The 3 Essential Skills You Need to Run a Successful Online Business

Starting your own business doesn’t require any specialized training or knowledge. That being said, there are a few fundamental skills or characteristics that will make your chances of success much higher.

Today, I’m sharing three of those traits that make an online business owner successful.

1) Be Comfortable With Numbers, Metrics & Percentages

When you run any business, you must be absolutely familiar with the numbers side of your business. With an online business, this is even more important. This is because for an online business, everything can be, and needs to be quantified or measured. You need to know, for example, whether the $1000 you spent on AdWords marketing resulted in at least $1000 of profit, otherwise you may be running your business into bankruptcy without knowing it!

You don’t need any advanced math skills – in fact, the only real math operations you need to know are addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and percentages. The most common metrics I work with are things like “number of website visitors per month” and “purchase conversion rates,” which is the percentage of web visitors who ended up making a purchase. As you can see, no complicated algebra or calculus here.

That being said, you have to be comfortable working with numbers, and working with many metrics at the same time. Things can get complex very quickly when you start analyzing your numbers across specific criteria and conditions. Continuing our examples above, I may ask myself additional questions such as “number of website visitors that saw page X and purchased product Y in June vs April.”

My recommendation is to understand online business metrics like a language. Business is ultimately about numbers – the dollars and cents – and whether or not you are ultimately making a sustainable profit or not. As a result, you have to be able to understand, analyze and a business through this lens.

A screenshot showing my average order value and transaction count over time. You should be able to comfortably understand and interpret data like this to drive business decisions.

Instead of making generic statements in “english” like “I should spend more AdWords money on product X because it is selling well,” you want to be able to translate this into specific metrics (even if they’re just estimates), like “I should increase my AdWords monthly budget by $X to promote product ABC, because it has a 4% conversion rate, which at my average order value of $Y, will lead to $Z in additional sales.”

In the example above, which statement sounds more trustworthy and authoritative? Even though I didn’t mention the specific values of $X and $Z, the second statement sounds more legitimate, because it uses online business metrics, which are like the language of an ecommerce business.

As with any language, mastering online business metrics requires time and practice. Inevitably, you need to be able to interpret these numbers and make informed decisions about your business. The fewer numbers you can understand, the fewer data points you have to make decisions.

2) Possess Effective Communication Skills

People often talk about “communication skills” in the context of getting along with coworkers and managers at a traditional office. You might think that if you become your own boss and are the sole employee of your company, you don’t have to worry about communication.

When you run your own online business, however, communication is even more  important. That’s because even though I am a one-person business owner, that doesn’t mean I work alone. I work with 20+ suppliers who I depend on to manufacture my products, and although they all belong to different companies, we work as a team to make sure the products are made to the level of quality and performance that we set out to achieve.

I define my own product specifications, and the products are all made-to-order. This means I have to be sure that all of my requirements and requests are communicated extremely clearly. The challenge is that each supplier has a different communication style – some prefer email, some prefer phone calls, etc – but in the end, what matters is that we are all on the same page. As my order sizes have grown to $10k+ per order, the consequences of miscommunication can become very costly.

On the other hand, communication with customers is also a big part of your job when you run your own ecommerce company’s marketing and sales efforts. Being accurate and helpful in your communications with customers goes without saying. As your company grows, however, your inbound customer service volume will also increase, and you will need to figure out how to maintain efficiency without sacrificing service quality.

In addition to ensuring that you accurately and effectively communicate your product-related requirements and information, you must also be aware of how you communicate. When working with both suppliers and customers, difficult situations or disputes will inevitably crop up. The way in which you communicate can have just as much of an impact than the content of what you say. Don’t forget that even when you work alone, you need to have both suppliers and customers on your team for your business to succeed.

3) Be Resilient & Flexible

Starting your own online business is hard work. There will be many setbacks, both big and small. In the beginning stages, there will be more setbacks than successes, as you will need to experiment with what works and what doesn’t.

When I first started my ecommerce store, I tried many different paid advertising campaigns. I was smart about the amount of money I spent, but some campaigns cost me $500 or more before I determined that it wasn’t leading to any sales. All the while, my sales were barely increasing.

Not only is it discouraging, it can make you feel downright pessimistic about whether you business will work out or not, and it can take quite a bit of willpower to be encouraged to keep trying.

Let’s say you were interested in trying to add a shipping cost estimator widget on your Shopify shopping cart page. You start looking into how it can be coded, but you just can’t get it to work. You try some other sample code, but it still doesn’t make sense to you. Do you give up, or keep trying?

This is where having resilience and flexibility can mean the difference between success and failure. Resilience is a skill which allows you to face setbacks but not be discouraged, and gives you the motivation to not give up.

When you’re running your company all by yourself, it can be easy to think “oh, I can’t do that,” or “that’s too difficult.” In some cases, it might be the correct business choice because it is truly too difficult or impractical. In other cases, however, you might simply be giving up due to being overwhelmed or having a fear of failure.

A person without resilience would be influenced by their emotions and end up giving up, while a resilient person would give up if and only if they decided purely from a business perspective that it would be a wiser choice to give up and spend their time and effort on something else.

The key, then, is to know when you’re being influenced by your emotions and when you’re thinking like a rational business person. While I can’t teach you resilience through a blog post, simple self-awareness is at least a starting point.

Resilience also requires flexibility. You’re building a new business from the ground up, so you cannot expect perfection, and you cannot expect things to always go the way you originally envisioned. Sometimes, you have to take a step back and think outside the box with a different approach. Other times, you may have to teach yourself a new skill to get it done. For me, it is through these experiences that I have taught myself various programming languages, Photoshop and even hardware development.

My business has been growing steadily, but I still deal with minor setbacks on near-daily basis. For example, on some days, I will suddenly have three or four customers write in to say they want to return their purchase. That’s discouraging, but not a huge deal. The next day, however, I might end up with only $500 in sales when I had been averaging $3000 or more per day. Another setback, but I keep a positive attitude and continue doing what I know will lead to long-term success.