I recently was on the “Forward Founders” podcast chatting to Es Chandra of Glide Agency. Es and I discussed the challenges faced by small businesses in optimising their online presence and logistics.
Take a listen if you are feeling lonely as a small business owner.
Es: Welcome to the podcast, Claudia North! It’s great to have you on the show. I’m looking forward to chatting with you on small business and getting your expert advice on working with eCommerce businesses.
Claudia: Thanks for having me. I’m excited to join the podcast and appreciate the opportunity.
Es: Great! Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your journey in this business for our viewers who may not know you?
Claudia: Sure. I’ve been working in marketing for 30 years, since I majored in it in university. After starting in the financial services industry in marketing roles, I transitioned to working in agencies where I gained experience in advertising and media components. I eventually worked for a content marketing agency, leading a team of developers and building over-the-top digital channels for global brands. After having my first child, I started my first e-commerce business, which sold products to help mothers transition their babies to solid food. I’ve since sold that business, but the product is still being used and appreciated in 30 countries around the world. I was able to get the product into Woolworths and sold it through about 40 to 50 independent baby stores throughout Australia.
Es: That’s impressive! Can you tell us more about that business and what you were selling?
Claudia: I wanted to provide a one-stop shop kit for mothers to help them transition their babies to solid foods. I found that a lot of mothers were freezing their food in ice cube containers, which caused the food to get freezer burn and lose quality. So I designed a BPA plastic-free kit with the right proportions for babies, along with a book certified by a pediatric nutritionist to educate mothers on food and quantities. I did market research and pitched the product to Woolworths, which led to me selling it in their stores and independent baby stores throughout Australia.
Es: So you expanded your business internationally, selling your product in New Zealand and South Africa, and even had the book translated into French and Italian. When did you decide to sell the business?
Claudia: After expanding internationally, I realized that I was feeling lonely in the business. I was the only one doing everything from marketing to distribution to accounting. While I enjoyed product development and branding, the day-to-day business operations weren’t my thing. I decided to sell the business and move on to other things.
Es: Congratulations on building such a successful business! What was the biggest challenge you faced in the business?
Claudia: The biggest challenge was feeling lonely and lacking support as a small business owner. Back then, there were no online communities or social media groups for entrepreneurs to connect and share knowledge. I also had three kids at home, so balancing motherhood and running the business was challenging.
Es: I can relate to that, as I started my own agency 15 years ago and didn’t have the support network that’s available today. Did you start storing products in your house before moving to a warehouse?
Claudia: No, I started with a warehouse since Woolworths was my first distribution channel. They have strict rules and regulations regarding truck and pallet sizes, so I had to get up to speed quickly on distribution. I had significant numbers of products being distributed around the country, so having a warehouse was necessary.
Es: That makes sense. What was the distribution breakdown between Woolworths and online sales?
Claudia: Around 95% of sales were through Woolworths and independent channels. I saw the independent channels as a way to increase brand awareness and reach customers who couldn’t find the product in Woolworths stores.
Es: Thank you for sharing your experiences and insights with us. It’s inspiring to hear about your success in the eCommerce industry.
The Challenges of Selling Products Online and Building Direct Relationships with Consumers
Claudia: I was getting great sales through my website, which was ideal because that’s where you get your greater margins and build a direct relationship with the consumer, as opposed to selling through Woolworths, where I was only just breaking even, and sometimes not even breaking even. But I was prepared for that, knowing that I wanted my product out there for the awareness.
You get into this cycle of having to fulfill these really massive orders, and that takes a lot of capital. As a small business, you’ve got to invest in that capital to get the stuff manufactured, shipped, and moved across, and that comes off your back. Woolworths is not going to really pay you until after, so it’s definitely challenging.
I see that with a lot of small businesses that I work with as well. They get the inventory in, but their cash flow is low, so it’s hard to invest in marketing. They’ve got truckloads of product there, so it’s that whole process of balancing out ordering enough stock so that you’re getting it at a good price because you’re getting the volumes, but then how much do you have onshore and how quickly can you move that while still maintaining your recommended retail price? I certainly had those experiences too, and then with COVID and shipping, it’s been another layer of complexity.
There’s a lot of logistics thinking involved and strategy around getting it to the endpoint and what all the little pieces are that you’ve got to put in place. Dealing with big brands like Coles and Woolies can also be very challenging. You need to be extremely prepared and well-funded in terms of whatever rules, regulations, processes, and systems they have. You have to fit in with those, and it’s challenging in terms of what shelf space you get. You need to go in with your eyes wide open and understand that it’s probably a real brand awareness partnership.
Understanding your quantities, logistics, and cost of goods is important, as well as knowing if there’s still money left in the kitty for you if you’re going to do promotions. They’re probably the biggest things that I’d want somebody to be thinking about.
Founder of ‘with Small Business’ Explains Motivation for Start Ups
Es: What is ‘with Small Business’ about and what do you do, and why did you start it up?
