Moving your offline business online may seem overwhelming, especially if you are trying to make that change fast. But as we approach the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more businesses are recognizing the importance of making that shift.
The good news is that it’s easier and cheaper than ever before to take your offline business online. Online businesses and remote working may seem unfamiliar to many of us, but these trends have been on the rise for the last few decades. The pandemic has only accelerated what was already changing. That means that a lot of the infrastructure for transitioning your business online is in place. It’s just a matter of knowing what steps you need to take. The goal of this blog post is to help you understand those steps.
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Decide What You Can Offer
When you first move your business online, you may not be able to offer all the same products or services that you offer offline. That’s ok! Often it’s more beneficial to start small and experiment until you feel comfortable with any new technology and procedures you’re using. For instance, it’s much easier to learn a new point-of-sale system if you have a handful of products. Any early mistakes can be fixed much more easily. As your team grows comfortable and online demand increases, you can then add more products to your system.
Have A Clear Online Value Proposition
Converting offline customers to online customers can be tricky. Whatever technology you introduce for existing customers (whether it’s an online ordering platform or an app) can become a barrier to purchase. So make sure new technology has a clear value proposition that customers can understand. For example, a new online ordering system requires customers to learn the new system before they can get their food. But if that food is ready and waiting when they arrive at your restaurant, that convenience might offset their earlier inconvenience, especially if the online ordering process is streamlined.
Another way to draw existing customers to your online business is to emphasize what your online business offers that your brick-and-mortar business doesn’t. Is the online model more convenient? faster? Does your marketing for your online business include tutorials, demos, or reviews that were not offered by your offline business? Draw customers to the positive and they’ll be more likely to stay with you.
Use A CRM To Communicate Consistently
One of the most important things you can do to retain and grow your customer base is to communicate consistently with customers. That starts in an unexpected place—your physical, offline business. Even if your physical location is closed, it can be an important source of information for your customers. Signs in the windows or on the door should direct people to your website, social media, or online store rather than just stating “closed.” Advertise updates or specials in the windows so people driving by will see that your business is still operating.
Communication is important because there will be changes as your business transitions online. It’s natural to have a period of trial and error as you find your footing. Your website might have to change, you might decide to switch your payment processing tools, or you might add or drop products or services. Changes like this will be much less frustrating for your customers if you continually post updates for them.
If you don’t already have a customer relationship management system (known as a CRM), you should invest in one early. These tools store information about your customers such as their contact information and engagement record with your business. Beyond gathering valuable data that can help you refine your marketing and predict which new products will be a hit with customers, CRMs make it simple to send mass emails or newsletters to your followers. It doesn’t take a lot of time or effort to set up a basic CRM and they don’t have to be expensive. Simply connect the contact form on your website to MailChimp, Constant Contact, or HubSpot and your CRM will begin populating itself.
Establish A Homebase Online
Your offline business has a base of operations, probably your main store location or office building. It acts as a nerve center for your business. An online business needs something similar, a central location where customers can get information, contact you, and make purchases.
If you sell physical products, the easiest and fastest way to get up and running is to start selling on existing platforms. This includes places like Amazon, Etsy, and eBay as well as newer options like Facebook Marketplace or Walmart Marketplace. (If you’re not familiar with these types of platforms, Inc.com offers a great rundown of the most popular e-commerce platforms of 2021.) The advantage to existing platforms is that much of the infrastructure is already in place when you sign up. If you have no experience selling online and/or you don’t already have a website, this might be the best way to get your feet wet.
Another option is to build your own website. Your own website gives you total control over how you run your business, making it easier to align your online and offline businesses. It also offers better options for branding and online marketing. There is more of an up-front investment with building your own website, and there are a lot of factors to consider like ensuring it’s secure, responsive, and SEO-friendly. But in terms of long-term strategy, a custom business website gives you authority and professionalism that other options just can’t. Services like Wix, Weebly, and Squarespace can get your business online for a relatively small price, but in the long-term you’ll benefit much more from hiring a web development service that offers higher-functionality, better customization, and better security.
Market Your Business Online
Many local businesses get by through word-of-mouth and traditional advertising methods like flyers. But online businesses must invest in online marketing if they want to compete. If this is a totally unfamiliar concept, TracSoft has some content to help you get started with digital marketing and online advertising.
Establish Your Online Presence
The best place to start with online marketing is your Google My Business Listing. This is the information square that pops up for businesses in Google searches or on Google Maps. Beyond providing basic info like your store hours and location, your Google My Business Listing is one of the biggest factors in how well you rank on Google searches. By optimizing this listing and keeping it updated, you’ll ensure people find your business online.
Once your Google My Business Listing is set up, the next step is to evaluate your company’s social media accounts. If you already have social accounts, then you can start updating them to align with your new business strategy. If you don’t have any social media accounts, then it’s time to start some. You might now be a heavy social media user yourself, but the majority of your customers will be and increasingly customers turn to social media to discover new businesses. This also offers another great channel for communicating with your customers. Learn about some popular social media platforms here to determine which sites suit your business best.
Utilize Social Media
You don’t have to rush out and join every social media platform you’ve ever heard of, but you should make sure the accounts you do have are updated and contain the same language, logo, and branding as your website. Consistency is key to good marketing.
Once your social media is aligned with your website, start planning the content you will share. You can start off small with a few posts each week, and make it easier on yourself by using a content management tool like Hootsuite or Sproutsocial to set up all of your posts weeks in advance. The visual nature of sites like Instagram and Pinterest can be great for showing new physical products, while features like Facebook Live and platforms like YouTube and Vimeo are excellent for product demos.
You’ll be more successful on social media if you find unique ways to use these platforms. For instance, a lawyer might record short videos offering legal advice, or a physical therapist might demonstrate exercises to alleviate back pain. The goal is for your content to offer followers something useful, which will help them understand the value of your services for their lives.
Decide How To Handle Payments
There are lots of options for handling payments for your online business. Because this industry has exploded in the last decade, this might actually be one of the easiest parts to moving your offline business online.
When choosing an online payment processing company, pay attention to the fees. Usually fees range from 1.7% – 3.5% per transaction, although some companies that charge a flat monthly fee offer lower per-transaction costs. There can be incidental fees to factor in as well. You also want to consider the length of contract you’re committing to. Many of these companies offer month-to-month contracts, which may be a better fit as you experiment with options early on.
Stripe is one of the most popular payment processors. Straightforward pricing, no monthly fees, quick setup, and support for over 100 currencies make Stripe a flexible option for many businesses. Another option is Square, which handles both online and in-person sales and offers seamless inventory management. With flat-rate pricing, fast setup, flexible customization, and powerful reporting, it offers a lot for small businesses.
Ask For Help With Getting Your Offline Business Online
Moving your offline business online is challenging. And if you’re busy running your business, the biggest obstacle to this move may be time. Choosing and learning software you’ll need, connecting software to your website or social platforms, keeping everything secure, and making it accessible to your customers—it’s a lot.
That’s why TracSoft is here. We work with people just like you to develop customized solutions that keep their businesses running smoothly. From developing a stunning, responsive website to setting up secure online payment systems, we’ve got you covered. We’ll even handle your digital marketing solutions so your customers, new and old, will find you.
Contact TracSoft today and let us help you get your offline business online.