SMEs going online – 5 mistakes to avoid

Over the past 10 years, I’ve help tens of local SMEs going online. SME going digital or SME digitalization is not as easy as it seems, I’ve summarized 5 mistakes to avoid in this article.

Local SMEs have been slow in going online or adopting digitalization. Even for those who started early may not really focus much on growing their digital presence, simple because “everything was working fine”.

The COVID-19 pandemic was a wake up call, as the virus pushes consumers to go digital, businesses need to play catch up.


SMEs going online is inevitable. The problem is how.


In the past 10 years, I’ve help businesses, mainly local SMEs go online. I worked with brands like Purple Cane, Double Camel Soy Sauce, CompoHealth, Bread History, Doremi, Shoon Fatt Biscuit and a dozen more local SMEs going online, most of them were digital onboarding from scratch, which was to build everything from ground up.

I learned a great deal throughout the processes and I wish to share with you to cut short your learning curve. Some are painful mistakes that costed my clients money, time and resources, you don’t need to.

I understand that local SMEs especially manufacturers, brand owners have different sets of concerns when it comes to going online. We’ve worked with our clients in solving probably most of the challenges you’re facing right now.

To sum it up, I list down 5 mistakes local SMEs should avoid in going online, or going digital.


#1 – Start Fast, Not Perfect


Business owners are builders, creators, and they are enthusiastic. When talking about taking their SMEs going online, they have 1,001 ideas that they want to implement. They’ve built their empires, no doubt on their ability. However this is uncharted territory for them, sometimes it is wise to stop and listen from those who did it before.

We are particularly careful with borrowed ideas from other countries. From my experience, most of the “borrowed ideas” that were executed actually did not really helped significantly in digital growth. Not because they’re not good, simply because don’t work locally.

I urge business owners to refrain themselves from playing the ideas, focus on the critical task here instead – which is to go online fast.

It is important to understand that everything on the internet is about speed. The earlier you come online, the earlier you can start selling, and the earlier you get to learn from doing it.

If you can sell on marketplaces, go ahead and apply to be a merchant on Shopee or Lazada, or list yourself on Grabfood. These are the platforms that can let you start fast. Starting is important to start learning.

If you wish to build an ecommerce website, make sure you don’t drill on the aesthetics too much. My longest website is 10 years old this year, and I’m still tweaking it every month.

Start fast, learn fast.


#2 – Plan your Digital Presence from the beginning


Identity unification is important when it comes to your digital presence. It started as a branding practice, turns out to be a very important element when it comes to long term branding.

When you’re taking your SMEs going online, first thing to do is to make sure you secure the same username on all social media channels, that is the same, or at least similar to your brand name or website.

Consistency is important as we all have short attention spans and memories during this digital era.

One of the thing that you might do in the future is to include your social media presence at your packaging. Imagine you have different names on all platforms, you’ll have to list them down one by one (see sample below, left). Compare to the right image, it is unified and look so professional.

When it comes to domain selection, my best advice is to stick to your brand name. I can share from my own experience, Tribeup Academy used to own multiple domains such as, etc. hoping that we can command better visibility, turns out to be pretty useless.

Domain age is one of the very important element that helps your SEO ranking, make sure you build on the right one from the beginning.


#3 – Shipping matters, a lot


I remember a client shared with me an early stage mistake they made. It was a bedding category manufacturer, one of the best selling products were their pillows.

Their pillows are essentially light in weight, however due to the packaging size their shipping fee had to be measured by volumetric. They started without finding out, and ordered came in in bulk as the marketplace promoted them heavily, you can imagine the pain.

Another soy sauce manufacturer client, took them several months to test and find the best packaging method to avoid their products being broken during the shipping process.

Same goes to a biscuit manufacturer, we had to even customized the packaging and the product bundle design to make sure that the products can be delivered without being broken.

To avoid running into trouble on your shipping side, discuss with the shipping provider together with the final packaging. And you must make sure that you test. Send out multiple parcels to test the outcome can save your day.

Shipping matters, if you’re taking your SMEs going online, get that right from the beginning.


#4 – Your retail partners are okay, actually


Another common.. I wouldn’t say that’s a mistake, more of a concern, among manufacturers is they worry too much about their retail partners.

One client took a year to consider about selling online because they worried that might affect the sales of their retailers. Turns out when the competitor started selling online, the overall sales increased because of the exposure created actually spilled over and benefited the retailers.

I’m not saying that you should ditch your conventional retail partners, however if you’re selling at the same price online where they don’t exist, how can you be hurting them?

The market is bigger than you thought it would be. SMEs going online most of the time means you’re tapping into a new segment.

If even our retail partners are selling online, you can still have your online presence coexist by selling differently, such as different product, or different bundle.

The key takeaway is, sometimes you might be thinking a lil too much. 🙂


#5 – Organic is dead, advertise!


No, your Facebook page Likes means nothing to your ecommerce conversion. In fact even if you’ve got 100,000 likes on your page, whenever you post you’ll only be reaching less than 5% of them.

Face it, number of likes on your page is pretty meaningless. And “virality” doesn’t exist. Unless you sell something totally new, chances are your products and whatever gimmicks you’re about to come out with are something we’ve seen before.

People don’t simply share now. Not for any valid reason. That’s out of the question too.

In order to drive meaningful conversions, you need to actively reach out to new audiences who are likely to be interested in your product. You need to advertise.

The question is, how to advertise effectively? Boost a post doesn’t help, growing your page likes isn’t neither. Facebook advertising combines Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and other mobile apps to help you reach your target audience, you need to use that.

You need to advertise on Facebook with the right way.




SMEs going online isn’t as simple as it seem, and it is important to start right because you don’t want to waste your time and money navigating.

Like I mentioned earlier, chances are you’re probably the first few from your industry doing that, but one way or another someone has done it, and you can learn from them to cut short your learning curve.

My final advice to business owners of SMEs going online, is that there’s nothing wrong with asking for help. It is like when you want to learn driving you’ll get an instructor, why not for this?

SMEs going online involves a lot of time and resources, it is even more important to start right. If you need help, we do offer our expertise in helping SMEs going online, let’s get in touch.

Alternatively, if you wish to learn how to advertise your business effectively with Facebook advertising, consider enrol into our Facebook Ads Accelerator Membership Program.

Now over to you. What are your challenges in taking your SME online? Let see if we’re able to offer some suggestions.