Mistakes to avoid when starting an online business for South Africans

Starting an online business begins with filling a need and building credibility, but the factors that go into making your online business a smashing success don’t stop there. While the barriers for setting up a company are low, the majority of people starting an online business fail largely due to mistakes that seem obvious in hindsight. We thought it might be a good idea, as we have access to 100s of successful online sellers, to see what they thought about it and how they can help new start-ups avoid the pitfalls they had to negotiate.

Don't worry, BeNimble eCommerce is here to help! We have asked more than 400 of our biggest eCommerce clients who uses our BeNimble eCommerce platform to help you! We sat down with them, chatted about how they started their eCommerce business and what they would do differently, and we made a comprehensive list of the most obvious mistakes to miss when starting your online journey. Today we are sharing this information with you. If you want to start your own online business, then these tips will help you focus on what you need to do to get started! Please note: We have asked a list of 20 questions to our eCommerce Superheroes with a list of multiple choice options. They could then expand their reason for choosing this answer, some of which we have added in below. None of these answers are curated unless stated. The tips listed below are the ones where the highest amount of feedback and agreement was on the questionnaire.

Tip #1: Taking too much time to launch

This is one if the biggest discussion point in our meetings with our eCommerce Superheroes. More than 90% of them said that they waited too long to launch their website. In business, timing is everything. When you first realize there is an excellent business opportunity online, it is normal to research the market, the competition, the process, and the aspects of creating an online business. Research and evaluation are great, but spending too much time researching may mean you miss your window to launch. It is important to realize that the longer you delay your launch, the longer you will wait for your business to make money. Our heroes say that this mistake occurs because business owners wait until their idea can be executed perfectly, when actually, “good will do.” A long timeline to launch, even if done out of concerns of getting it right, may increase your chances of being beaten by a competitor. Our question: If you had to pinpoint one thing where you spend too much time on before launching, what would that be? Answer: Designing the online store and setting it up to match exactly what I had in mind - (92% of respondents) With technology what it is today, there are so many ways "non technical" people can set up their own website. Most platforms out there preach "Do it yourself" when the reality is that you can't unless you are a developer or have development skills. If you Google "Create your own website" there are 9 660 000 000 results. Not only Zuma will struggle to say that!

"I had a look at what other competitors sites were looking like, and after finding out from people close to me that WooCommerce offered me the option to do it myself, I started. Wow, that was a mistake. The learning curve to understand the system was steep. That is without understanding how to develop and design it, which I had to learn as well! After about 2 months, with a WordPress update in between, I gave up. I started finding developers that can do it for me, and that was the next surprise. They are quite expensive! The lowest quote I got was just more than R25000. At this stage I was pretty close to giving up completely. I decided to search around and seeing what my options were. I stumbled onto BeNimble and that changed it. Today, in hindsight, I understand that the eCommerce store part is technical. You need experts to look after that. I launched my website after signing up with BeNimble in 4 days. I made my first sale 2 days later. I haven't looked back." - Michelle

Tip #2: Not focussing on the whole delivery process

It is so easy to only focus on getting a sale. But you have to focus even more energy on making sure that sale is happy. And this is a process which is linked to you from the first time someone enters your website, until they actually get that order in their hands - and even sometimes after that! The main thing here to think about when planning to start a business is building a relationship. Think about what makes you unhappy when you buy online. If you look at reviews for the highest selling websites in South Africa, more than 70% of that has to do with Courier Delivery and returns. Our question: Once you had your website in the beginning, what took more of your time than what you planned for? Answer: Shipping my products and making sure they are actually delivered to my clients - (72% of respondents)

