Jennifer Gault-Varner is a serial entrepreneur who started, operated and sold a successful online business, BellaBluMaternity.com. But, she confesses, she made a lot of mistakes while getting that business off the ground.
“Your barrier of entry to get online is so easy,” she says. “It’s easy to acquire vendors, design a site and pop it up. But the actually running of an e-commerce store is quite difficult.”
That realization is what led Gault-Varner to her second business: Pure e-Commerce. The company creates turnkey online retail stores, stocks them with merchandise, and sells them to brand-new entrepreneurs — along with 40 hours of consulting advice.
We asked Gault-Varner to expound on some of the mistakes you can make with an online website, and how to overcome them.
- “The top mistake is not dedicating a good portion of your time to search engine optimization.With the amount of competition on the Web, it’s everything,” she says. However, she warns, “Learn how to do it yourself before you hire someone. By not learning it, you’re at a disadvantage.” Gault-Varner goes on to say: “I’m a perfect example of someone who didn’t get it. I was spending $45,000 a month on advertising and never worked on my SEO.” If she could do it over again, she says, “I would have learned SEO from the very beginning and worked on it nonstop for the first six months.”She adds, “That’s one of the things I see my clients make mistakes with. They don’t like or understand something, such as SEO or blogging, so they don’t do it. They skip some of the most important tasks because they’re overwhelmed. You have to push through and learn those things.”
- Assuming your website looks good because you like it. Present it to other people. If you’re selling baby clothes, ask 10 friends who have babies. “Your website is your business card. People will make a decision in two seconds,” she says. Her tips:
- The majority of information should be “above the fold” — that is, you shouldn’t have to scroll down to see it.
- The site needs to be clean.
- It needs to emulate the mood of the shopper or the businessperson if you’re selling consulting services. “A good part of my success with BellaBlu was that it was directed at pregnant women who deal in emotion. They loved the look and feel of my site. You need to think about the client and how he or she feels at this stage of their life or about the business they’re in.”
- Not selling a product you’re passionate about. Passion helps when it comes to marketing ideas and thinking out of the box, she says.
- Expanding faster than you can manage. Before you use Google Adwords, for example, make certain you’re ready to take on additional customers.
- Reluctance to hire people to do the jobs you don’t have time for — not just in the business, but in your home, too. “I don’t clean my own house or do my own laundry,” Gault-Varner says. She can hire someone to do that at less money than she makes if she’s devotes those hours to growing her business.
- Not setting goals. Set your goals, then devise a plan to achieve that goal. “Subconsciously, you start doing things to work toward that goal.” She also suggests playing with different marketing avenues to see which works best for you.
- Not participating in social media. “I think it’s extremely important for retail e-commerce. People will go on your site. They’ll check Facebook, your blog and Twitter. So you need to keep up with them.”
One thing Gault-Varner does believe in is giving back. Gault-Varner has created a nonprofit, Kilian’s Kids, which donates laptop computers, Ipods, Ipads and DSI game systems to children fighting life-threatening illnesses.
Gault-Varner conceived her nonprofit after she and husband Jeff Varner celebrated his 10-year anniversary of being cancer free. One week later, Gault-Varner — who was pregnant with her third child — learned that she had breast cancer. She underwent a mastectomy and chemotherapy, all while carrying Kilian, who was born hale and hearty.
The gadgets she donates are meant to give hospital-bound kids access to the outside world, Varner says. Gault-Varner raises money for the project by auctioning retail websites and putting that money into Kilian’s Kids. Her latest auction ended Oct. 15.