Online business, e-business, e-commerce – are these the same, different, and what do they mean to your small business marketing strategy? E-commerce is often used as a general term to describe how people buy and sell goods and services over the Internet via a website. 

Is it right for you?

Consider Maria who operates a single location gift store in an upscale neighborhood. Besides herself, Maria has part time sales assistants. Sales have been steadily increasing over her first five years, but now have plateaued. Maria is considering an e-commerce “store” to gain new sales and grow the business.  

Her preliminary research suggests running an e-commerce store requires considerable time and effort. Can you she do it herself or hire someone? 

Hence, she is undecided; here are some of her questions:

  • How does the online presence support the business plan? What are her objectives for an Internet presence – for example, drive storefront traffic, expand geographic sales reach, or target a new demographic. A realistic business plan makes it easier to obtain funding, creates a vision with a well-defined goal and offers a strong foundation upon which to make business decisions.
  • What is needed to create an online business from scratch?  Maria lacks the technical skills to code a website so is considering hiring a developer or using a template-based web and content management platform. Keys to her decision are cost, available time, budget and long-term support. 

Wordpress, developed for non-tech savvy bloggers, is one of the most common online, content management platforms. It is supported by many “plugins” that extend its functionality. Woocommerce is one such free add-on to Wordpress for e-commerce.

Shopify is another common e-commerce platform that offers flexible price plans from basic to advanced, depending upon business needs. 

Check out Business News Daily’s 2018 list of other e-commerce solutions.

  • What products should be offered online?  Maria’s storefront holds over 1,000 unique items in inventory.  Can the same physical inventory be used for online sales? How will the web product catalog be created and maintained? 

Shopify, for example, accommodates inventory uploads from CSV files. However, product descriptions, images, pricing and other attributes would need to be maintained and updated manually. 

Etsy is an online market place focused on selling handmade, vintage, or craft supplies if that is your niche. Costs include listing fees, transaction fees, and payment processing fees.  It offers a very cost effective way to start selling products online quickly with limited resources.

  • How will customers find my website?  If she builds it, will they come? Promoting an online business is different from promoting a brick-and-mortar location. Local print and broadcast media can build traffic to both operations, as will email and social media marketing. However, to reach broader markets, the online presence requires other tools such as search engine optimization, blogging, or video tutorials.  

In addition to the questions noted above, other considerations include legal and regulatory requirements, shipping costs and logistics (how something gets from production to the consumer), return policies, competitors such as Amazon and Walmart, payment processing, cyber security, and digital marketing.  

In summary, an e-commerce operation must be treated as a business unto itself. If you are considering an e-commerce store, understand how it supports your long-term business strategy and its impact on your time and financial resources. Your business plan provides a good place to start.

To find current and future workshops on business plans, social media marketing, and e-commerce in your area, visit


Scott Ladin is a Certified SCORE Mentor. If you'd like to schedule a free mentoring session with him, click here.

About the Author(s)

 Scott  Ladin

Scott Ladin is a global marketing and business development professional with over 35 years experience across early-stage Fortune 500 companies. Scotts’s capabilities include project management, product management, product marketing, marketing, and technical communications, e-commerce and business development. He is also a passionate cyclist, using that avocation to raise...

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What You Need to Know about Starting an E-commerce Business