What is ‘luck’ in business? Do you make your own luck?

Four leaf cloverI have been thinking about this on an off for a while.

How do you reconcile good fortune, or ‘luck’ in a business and it’s success (or failure!)?

In all the businesses I have been directly involved with, in ether setting up and growing, or being a contributor to, there always seems to be an element of what most people would call luck.

And this luck has helped us grow, helped us sell, and helped us evolve. It has even helped us get out of trouble a few times.

So as I look at our current business and it’s growth, it struck me that again we have had some good luck along the way. And I had this feeling or worry that what if our success now or in the future wasn’t down to skill or experience or planning but solely down to one or two key moments of fortune or luck? Does that really make you successful? Or just lucky?

If you do have some luck, do you start doubting your true abilities?

(A quick comment on doubt:  Doubt is never good. When you are trying to get a business started, or build a relationship, or make a promise, doubt is a killer. You have to believe in yourself and your ability (whilst knowing your strengths and weaknesses!). So I really do try to be conscious of doubt when it starts to creep in to my mind. And the last time I had any feeling of doubt was when we had some good luck recently!)

So what is luck in business? Do we make our own? Is our business at the mercy of fate?

I think from a business point of view, you make your own luck. Or more specifically, you make your own opportunities happen. How do you do this?

  1. Listen
    Listening is very important. And I don’t just mean listening in the audible sense. Listen to the needs of others, whether they be a business entity, an individual or a group. Listening is the first step toward understanding. Understanding others, their motivations, their strengths and weaknesses can be important. It can help you identify how you need to treat others and how you can build a relationship or opportunity. BONUS: It will also help you be a better friend, parent or partner outside of business too!
  2. Network and get out of your Comfort Zone
    This is the key. Whether you are a confident of shy person, someone who loves to talk or someone who doesn’t, opportunities/fortune/luck just doesn’t happen when al you do is sit in an office. If you are growing a business you need to get out. You need to attend conferences, you need to learn, you need to ask questions (see Point 3). You need to meet people, use LinkedIn, email them a ‘hey, was great to meet you’. Get out there.When you get out and meet people, opportunities happen. Simple.
  3. Ask the question!
    Just ask the question. Don’t guess, don’t hesitate, DON’T ASSUME. Just ask. You never know what the answer might be. And often the answer will be ‘Sure, we can think about that”, or “Sure, we can sell that domain – no one ever asked us before!”, or “Sure, we can meet and discuss a partnership”.I hate assumption, and I hate hiding behind assumption. Assumption is dangerous, and hiding is no good either. If you think you are going to hear some negative news from a supplier, a customer, or a partner business then it is better to call and find out NOW rather than later.I’ve been there. When you know bad news is coming and it will affect your company or business. I have ‘hid’, and waited. As the classic business book “Oh, The Places You’ll Go‘ authored by Dr. Seuss points out, you don’t want to hang around people that just wait for things to happen. Go and grab it.

Anyway, those are my little thoughts on luck. You do make your own. And often you have done the work to make that luck happen. You have to be in the right place at the right time, and it takes hard work and perseverance and a lot of listening, networking, and asking that question!

So to finish, I will quote my father. When I mentioned I was writing this blog post he simply said:

“The harder you work, the more luck you will have”. Sums it up neatly I think!

What does your brand promise, and do your customers really care?

costumes-com-au-logoI just read an interesting article from Justin at Vinomofo about building a tribe and attracting ‘supercustomers’, who love your brand/product and what you stand for.

It is a great article and something that every business owner needs to think about. Even if you are small. Read it, and understand it!

I don’t think that you need to implement a big strategy and employ specific marketing and spend lots of $$ in doing it, especially if you are small. It just means you have to know what your business is. Know what you represent as a brand, and what your brand promise is.

We had a team meeting recently where we discussed this exact thing. We talked about our business, it’s values, and what we really do. the key thing is that we need to understand costumes.com.au as a brand and an entity. We are more than an online costume business. Much more than that really. I won’t go into it, but we have a clear idea on who we are, what we offer and the problems we solve.

We know what we are about.

What do I mean by that? I am really speaking about what our core business is.

If someone asks you what your business is, what would you say? “We sell phones”?
“We build websites”?

