New U.K. ecommerce businesses need guidance

It has been two months since we started the lockdown in the U.K. It seems longer. The air is cleaner, and the traffic is quieter. It has been a peaceful time, but it’s soon over. The country is slowly waking up; people are moving around.

One thing has occurred during the lockdown that I did not predict but is obvious in hindsight: There has been an explosion of small internet businesses.

Many people have turned to their hobbies during the lockdown and contemplated how to make money from them. Ecommerce is an obvious choice. Initially they used Facebook and other local social media sites to advertise their goods. Those who found a ready market are considering a proper ecommerce site.

There has been an explosion of small internet businesses.

I listened to a BBC Four radio program where these new entrepreneurs were asking advice. The program provided two business owners for answers. Both had grown multi-million-pound companies from their homes. The dialog was interesting, but it was wrong. These millionaires had started decades ago. The internet is very different now. They were recommending Weebly and other generic template sites — not Shopify, WooCommerce, or indeed any proper ecommerce platform. These owners were too high up the management chain to provide start-up advice.

Guidance Needed

There is an opportunity here for service providers such as designers and developers. Whilst many of these start-ups are not likely viable, some will have real potential. Given the right guidance, they can grow and create meaningful, profitable ecommerce companies.

Many of these new entrepreneurs will lack sufficient capital. Some, however, will have money to spend and will seek the right advice to go the next step.

Idle designers and developers could help — and make some money. Many freelancers have experienced a drop in their business. Here is an opportunity to obtain new clients.

Presumably these new entrepreneurs are not rich. They cannot afford large up-front fees. Many are not tech-savvy. They may not know much about domains, or hosting, or collecting payments. It is likely far easier to sell them a monthly service to do it all.

Initially the work would probably be more than the monthly allotment. But once set up, the investment of your time should be paid back by the recurring fee. Having several of these businesses on retainer would likely streamline the load as much of the work would overlap.

The Covid-19 pandemic is changing the way we all work. Changing the way we shop. It’s accelerating online shopping and creating new businesses. The ecommerce service industry can take advantage. Seek out these new opportunities.

B2B Ecommerce That Doesn’t Break the Bank

Covid-19 is forcing a dilemma on many B2B merchants. They realize a robust ecommerce presence is critical to long-term viability. But they are understandably hesitant to spend money amidst the pandemic on meaningful digital upgrades.

It doesn’t have to be one or the other, however. B2B sellers can invest in ecommerce and preserve cash.

What follows are five ways to improve B2B ecommerce without breaking the bank.

Affordable B2B Ecommerce

1. Use built-in functionality. B2B ecommerce platforms have matured. Sophisticated, pre-built functionality has long been available for B2C sellers. B2B sellers can now enjoy many of the same features — avoiding development time and expense.

For example, integrating a B2B ecommerce platform with existing backend systems has historically been expensive and time-consuming. No longer. Many platforms now have default integrations or access to third-party connectors. The result is more cost-efficient integrations in less setup time.

2. Keep design simple. Off-the-shelf design templates have gone mainstream. Most are easily customized to your brand, resulting in an attractive, highly-functional site without starting from scratch. In my experience, merchants looking to control costs should first select a theme or pre-built template based on user-experience features. Then add your company’s logo, fonts, images, and colors. It adds up to a quick, affordable launch, which is easily improved over time.

3. Limit the scope. The best way to keep B2B ecommerce projects on a budget is to limit the scope. Don’t try to do it all from the beginning.

What is the highest priority? Perhaps it’s improving the branding and user experience. Or maybe it’s enabling online ordering — in four weeks. Defining the priority will help your development team meet deadlines and budgets.

As you consider priorities, ask:

  • Which features would improve revenue?
  • Which products are the most important?
  • How many orders will you process in a day?
  • How often does pricing change?

A smaller set of products and related data is easier to get on your site. Your developer can use scripts to move the data if it’s being migrated from another system. Limiting the migration (such as less order history) could lower costs. 

It’s possible to forgo integrating a new ecommerce platform with backend software and, instead, enter orders into the backend manually. It could also speed up the process. Integration decisions typically depend on order volume, pricing complexity, and whether you’re replacing an existing site or launching a new one.

Attempting to satisfy all stakeholders can cause a project scope to explode, driving up costs. To control the timeline and budget, put someone in charge of your cross-functional team — developers, managers, sales personnel, customer service — who can coordinate feedback and focus on the priorities.

4. Discounts and incentives. In the wake of Covid-19, ecommerce platforms are offering incentives and discounted rates. Research your options. If a platform doesn’t publicly offer discounts, request them. Many platforms are experiencing revenue declines, too, and are eager to gain customers.

I’ve seen offers such as three months of free licensing as well as discounted flat-fee packages to get up and running quickly with a limited scope. Taking advantage of special offers would limit your upfront costs. You could then reinvest the revenue from your new site into upgrades and new features.

5. Sell direct-to-consumer. Ecommerce allows B2B companies to sell directly to consumers, not just to other businesses. The disruption from Covid-19 is an opportunity to take the leap.

