Ecommerce: Best Practices & Basic Concepts

Ecommerce is the buying and selling of goods and/or services online, simply put it’s electronic commerce. The strategy surrounding ecommerce is quite a big (and broad) topic. In order to understand ecommerce strategy, we need to first know the fundamentals and what makes for a good ecommerce website. This resource will cover the best practices and basic concepts of ecommerce user experience. We’ll dive deeper into conversion funnels and their purpose, as well as what features should be on key ecommerce pages. Once we comprehend the basics, we can move into more advanced concepts.

Listen to the podcast episode here: Ecommerce Strategy: Best Practices & Basic Concepts and download the attachment below.

Skills Development During a Pandemic

Hey everyone – things are a bit uneasy right now. Maybe you or someone you know has been affected by COVID-19 (directly or indirectly). Many Americans are out of work due to businesses and companies shutting down. And there are millions of people out there that are dealing with the fear of uncertainty about what will happen tomorrow or the next day.

In the midst of this ambiguous future, I wanted to share some resources for my upcoming podcast episode about skilling up during a pandemic.

First, now is a great time to ramp up, skill up, or learn something new in the digital space. Depending on what you’re passionate about, you can find many available resources and courses online — many of which are free and I’ll list here.

Second, if you find yourself out of work due to COVID-19, then make sure to check with your state about offering unemployment benefits even if you’re a gig worker or a freelancer or self-employed. Many states are offering pandemic relief insurance and I found a good website at Career One Stop here: – which will drill down to individual state unemployment insurance.

Free Skills Development

While we are all social distancing and locked (sort of) in our homes away from other people, it’s really a good time to start learning more stuff. They say that learning a new skill slows cognitive aging, so go learn something!

Khan Academy: – we’ll start with Khan – this is a great site that is geared toward math, science, and history. It also has free classes on economics and finances (very important during a crisis), and computer science. This site is ideal for general studies and then some.

Coursera: – Coursera has a wide variety of free courses with topics that include arts & humanities, business, data science, information technology, personal development and more. If you’re interested in things like machine learning, human psychology, social media marketing, and more – check out Coursera.

Udemy: – Udemy is another well-known site that offers plenty of learning classes including how to earn money blogging, cloud computing, growth hacking, leadership, copywriting, and other stuff like nutrition, fitness, etc.

If you’re unsure of where to start with your skills development training, I’d recommend checking out the 3 aforementioned websites and look at the free available classes. See what peaks your interest and go from there.

Skilling up in Marketing Tools & SEO

If you are looking to get better at leveraging marketing tools, then I’d suggest trying out these different courses:

If you are looking to get better in SEO (Search Engine Optimization) then check out these following sites that have opened up much of their training right now:

Career Development

If you’re in the tech field and find yourself out of work due to the Coronavirus or just want to explore opportunities in the digital space, there are a few different sites that I use:

There are lots of resources out there that include career advice, professional development, career coaching, networking strategy and more. If you are out of work, then try to use this time wisely. For those of you who are curious about what tech trends are shaping the business world (and may be worth developing skills in to potentially get a job doing), then head over to Future Today Institute and download their 2020 Tech Trends Report.

How to work through skills development?

After you have all your resources and things you want to learn more about, how do you accomplish them? Well, that’s a really good question and one I’m not sure I’ve mastered yet. I have definitely done my share of skipping around from tutorial to class to course to article. 

I try to employ a goal setting technique to developing skills or skills learning. I learned this from Tony Robbins when I listened to his goal setting strategies. They were on cassette tapes in the early 2000’s. Basically, you’re supposed to write down all the goals you want to accomplish. So, in this instance you would write down all the skills you want to ramp up on. For example – maybe you want to become a Google Sheet expert, or learn the basics of content marketing, or maybe you want to learn more about on-page SEO. Write all these things down. I use Trello (you guys know it’s my favorite organizational tool), but you could do this in a Word Doc, Evernote, or even on a piece of paper. 

Then you can start numbering which ones are most important to you and bang them out in that order, that’s probably the simplest way. Or you can write out the details of why learning that particular skill is so important. And then from there you can categorize them into buckets and tell a story with the new learning material. The path that makes for the best story for you in terms of the opportunity or job you may be seeking is the one you’ll want to take. But whatever that story is – it needs to fit you, and the main goal of the overall knowledge gain. Meaning that you are at point A now (which is your current skillset), you want to get to point B (your ideal skillset) – which path will best lead you there? And that’s something that only you can determine. 

