(BPT) - Starting a small business requires a lot of hard work and commitment, with no guarantee of success. Thanks to the internet and the rise of e-commerce, small businesses today can capitalize on opportunities using tech tools that didn't exist a couple of decades ago. This has opened up possibilities for businesses of all sizes, whether they're home-based solo ventures or have employees and a storefront.
What are the secrets to small business success when it comes to selling online? Three entrepreneurs who won Amazon's first-ever Small Business Spotlight Awards share their tips.
1. Always have sharply defined goals
Natasha McCrary, founder of 1818 Farms and winner of Amazon's Woman-Owned Small Business of the Year award, says that clarifying her goals has helped her business grow.
McCrary began her Mooresville, Alabama-based business as a family project in 2012, but it evolved quickly into a booming business. Her inspiration came from a commitment to simple products that really work. After the launch of Amazon Handmade, she listed her handcrafted bath and lifestyle products in Amazon's stores. Her business now has 12 employees, and has doubled its Amazon sales year-over-year. She says selling on Amazon Handmade provided credibility to her product line.
"If you realize that something isn't allowing you to achieve a goal, don't be afraid to make changes," McCrary adds. "Think long term when building your brand and customer loyalty."
2. Invest in high quality product photography
McCrary explains that businesses selling products online must prioritize how consumers first see the product to grow sales, so spending money on the best quality product photography you can get is worth the investment. "Quality photographs are invaluable in e-commerce and connecting to the customer," she concludes.
3. Stick with it
"For other entrepreneurs, I'd say don't give up! It's a marathon, not a sprint," observes Small Business Owner of the Year winner, nutpods owner Madeline Haydon.
Haydon's business began to fill a personal need - wanting a dairy-free, sugar-free, creamy and delicious cup of coffee. She started making nutpods plant-based coffee creamer in her home kitchen, and soon friends and family were asking for it.
She raised capital with a Kickstarter campaign in 2013, then joined Amazon to boost sales.
"Seller Central provides an excellent suite of do-it-yourself tools to establish and grow our business leveraging Amazon's customer-centric tools. From acquiring new customers to converting our biggest fans to subscribe and save programs, being an Amazon Seller has allowed us to stay nimble but grow big."
4. Use social media to get the word out
Mikey Ahdoot and his co-founders, winners of the Small Business Owner Under 30 of the Year award, started Habit Nest, which creates journals to help people build better habits quickly and effectively. They use social media to boost product visibility.
"Run Facebook and Instagram ads at $5 a day, see what's profitable, then scales those ads from there," Ahdoot recommends.
Habit Nest began with each co-founder investing a small amount, followed by a Kickstarter campaign. They spend a lot of time personally interacting with customers, building real relationships that have led to a powerful following. Since listing products in Amazon's stores, the company has seen 300% year-over-year growth.
5. Build your business on something you care about
What all these entrepreneurs have in common is that they began by creating a product that was meaningful to each of them. Because the award winners started with ideas that were personally significant, it drove them to keep going, and to create the best possible products they could.
Ahdoot adds that it's crucial for success to create "a unique product you love." That individual commitment to their product was a big part of what fueled their success, keeping the entrepreneurs motivated and helping attract interest and loyalty from investors and customers alike.
More than half of the items sold in Amazon's online stores come from small and medium-sized businesses. And, on average, U.S.-based small and medium-sized businesses sell over 4,000 items per minute in Amazon's stores.
Customers can support these and other small businesses selling in Amazon's stores this holiday season by shopping for gifts from its first-ever Small Business Gift Guide.