Sometimes an obvious solution is staring you right in the face but you cant even see it! Effort overload, breaks the feedback loop, it breaks down your ability to see things clearly and thats exaclty the time to do the opposite of what may seem the right approach on the surface, its time to bring in an outside opinion.
In this article we are going to cover the essentials of an ecommerce consultant. Those of which are listed below:
Why do you need an ecommerce consultant?
What is an ecommerce consultant?
What is an ecommerce mentor?
What is an ecommerce coach?
How to Hire an ecommerce consultant.
How to choose an ecommerce consultant
Where to find an ecommerce consultant
The benefits of hiring an ecommerce consultant
What is the cost of a good ecommerce consultant?
What happens if you don’t hire an ecommerce consultant
Why do you need an ecommerce consultant?
I often speak of something that I refer to as the Zuckerberg effect. Its a trending phenomena in the ecommerce space. On a very regular basis I come across new entrepreneurs or seasoned vets undertaking ecommerce ventures. It can be argued that business is business, but one thing remains true, ecommerce businesses are technology based companies. The very nature of the word ecommerce starts with E, e for electronic. A term possibly outdated in the sense that ecommerce is now crossing the chasm of omni-channel selling and should be looked at more as digital commerce, modern commerce or even more simply commerce or retail.
I am not trying to overwhelm or confuse things by the very terminology so lets stick to the term ecommerce, but I guess the long exasperated point I was trying to make is simply this. To be successful in ecommerce you need to be able to compete on the basis of strong technological understanding of all that makes up the successful ecommerce store. Be it, the platform on which you choose, (Gone are the days of starting a shopify store and becoming the next dollarshaveclub).
In short, get yourself an ecommerce coach, mentor or consultant in your corner who can help direct you through the often overly complex waters of ecommerce.
This means not that there is nowhere for a non-technical individual to be starting or involved with an ecommerce business, but more that there needs to be a certain level of technical understanding or at the very least someone there to balance the digital/technical and the business side so that things can run like a well oiled machine in the digital space.
To elaborate on the comments about the Zuckerberg effect, this is basically the idea that Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook with a group of friends, he had a technical knowledge, maybe not a deep level coder background, (His degree was in psychology), but he still had a solid understanding of the techincal components that most modern day ecommerce entrepreneurs either don’t have or don’t care about. So as for Zuckerberg Syndrome, the best way to avoid this is to ensure you have the right people around you to fill that technical gap.
What is an ecommerce Consultant, Mentor and Coach?
In this case, I highly recommend an ecommerce consultant, ecommerce coach or ecommerce mentor. Essentially to me they are all the same, but to some level ever so slight variations.
Coach: “A private teacher who gives someone lessons in a particular subject.” – Merriam-Webster
Consultant: “A person who provides expert advice professionally.” – Oxford Languages
Mentor: “An experienced and trusted adviser.” – Oxford Languages
How to Hire an ecommerce consultant.
So regardless of what you call them, let’s take a deeper look at a number of the things you need to consider when looking for an exceptionally talented and extraordinary ecommerce consultant.
The Consulting Role
As mentioned previously the rolls of the coach, consultant and mentor may change slightly but at the core you need, no matter your personal level of technical knowledge, to have someone in your back pocket that can help you with specific problems which they have experience. Its nice to have a direct line to the president of the USA who could simply push a button and your problem would be solved, think of this the same way. One single phone call and your back on track to success. Saving tonnes of time and energy where you could be investing it elsewhere. To me this is at its core what you need, term it as you wish, I see it as a problem solver on speed dial.
