an increasingly popular website ‘plugin’ for existing websites; new options are cropping up all the time.

Your developer should have the latest info, but doing your own research is prudent. Check out some of the detailed option comparisons here

(https://ecommerce-platforms.com/compare/shopify-vs-woocommerce-comparison) and here (https://foundr.com/ecommerce-platforms/).

2. DO: Look at The Bigger Picture

It seems like an obvious question, but is your particular food product suitable for online sales?

Non-perishable food items are easy-peasy, but where refrigeration is required, you’ll need to work with a reliable courier company that can deliver your produce in a safe and unspoiled state. Many courier companies offer distribution of ambient, chilled and frozen food products using special temperature controlled transport options. Get talking to delivery companies early in the ‘going online’ process so you’re fully aware of any obstacles of additional expenses associated with online sales.

Plus, you should think about whether you’ll need more robust packaging for courier-delivered sales. Will that ornately decorated pie survive a road trip with an under stress courier driver traversing the city at rush hour? Remember, your online sales may not be delivered with the same TLC that you’d dedicate when transporting your own produce.

3. DON’T: Overlook the Importance of Percentages:

2.5%, 3%, 4%, 5%... It doesn’t sound like there’s much of a difference, right?

Well, when it comes to launching your product online you can never be too shrewd with your calculator. WooCommerce and a handful of other e-commerce platforms are free to download, but it’s important to note that many other e-commerce extensions available to start-up entrepreneurs come with on-going subscription costs.

What’s more, the cost of the payment system that’s used to process your online sales (e.g. PayPal, Afterpay, Stripe etc.) can vary in terms of transaction and service fees (the general fee is somewhere around the 2.9% mark).

Again, speak to your web developer so that you have an accurate picture of the monthly costs associated with running your web-store, including the percentage cost deducted by your payment system provider.

4. DON’T: Freak Out Over the Techy Stuff!

Here at The Dirty Apron & Co., we’ve seen plenty of dedicated technophobes tackle the world of online sales.

So, what if you can’t edit the ‘About’ section of your website without being overcome with sheer dread that your entire online presence is about to come crashing down?

Take comfort in the fact that all of the latest e-commerce platforms are designed to facilitate even those with the most basic of computer skills. Once your developer has installed your chosen e-commerce platform and payment system, you should be invited to a short training session that will allow you to acquaint yourself with all of the main features of the system.

Take a notebook along with you to the training session and ask as many questions as you can! Don’t leave the training session without a clear grasp of the basics:

  • How to upload/list a new product

  • How to add a product photo

  • What size/format should product photos be? I.e. width x height, resolution, jpg/png etc…

  • How to change the price of a product

  • How to change the delivery cost

  • How to allow your online store to ‘talk’ to your stock control, bookkeeping or CRM system (that’s if you are already set up with this additional technology)

It often helps to bring a work colleague, partner, family member or friend to any e-commerce training session. That way, you can both try to absorb as much knowledge as possible and share the task of remembering all there is to know!

5. DO: Spread the Word!!

The ironic thing about online sales is that offline marketing activity can often be the key to success. Your Facebook page, along with your Instagram and Twitter profiles will go a long way to promote your e-commerce activity, but it’s crucial to also get the word out there in real life (or IRL as the Millenials says...).

Don’t hesitate to circulate your business card (everywhere!). Whether you’re on your way to the supermarket, the bank or to pick up the kids from school, remember to carry a stack of business cards that clearly promote your web-store URL. If someone asks you how your business is going, don’t pass up the opportunity to present that someone with your business card.

If you’re already selling at markets, corner stores or delicatessens, be sure that your products are labelled with packaging or stickers that draw attention to your e-commerce website.

These seemingly minor real-world marketing approaches can do wonders to further your step-by-step pursuit of online food marketing domination!

At Dirty Apron & Co., my line of work has allowed me the opportunity to guide food entrepreneurs (of varying technical ability!) through the challenges of establishing their online sales strategies. I can say for certain that it’s not the easiest of tasks. However, the pay-off is absolutely worth it.

Keep visualising the scenario painted in the intro above… The day when your product has been fully launched online and your web-store is working like clockwork. Whether it’s business-to-business or business-to-consumer (or both!), letting the customer come to you has become the holy grail of internet success. It might take a month or two to fully establish the online sales dimension of your business but, more often than not, it’s worth the effort.

We say take things in baby steps, do your research and consider launching a handful of products on a small scale before investing big.

And, as with all things internet-y, change is always around the corner. In an ever-evolving environment, it’s always a good idea to continue to learn more about the nuances of online sales and marketing.

Here, at the Dirty Apron & Co., we’re delighted to share the experiences we’ve had helping our clients set up their web-stores. If you have positive or negative experiences of your own to share with us, tug on our apron strings!! We’d love to hear your story!

If you have any questions, make sure to ask inside my Facebook group, Bite-sized Marketing Morsels with The Dirty Apron & Co. This is one of my favourite places to hang out! On this sounding board, I get personal and raw while introducing you to other food industry movers-and-shakers, bringing mini-trainings right to your feed for delicious results. 

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The Dirty Apron & Co. is a one-stop shop that turns delicious dreams into reality. Rachel and her team are specialists in food marketing for retail or wholesale food businesses, cafes, restaurants and caterers.

They are passionate about all

things food, and have the know- how, experience and industry contacts to help new food businesses get started.