I was privileged this week to give a keynote address on “Building a World Class e-Commerce Business” for the semiannual Sellers’ Conference for Online Entrepreneurs (SCOE) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This major networking event, now in its 9th year, is one of the leading conferences for online retailers, wholesalers and distributors, but is an absolute “must attend” for third party sellers on Amazon.com.
Interestingly, the questions that followed my presentation didn’t have as much to do with the content of my talk as my qualifications to give the talk in the first place. Why would a lawyer (admittedly a small business lawyer specializing in tech startups) give a talk on marketing success? After all:
- I haven’t personally built a million dollar e-commerce empire;
- I have 120 followers on Twitter.com but haven’t yet posted a tweet;
- My Facebook pages hasn’t been updated in more than a year; and
- (I shouldn’t admit this in print) I am still using Windows XP (although I will be switching out next year when Microsoft stops providing service).
The answer is simple: I have worked with literally hundreds of e-commerce entrepreneurs since the dawn of the Internet (circa 1993). When you work with that many, you see patterns. You see patterns in the ones that “make it” and grow big, and you see patterns in the ones that fail.
And one of the most important patterns of all is the fact that despite all of the hoopla about social media – how it’s changing the world, the way we think, etc. – the basic rules of small business success remain unchanged.
Like: you have to know what works and what doesn’t.
A point I have been making for years is that selling online, and marketing your business online (regardless of how you do it), is a lot like driving a car in 1915. We are not yet (although we are slowly getting there) in a world where “plug and play” rules. You still have to know what goes on “under the hood.”
Two days ago my computer printer broke down (my world as a lawyer is still very much “dead trees” driven and I have to print out lots of documents). I drove to the nearest Office Max and bought a state-of-the-art “all in one” machine (combining printer, fax, scanner, copier and washer/dryer) made by a leading manufacturer – the same one that manufactured my old printer.
Lesson # 1: if you want upgrades to go smoothly, stick with the same manufacturer and the same system.
The new printer was a marvel. No sooner had I plugged it in then a TV screen lit up and walked me step by step through the installation process. It even had “animation” features showing me exactly how to install the ink cartridges, load in the input and output trays, etc.
At the end the little TV screen assured me my printer was completely installed and communicating with my computer.
A few minutes later, I tried printing a document, and got the dreaded “couldn’t find printer” box. The little TV screen on the printer continued to assure me that my printer was connected.
What to do? Did I buy a “lemon”?
Not at all. I checked the “printer settings” page on Windows XP (you hit the “start” button, then “control panel”, then “printers”), and saw that my computer was still “defaulting” to my old printer, which had been disconnected. By changing the “default printer” to the new printer’s icon, the printer started working miraculously, and did everything the manufacturer promised.
My point is this: if I had not known to check the “printer settings” (and many computer users don’t), I would have assumed there was something wrong with the printer. I would have returned it to the store, or the manufacturer.
I have no doubt we will (fairly soon) be living in a world where selling online is as easy as driving a car in 2013. But we still have a way to go, and there’s no substitute for a detailed knowledge of how your personal technology works.
Here are some really cool new resources for online sellers I learned about at the SCOE conference:
One of the biggest problems Amazon sellers face is sales tax compliance. Amazon has a nasty habit of moving your inventory from warehouse to warehouse, giving you “nexus” in faraway states. While Amazon helps you calculate and collect sales tax in these states, it relies on you to register in each state and pay taxes to the appropriate authorities. TaxJar (www.taxjar.com) is a new service designed to help small retailers process sales tax payments in all states where they have “nexus”. Stay tuned for more information in a future column.
Sweating the upcoming holiday season? “Beat the Rush!”, a new book by Maureen Benner (www.mocatreview.com), shows you five ways a new Amazon Online Marketplace seller can “prepare for Quarter Four and the Holidays.” And it costs only $7.
Cliff Ennico (www.succeedinginyourbusiness.com), a leading expert on small business law and taxes, is the author of “Small Business Survival Guide,” “The eBay Seller’s Tax and Legal Answer Book” and 15 other books.