Address a Specific Problem
Typically you want to be looking for the ecommerce consultant based on a specific problem you may have, because the term itself can be loosely applied to far to many areas of ecommerce. Let me remind you, ecommerce has so many facets that being an expert in all areas really is not what you want from an ecommerce consultant, unless of course this individual brings the power of a significant network which you can lean on as well, more on that later. Irregardless, if your issue is offsite performance marketing and ROAS, you need to find someone with skills in this specific area, not with strong technical skills related to the website development. Of course there is the outlier that needs to be consudered, in that perhaps the site itself has a significant gap that is causing poor ROAS. In this case, a simple call to an ecommerce consultant such as Branden Moskwa to run a site audit to determine points of onsite optimization. Regardless, the point is to hire the skills you need for the specific problem you are looking to solve. If you know its low ROAS because of something related to the ad campaign management, then its a digital advertising or digital marketing professional you need, but if the problem as in the case above is that you are not sure if there are areas that may be causing for low ROAS which are realated to the site itself, then you need someone altogether different. Look deep within isolate problem you are trying to resolve, and worst case if you cannot pinpoint it, then call Branden Moskwa because he could at least point you in the right direction. One again a case is made that you need to have that type of ecommerce coach or mentor on board.
Look for Specific Knowledge or Expertise
I spoke about identifying the specific problem you are trying to address, but lets look deeper at the specific knowledge or expertise you need to be looking for. As much as we talk in business about breaking down these silos, the idea here is to break up the different busiess units in terms of areas of expertise so that you may be better able to isolate where you need to be looking and what specific knowledge or expertise this is.
- Digital Marketing / Advertising – I don’t like to include marketing here, as to me marketing when done correctly will overlap multiple facets and skill sets, but rarely is it done from this perspective, quite often it is still considered part of the overall sales side of the business.
- Technical Advisory – This is the type of person that holds more of an overall broad spectrum of knowledge. You can find these types of people referenced in articles about marketing, entrepreneurship or even development focuses fields. They are in a sense the closest you will find to a Jack of all trades, but do be careful you are not getting a jack of all, but master of none. These people should still stand out in a specific niche within the technical advisory area and when speaking to them will be able to speak knowledablge about most topics but would also be the first to acknowledge when there is an area that needs expertise of someone else.
- Web Development & Design – I hate how these two are so often lumped together, when they are so far from the same thing. True, if you want to break down the silos it does not hurt to put these two in the same room to ensure there is an equal balance of design and development, however, truth be told the two should not be married together. Design should focus on the user experience (pull in experts here, often a good ecommerce consultant can assist with the overal guidance on best practices here as well) and persuasive web design, conversion optimization and all the things that never used to be considered part of a design roll. Design used to be about making it look good, in ecommerce specifically you are in need of a whole lot more than that. Often times as well if you hire a firm or agency to design and develop a site for you, they work on a platform that they are most comfortable with rather than considering the best fit for your organization and the future trends and directions in ecommerce as a whole. Be sure that you have a strong ecommerce consultant who can provide insights into this part of things, so as to ensure that the site is First: developed on a platform that will work with all your needed integrations and automation goals as well as consider design and development implications of the various platforms of choice.
Understand What the Ecommerce Consultant Will Do
It is important to outline with the consultant what they will do for you specifically. If you can get measurable KPI’s or simply isolate how the working relationship will be the more on the same page you both are, the less room there is for misunderstandings an frustrations. To be honest, the consultant should be encouragins our proposing to present an outline of expectations in some form or another. A good consultant is going to want to have matching expectations so that he/she can produce and help move your business in the direction you want, MORE PROFITS.
How to choose an ecommerce consultant
Although it may be hard to find someone that is as dedicated to your goals as you are, you need to ensure that you are not going to be “Just another client” in the eyes of your consultant. The ecommerce consultant in this case needs to be someone who has a shared goal and vested interest in your success. I have seen so many times people putting up the phasade of being an ecommerce consultant who will grow sales 10x, but they may have a templated approach that works for some but not others, or worse they may have tactics that go against your core business principles. Just take a look at some of the amazon tactics that people use to win buy boxes and steal sales from competiors. You need to make sure that you and the coach have a similar vision and shared goals, afterall he/she is here to help you, not to use you as bragging material, although that’s always a bonus when you become a success story of a reputable ecommerce consultant.
