Mr. Worldwide, Sell Me Something Good: Doing your homework before setting up your international eCommerce business. Your digital marketing agency can guide you.

Nauman Akbar, founder and owner of MessageMuse, a full service digital marketing agency, talks about the preparation for launching an international eCommerce website.

In a previous article, This One’s Just Right, we discussed the basics of selecting a digital marketing company to do your web design services. Now I would like to focus on a more specific type of business owner, the international eCommerce sellers, who are becoming more prevalent.

More and more of our clients are asking for international eCommerce website designs and functionality. And in some cases where suppliers are involved to provide the sales fulfillment, there is also a need for an enterprise app that will do much of the record keeping and communication of status as well. The process of building these websites for international business is quite complex and they are not cheap. This is why it is important that a business owner do some thorough fact finding to ensure that his business plan and model are financially viable.

While helping with this process is not a traditional role for a web developer and for most digital marketing agencies, the best digital agencies work like a protective uncle to warn you of and guide you through the process of making the right business choices. This is the difference in someone who wants to get your money for a digital project vs someone who wants to partner with you in the success of your business by providing the right tools along the way. I am preparing this article with some tips we have garnered along the way to make your new international eCommerce business a success.

In case you are working with a digital agency that doesn’t give you the help that MessageMuse will, let’s review steps that a prudent business owner should follow before jumping into international sales. While much of the advice below is applicable to all online selling, the complexity of international eCommerce poses some special challenges.

And if you want to partner with a digital marketing company that will be your advisor along the way, then give MessageMuse a call.

So, let’s get started with our steps to success!

Get a little plan, Stan!

A budget and business plan are critical to the international eCommerce initiation. Some of the information you will need to complete this process will be:

  1. Sales by product skew by month—to include revenue and profit.
  2. A set of business assumptions such as staffing hires by month, one time purchases, inflation of monthly costs, returns and refunds, etc.
  3. Monthly expenses which we will discuss in detail later in this article.
  4. The statistics about key components of your business: rate of sales, rate of returns, market research, most viable and profitable suppliers.

You will create three budgets and their lists of assumptions: Best case scenario, worst case scenario, and most likely. I have been in the digital marketing business long enough to know that owners are most likely too optimistic so that is why you need to throw away the best-case scenario. Make the most likely scenario your best-case scenario. Then your worst-case scenario becomes your most likely scenario. Are you depressed yet? Finally, decrease your worst-case scenario by 30% and that becomes your real worst-case scenario.

Through the eyes of an enthusiastic owner:


Through the eyes of reality:

new case

So get a grip on reality and make a real plan. Businesses usually grow more slowly than anticipated. Having a realistic plan prepares you for that and gives you a benchmark to revisit to see how you are doing.

The tax man cometh!

It is such a distasteful topic but someone has to talk about it. For your web developer or your digital agency to set up your eCommerce website correctly, you will need to do your homework. While many sites use payment mechanisms already programmed for such transactions, I always recommend that my clients get help from an international tax accountant to understand two things:

  1. Is the correct amount of tax, VAT, or duty being taken?
  2. What information from my sales will I need to file my company’s taxes at the end of the fiscal year?

The correct answers here are critical because when you are ready to file taxes, you can’t collect more money from your customer and you can’t create information for tax filing that wasn’t collected or maintained at the time of sale. And unfortunately, your web developer can’t fix it.

All that legal stuff should scare you!

I know that startups and new business owners want to save money but if there is one place that they should spend, it is for the best tax and legal advice they can afford. And the advice I am about to share with you will not likely get it at all from your web designer or your digital agency. As with your accountant, your attorney should have extensive knowledge about international product liability. From him you will need to discuss and get the following information:

  1. Your terms and conditions which will appear on your website or in your mobile app. Nobody reads this stuff but it will be a lifesaver in case the unthinkable happens—a lawsuit.
  2. The type and amount of Errors and Omissions insurance you are going to need. Eventually this insurance premium will make its way into your budget model.
  3. Do you have product liability? If so, what type of insurance and how much will you need to protect you. Remember that depending on your relationship with your supplier, you may have some or all liability if a product fails. If you need to protect yourself with insurance your attorney can recommend what type and how much insurance you will need. As with E&O insurance, the price for coverage will have to be added to your budget and business plan.

Customers are king!

People shop online for many reasons—convenience, availability of products, and price. And the support you provide throughout the spectrum of a sale will largely determine whether or not your eCommerce business will survive. As a digital marketing agency, we here at MessageMuse know that if you want an international eCommerce business to fail, just let one disgruntled customer post a bad review and it is all over. Customers who purchase online from a “faceless” entity are vulnerable. They don’t have a storefront they can visit to get issues resolved. Instead, all they have is a computer screen to talk to. If you let emails go unanswered and problems left unresolved, then it won’t be long that your reviews will be not so kind. And your customers will be gone.

So, before you venture into to the world of online selling around the world, set up your customer service protocols and procedures and designate who will handle issues. This cannot be an afterthought. Your web developer or your digital agency can design contact and communication features that help you with this process but you have to plan for customer service in your business activities.

As part of your customer service program, determine how you will handle shipping (and costs) as well as returns. Some of what you do will be driven by what your competitors do. If all those selling in your sector are offering free shipping and you are not, then your prices have to be significantly lower to compensate for the added shipping fees. Returns are the same with an added consideration. Do you pay for returns for defective products and not for products that just aren’t to the liking of the customer? These are the questions that you need to consider while establishing your work procedures. And the answers to those questions have a financial impact that must be included in your financial plan.

In any business, planning is critical. And finding the best partners to work with will, in the end, save you a lot of money. So, when looking at who to partner with, pick the companies or experts that will bring you good ideas and great advice. Here at MessageMuse we strive to do that. It is what sets us apart from the rest of the digital marketing agencies. Let MessageMuse guide you as you sell the world something good.

This article is brought to you by Nauman Akbar, founder and owner of MessageMuse, a leader in offshore digital IT services. We are a full service digital marketing agency offering website development, enterprise app solutions for businesses, mobile app development, reputation management, logo design, and branding. We currently have customers internationally and in the US. We are now expanding our services to South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, and Virginia. We are a registered business with the Delaware Secretary of State. We welcome individuals, businesses, and brokers to check out all the services and skills we offer. Give us a call at +1 (704) 315-2120 or check out our website at or send us an email at . Let us help your business find creative digital solutions at any price point.