Wrapping up with skills development

If you are trying to get a certain role, look up job descriptions from top companies or companies that you are interested in working for. Read up on the skills that job description requires, then work backward from that description and incorporate your learning material.

It’s always good to work on your professional (and personal) development during uncertain times (well…all times, really). But it’s especially important now because we don’t really know how things will land when the dust settles. There’s an old saying “live as if you were to die tomorrow, but learn as if you were to live forever.” I don’t practice the first part of that saying, but I’ve always believed in continual learning. Stay safe, stay healthy, and learn something new!

Better Strategic Planning in a Crisis

Pondering the Theory of Strategy Entanglement amidst the novel COVID-19 uproar and the potential of a global economic failure directly below our feet, it’s time to redefine strategic planning for business. What can a business do without clients buying their services or products? What about paying clients that can’t get full support because company workforces have been shaved in half due to cost-cutting?

Virus strain

The general principle of entangled strategies is that there are no strategies that operate independently of themselves. Simply put, nothing can perform well in a silo. But that can change quickly when markets, companies, and consumers start to silo off out of fear, government orders, or social distancing.

Suddenly, companies are no longer bringing in revenue, which has a drastically larger impact than just on employees and customers. It can mean that commerce slows to a halt, maybe quicker than expected, and that ripple effect can and will cripple markets.

Taking Stock in Uncertain Times

It might be too late to mention this, but the best plan for dealing with a crisis is to have that plan already in place well before the crisis hits. For many, this might not be possible, so the first thing you’ll need to consider is taking an inventory of your current situation.

If your company has a cash reserve or funds put aside for rainy days, then you’ll be able to weather this storm much better than others. If your company doesn’t have that, then it’s time to get granular and make some hard decisions.

  1. What is the current financial position? If we were to receive no more revenue from today onward, how long could we sustain?
  2. What expenses do we need and what can we cut? Salaries, technology, tools, equipment, marketing, advertising, etc. – all of this could be on the chopping block depending on how dire the financial position is.
  3. How many customers are still paying us; how many have halted their invoices?
  4. Where can we generate more revenue? Or where can we add more value to revenue generating customers?

As a business owner or leader, you’ll need to reassure your troops. That needs to be backed by real numbers, so take a look at the above questions and get them answered. An honest conversation with your employees about the company’s situation (or plight) may be the only way to get everyone pushing in the same direction.

Surviving Lockdowns

The governor of New York called for a state-wide shutdown of non-essential businesses on Friday. If you don’t run a grocery store or pharmacy, then your business may be in for hardship the likes of which we’ve never seen.

As everyone looks to make the most of their situation and survive, here are some suggestions if your business doesn’t have the reserves it needs to make it through this crisis:

  • You’ll need to triage your finances right away, just like if you lost your job. What are your fixed expenses, non-fixed expenses, what can you do without, what can you not do without?
  • You’ll need to figure out if there’s a way to run the business remotely. Can you send employees home with a laptop and needed software? Agencies, digital product companies, and sales organizations would be the most likely candidates for this.
  • Can you sell your products solely online for the time-being? If you don’t have an online presence (then you’re seriously behind the time), but now would be a great time to start your e-commerce storefront.
  • Are there complimentary services that you can use to keep your “non-essential” business operational? Like delivery services for restaurants.
  • Can your company get assistance from the government or state-funded programs? You’ll have to do some digging on what your state is offering.

If remote work is not an option for your business or employees, then you’ll have to consider temporary lay-offs or more flexibility until the world gets through this pandemic.

Communication with Existing Customers / Clients

If your business is still able to operate, then one of your core strategies should be good communication with your existing clients or customers. Obviously, those customers are facing uncertainty as well, so try to put that uncertainty in front of both parties—the business and the customer—not between the two.

Transparency is key while communicating your situation. We are all human and clients will most likely empathize with your position because they’re going through it too. Give them information on what your business is facing right now in terms of challenges and give them insight into the actions you’re taking to mitigate risk.