Consultant to match your business type
As I have emphasized the importance of getting a consultant with technical strengths and skills to match your needs you also need one that has a strong understanding of ecommerce and preferably a bit of traditional retail never hurts. I always liken it to professional sports, probably because thats that background I come from, being a professional scout for the SanDiego padres and National Champion Collegiate coach. That said, I wouldnt pickup a soccer ball and go out and think I could coach a group of highschoolers how to play soccer. There are basic overlaps in the sense of muscle memory and repetitive training etc, but I wouldnt know the slightest thing about how to kick a ball. I would probably teach them the wrong way of doing things, which defeats the entire point. Have you ever heard of “Practice Makes Perfect” If you consider my example above then it can demonstrate how flawed that very concept is. It really should be as my coaches taught me from a young age, “Perfect Practice Makes Perfect”. So if you apply this very principle to that of your ecommerce coach, then you will have a strong match with someone who is going to take you down the right path as opposed to practicing all the wrong things until you eventually get it right. Nobody has the time or money for that, do you?
Expertise (Its not about the years its about the learns…)
You will find ecommerce consultants, coaches and mentors all over the net, most boasting their 10 or 20 years of experience. Don’t be fooled, it’s not only about how long they have been doing something, its more about the lessons they have learned themselves by being in the trenches. Remember what I said about the perfect practice, if they have been doing it wrong all along then they will bring 10, 20 years of bad habits, unless of corse they have learned from the mistakes they earned. Also, its important to dive below the surface. What are not only their clients saying about them, but are they being asked for thier input and advise from others in the industry. Influencers, thought leaders, speakers, all people who have earned the respect of thier industry peers.
The other area I suggest you stray away from is those that have only one track to success. Just because they started an ecommerce business back in the day and had success, does not mean that this success can be replicated today in the same manner, nor does it mean that they have the experience to guide you to success.
In order to truly be a success and for your ecommerce consultant to help you achieve this level of success, you need to be engaged. You need to be willing to follow the direction, pushback if it will not work for you, and most importantly you need to execute on the strategies, tactics and/or suggested practices that are provided to you. Without the engagement from your end, there will be no progress. If the consultant is finding himself/herself pushing a rope up a hill trying to get you to move on the basic advice they have provided it will not be long before they fire you. Thats right, the good ones work for you, but expect that you will also work for them, because they tend to surround themselves by like people, driven and passionate about success.
Ask for referrals
I would not bother with referrals, any consultant out there will provide you with referals that will basically make them sound like they are the best thing in the world. That said, those that work with real winners, won’t bother to ask them to accept a call from someone. This is why we collect testimonials, because we don’t want to distract our clients from executing on their goals in order to help me sell my services to someone else.
Look at their services
Its important to understand how the ecommerce consutlant positions themself as well as how the industry sees them. Some offer simply consulting services, others offer marketing services ontop of the consulting component, others offer development services and so forth. If you have a very specific issue related to fulfilment, its probably not best to hire a marketing focused ecommerce consultant, that said, there is some overlap perhaps in regards to the one that offers development services, specifically in regards to the automation and integrations of the backend systems that could be part of the fulfilment, however if the issue is a larger level item specific to supply chain you need to find a consultant that has this very specific skill. That all said when looking for a mentor or coach, they should be able to help you identify the specific issue and reach into their network of people and help align you with the needed resources as well. It all depends on who you have at the ready to assist you in certain aspects of your overall needs. Make sure the services they offer, and at times this may only be available via a phone call where they will (hopefully) ask more questions of you then they do of you in order to isolate the issues and determine if the two of you are the right fit.