Fast Launch

With the right scope, launching an effective B2B ecommerce site is possible in a month or less. The key is to go live, make some money, and add features over time.

Editor’s Note:  Lori McDonald will present “Lessons from High-performing B2B Ecommerce Sellers,” a Practical Ecommerce webinar, on June 16.  Free signup. >

How To Feel More Energized Even When You’re Stuck At A Desk All Day

How To Feel More Energized Even When You’re Stuck At A Desk All Day

How To Feel More Energized Even When You’re Stuck At A Desk All Day

Suzanne Scacca

2020-05-26T12:00:00+00:00 2020-05-27T11:07:09+00:00

Let me tell you a little story.

I used to work for a translation agency. It was my job to copy-and-paste translations from one document into another and then to review the writing for errors. I worked between 10 and 12 hours every day, usually taking lunch at my desk (if I remembered to do so) and physically repeated the same thing over and over: mousing back and forth between my two giant computer screens and staring at too-small type.

Two years later, I found myself in physical therapy because I’d worn away the tissue beneath my right shoulder cap and had developed tennis elbow. Despite the months of therapy to repair my arm, I primarily use my left arm to work today. And although it feels a heck of a lot better than trying to power through the pain that happens when working with my right…

It makes me much slower than I used to be

Which can lead to longer hours in front of the computer

And I experience higher levels of stress, frustration and fatigue as a result.

I feel like if you’ve had a desk job for long enough, you have a similar story to tell. Maybe yours isn’t due to bad posture or technique. Maybe it has to do with the fact that you forget to eat lunch most days and don’t remember what it’s like to be outside when the sun is at its brightest. Or you move from your desk to the couch to the bed and back again, never giving your body or mind the physical activity it needs to stay energized.

Rather than let this be our collective fate because of the nature of our work, let’s try and change the narrative. Today, we’re going to look at some things you can do to feel more alert and energized even if you’re stuck at your desk for most of the day.

Fix Your Desk Setup and Alignment

Even if it feels more comfortable to work from your couch or bed or to slouch down in your work chair, the long-term benefits of not sitting properly will haunt you. Trust me.

I don’t know how old most of you are, but you may or may not have had to go through typing classes in school as I did. We didn’t just learn to type in them. We learned the right posture for sitting before a computer. This graphic from wikiHow sums it up:

wikiHow graphic - right and wrong postures working at desk
An illustration that depicts the right and wrong posture when sitting at a desk. (Image source: wikiHow) (Large preview)

Basically, you want to aim for the following:

  • Body folded at 90-degree angles,
  • Back straight against the chair,
  • Feet flat on the floor,
  • Arms bent at the elbows,
  • Fingers hover above the keyboard or mouse without bending or resting the wrists,
  • Eyes level with the computer screen.

This is a good place to start, regardless if you sit in a chair, on a stool or a stability ball. That said, it’s not the only thing you can do to fix your body at your workstation.

Another thing to think about is using a standing desk.

According to Dr. Edward R. Laskowski and the Mayo Clinic, sitting can be really bad for your health. People who sit for long periods of time are more prone to increased blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, and cancer.

Even if you switch to a standing desk for just a few hours a day, you can increase the number of calories burned and stave off some of those health issues. In a study conducted back in 2011, researchers found additional health benefits when using a standing desk:

“The Take-a-Stand Project reduced time spent sitting by 224% (66 minutes per day), reduced upper back and neck pain by 54% and improved mood states.”

You don’t need to go investing in a standing desk to make this change. They can be expensive, especially when you already have a setup you’re comfortable with. However, what you can do is invest in a riser.

Desk modified to be standing
A modified desk turns into a standing desk with an adjustable riser. (Image source: Suzanne Scacca) (Large preview)

Not only can I adjust the height of the riser, but I can tilt it, too. This is useful not just for turning my desk into a standing desk setup, but I can take this with me when I work in hotels to make sure I’m always maintaining proper alignment.

Use Time-Blocking To Schedule Your Day

Usually when people recommend the Pomodoro Technique — developed by Francesco Cirillo — they’re going to tell you to break your day into 25-minute intervals. That’s not really what the goal of this time management method is though.

The reason you break your workday into blocks is because it’s easier to focus when you have a clear and reasonable end-time in sight. It’s also useful for structuring your day.

For someone like a salesperson who has to get on call after call with leads or to sit in an endless string of meetings, half-hour blocks make a whole lot of sense. That’s naturally how their day breaks apart. Web designers would benefit from much longer blocks. Here’s why:

A study from the University of California and Humboldt University looked at what happens after work is disrupted. These were their findings and interpretations:

“When people are constantly interrupted, they develop a model of working faster (and writing less) to compensate for the time they know they will lose by being interrupted. Yet working faster with interruptions has its cost: people in the interrupted conditions experienced a higher workload, more stress, higher frustration, more time pressure and effort. So interrupted work may be done faster, but at a price.”