These really are unprecedented times, and they call for unprecedented measures:

  • Chat with your longest and most valued clients first
  • Be honest about how many employees you’ve had to let go
  • Let them know if you’ll still be able to perform the same level of service for them
  • Let them know if production will suffer
  • Reassure them that you are doing everything you can to minimize the risk to your business and their business

Strategy in times of crisis

Since the coronavirus doesn’t seem to be slowing down (except for a few countries), you’ll need to start thinking long-term. Depending on what you uncover during your situation inventory (i.e. financial triage, must-haves), you should be looking about six months to a year out before things get back to normal. But let’s start short-term as there are many things that could change (for the worse) in the weeks to come.

Create a short-term internal plan that maps out the following things:

  1. Steps being taken to minimize the spread of coronavirus (this would be good to share with your employees and customers)
  2. Financial forecasting in one to three months time
  3. Opportunities to serve clients/customers through digital mediums including mobile
  4. Worst-case scenario – exit strategy (it may come to this)

If you can make it through the next 3 months and you’re still operational, then focus on six to twelve months.

The sad news is that some businesses will survive and others will not, which may just be out of your control. Don’t put your health at risk just to keep your business afloat. Times will change, and times will get better. There are plenty of resources out their for small businesses right now – just check out your local chamber of commerce. Or the US Chamber.  If you’re interested in starting an online business, check out the Ecommerce Business Blueprint on Shopify.

For a final note—let your human side show—we will all need to hunker down, do our best, show compassion, and keep ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities safe during these next few months.

Strategy in Context: A Bird’s Eye View

Today is an auspicious occasion! It marks the first of my Strategy in Context series. As well as my first try at micro-blogging. I have a lot of information on topics like strategy, research, account management, user experience, and more. I’d like to get that information to the public as quick as possible while still posting good, quality content.  Now, I’ll most likely expand on this series in an eventual strategy whitepaper.

I was recently at a tech conference asking people for strategy resources. One person firmly told me that “no one’s going to give me their strategy resources (or process for that matter) because that’s how agencies make the big bucks.” So, okay… that makes sense to me, but it doesn’t mean I can’t give away my strategy resources.

I’d like to address any nay-sayers about publishing digital strategy process, tactics, and/or resources. I come from the open source world where information is shared and the community benefits from that. This is my attempt to give back.  I am more worried about people saturating the internet by building shitty things people don’t need, than I am about someone stealing my strategy process, theories, and thoughts. Plus, I want to spark discussion, so let’s begin.

Strategy in Context

I’m sure everyone is familiar with context-aware design, yeah? It’s when a device (like a smartphone) changes based on the environment in which it’s placed. Our smartphones can make recommendations based on location or auto-adjust the contrast on a bright day. Strategy in context is similar in the sense that we (as strategists) need to take into consideration our environments. And hopefully act accordingly.

Implementing a strategy process can be a daunting practice.

  • A) it’s not a linear process
  • B) it changes at every turn based on new information.

So, how do you conquer a client, project, or product when you aren’t sure how to proceed? You take a step back…and look at things from a holistic standpoint; from a bird’s eye view.

A Bird’s Eye View of Strategy

In order to understand strategy, there is one truth you have to realize: true strategy is continual, it’s not an end-game and never will be. The digital strategy that works for you today, might not be the one that works for you tomorrow, let alone a year from now. And this is why strategists are commodities, because it’s a job that never ends in the web and mobile space.

Holistically speaking, digital strategy is dependent on all its players. It is so entangled with other strategies that looking at it any other way would be a disservice to both you and your client.

The elements of strategy:

  1. The People: your client, their users, the competition, influencers, disruptors
  2. The Assets: things like their culture, their brand, their website, their digital assets are blanketed under this term
  3. The Operations: your client’s business model, their product or service
  4. The Frameworks: from your client’s organizational structure to the technical systems being leveraged.
  5. The Intelligence: the market, the trends, the innovation happening, the economic and political landscapes
  6. The Tactics: different from ‘operations’ – tactics are used to carry out strategies
  7. The Outcomes: the goals, the objectives, the accomplishments, the results

Contingent on each of these elements, strategy will have different meanings depending on its context. It’s too much to take in in a micro-blog post, so as the Strategy in Context series continues, I’ll drill into each one of these areas to give insight into breaking down your strategy process.

