In a recent meeting I was told by the company owner in response to some of my questions, "Well, we're talking about an 18 year old business here.... We don't have a lot of things you might expect, but we hope to be established in the next couple of years." This business
The most prominent way to solve this issue is to simply know what problem you are providing a solution for. For instance, Shutterfly is solving people's need for personalized gifts for different occasions throughout the year. To solve this problem they provide household and sentimental items that are customizable, as well as stationary and gift wrap to complete your gift giving mission. It has a large portfolio of items available and a large number of options for each of them, but they all contribute to the same end result. Ebay and Amazon are example of websites that simply solve people's problem of lack of time - lack of time to shop for prices and to go from store to store for different items. They create convenience and help us be more comfortable in our rushed lifestyles. Your business, even in the broad and exciting world of e-commerce, needs a stable and clear purpose to be effective.
Develop a mission statement. Over a few drafts, try to shorten this to one sentence. Online, people like clear and concise. They don't want to read an entire page worth of dialogue explaining why you're selling them the best shoes, or why you're going to be their favorite accountant. Those things might be true, but people still don't want to read an essay about it. Circle F Horse Rescue Society provides a good example of a mission statement with, "Freedom from neglect, Freedom from abuse and the Freedom to have a good home." Their mission of educating horse owners, preventing neglect and abuse, rescuing and rehabilitating abused horses, and finding fosters and adopters for these equines is completely summed up in one concise and inspirational sentence. (And it's much easier to read than my explanation of it ;) )
Once you have a foundation for your business plan in place, if you decide you would like to hire someone knowledgeable in online marketing and SEO, consider why you want them and what you expect them to achieve for you. When I asked a company a couple weeks ago what they expected of me, they replied "To promote our business." Right... My faith was immediately shattered. Before hiring a marketer, you should know, at least in a general sense, what platforms you want to utilise (print, e-mail, social media, philanthropy, etc.), and especially what you expect to glean from these. A good marketer will make suggestions anyway if they see fit, you won't be limiting them by knowing what you are wanting to pay for.
Are you seeking to re-brand yourself and appeal to a new marketplace? Are you wanting to raise your conversion rate from 2% to 5%? The person you hire will have an easier time helping you when they actually know what you want from them. This will also prevent dishonest people from being able to take advantage of you by being given free rein of your resources and reputation - You want to see positive results, not just have someone tell you you're seeing positive results....
As a final note, please be aware of what this industry entails. Be aware of average salaries. Be aware of the difference between pay-per-click, pay-per-mille, pay-per-impression and pay-per-aquisition. Be aware of how affiliate networks work. Ask questions if you want to know more about these and which of them may be good for your business. Most of all, truly partner with the person who you are asking to determine your online reputation. Realize that they are a team member and that they only succeed if you both do. Answer questions honestly, even if the answer is "I don't know." Don't make things up, don't avoid questions, and always voice your concerns. Listen when your marketer is telling you something, and actually take time to process it. Your entire brand could ride on this one person. Be prepared, and invest in them and your experience together.