If you really think about it, that is NOT what you are doing. And the mistake that a lot businesses make is not really understanding what they are about.

What you might really do is “Enable faster and higher quality communications”, “Solve eCommerce headaches”, or something like that.

The questions you need to ask are

  • What problems do you solve for your customer?
  • How does your brand relate to your customer?

What does your brand promise to do and be for your customer?

Once you know the answers you can start implementing that brand promise in everything you do. This leads to lots of great things. Better business decisions (with a customer focus). Better decisions about brand partnerships, about design and product and office morale and environment.

Your customers care about your brand and their interaction with it. So work at it, start asking a few questions, and good luck!

Sorry, we don’t sell to online retailers.

Went to the Melbourne Toy, Hobby and Nursery Fair this morning.

It has been a long time since I have been to an trade expo like this, and brought back some memories of doing this for our previous online business Tacklemania which we sold over a year ago now.

I took 2 of my eCommerce staff in to meet with one of our suppliers, and look for some new product opportunities.

We were looking for some new product ideas to boost our product range on our costumes website, and we did find a few.

Now, in the last 6 months I have seen have seen a large amount of growth in the ecommerce space. New retailers are appearing everywhere, big national brands are coming online, and there is lots of interest. I have done 3 radio interviews in the past week alone thanks to my new book of course, but also very keen to hear about eBay, selling online etc. Lot’s of interest!

However, more often than not when we spoke to suppliers/wholesalers at this toy fair we were told ‘Sorry, we don’t sell to online retailers’.

I expected maybe a few would have this attitude, but it was the revers. Nearly everyone we spoke to didn’t want to deal, apparently no matter hat we offered to them.

So I tested one out!

‘OK, so if I told you that we have a 7 figure business growing at 300% per annum, and we are looking to fill a missing part of a range with your items (therefore adding a good amount of sales for you), we sell at retail prices and have a professional well designed site to represent your brand properly, would you be interested in dealing with us then?’

‘No’.

SoI guess we bypass them and import from overseas? Is that the right answer? I would rather support local industry, but…

Participate in our Search Engine Optimisation Conversation Cafe, SHARE AND LEARN!

Learn about the latest trends in Search Engine Optimisation at our Search Marketing conversation cafe session in Melbourne (8 June 2010)

We’re keeping it small and personal!  Book now $49 (only limited seats left!)

You are  invited to attend our first  Conversation Cafe  discussion on the state of search, latest trends and how it can be used to boost traffic to your site.

The event will offer a unique chance to participate in a discussion and learn lessons from participants Teresa Sperti, Adam Griffiths and myself.

The event is designed to provide people with the opportunity to participate in a robust discussion about factors affecting the search industry, to share best practice and to discuss the latest trends.

The format of the session will largely be discussion based, aimed at allowing online retailers/multi channel retailers to share knowledge in the area of organic search engine optimization.

This round table is a collaboration between Teresa Sperti (Head of Marketing & Technology of realestateVIEW.com.au, and owner of blog digitalmarketinglab.com.au), Adam Griffiths (Get Started) and Mark Freidin and yours truly of InternetRetailing.com.au

Discussion Topics

1.    What role is social media playing within your search strategy
2.    How is real time changing the search landscape and how is this changing your search tactics?
3.    Measurement of search in a world of personalisation
4.    How are organisations optimising for mobile search
5.    How have organisations adapted their search strategy to Bing

Interested in attending?

LIMITED SEATS AVAILABLE, click here for more info!

Online Retailer 2009 in Sydney – the State of Online Retail in Australia

I just got back from Online Retailer in Sydney. It was the first event of it’s type in Australia, attracting over 2500 attendees and a good number of exhibitors.

I had opportunity to talk to many of the attendees, catch up with many other online retailers and also interviewed people like Armand , VP of Global Sales at Verisign and Jeff and Bobby Beaver, founders of www.zazzle.com.

What I really wanted to find out was the level of interest in online retailer from some of the bigger bricks and mortar retailers (did they attend?), and the opinions form exhibitors as to the mix of attendees there.

What I discovered was interesting,  and exciting for the industry.

