How To Bring Your Small Business From Offline To Widely Present Online
So how can small businesses survive this incredibly challenging period? By shifting their services online, enabling ‘remote’ sales and services and limiting face-to-face contact with customers.
As the coronavirus continues to devastate communities around the world, we are truly beginning to feel its impact on both community health as well as the economy.
For small and medium sized businesses in particular, the combined effect of lockdown and sustained social distancing is seeing an unprecedented number of businesses fail. Small business challenges are being exacerbated by supply chain issues, childcare dilemmas, and government regulations that dictate operations and capacities inside venues and shops. According to a recent survey from the Society for Human Resource Management, “roughly 52% [of U.S. small businesses] expect to be out of business within six months.” The situation is equally dire in Australia.
So how can small businesses survive this incredibly challenging period? By shifting their services online, enabling ‘remote’ sales and services and limiting face-to-face contact with customers. Many people believe that only those organisations with a digital presence will be capable of surviving throughout Covid-19 and into the post-Covid era - and I am one of them.
So how can archaic, mostly-offline businesses take the leap to becoming widely present online? Here are a few tips for the dinosaurs among us:
#1 Design and build an easy-to-use website
For those of you with zero computer skills, thank your lucky stars, because today there are a ton of easy-to-use websites offering thousands of website templates that take all the hard work out of web development. Before purchasing a website, it is best that you compare top website builders, such as Wix and WordPress, Weebly, Squarespace, Joomla, Webnode Jimdo, Webify, BigCommerce, Site123 - the list goes on and on - before choosing which CMS platform you wish to power your business website.
WordPress, being extremely versatile and customisable, has become the most popular over the years, and in fact powers 15 percent of the top 100 websites in the world, including Time, Fortune, TechCrunch and CNN. WordPress will require you to organise your own web hosting, but that’s really simple to do. And, if you can be bothered to take up a short course in coding, the web is truly your oyster, because the level of customisation possible when web building on WordPress is truly impressive.
#2 Focus on Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
SEO refers to the process of increasing your website traffic by improving your website’s visibility on search engines. In other words, SEO pushes your website to the top of a Google search result page. Typically SEO excludes paid placement of your website on a search engine’s listing, and excludes any traffic directed to your website. It refers mostly to improving unpaid web results.
There are countless methods of achieving this, from technical practises behind the scenes on your website (ask a professional SEO consultant about this, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone for whom the internet is a “new” thing), to any promotional ‘off-page’ approach you might take, including social-media marketing, link-building, and so on. There are a few key ways of doing this.
One way is by investing a small sum into organic link-building via a company, which sees websites considered ‘expert’ or authorities in your niche mentioning the name of your company and backlinking to your site. Other approaches are far more simple: ensuring your ‘comments’ section is turned on at all times, by using use sub-directory root domains instead of subdomains for all your connected web pages, keeping headlines under 55 characters long, avoiding ‘keyword-stuffing’ and annoying ads, making sure your site speed is tip top, publishing quality content with lots of internal links and most importantly, making sure all your content is relevant to your services, so that the correct target market is drawn to your website.
#3 Develop A ‘Social’ Presence
Bad news for those who dislike social media: you simply cannot thrive as an organisation in 2020 without a presence across one the most popular social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, etc) today - or very rarely, at least. Even if you don’t wish to make Facebook or another social channel your key platform for driving sales, you need to be prepared to use one as a customer service channel at the very least, enabling quick, friendly and helpful interactions with your customers.
The statistics say it all. A whopping 57% of consumers say that social media influences their shopping, 57% of Facebook users who have liked a brand have shared a link/video about a brand, and 80% of people prefer to get coupons, promos, and discounts from brands via social media. So spend some time sitting down, with a millennial perhaps, to figure out which channels best suit your brand (Facebook,YouTube, TikTok, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and so on) and set up your business profile page on that channel.
Spend some time finding relevant content, ensuring your business contact details are correct, and making sure you have some nice visuals in the form of photos to share with your followers.
#4 Use your website and email campaigns to generate leads and drive sales
It’s one thing to attract site visitors; and another to convert those visits into sales. That means you will need to figure out who is coming to your website and figuring out what exactly they are looking for (through technical methods that allow you to figure out where they are clicking, which search terms they may be using, etc) and then contacting them directly to see how you might be able to convert them into paying customers.
Make sure you have your contact details including email address and phone number on every page of your website, because if getting in touch seems too difficult even the most eager of customers will be turned off and give up on the sale. Enticing your customers to become loyal followers with a ‘first purchase, 15% off’ type offer in return for their email address is always a good way to begin.
Next, follow up regularly with professional, relevant email marketing campaigns. This involves sending a branded, professional-looking email campaign featuring products and services to everyone listed in your customer base. Make sure you aren’t just re-sending them repeat descriptions of your regular products everytime you email; be sure to include some kind of special offer (for example buy one, get 50% off the second product) to reel them in.
Pay attention to holidays and certain times of year - for example, develop a Christmas campaign in advance of Christmas so that potential customers can buy gifts for their loved ones in advance of them doing all their Christmas shopping.