Look at their pricing
Pricing is a subjective issue, its hard to really dicern who will get you to the next level based on a set hourly rate, minimal retainer, or base project cost. What you need to do here is assess the items you have already covered as well as those still to follow so as to see if you think the cost/time analysis will warrent the hire. Some efficient consultants will be able to do far more in far less time than others. For example, someone charging $300/hour may be able to deliver more in that hour than someone who charges $30 (Hint, if the consultant is only charging $30/hour thats a warning sign in itself!) Often times consultants will package certian services like initial audits or assessments into bundles so that the pricing and ecpectations on delivery are set upfront. This is often a very good way for bootstraped startups and others on lean budgets to control costs, and ensure they are getting what they expected. Pricing is really about what matches you and your needs, so if hiring someone on a $300/hour rate seems out of reach, then see if they are able to offer you some sort of bundled rate for exactly what your needing so as to control the costs. This would also allow you to do some pricing comparisons, but again keep in mind all the other aspects mentioned previously, because the difference between taking the lower cost solution may end up biting you in the now so appropriate place later on. My recommendation here, is to know what your paying for and to go with your gut.
One last point, don’t let this break the bank, make sure you do a cost analysis for a fulltime / partime and contract based consultant so that you are not in a situation where you are paying more than you need. Many of the better consultants out there prefer to work on a contract basis and not be tied to a fulltime contact, however, if the cost for thier services and the results you are getting do not warrant or can be greatly offset by a fulltime director for example then this too should be considered.
Check out their portfolio
These should be available on thier sites, linkedin profiles or other places, but one thing that I have noticed when I look to hire for various contract positions, is that people lie. Sad, I know but you will find many contractors who claim to have worked for the same organizations, and/or showcase work that is no longer visible. The other issues you may run into is that some consultants are bound to non-??? Contracts whereby they cannot divuldge who they worked for. Portfolios are nice to look at, but more important that they tell you a few examples of what they have done for various clients. This allows them to talk about the work they have done without needing to divulge the names of the clients which contracts may require them to be as tight lipped as a monk taking a vow of silence. Regardless it is important to get an idea of the types of things they have done, and the experiences they have within the ecommerce field so as to endure that this is a good fit to what your needs are and that they are going to be a solid resource on your team.
Ask about their experience with ecommerce
As mentioned, the consultant needs to have experience, they need to have the right type of experience specific to ecommerce, and they need to have be able to meet your needs. If thier experience falls in another area outside of that which you require keep looking, or even ask them if they know anyone that would meet these skills. But make sure to have a conversation around what your needs are as you see it, as they see it, and if their experiences match these needs. If they do, have them elaborate by way of some examples as mentioned when I spoke of portfolio analysis previously.
Ask about their experience with other clients
This is essence the same point as was made when I discussed checking their portfolio and expereince within ecommerce, but it is important to dive deep into what they have done for specific clients. What tangible results did they see for these clients, what sort of solutions or results happend as a result. Also it does not hurt to ask about any difficult or even failed projects or clients they worked with. The reason for this is that as much as I preach perfect practice, we are all human, and as anyone may want to blame a client for not being engaged, or not having a specific level of vested interest that was required, lack of needed funding etc, the deeper insights here can be seen in how they circle back onto the identified issues and how they looked to help them solve these issues. Did the consultant offer support by way of hired resources to fill needed gaps, did the client not believe in the strategies and tactics or not have the personality needed to make them happen? The list can go on, but it really comes down to ownership an solutions/resolutions, and in some cases how or where the relationship may have changed to be less than productive. These insights will tell you a lot about the consultant and how they will work with you when times may be a little difficult or strained.
Look at client testimonials
To me testimonials can tell a story. Read them through, of course these will all be positive in nature, and in some instances case studies can be come a result of an excellent story or testimonial, but it is important to read these through and see what sorts of things they may be saying. Are they related to the person, the company, both? Are they about successes, character, how much they value the individual all this and more. At its core the testimonials should not all sound the same, (this may be an indication of templated testimonials, where people have asked for a testimonial and pre-written it for them), and most importantly tell a story. This story should tell you a lot about the consultant you are looking to hire.