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A Quick Summary of PeSA 2009 in Sydney (+ some pics)

PeSA Sydney 2009 was a great event. A full attendee list of 300+ eBay sellers were there. Here is a brief summary of the event from my perspective. (for more info on the Professional eBay Sellers Alliance, click here).

Well, what a  great conference. PeSA conferences are usually a focused get together of like minded sellers, but this year the attitude that I received from sellers and attendees was just great, better than the year before I think.

My staff and I travelled up to man our sponsor booth (www.readytoship.com.au) and I had some PeSA responsbilities and a panel to MC as well. Sure was a busy few days but it was certainly worth it for us.

The ‘one on one’ sessions that some of the PeSA staff and I (and Jonathan Garris from Gothamcityonline.com) had with attendees were well received I think. It can be tough to really give out a lot of advice in 15 min, its a good challenge! (more…)

Magento Performance – Magento 1.3 Benchmarks

Magento Performance is a hot topic at the moment. We recently installed Magento Commerce version 1.3.0 on a test server with a current production database to do some performance testing and I thought I would publish a few results. They aren’t exhaustive tests, but indicative I think.

Although we haven’t done a huge amount of testing yet there are some interesting results (and some performance improvements over a ‘standard’ non cached install).

First, any figures should be interpreted with respect to our own current configuration for this test. These results were NOT for a standard demo data set.

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The Fast Rise of Magento Commerce

I follow Magento Commerce and it’s development rather closely. This is because on of my businesses retails online using the Magento ecommerce software and my other business leverages this knowledge (and a lot of other online retail experience) to develop Magento modules and code and shipping automation software.

I have written about some of this in my blog before, and will write a little more shortly as we release our Fraud Prevention Magento Module (using fraud screening technology from Maxmind.com) and some improvements to our shipping automation software ReadytoShip (which now supports Magento).

I have noticed a steady increase in the amount of traffic coming to this blog because of Magento keywords searches in Google. I just happen to rank fairly highly in Google for the term “Magento Performance” which is good, maybe I should write a little more about it!?

But I have also noticed a larger number of online stores in Australia either developing in Magento, or already using Magento. There are a few big brands too, like Durex and Homedics using it now too.

I did some Google searching this morning for the .au domain to see how many stores I could find built of being built in Australia and there are already over 120.

The Magento name is being searched heavily worldwide now, see Google Trends from All Regions and Australia here.

Google Search Trend all regions

Google Search Trend all regions

Compare the Magento trend to that of ‘oscommerce’.

google-search-trend-all-region-oscommerce1

Not a bad start for Magento Commerce down under, especially when the product is only at an early version 1 stage and there is not a huge amount of developer and designer support for it yet (although this seem to be growing as well).

The traffic is coming, but why aren’t they buying?

It strikes me that many website owners out there concerned with conversion rates don’t spend enough time understanding the visitors to our websites.

I have definitely been guilty of that. Maybe you are too?

eCommerce Conversion RatesIf you think about it, I am sure you would would agree with me too. We should spend more time really understanding our offerings and whether they align with what our visitors are looking for.

Why did that person spend so long adding items to a cart, starting checkout but disappear?!

If you could boost your conversion rate by 25%, what would that do for your bottom line?

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Shipping Automation and our solution – ReadytoShip

ReadytoShip Shipping AutomationEarly on, ‘back in the old days’, our staff manually copied and pasted addresses for customer orders into shipping software packages or (*gasp*) hand wrote labels.

This was all fine and dandy until we started selling more than about 5 – 10 items per day.

Firstly, shipping started to take too much time in our day and secondly, staff were complaining about the boring job of writing out shipping labels!

So we decided to automate and we developed some software that would automatically correct all of our Australian addresses and import all of our orders into eParcel for shipping. This saved us a lot of time every day and a lot of errors. Not to mention the reduced amount of time spent resending items that were returned because of incorrect address (you could be amazed at how many customers type in their address incorrectly).

We assumed that lots of other sellers had made some sort of effort to develop similar software as it worked well for us and enabled us to process 100 or more orders per day with only a few staff. We could prepare and print 200 address labels in minutes.

But not many sellers do this, so ReadytoShip was born.

What does it do, and how does it help online sellers?

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