Taking your offline business online

Events like the COVID-19 pandemic are almost impossible to prepare for and the recent events are not something that the average business owner will have expected. With non-essential businesses forced to closed, many company owners have been left asking what the future holds for them and their employees.

women working from home at laptop

This uncertainty isn’t likely to end in the foreseeable future. However, the picture for online business is looking much brighter. E-commerce sales increased by 74% in March, figures from ACI show.

Many businesses owners are making the most of this surge and taking their offline businesses online. And you may find that your business is among those that can benefit from making the move online or increasing your focus on the e-commerce side. This article will talk you through the basics of getting started.

Start with the basics

Getting started online will mean investing in some basic technologies.  Alex Birkett is Co-founder of a Cup of Kava and specialises in conversion optimisation and growth strategy. Birkett says WordPress or Squarespace are both popular options for getting online. If you want to combine a CMS with e-commerce, he suggests a good starting place is Shopify.

Birkett stresses that online communications tools are essential too. His preferred solution is Endear, which he says helps retailers bridge the gap between offline clients and their online presence. However, if your budget is limited, HubSpot has some free tools you can use, and MailChimp has free options, depending on the size of your mailing list.

If you need a domain name for your website, there’s plenty of information available online about how to choose a good one.

Get creative

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced businesses to get creative as they look for novel ways to attract customers. One example Birkett gives is of his local coffee shop. With restrictions on their usual trade, the shop is now offering delivery of cold brew straight to customers’ doors. The shop is also focusing on related merchandise, like Aeropresses, and selling branded cloth masks.

Birkett adds:

“Most customers want to help however they can, so brainstorm creative ways you can still add value without having as much reliance on the in-store experience.”

Build your online following

Building your social media following on sites like Facebook and Twitter is essential and don’t forget to reach out to your existing client base. If you don’t already have a newsletter, consider starting one to keep your regular customers updated on new offerings as they become available.

Another essential element you shouldn’t overlook is claiming your Google business listing. You can find instructions on how to do this here.

Set up for payments

For the simplest solution, you could set up a PayPal business account or a Stripe account to accept payments. Alternatively, the online booking system Bookwhen.com it a favourite among online teachers. Bookwhen allows PayPal integration, and its other features include promotional tools and customised booking forms. The platform is well-suited to courses, workshops, events, conferences and experiences.  

Go digital

It won’t always be possible to take your entire business online, but you can still establish an online presence by selling digital products to make additional income. This could take the form of related merchandise, like eBooks, Kindle books, printables, or similar.

Alternatively, you could start selling courses on platforms like Teachable or Udemy, or begin monetising your website through affiliate products.

Case study: Rachel Windsor, Yoga teacher

Rachel Windsor teaches classes and 1-1 sessions in the Newbury, Berkshire and South West London areas. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Windsor has successfully taken her yoga classes online, but the move hasn’t been without its challenges.

After making some adjustments to her home environment to accommodate enough teaching space, another significant challenge in setting up online was enabling her students to get a clear view of the poses. However, she overcame this by using a tripod along with an iPad to get the best angles.

Providing a soundtrack for the classes has also proved difficult.

Windsor explains:

“The hardest thing is the music. My classes rely heavily on the music I choose, but I haven’t found a way to play it to the students through Zoom. So, at the moment I teach in silence and I send them a link to my playlist to play to themselves at home. It seems to work, but it’s challenging for me not being able to hear what track from the playlist they are listening to.”. 

Windsor’s marketing efforts have focused on social media sites like Facebook and Instagram, while also reaching out to personal contacts and starting work on building her website and mailing list.

For her pricing strategy, Rachel has lowered her prices for each class to keep in line with competitors. However, for private clients and pregnancy yoga students, Rachel has taken a different approach. She offers bank transfers as a payment option, along with a suggested rate. However, customers can pay what they like depending on their financial situation.

Case study: Tom Corbett, Giftogram

Tom Corbett is the Managing Director of Giftogram, a B2B eGift card platform based in Greater New York area, New Jersey. The site lets clients customize their Giftogram cards and then then you can redeem them with retailers, such as Amazon, Starbucks and Walmart.

Although the company already had an online presence, a large element of the business relied on offline delivery. With sales of the custom physical cards slowing because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and a long lockdown seeming a strong possibility, the company had to rethink its strategy.

The team shifted their resources and offered a digital delivery option for gifting to work from home and stay at home employees and customers.

Corbett says the digital side has always been an essential element for their larger clients, as there are logistical challenges in sending a physical product. However, the digital side of the business is showing growth at every level as companies of all sizes are now choosing to send their Giftograms digitally.

In response to the COVID crisis, the company has also launched Giftogram Cares. The initiative allows buyers to send eGift cards direct to the inbox of frontline and healthcare workers and it’s funded by corporate clients.

Conclusion

As uncertainty surrounds the business sector, many are reassessing their business to suit customers’ changing needs. By going online for the first time or adapting their business models to focus on the e-commerce side, many entrepreneurs are finding fresh ways of serving their customers, while developing a stronger consumer base.

Meet the author

Jane Fazackarley

Jane Fazackarley is a full-time freelance writer specialising in producing content for the e-commerce, payment processing and retail sectors. She is always keen to meet the needs of new clients and you can see her LinkedIn profile here.