The Information Spectrum

At any given moment, there are hundreds of tiny shifts going on in the digital world. Developments that are slowly (or quickly) moving in from the fringes toward the mainstream. A fantastic trend report by Future Today Institute highlights innovation that is making it’s way toward being the established norm. Innovation is often talked about, but overlooked when it comes to strategy positioning.

In order to understand the information spectrum, you first have to understand all the new technologies, trends, and innovation taking place right now. But there are flaws in that thinking as one new technology supplants another. So, first thing you need to do — start building an information database. For all you strategists out there, you need some type of system where you can gather information and access it easily. I’ve built myself – I call it my morning business review, but it’s really an information database.

You can try RSS aggregators like Digg Reader or create your own. But keeping up-to-date with the technology landscape is your first lesson in strategy. Did you know Baidu is leading the way in conversational interfaces? Or that Blockchain can help fight cyberattacks? Do you know what Blockchain is?

Lost in the Strategy Sky

As you begin your journey into strategy, you may feel lost at times. It happens to everyone and that’s okay. But if you’re lost and can’t find answers, look to other industries. One thing that’s helped me tremendously in developing my strategy process is turning to other sectors that have had strategists for decades. The military, politics, and the intelligence community all have resources on strategy out there that you can research. Then take their core principles and apply them to the digital space. Again, I’ll go into this more in upcoming posts, but I feel like this isn’t really a micro-blog post anymore!

Ok, more to come on Strategy in Context.

The Theory of Strategy Entanglement

Quantum entanglement

I want to talk about strategy, but first, some science. Quantum Entanglement is one of the most perplexing phenomena in quantum mechanics.  It occurs when groups of particles interact in such a way that the state of each particle cannot be described independently of the others. Now, if you remember your physics lesson, a particle is the smallest quantity of matter.  There are macroscopic particles, microscopic particles, and subatomic particles. And simply put, entanglement means that understanding one single particle improves our knowledge of the second one. This is a dead ringer for strategy. The concept that I’m calling strategy entanglement is based on the notion that single strategies should not be described independently of themselves, but rather holistically.  Content strategy and web strategy are both a part of your business strategy.  Independent strategies improve our knowledge of the strategy as a whole.

The Volatile Strategy Particle

What does it takes to be a strategist? I hear people say a “strategist” is just another word for salesperson or that it largely has to do with the planning phase of a project, or it’s just a title that mostly describe people who like to speak their minds!  I don’t necessarily refute those comments because I do think sales (and planning) should both be strategic, and I love to speak my mind, but strategy is this elusive creature that I would like to shed some light on in this post. Strategy is a discipline, and unfortunately, it is not linear. It deviates, it interrupts, it changes with new information, fluctuating data, and further research.

You could say strategy comes in waves and is almost particle-like. There are macro-strategies and micro-strategies, and subatomic strategies (OK, that last one’s a stretch). But to articulate your business strategy you need to look at every part of your business. It can include digital, brand, web, mobile, social media, content, products, and more. Not to mention the marketplace, your competitors, your customers, and your partners.

strategy entanglement

This image illustrates strategy entanglement and it’s not complete. There are more pieces to this puzzle depending on your business and the industry in which you compete.

Types of Strategy in the Digital Space

There are a few different disciplines, but they all feed into the big strategy which is your business.

  1. Brand Strategy: A plan for the development of a successful brand to improve its reputation and connect with its customers. This is tied to your business, social media, content, and more.
  2. Digital Strategy: A plan for maximizing benefits through digital and technology-driven initiatives. Tied to your business and can incorporate digital products, mobile, web, and other strategies.
  3. UX/Design Strategy: An approach to determine what to build/design, what the user experience should be and why. Oftentimes using data and research to inform decision-making. Heavily incorporated into business strategy and web/mobile strategy.
  4. Content Strategy: Refers to the creation, planning, delivery, and management of appropriate, useful, usable, and user-centered content. Connected to your business, social media, web/mobile strategy.
  5. Social Media Strategy: An approach to garner more engagement on a brand’s social channels. Usually through good content. Entangled with content strategy and web/mobile strategy.
  6. Web/Mobile Strategy: Long-term iterative process of defining the direction of a web/mobile site/app to reach business goals and users’ goals. Entangled with business strategy and more.