Claudia: The reason I started this business was because I worked in big business and worked with agencies, and then being my own solid entrepreneur and not really being able to access agencies, media, creatives, all of that sort of stuff, I went, “Wow, small businesses really aren’t getting that kind of support.” I decided that I wanted to solve a pretty big problem for small businesses, which was really simplifying e-commerce marketing or digital marketing for small business owners. Digital marketing is only getting more complex, and I realized that small businesses didn’t have the foundations for their business in place. I wanted to make sure that the money spent was returning in sales or insights, and I wanted to simplify digital marketing for small business owners.
We developed out what we call our eCommerce growth platform, which is similar to Robo-advice for financial planning. We have a digital audit tool where people can go and answer multiple choice questions, and depending on their answers, it will advise them which areas they need to focus on. Once they know what they need to be focusing on, we have a range of best practice toolkits to help them build the right foundations for their brand, data, SEO, conversion rates, and email marketing automations.
Within the platform, small business owners can either say they want to do it themselves, and all the instructions are in there, or they can ask for help from our trusted network of executive services. We give them the confidence and transparency to know what they’re asking for and what they’re getting done.
Es: I really relate to you in regards to setting up the foundation for small business owners. Often, the misconception with digital marketing is not so much what you do, but the priority of what you do first, what is the foundation, and sometimes, you’ll go into a brand and realize they don’t have the foundations in place.
Claudia: Yes, exactly. We wanted to simplify it for small business owners and make it accessible to everyone.
Craft Brewery In Perth Not Scaling Revenue Despite Active Organic Social Media Presence
Es: Today, I had a meeting with a local craft brewery and distillery in Perth. Despite their active organic social media presence and PR efforts, they are not seeing a significant increase in revenue. They have retail and an online website but are not scaling their revenue. We discussed the best channels for them to focus on, such as SEO, Facebook, and Google, and how to build their online audience. It’s essential to prioritize and not get sidetracked by expensive website rebuilds.
Claudia: The importance of balancing revenue generation with digital marketing for eCommerce businesses is crucial. Starting with data, setting up e-commerce tracking, and understanding conversion rates is essential. Small businesses often don’t know their conversion rate and can double their revenue by improving it. It’s important to have clarity and focus on business objectives and goals.
Digital marketing has low-hanging fruit opportunities that can get sales now, focusing on bottom-of-funnel levers, but it’s also important to build the foundations for long-term growth. It’s essential to match advice with business objectives and goals based on where they are currently at.
Small Businesses Need Support In Knowing What To Do Next
Claudia: Small businesses require support to know what to do next in terms of digital marketing and advertising. Many of them lack confidence and trust in suppliers and service providers, which creates a gap in their understanding of what services they need. They are often unsure about how to brief someone and what to ask for, which can be challenging when working with freelancers from platforms like Upwork and Fiverr.
There is also a “shiny new toy syndrome” when it comes to digital marketing, where small business owners are bombarded with new tools and technologies. It can be overwhelming to figure out which ones to use and how to apply them. Providing advice and insights on what technologies are essential and how to use them effectively can be helpful.
In terms of future challenges for eCommerce businesses, digitalization will continue to change how people research and purchase products. Artificial intelligence (AI) will have a significant impact on content generation and customer analytics. Integrating AI into digital advice and arming businesses with efficient ways to generate content and analyze customer data will be critical.
Challenges for Small Businesses in Transitioning to Google Analytics
Claudia: I think transitioning from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics will be a challenge for small businesses, particularly when it comes to gathering and analyzing data. The interface for Google Analytics 4 isn’t great, and most small business owners aren’t familiar with Universal Analytics, let alone GA4. However, I highly recommend gathering data in Google Analytics because that’s where you can do deep dives into multi-channel, cross-device, and custom metrics. Data is crucial to finding out what’s working and what’s not, which is key to growth.
In terms of omni-channel experiences, consumers expect seamless experiences across channels, whether it’s content or commerce. For example, if someone buys a product at Woolworths, they should be able to return it online or in-store without any issues. This is an area where small businesses need to catch up and optimize their experiences. Even non-retail businesses need to focus on the delivery and return processes.
Es: Visibility is critical, particularly when it comes to new channels like TikTok and YouTube shorts. Having visibility across organic, paid, and email channels allows businesses to see what’s working and what’s not. The key is to invest in channels and strategies that provide a return, not just spend money on advertising.
Claudia: My advice to eCommerce business owners is to use the eCommerce growth framework. My book, “The eCommerce Growth Framework™”, provides a roadmap for businesses to follow and helps them focus on what they need to do. It’s a practical book that asks questions to help businesses audit themselves and understand where they’re at and what they need to do. I want to help and support small business owners because they drive the global economy.
Planning is also essential, and businesses should use digital to test and learn. By making a plan based on what they already know and using their website, socials, advertising, and analytics, they can test and learn what works and what doesn’t. There’s gold in the data, but businesses need to invest time and/or money in understanding it.
Es: It’s an exciting time with a lot of unknowns, but there’s a real shift towards online purchasing. Retail e-commerce is less than 10% in Australia, so there’s a lot of growth potential. According to Statista, by 2040, 95% of all purchases will be done online. Businesses need to ride the wave and stick to their game to succeed.
Claudia: Thank you for having me on the show. It’s been a pleasure to talk about things I love. I recently relaunched my site and would love to share the podcast interview.