"This was a nightmare for me when I started. In the beginning it was only me. I was the manager of the website, the marketing team, the dispatch & delivery team, the customer support team, the financial team and of course the management team. I used a company called uAfrica to manage my deliveries. Although in principal they sounded like a good option, in the end it was that I had to manage another platform besides the one I was selling on at that moment. One of my close friends also started an online store and she used BeNimble. She use to tell me how easy it is, so after spending WAY to much time on sorting our courier problems, I gave it a try. The biggest surprise was that everything was in one place. Managing my website, designing, syncing my products for marketing via Facebook, Instagram and Google, mailing list, and the biggest surprise of all, the couriers. BeNimble was integrated with the couriers for Live Shipping Rates (which had cost me a lot of extra money a month with my platform back then) and they even included all the functionality I got from uAfrica in their own portal, with the added bonus of it being free as part of their platform! With NimblTrak from BeNimble it made it so easy to dispatch and manage my orders, seeing when something went wrong and sorting it out. It was a game changer and I would honestly say this was one of the biggest boosts for my business in the beginning." - Karel

Tip #3: Having unrealistic expectations

Chances are that you’re going to have competition, unless you’re in some unique market. Instead of underestimating your competitors, focus on the reasons why potential customers will select you , as opposed to copying others. In short, you won’t be able to gain an audience if you’re only offering an inferior version of a well-known site or product. While you certainly want to provide a quality good or service, you also have to be different and stand apart from the competition. Our question: How did your expectations of having an online store match with the reality of it? Answer: It didn't. I was not prepared for it - (95% of respondents)

"Everyone told me online is the way to go, so when I thought let me move my craft brick & mortar store onto the web, I thought it was going to be easy. I already had a fan base and following so people like my products I just needed to get it online. Turns out the world is bigger than what other people told me about the internet. In my first month of having an online store I had 0 sales. I told all my current clients about the website but they were already use to buying straight from me (and back in 2018 online shopping was not as well trusted as after COVI19 pandemic struck). In the end I had to make peace with the fact that having an online store is not the same as having a brick & mortar store! It needed a different way of thinking, a new mindset. Having decided that I am not just going to give up, I knuckled down and starting trying different ways. BeNimble helped me a lot with ideas of what to try and how to approach it! Emile and his team are wonderful. Just before the pandemic struck I did about 75% of my sales online. I have since closed down my store and are only selling online, even expanding into supplying other people to sell my product. But my expectation was wrong. If you start of with the mindset that it is easy, or if ANYONE is trying to sell to you just follow this course or technique then you will be millionaire, run away fast! It is hard work, but oh my hat it is soooo worth it. Unlike many other things in life, working hard on this and persevering paid off." - Nolene

Tip #4: Spending too much time "learning"

Before starting an online business, you’ll most likely need to do some research to learn how to sell online, and market your brand. And of course, you’ll spend some time in the beginning educating yourself on how to do so. But, once you know what you need to do, you have to start! There is always new information coming out, with much more to learn and read. And with eCommerce growing so fast in South Africa there is an ever growing amount of "experts" selling their knowledge of how to sell online in 5 easy steps and become independent. This is not what you need. These "experts" are selling you information that is freely available. Follow a good blog or Youtube channel with advise but don't waste time on learning too much Our question: How did you prepare yourself for becoming an online entrepreneur? Answer: I did online courses offered by eCommerce Experts online - (81% of respondents)

"I am a fast learner, so when myself and my wife decided we are going to start selling our art online to a whole world market, I started studying. I signed up for at least 5 courses on how to sell online, one specifically from a South Africa (we redacted the name). It wasn't that the courses was not good, or not informative, it was just that they were mostly focussed on someone else and not me. Selling online has no one formula. Each product and store will have its own market and even in that market different websites follow different tactics and they can work side by side. If I focussed on getting my store online, learning to understand my shoppers and targeting them from the beginning, I wouldn't have wasted so much time (and money) on learning. The most I learned was in the doing, and with BeNimble I got more than enough resources to guide me and set me on my way to understanding it myself. If I could give one tip to potential start-ups, it would be to learn while you do. Make mistakes, learn from it and don't be afraid to fail. This forces you to focus on your business and what it requires to thrive, and not what someone else thinks it needs." - Zack

We hope this helped guide you on what you need to think about when starting and online store in South Africa. If you need more information or have any questions please email us on [email protected].
If you want to jump straight in it and learn while you do, why not sign up for your own ecommerce website now with BeNimble eCommerce - just click here to register