As you can see, there’s a lot to think about! Your business strategy are all of these strategies put together and then some.

Strategically Strategizing over Strategy

So, which one do you choose? Where do you start? How do you know when you’re doing strategy? All good questions. To me, strategy should be this omnipresent itch that never goes away, and everyone should be scratching at it. Let me clarify — strategy is not a free-for-all, but it is a team effort. Your designer and developer should be strategically thinking about which color palette to use, or which tools will make this CMS more usable for the client. As a strategist you’re responsible for the bigger picture.

When you sit down to map out your strategy plan, there’s a process I use in getting the information I need. I’ll outline it in the next section. But you need to remember this: As the process continues each piece of information will impact the next and so on. So, this process is really just an outline or map for putting all the pieces together.

A Strategic Overview

  1. Client:
    • Intake – putting together a client intake sheet is a critical first step. Document the company overview and details, requirements, goals, objectives, and other pertinent information on paper.
    • Assessment – this can include SWOT analysis, analytics review, social listening, PEST analysis, brand assessment, etc. The more you get, the longer it’ll take to sort, but the decision making will be based on better information.
  2. Research:
    • You can perform organizational research on your client’s company (e.g. – interview stakeholders). You can do user research (e.g. – send a survey to customers, field observations). Or quantitative (measurable and objective) and qualitative (observational and subjective).
    • Look at your client’s marketplace and competitors.
  3. Users:
    • We’ve done some research on them, checked your client’s analytics, it’s time to create personas. Get an idea (and make sure everyone’s on the same page) of who you are trying to target.
    • You can create an empathy map, or do experience mapping.

The pulse of the digital landscape

In addition to putting all the information together on your clients and their environments, I’ll also have digital intelligence reports. Now, I want to expand on this further in my next post, but that might take a couple of weeks, so here’s an overview.

My digital intelligence reports focus on the heartbeat or the pulse of the technological landscape. Meaning that in order to stay at the fore-front, you have to know what’s going on at the fore-front. I’ll target 3 key areas in my DIR’s, they are:

  • Intelligence: what’s hot right now in the tech space
  • Disruptors: what and/or who is disrupting the landscape that’s outpacing all the rest
  • Influencers: what companies are influencing or shaping the tech environment

This keeps me up-to-date with the digital pulse, but it also sparks innovation and creativity when engaging with new clients.

Correlating the information

The end result of the above outlines will be lots and lots of documentation. You’re going to have documents on your client, their market, their competitors and their users as well as the digital landscape. Which, is what we want. This information will inform not only the direction of the initiative, but it can help with your client’s business, content, social media strategies and more.

Let’s say your client who is in the health & wellness space talks about being a thought-leader in that sector. You would have to know that the fore-front of the health space right now is CogTech, IoT and connected devices/platforms. They’re experimenting with “ownables” not “wearables” anymore. Implantable tracking technologies could very well be the next evolution in healthcare. Being able to relay that info back to your client to help with innovation as well as ideas for the future puts you beyond just a tactical partner.

The reality is is that research about the tech landscape will give you a baseline for engaging with your client. You can see where they fit on the innovation scale and help them get further. Understanding who they are and what they want to do will give direction for digital initiatives. Understanding their users will help you connect their goals and objectives with users’ needs. It’s one big web of entanglement.

Summing up strategy entanglement

It’s never going to be easy. Strategy entanglement is the only way to truly see the bigger picture. When working with clients it’s almost always about making the business better. Whether that’s through a new website, more engaging content, selling more products, or social initiatives, it all feeds into the business. But that is dependent on all the smaller strategies. And some of the micro strategies can be dependent on each other. Your social media strategy depends on your content strategy, which depends on your business strategy.

To make this easier for people, I have created a PDF document called the Digital Strategy Matrix. It will outline the delayering of strategy. Again, strategy is not linear; it’s a surrounding structure that enables a business to understand where it needs improvement and how to get there. It’s about consuming the information and making the appropriate decision at each milestone and everywhere in between.

Strategy is an omnipresent itch, and everyone should be scratching at it.