When you’re an independent etailer, and you see a big box retailer moving into your category, you might think that your biggest fear would be that of the ‘big eating the small’.  The “big box” comes in with it’s buying power, pricing advantage and large staff, hungrily looking to gobble the dollars of your customers. And while there is certainly an element of concern in that scenario, there is something else equally as important that you need to watch out for when building your online business – and that is… “The fast eating the slow.”

Paul Greenberg, CEO of DealsDirect talked about this in his keynote speech “Being Small Never Felt So Big” at the 2010 Ecommerce Summit.  He said “You used to have to worry about the big eating the small. Nowadays, it’s about the fast eating the slow.”

Speed and agility in your ecommerce business are two success factors that we talk a lot about in my coaching group. You see one of the cards you have in your back pocket as an independent online seller is the ability to move fast and capitalize on changes in market trends, to adapt your product lines, or snap up unique inventory faster than a Walmart inventory buyer can say “purchase order.”

I often hear smaller sellers lamenting the fact that they are small.  But if you want to be successful,  you need to play to your strengths!  And YOUR strengths as an independent online retailer are:

A) You run the show and are empowered to make decisions quickly

B) You (hopefully) run a lean enough business that you can turn direction, even ever so slightly, on a dime

C) You know your niche so well, that you anticipate what they’ll want before they do

However,  a lot of online sellers I see are slowwwwd down…  by things they shouldn’t be doing.

Things such as:

1. Bookkeeping. No matter how small your business is, the first task you should outsource is bookkeeping. If you don’t know the numbers in your business, how will you know your profits and what changes to make. And no one ever made money while drowning in receipts, paperwork and Quickbooks files.

The fast eat the slow.

2. Photographing, listing, wrapping and shipping your own merchandise. If you’re an occasional seller, or just testing out ecommerce to see if it’s your thing – you do need to learn the business from the ground up. But once you’ve decided to make a real go of this business, the amount of time you spend doing manual labor (photographing, listing, wrapping and shipping) is directly proportionate to the amount of income you can generate.

You are only one person.  And there are only 24 hours in each day.  How is your time best spent?

Think of it this way – YOU are the CEO of your company. Does the CEO work in the mailroom on a regular basis?  Does she/he receive inventory each day?

Jeff Bezos started Amazon.com in the basement of his home here in Seattle –  with one box of books. What if Jeff and his girlfriend had kept on shipping their own products?  Would there be an Amazon.com as we know it today? No!  It would be impossible.

Maybe you don’t want to be as big as Amazon, but if you want to grow your business to a full-time venture, your eyes have to be on the growth of your business, the trends in your market, the next steps to increase sales.

Picking inventory off the shelf and figuring out which box it should go in is not making you money, it’s sucking down your time.

The fast eat the slow.

3. Being disorganized. Inventory, supplier catalogs, stacks of trend publications, unpaid bills, piles of paper on  your desk.  All these things make you slowwwwww.  And while you’re dealing with overflowing operations, your competitor is out their marketing and making their next hot buy.

Now I hear what you’re thinking… “But Lisa! I don’t have the money to hire people to do all this work for me. I’m small, I’m a startup, barely making enough money now.”

And I understand that.  I’ve been there.  I know what it’s like to work 7×24 in the hopes that you’ll “catch up”. But you don’t.  You just get farther and farther behind. And it’s a vicious circle.

But there is a way out –

I urge you to be creative. Think outside the box. Who can you bring in – even a few hours a week? To do any of the above jobs?

So you can focus on building the business.

A high school intern.  A college intern. Your mom. Hubby. Wife. Sister. Kids. Senior citizen living down the street. Someone from church. A stay-at-home mom from Craigslist. The neighbor kids.

Here’s how to start:

Figure out what your biggest pain point is right now. What is the #1 thing that slowwwwssss you down the most? Then bring in one person to tackle that.  Don’t hire them as an employee.  Bring them in for a 30 day “project”.

And watch your business transform before your very eyes. Not only will the work get done. You’ll get your first taste of what it feels like to run a company instead of being the company. And it’s your first step towards growth beyond what only you can accomplish in a day.

Before too long… you’ll find that you are the fast eating the slow.

So tell me – what creative ways have you found to outsource day-to-day tasks in your business. Share your ideas below!

-Lisa Suttora