When starting a new business, it helps to learn from other entrepreneurs who’ve been there. In fact, 72% of e-commerce entrepreneurs say that other entrepreneurs have had the biggest impact on their business.

The Heavy Chef Foundation, in partnership with xneelo, recently published The Heavy Chef E-commerce Entrepreneur Education Report, with the aim of helping entrepreneurs successfully run their online businesses. The report drew on 298 first-hand accounts of the unique challenges faced by e-commerce founders, as well as how they overcame these obstacles.

We’ve picked out five key pieces of advice we believe will benefit your business the most and help you avoid the potential potholes in the road ahead.

1. Find a partner who shares your vision

“[Partnerships] really are the heartbeat of your brand. Partnerships will make or break your business.”
Tshepo Mohlala, TSHEPO Jeans

Choosing the right partners is crucial to the success of any online business, whether it’s a member of your supply chain or a funding partner, such as a business incubator or enterprise supplier development program. According to the report, 52% of e-commerce entrepreneurs recognise the power of partnerships and networks and have made accessing operational and funding partners a top priority.

52% of e-commerce entrepreneurs recognise the power of partnerships and networks.

Heavy Chef E-commerce Entrepreneur Education report

Sharing your brand story and vision and forming relationships with your partners can have a big impact on your business. Partnerships with other entrepreneurs can lead to new opportunities, increased word of mouth, and ensure your business has the support it needs to weather disruptive periods.

2. Listen to your customers

“Our best features came from listening to our customers, iterating and then repeating that cycle.”

Aisha Pandor, SweepSouth

Every business has the same core function – to provide a product or service to an end user. Customers are the lifeblood of any business, and the success of yours rests firmly on their backs. Taking a customer-centric approach to your operations means thinking of your customers’ needs at every point: from the moment they discover your website to the time they check out and beyond. Map out your customer’s journey on your website, and make every interaction they have with you as easy and frictionless as possible. Most importantly, identify your customers’ demands and ensure your supply meets that need.

Delivering an exceptional customer and product experience will cement your relationship with existing customers and drive growth. According to the Gartner report, Creating a High-Impact Customer Experience Strategy, customer experience drives over two-thirds of customer loyalty, while the product experience has the greatest impact, accounting for over 36% attitudinal change.

3. Draw on your experience

“It still comes down to being obsessed with the basics: customer service, quality and managing your money.”

Annette Muller, Flexyforce

Successful e-commerce entrepreneurs draw on their existing skills and fundamental knowledge of running a business to get their online businesses off to a great start. “You can understand the success of e-commerce by reading our malls,” says World Wide Worx CEO Arthur Goldstuck. “It is fascinating how integral the physical retail outlet is to the online retail space.”

Setting up the core systems, processes and value chains are the foundation of any successful start-up. And drawing on old adages like, ‘the customer is always right’ will never go out of date. In fact, most successful businesses place the customer at the heart of what they do.

Leverage your business acumen to make the necessary decisions with confidence. After all, South African entrepreneurs are known for their tenacity and innovative way of thinking.  A great example of this is local e-commerce brand TSHEPO Jeans, which quickly diversified their online product range to include face masks to survive the disruption caused by COVID-19 and inadvertently created the most in-demand fashion item of the season.

4. Don’t be afraid to try something new

“Starting out is never easy but I taught myself basic programming, built the prototype and never looked back.”
Marie De Wet, Examsta

Entrepreneurs are known to learn on the fly and for doing things their own way. The report echoes this sentiment by claiming most entrepreneurs are masters of self-directed learning. Part of this learning includes taking bold steps forward into unfamiliar territory like sales and marketing. One of the learning habits of successful entrepreneurs identified by Heavy Chef is to include marketing and sales skills in budgets, no matter how limited they are, to give their e-commerce sites a fighting chance. In fact, 52% of entrepreneurs interviewed for the report wished they had invested in digital tools to market their products earlier.

Learning a new skill may seem daunting, and investing into unfamiliar activities like paid advertising and digital marketing campaigns even more so, but taking even the smallest step toward gaining a competitive edge will benefit your business in the long run.

5. Utilize your contacts

“Team up to ship in bulk, co-promote, cross sell — you have to work together to survive.”

Justin Drennan, ParcelNinja

One of the biggest challenges faced by entrepreneurs is the lack of governmental and institutional support. As a result, many e-commerce businesses have realised the potential of collaboration with other entrepreneurs to increase their influence and negotiating power. Drawing on network support can also reduce costs, foster relationships, and result in lucrative business opportunities that might not have been accessible otherwise. The Heavy Chef E-commerce Entrepreneur Education Report states that e-commerce entrepreneurs are actively searching for opportunities to connect, learn and share with their peers precisely because of the positive impact it will have on their business.

South Africa has its fair share of e-commerce success stories. Innovative companies like Takealot, Yuppiechef, and Superbalist continue to grow from strength to strength. Just remember that these giants were once start-ups too.

Learn from the experience of others, find and engage with entrepreneurs who have been down the same road, and mentor those who are just starting out, and your business could be the next South African e-commerce success story.

If you’re launching an e-commerce business or already some way into your business journey, xneelo is here to support you with affordable hosting packages to suit every business.

The Heavy Chef E-Commerce Entrepreneur Education report was created by the Heavy Chef Foundation and xneelo to map out the learning needs of e-commerce entrepreneurs in South Africa.

 “Xneelo is passionate about enabling South African entrepreneurs

with the tools and knowledge they need to create and grow their businesses. We’re proud to be associated with Heavy Chef and their community of entrepreneurs. We believe that every successful business creates a multiplier effect for society to thrive,” says xneelo CEO, Philip Delport.

 To download a copy of the report visit https://heavychef.org/2021-ecommerce-report

Image credit: [Hinterhaus Productions]/[Stone]/GettyImages