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Marketing & Tech Strategies for Early-Stage E-Commerce Startups

[Note from Rob: This is a guest post from Becca, one of our students at Saturday’s 4-hour workshop at The Escape School in London. Below she shares her notes on Tech & Marketing Strategies for Early-Stage E-Commerce Startups.]

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There we were, Saturday morning – some of us a little bleary eyed, gravitating towards the coffee – gathered together in a room at Bathtub 2 Boardroom in London, ready to learn all we could about the world of e-commerce.

If I’m honest, I feared the day could be somewhat… well, dry. Technical jargon that would go straight over my head and endless slides on the complexities of using this and that platform/software/payment gateway. But although we touched on these things – you can’t really talk about e-commerce without them – my reservations were quickly forgotten.

Rob opened the session with the reassuring observation that everyone in the room was there for similar reasons: all of us were in an exciting place pursuing new ventures, and all of us wanted to learn.

This was borne out when we did a quick round the room, saying who we are and what our business idea is. Between us, we had everything from yoga clothes and high tech homes to funerals and mobility scooters – but we were all ready and eager to get stuck in and learn.

Alex and Amy started with a quick intro to their backgrounds and current businesses. Then we launched into four information-filled hours of tips, tricks, and – more importantly – the opportunity to develop our own ideas and strategies with others in various exercises.

We covered a vast amount, so below is a summary of the stand-out points from throughout the day – covering all stages of the journey from creating a brand identity right through to making a sale.

1. Creating a brand: Why are you different?

For any start up, you are the starting point – but you don’t have to be the face. This works for some businesses but not others, and it’s important to identify whether having your face as the brand is a good idea or not. Either way, your values and personality will inevitably feed in to your brand – so which are the most interesting, compelling and relevant parts of your identity that could form the basis for your brand’s identity? Knowing this helps to create a brand that’s genuine and true to your values, while helping you to clearly define the core of your brand identity.

Once you know what your brand is, find your niche. Don’t try to be all things to all people – in fact, make sure you’re putting someone off!

2. Attracting interest

There are cardinal rules for all your marketing. If you want to get people’s interest, your content should always be:

…interesting
…informative
…entertaining
…authentic
…consistent
…surprising

Once you know what you want to say, you’ll need to get the message out there. Think about which tactics work best for your brand and focus on those – this could be: guest blogging, interviews, video, polls, Q&A, Twitter Vine, white papers, free downloads, or social media conversations.

Developing all this interesting, informative, entertaining, authentic, consistent, surprising content is pretty time-consuming. Consider collaborating with similar brands e.g. by taking it in turns to create content for each other or sharing the tasks of researching and writing. Also think about curating, rather than always creating, content. Plus, linking to relevant content will help with your SEO – bonus!

3. Building a following

The challenge here is to keep people interested in your content. Look at what other brands are doing – which ones make you want to keep coming back, and how are they doing it?

If you want to succeed in retaining an interested following, you’ll need to really know your customer, so you can know what keeps them interested. Who are they, what are their values, what gets them excited?

4. Making a sale

This is the big one. Here are some tips for success:

  • Think about your homepage as a magazine: keep it content, rather than product, driven
  • Keep an eye on which content seems to convert to sales (rather than just creating traffic)
  • You need a seamless experience across devices, so make sure your website is responsive
  • Use pop-ups to get email addresses so that your mailing list is a closely targeted group of already engaged people
  • Use very high quality images – it’s obvious, but it makes a huge difference
  • Offer free delivery (if not always, then at least on orders over a certain amount)
  • Use testimonials, awards, press and other social proof to reassure potential customers

A big lesson is: be lean! There’s no need to throw money at your website even at this stage. Having your MVP in place is all you need, and you can develop from there as you grow. Bells and whistles just aren’t necessary when you start off – be smart, and work out the functionality you really need so you can focus on that.

5. Repeat business and referrals

This is all about loyalty. There are lots of things you can do – especially as a small start up – to maximise the chances of customers coming back, or mentioning your product to their friends. Use remarketing emails to suggest items a previous customer might be interested in based on previous purchases; offer discounts for return customers; and above all, offer personalised service wherever possible.


There ends the whistle-stop tour of what was a memorable, engaging and hugely useful four hours. I had been completely clueless on the subject of e-commerce, but there were people who already knew a lot, some of them a year or more into having an online presence. Despite this range of knowledge, Alex and Amy were able to offer meaningful information to each and every one of us.

A huge thank you to both Alex and Amy, and also to the guys at Escape the City for bringing it all together.

[You can find out more about Alex @WeMakeWebsites and Amy @AdaptationProject.]

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[This post was kindly written by Becca. Becca is planning her escape from the world of market research and consultancy. After an eye-opening month spent in South America, she’s hoping to launch a range of delicious, naturally caffeine free ‘Kakawa’ teas – keep an eye out! @KakawaTea]


What is Escape the City all about then?

Frustrated by climbing the corporate ladder, we decided to build a community to help people build meaningful careers doing work that matters – to them and to the world. We help talented people find fulfilling work by making big career changes, building businesses, & going on big adventures. We’d love you to come with us on this journey.

How do you get involved?

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2. Aspiring Career Changer / Entrepreneur? If you’re in London, come and see us at The Escape School.

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