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The CRUSH Files: Winning Strategies for Today's Online Marketplace

  • Apr 13, 2017 | Gene Marks

Updated March 12, 2019.

One of Avalara's most honored guests at this year's CRUSH conference is renowned speaker, columnist, and small business expert Gene Marks. Gene owns and operates Marks Group Live as well as The Marks Group, P.C., a highly successful ten-person firm that provides technology and consulting services to small and medium sized businesses. Through his work and teaching, Gene helps business owners, executives, and managers understand the political, economic, and technological trends that will affect their companies so they can make profitable decisions. Looking ahead to his involvement at CRUSH AUSTIN 2017 — Avalara’s national tax compliance conference May 2–3 in Austin, Texas — we asked Gene to share some of his expertise on what online sellers can do to better help themselves thrive in our ecommerce world.

You write a lot about ecommerce businesses. What’s your number one tip for entrepreneurs working to grow online?

Get help. Regardless of the channel you choose (eBay, Amazon, Alibaba, your own site), regardless of the technologies you use (Shopify, BigCommerce, Magento, etc.), a typical business owner isn't going to have the time to understand it all. Today's online marketplaces offer search engine optimization, customer marketing, inventory management, pricing, shipping, and other tools that smart ecommerce entrepreneurs use to maximize the experience. It's a big job not only becoming proficient, but remaining expert in this ever-changing environment. The smartest thing to do is to assign these responsibilities to someone who will "own" the system. Invest in that person. Get them educated. Give them the authority to expand your presence. Without this person in place, you'll flounder.

What are some of the key issues sellers face today, and what winning strategies do you see successful companies using?

There are many issues when you sell online. There's always competition — both legal and illegal. Shipping is a headache. Responding to customer comments and requests. Handling returns. Chasing down non-payers. Keeping your prices competitive. And, of course, taxation and regulatory filings. To overcome these issues, and others, successful online entrepreneurs do three big things:

1) They choose a channel and become excellent with it. You can't do it all, so instead of being mediocre on various platforms, successful entrepreneurs choose to be the greatest at one, maybe two. For example, they aim to be a priority Amazon merchant or a leader on eBay. Some decide to just sell through their own website and work hard on their search engine optimization. Don't spread yourself too thin.

2) They get help. See above.

3) They lean on technology to be data driven. They use applications like Avalara and the fulfillment, payment, and marketing tools offered by the platforms they're on. They automate and get alerts. They rely on technologies like Avalara to help them comply with local tax and regulatory laws because they understand that the costs caused by the risks of ignoring these laws will significantly outweigh any benefits they're seeing over the long term. They are regularly reviewing their metrics, understanding which products are selling best and which are most profitable. They are looking at their customers — where the orders are coming from, what features customers prefer, what demographics are most suited to their product. They rely on these technologies to not only save time and reduce overhead, but also to focus on where the money is coming from.

You’ve spoken with a lot of Avalara customers. What have you learned?

I've learned that the more you learn about state and local taxation, the more you realize how much you don't know! The requirements are vast, complex, and always changing, and if you're selling products worldwide, you have two choices: hiring a full-time tax manager who can try and keep up with these changes, or rely on an application like Avalara to make sure you're in compliance. I've seen what can happen to companies who ignore these requirements. They become subject to penalties, back taxes, and loss of markets. It's just not worth it. Avalara customers sleep better.

Join Gene as he moderates the CFO Panel on May 2. For more information on CRUSH AUSTIN 2017, visit our website that includes all conference sessions, speaker bios, location information, after-hours activities, and more!

Sales tax rates, rules, and regulations change frequently. Although we hope you'll find this information helpful, this blog is for informational purposes only and does not provide legal or tax advice.
It's Gene!
Avalara Author
Gene Marks
It's Gene!
Avalara Author Gene Marks
Gene Marks is a columnist, book author, CPA, and owner of Marks Group PC, a technology and consulting services firm. Gene writes every day on business, politics, and public policy for the Washington Post and weekly for Forbes, Inc. Magazine, Entrepreneur, and the Huffington Post.