What are the essential skills needed to run an eCommerce business? Starting, and then managing a business of any kind, is a dream for many people out there. But, how do you start? What do you need to know before starting an online business, and how can you build a team to help you grow? Read on to find out.
You have a great idea that just feels right, and you can sense it’s going to make it on the market. Now, before you quit your regular job and put all eggs into one basket, you should consider some of the skills you will need to put things into action.
You may be great at certain things, and there are some elements to running an eCommerce business that you will need help with. It’s important to know the difference.
Because, even though you’ll probably start as a one (wo)man show, bootstrapping your way through the early days, you need to have a long-term mindset and think about how you can put yourself and your business in the best position.
Start with a vision, and build on it
I’ve received a very interesting answer to a question I posted on Twitter recently, where Jamie, the owner of a British eCommerce agency, shared this in a discussion about what skills you can look to outsource, and what needs to stay within the organization:
And I agree – to run a successful eCommerce business (or any business for that matter), having a shared vision is of utmost importance. Still, you need to have the skills to put that vision into action. So, let’s see what those are.
Hard skills vs Soft skills
You know the basic difference here, right? Hard skills are those that help you accomplish certain tasks mostly individually, while soft skills are usually the way of becoming better as a part of a larger team, by being a team player or leading a team.
Putting it very basically, hard skills will make you effective and (hopefully) efficient in completing various tasks, while soft skills will help you achieve business goals in the long run.
Here is a good overview of some of the hard vs soft skills, and in this article, you can see a long list of various skills that would fall under each of these categories. Don’t worry, we’ll come back to that later.
Now, how can this split help you with your plans? What are the skills needed to start an eCommerce business? And what do you need to learn or outsource to help you grow?
Hard skills to start an eCommerce business
You should always strive for a good balance in any team, but in this case, when starting an eCommerce business, the inclination is to focus more on the hard skills.
These are some of the hard skills that you need to learn before you start an eCommerce business. Some of them are often referred to as technical skills in the eCommerce industry:
- Industry know-how
- Paid advertising
- Content creation
- Email marketing
- UX design
- Software development
- Social media management
- Excel (or any spreadsheet really)
- Data analysis
These all make sense, right?
You need to:
get the website out -> promote it -> attract customers -> ship the products -> repeat.
You may have some of these skills, and for some, you will probably look for help. Hire an agency here, a freelancer there, or an independent consultant who can help guide you through the process.
It looks very transactional at the outset, doesn’t it? That’s because it usually is.
Soft skills to grow an eCommerce business
However, once you, hopefully, get the hard part right, the need for the soft touches becomes increasingly apparent.
What are the soft skills you will need in order to grow your business?
You need to organize work better, hire new team members, handle customer support with empathy and care, find quality partners for growth, establish relationships throughout your industry.
These are the soft skills you will need to hone:
- Problem solving
- Organizational skills
- Decision making
- Critical thinking
- Team management
…and many more
I’ve listed those that I feel are among the most important ones if you’re running and growing an eCommerce business. Many others can be equally important, and you can take a look at a longer list of various hard vs soft skills in the article previously mentioned.
And you can now think: “Ok, but I don’t really have 20% of all of these, am I doomed?”
Of course not. It just means you have to learn some of these yourself.
There are plenty of high-quality resources out there to get the basics about any of these skills. At the same time, you should think of the ways you can find others (team members, friends, consultants, agencies) to fill in the blanks.
And that’s the beauty of it, right? No (wo)man is an island, we need to surround ourselves with those that can help us grow.
Now, go on and make a list of the skills you have, and those you don’t.
Here’s a handy tool to help you with self-assessment. It’s called a skills matrix, or competency matrix, and it very useful to assess the level of skills and competencies within teams. It can really help you figure out where you need to put your focus in the short and long run.
I’ve prepared one simple example you can start with.
How to use it? Open a spreadsheet, fill it with the skills you have or need, and grade yourself and any other team members accordingly. I’ve also prepared a sample spreadsheet for you to start with.
You can simply open it and create a copy for yourself (or download it as an excel file if you’re not using Google Docs).
For those skills you already have – good for you. If you don’t, but can learn them quickly – go for it.
For those skills that are important, but you don’t see them covered internally – check what’s out there and hire some help.