You have to be careful about managing the “cost” of taking a break. 25-minute blocks are just too costly for a web designer. I’d recommend looking at how your tasks naturally break apart.

Would prototyping a landing page take an hour or two? How about research and planning? Take a close look at the tasks you commonly perform and how long they take, on average, to complete.

I’d also look at where you naturally start to “fail” and lose focus. It’s the same thing that happens in workouts — when you reach your breaking point, your body just gives up. Unfortunately, some people try to push through it when it’s the brain screaming, “Stop!”

Another thing to look at is where your peak energy hours are. We all have them. For me, it’s between 2 PM and 5 PM every day. I always schedule my hardest projects then.

Use those as benchmarks for your blocks. On top of creating blocks and breaks throughout the workday, also be sure to set dedicated hours and limits for yourself. It’s a lot harder to get fatigued if you know you only have to put in a specific number of hours of work that day.

As for building this out, use a tool that makes it easy to set recurring breaks and stick to the same schedule every day. It could be as simple as using your Google Calendar:

Google Calendar time-blocking example
An example of how a web designer might schedule their work and breaks in blocks. (Image source: Google Calendar) (Large preview)

Whatever you choose, make sure you can slot in each task by time and color-code tasks based on things like client, priority, type, design stage, etc.

Get Outside During The Workday

Okay, so let’s talk about what you should be doing with your scheduled breaks.

Unless there’s a dangerous storm outside, you should make an effort to get outside at least once a day. There are a ton of health benefits associated with sunlight, including an increase in vitamin D and serotonin.

Vitamin D is useful as it helps increase our immune systems and fight off disease. If you’ve ever tried to work while battling a cold or the flu, you know how difficult that can be — especially when your bed is just a matter of steps away.

Serotonin is also useful for work. Serotonin is what gives us the energy and good mood to power through longer days. Melatonin, on the other hand, is what puts us soundly to sleep at night. If we don’t get the right balance of it — which can happen if you’re stuck inside with artificial lighting all day — you could end up with sleepless nights and exhausting days.

Walking around India Point Park in Providence, Rhode Island
Despite the extra coverings, I was enjoying the boost of sunshine on my lunch break as I walked around the Providence waterfront. (Image source: Suzanne Scacca) (Large preview)

According to Russel J. Reiter, a melatonin researcher:

“The light we get from being outside on a summer day can be a thousand times brighter than we’re ever likely to experience indoors. For this reason, it’s important that people who work indoors get outside periodically and moreover that we all try to sleep in total darkness. This can have a major impact on melatonin rhythms and can result in improvements in mood, energy and sleep quality.”

But it’s not just sunlight and fresh air that help with energy and productivity. Exercise is important, too. And what better way to fit in fitness than when you’re already outside and on a break from work?

For some people, taking a long walk is their preferred mode of outdoor exercise. It’s also a great option if you’re a dog owner and want to give them a big dose of exercise at the same time.

Ann Green, a fitness studio owner, yoga teacher and heptathlon world athlete, explains the benefits of walking:

“There are many reasons to walk for exercise. Walking improves fitness, cardiac health, alleviates depression and fatigue, improves mood, creates less stress on joints and reduces pain, can prevent weight gain, reduce the risk for cancer and chronic disease, improve endurance, circulation and posture and the list goes on.”

If you want something a little more exhilarating without breaking a major sweat in the middle of the workday, why not take an electric bike out?

There are many great things about this option. For starters, because e-bikes (like the ones you get from Rad Power Bikes) take some of the work out of pedaling for you, you can ride for a lot longer and go further.

Researchers at the University of Colorado conducted a study with 20 volunteers to see what would happen when they traded their car for an e-bike when commuting to work. Their objective was to ride for at least 40 minutes, three times a week, for a full month.

They found that electric bikes had improved their:

  • Cardiovascular health,
  • Aerobic capacity,
  • Blood sugar control.
Rad Power Bikes - grocery run GIF
Rad Power Bikes e-bikes aren’t just healthier for you, they’re healthier for the environment. (Image source: Rad Power Bikes)

Another reason an e-bike is an attractive option is because you can use it for a variety of purposes.

You can use it for commuting, if you have an office you work out of. You can use it for general exercise whenever you feel like it. You can also use it to get more done during your breaks. If you ever feel stressed out about when you’re going to have time to pick up groceries, for instance, an e-bike would be a great way to knock out your exercise and chores all at once.

Bottom line:

You’re carving time out of your workday to get away from your computer and give your brain and body a rest so it can recharge. Don’t waste it by putting yourself in front of another screen. If you can get outside, not only will you improve your overall health, but you’ll give yourself an instant boost of energy and mood, too.

Wrapping Up

Just because working indoors, at a desk, in front of a computer screen has been known to cause issues, that doesn’t mean you can’t take steps to lessen or remove those negative side effects from your workday.

Focus and energy are both very important in your line of work. By making just a few small adjustments, you can ensure that both remain high while you’re desk-side.

Smashing Editorial (ra, il)