Starting a Business in the Digital Economy: Where to Go to Launch and Grow (Updated!)

By at 23 March, 2021, 9:00 am

By Karen Kerrigan

In recent posts on our Small Business Insider blog, Rieva Lesonsky’s Trendcast highlighted the exciting growth and various trends in e-commerce. The significant increase in e-shoppers age 65 and above and the upsurge in the “stay-at-home” category of goods and products being purchased online offer tremendous opportunities for small businesses and new startups.

As noted in Rieva’s report on the seismic shift in older shoppers to e-commerce, such growth represents “a gift for many small businesses because boomers are loyal customers with more disposable income than younger generations.”  In addition: “Stats from NPD Group’s Checkout Tracking show a 49% increase in online spending for those 65 and older in the first 10 months of 2020 and more than a 40% increase in frequency of purchases.”

With regard to the new “homebound lifestyle” that is driving new purchases and trends, consumers continue to focus on various categories that make their surroundings and lives comfortable, healthy, and fun. As Rieva pointed out in her tracking of the data:

“In the first six weeks of 2021, NPD says consumer spending on products like housewares, consumer electronics, and small appliances experienced double-digit year-over-year dollar gains” and “Retail sales of these and other categories, like sports equipment, hit $706 billion in 2020.”

Furthermore: “Online dollar sales of discretionary general merchandise grew 34% in 2020. And according to The NPD Group / Consumer Tracking Service and Retail Tracking Service reports, the small appliances, video games, housewares, consumer electronics, and toys categories boasted the most online growth, with revenue gains of more than 50% each…That trend has continued into 2021, where every week through early February has seen double-digit growth in discretionary retail spending in general merchandise categories.”

A Small Business Daily piece noted the results of a recent survey, which is uplifting news for startups and small businesses: “According to Shopify, 57% of survey respondents are choosing to seek out independently-owned businesses over larger, big-name competitors.”

The big boost in digital commerce and shifting consumer trends offer tremendous opportunities for small businesses. The key is meeting these customers where they are, which is increasingly online and in massive numbers, and providing a seamless and personal experience.

Resources for starting up (or growing) in the digital economy

Thankfully, most of the big online platforms have resources for helping entrepreneurs and small business owners launch, pivot or grow in the digital economy. There’s never been a more affordable time for starting a business and reaching potential customers through the support and targeted advertising provided by technology platforms. When your small business succeeds, so do the platforms. This mutually beneficial relationship is helping the digital ecosystem grow in an organic and durable way.


Facebook for Business provides easy steps for setting up your online store on Facebook, Instagram or both. Whether your business is just getting started on Facebook, or you want to optimize sales through gift cards or targeted ads, the resources provided cover a range of topics that meet the needs of startups and seasoned business owners alike.  In addition to technical information, Facebook for Business includes step-by-step guidance on: 

 Creating a Business Marketing Plan

 Attracting an Audience and Building Relationships Online

 Reaching More Customers Near You, or Your Store

 How Personalized Ads Can Help Your Business Grow (by being found)

 Actions to Take for Ad Ecosystem Changes (due to Apple Mobile Operating System Changes)

Hootsuite also has some helpful information on setting up a Facebook page – How to Create a Facebook Business Page in 7 Easy Steps – and there’s content that covers smart marketing strategies for connecting with customers: Facebook Marketing in 2021- How to Use Facebook for Business. Sprout Social developed these Expert Tips on Using Facebook for Your Small Business.

Other Resources

22 Facebook Marketing Tips for Small Businesses on a Budget

7 Mistakes to Avoid When Promoting Your Small Business Facebook Page

9 Actionable Facebook Marketing Tips for Small Businesses That Only Experts Know


Small businesses sell a lot on Amazon. In 2020, according to Amazon, small businesses sold 6,500 products per minute (Read “10 Amazon Statistics You Need to Know”), and in its 2020 SMB Impact Report, Amazon revealed that:

● More than 2 million independent businesses work with Amazon in the U.S.

● American small and medium-sized businesses sold 3.4 billion products in Amazon stores.

● On average, American SMB sellers each had over $160,000 in sales, up year-over-year from approximately $100,000.

● The number of American SMB sellers that surpassed $1 million in sales grew by more than 20%, and more than 3,700 surpassed $1 million in sales for the first time.

● American SMB sales from business customers on Amazon Business were over $7 billion.

● SMBs selling on the U.S. store support an estimated 1.1 million jobs, up from 830,000 in 2019.

There’s a lot of information on the web about how to successfully sell on Amazon, such as How to Sell on Amazon 2021 from Oberlo. But Amazon itself provides comprehensive resources for small businesses, and ongoing training, to help small business owners and their teams get better at using the platform to reach and serve customers. Small business owners can start with the Amazon Free Tier (for 12 months, which is loaded with many free tools) and transition to various Amazon services to grow sales. Resources include:

Start Selling with Amazon 101 Webinar

The Beginners Guide to Selling on Amazon (online here)

Amazon Seller University Videos covering an array of topics

Upcoming Webinars: Amazon Small Business Academy:

March 30    How to Get Started Selling in Amazon’s Store

April 5        Keyword Optimization

April 12     Advertising Tools

April 19     Service Provider Network

April 26     IP Accelerator

May 3        Handmade

…plus other webinars scheduled for May and June on important topics such as pricing, multi-channel fulfillment, top tips for launching, and more. You can also view many previous webinars that were conducted during the past year or more.

For authors and creators there is Kindle Direct where you can self-publish eBooks and paperbacks for free, and Prime Direct Video that helps studios, distributors and independent filmmakers reach audiences worldwide.

For a quick overview, visit Amazon FAQs.


The Shopify website is packed with content for small business owners who are just starting out online, or looking for ways to scale and expand whether that is through Shopify’s services, doing it on their own, or using other platforms. A run-down of some of the basic “how to” guides include:

How to Start a Business – 12 Steps

Ecommerce Business Blueprint: How to Build Launch and Grow a Profitable Online Store

How to Start an Online Store with Shopify: A Step-by-Step Guide

Shopify offers free tools for starting up or running a business, such as a logo maker, business name generator, domain name generator, terms and conditions generator, slogan maker, QR code generator, shipping label template, a refund policy generator and much, much more.

The Shopify Blog is extremely helpful, which includes timely articles on everything from Trending Products to What is Dropshipping? The blog also includes Shopify Store Examples to help entrepreneurs see what others are doing and find inspiration for launching their own business.

eCommerce Will Keep Growing

COVID-19 has dramatically altered the way consumers purchase products and services, and online shopping will continue to grow in the years ahead. For 2021, online revenues are expected to grow between 18%-23%, and will hit at least $1.14 trillion (topping a trillion dollars for the first time), according to the NRF (National Retail Federation). Consumers continue to be very open to trying new brands, and are actively seeking new brands through social media and general online searches.

The future offers entrepreneurs exciting opportunities, but their products, goods and services must be available where consumers are browsing and shopping, and that is online. Tools offered by the platforms mentioned above (and scores of others) make it easy, affordable and much less risky to start a business, and to sell online. Right now is the perfect time to launch your business. What are you waiting for?

Karen Kerrigan is president & CEO of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council.


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