Where to find an ecommerce consultant
First of all I want to stress that an ecommerce consultant does not need to be in your home city, he need not even be in your country, however, that said, you need to remember that there are cultural differences when it comes to international sales, the UX, the language barriers etc do have an impact on the site design and development itself, as would the approach taken with your marketing etc. So as much the consultant need not be directly in your geographic area they need to have a strong understanding of the needs within that geo depending again on your requirements and needs. As the lovely Whitney Blankenship mentioned in one of our podcasts, “You can’t just put up google translate and call it done.”
“Its crazy not to hire the best people just because they live far away. Especially now that theres so much technology out there making it easier then ever to bring everyone together online.” – ReWork Jason Fried & David Hansson
Our headquarters are in Big Lake BC (a small community with 4 stop signs. We’ve got people in Greece, Ukraine, the United States and elsewhere. Had we limited our search to Big Lake we would not have been able to do what we do for our customers. The biggest challenge you want to address with your consultant is availability and time zones, simply ensure that they can be available at a set time that you will require them. “Geography doesn’t matter anymore, hire the best talent regardless of where it is” – ReWork Jason Fried & David Hansson
So where do you start your search:
I have put together a list of resources including links that could help you find the right consultant for your ecommerce business.
This is perhaps the broadest place to start, and quite possibly where you found this article and if so, then you have already started in the right direction. I suggest that you use google as a resource, but consider that most of the articles you will find here will be self promotional, I too have hinted at my services as you have seen. That said, I hope you take the value I have provided and use this to find the right resources. Google will give you a list of paid and SEO optimized results, and a very broad strarting place, if you want to narrow it down, start at the other resources I list below, and use google to do deeper dives into the potential consultant prospects you find there.
Groups: or you post in a group on LinkedIn facebook or other forum
The issues here is the age old “Whats in it for me”. The issues you will find in group posts is that people will offer themselves as the solution as they troll these groups looking for work.
I think these are a great way to get leads on the talent you need, and also a way to find people that are respected by their peers. Typically speaking these are excellent resources, however, there is still a level of distillation that needs to occur, because there are sites that look for 100 experts insights simply so that they can generate social shares and traction on the articles themselves. A perfect example is that I was asked for my professional insights into specific platforms and after reading some of the responses it was obvious to me that it was not true expert insights as those who truly understand the industry would not have skewed the results of the feedback as much as they did. Granted I am at times a skeptic with it comes to the experts as there are a lot out there who just want to be heard, but are in no way applying the principles of which they speak. Long story short, read industry articles that have industry expert opinions, find the opinions that resonate with you, and proceed forward from there. Also, you may want to reach out to the person who wrote the article be it INC, Forbes, or other more specific industry related blog, as they may be able to recommend someone as well.
When you ask a friend for a recommendation this is always a good starting point, but remember the needs of your friend need to match the needs of which you are looking for.
There are a number of resources which would not require you to post an advertisement for the given position you are looking to fill. Infact, I would not post that you are looking because you will spend more time deleting junk responses than you will actually getting real leads. I would consider the following resources when looking for people. If you reachout to anyone on these platforms, be aware that they may or may not be available, but they also may have some strong recommendations.
Benefits of hiring an ecommerce consultant:
If you have gotten to this point in the article you are probably not looking for a long winded explaination of the benefits to hiring an ecommerce consultant. That said, I do want to reiterate some of these for you in short form as I think it is important. Especially as you have taken the time to read this article and possibly get a little scared of the overall process involved in finding and hiring the right one!
- Outside looking in….
- Lower your costs, not just through the insights but also via reduced ongoing expenses like benefits and fulltime salaries.
- Can leverage their networks to put you in contact with lower cost resources for things like data entry, adding new products or editing product photos, writing copy etc.
- Pay as you go…
- The above are really weak, need to pull more from the article that Bob put together.
- Your dealing with experts
- They help you improve your strategies from a wholistic perspective, with no need for siloed systems.
- Allow you to focus more on the core business functions
What happens if you don’t hire an ecommerce consultant
I will simply let this cartoon say it for me. Bottom line is maybe nothing will happen, meaning nothing at all changes, if you are fine with that you probably would not have gotten to this point in the article.