If you operate in an industry that relies heavily on physical footfall, the Covid-19 pandemic may have forced you into thinking about moving your business online. Particularly for customer-facing services such as leisure and hospitality, the pandemic created a sudden urgency to rethink business models and reposition themselves in order to maintain some kind of activity.
Even outside of these industries, with a new appreciation of how quickly a global disaster can impact bottom lines, many businesses are looking to create an online prescience in order to mitigate similar problems in the future.
Whether you’re considering moving your business online completely, as an additional revenue stream to provide services in a different way, or to deal direct with customers rather than via retailers, there’s a lot to consider if you’re going to get the best value and results from your efforts.
For some, moving your business online will be a ‘from scratch’ project, while for others, it may require a shift from a brochure style website to an e-commerce facility for example.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll look at moving your business online from no existing presence, but the principles are pretty much the same either way.
Smart steps for successfully moving your business online
1 – Market and audience research
Understanding exactly what you’re selling and to who is crucial. If you’re a manufacturer or wholesaler wanting to sell direct to consumer, this will be fairly straightforward. However, if moving to, say, online cooking classes, hot food deliveries, online training courses or exercise classes, then you’re going to need to identify any gaps/opportunities on the market, work out how you can adjust your offerings to meet demand, and analyse which consumer groups you should target.
2 – Try a third party retail platform first
If you’re wary of diving straight in, or you’re not currently in a position to invest in a direct to consumer website, you can always try an existing platform first. Setting up a store on Amazon, eBay or Etsy is a good way to test the market and get used to selling online.
3 – Decide on your digital platforms
What functionality does your website need? Will you be using a lot of video content, or selling thousands of products? Do you need/want an app? What about social media? What web development platform would work best for your needs? Or do you need a bespoke build? This is where you’ll need to either bring experts in-house and build your own digital team, or find a digital agency to help you build (or expand/adapt) your web presence.
4 – Plan for growth
As you increase your online visibility and gradually hone your marketing strategy, you should see a steady uplift in sales. The last thing you want is to see a sudden surge in demand that breaks your website because it can’t deal with capacity. Ensure your website and overall strategy has room to grow with your business.
5 – Security and reliability
Trust, protection and performance are everything. Make sure your website is powered by a reliable hosting service, has all necessary security and GDPR elements implemented and a reputable, secure checkout and payment process.
6 – Get your policies and T&Cs in place
When you move your business online, you’ll be governed by different privacy, security and right-to-return rules. Make sure you do your homework, seek professional legal advice if necessary and clearly lay out your policies on your website.
7 – Harness online resources
Budget is going to play a big part for any business moving online, but there are plenty of resources available to help you get to grips with doing things digitally. From Google’s webmaster tools to free search engine optimisation (SEO) platforms, take advantage of any help you can find!
8 – SEO and PPC
Make sure your website is fully optimised – both from a technical and content point of view. An ongoing SEO strategy and maybe some paid advertising will help to increase your visibility and drive customers to your website – get professional help if you don’t have these specific skills in-house.
9 – TEST TEST TEST
User experience (UX) can make or break a B2C website, so don’t launch until everything has been thoroughly tested. Your site needs to load quickly and display correctly across every device and on every operating system. Checkout processes and inventory systems need to be working smoothly and users should be able to navigate through the site easily to the products or information they want.
10 – Get social and engage existing customers
Moving your business online is never going to be a case of just ‘build it and they will come’. You need to try to convert existing and past customers into online buyers, and engage and mobilise new ones. Social media is the obvious way to shore up your digital visibility, just choose the right platform for your products or services and use it regularly to build an online audience and promote offers or content to keep them hooked.
11 – Management and maintenance
Selling or promoting your business online takes an ongoing effort. Products need to be archived or added, terms need adjusting, special offers need implementing, customers need assisting (quickly) and website tools need updating. There’s so much that goes into managing and maintaining an online business that you’ll either need a capable person/team working internally, or a trusted digital support partner to keep things ticking over.
We’ve helped many businesses to develop an effective online presence, so if you’re looking for some advice to help you move your business online, drop us a line for an informal, friendly chat.