So you’re looking to bring your business online?

Dustin Paisley, Entrepreneur Strategist, ATB Entrepreneur Centre

If there’s one trend for business over the past decade that has stood out among others, it’s that digitizing and moving your business online has been encouraged and celebrated for business everywhere – big or small. For small businesses, bringing your business online had many benefits, including reaching a much larger audience than just your neighbours or those simply visiting your store. Going online meant you could offer your products or services to anyone around the world with an internet connection. If you were ahead of the curve, you’ve likely learned a thing or two about this whole digital world. If you’re just getting started, it’s not only a great time to do so, it’s essential. 

There’s a lot of uncertainty about what happens next, and how our economy will re-open and operate in the coming months and year ahead. The only thing we can say for certain is that customers are shopping online now more than ever before. While COVID-19 certainly impacted our behaviours and norms in terms of how we shopped, it didn’t put an end to shopping. For the most part, customers were still looking for the same goods and services they consumed and utilized before COVID-19. As a business offering these goods and services still in demand, it became clear that the biggest change was the channel in which they were accessing them. Rather than in person, or in office, they were now making those transactions digitally – either from the online store, with curbside pickup, or delivered to your door, or over social media or email. 

While taking your business digital can be daunting, there’s a few tips and tricks to follow that can assist you in navigating the digital space. 

The first step is to get a website or web store where you can offer your products or services. Previously your website may have just been a landing page with no product descriptions or checkout functionality. If that’s the case, investigate what options are available from your current provider and if necessary, choose a new provider that can help you to build an online store where your products can be displayed. Take advantage of the incredible platforms out there available to help you launch a website, or webstore in minutes. The likes of Shopify, Woocommerce, Big Commerce, Squarespace, Wix, Weebly etc. There’s a long list of online website platforms out there that can help you to launch your own digital web store or website. One thing to consider is analytics capabilities, which can help you to better make decisions, such as where to direct your marketing dollars based on where you may be underperforming, how often you sell out of a certain product and when you need to reorder, or determining what 3rd party developer aps can be useful in helping to increase your conversion rate. If you’re a service provider, you could offer services in a shopping cart format, but perhaps a landing page with contact information could be more useful to help you funnel leads and gain new customers.

A great example of this was a local company called Wild Tea Kombucha, who collaborated with a number of other local businesses to host a collective one-stop shop for local food, beverages, and self care brands. They worked collectively to reduce logistical barriers and costs for customers and banded together to promote buying local. 

For those offering goods, you’ll need to figure out what channels are most preferred by your customer. If you’re selling products, will your customers pay for shipping? Can you offer a local contactless pickup solution? Could you offer a local delivery within a certain radius of your store? Remember that demand is still present, it’s the channel that has changed, so other than a customer shopping in your store, what other channels are available to have your customer shop and receive their product? For so many businesses during COVID-19 who operated a brick and mortar shop, it became a distribution centre, housing inventory and getting goods out the door. In many cases, every option was made available to ensure convenience for customers, which could have been shipped through Canada Post or another carrier, delivered for free within a certain time window by the business owner themselves, or offered as curbside / local pickup at the store. You’ll still need to consider your costs and margins while ensuring convenience for the customer. 

Another great example of this from a local business is that of Collective – A Craft Beer Shopt in Calgary, who was able to offer up email based ordering option for customers who did not want to enter the liquor store. They could email their order from an inventory list on the website, pay by e-transfer and request curbside pick-up with a valid ID. This process allowed them to not only offer a more convenient solution to their customers, but gain new customers through a process more comfortable than having to go into the store. 

The common phrase, if you build it they will come, does not apply to online stores. The difference between a digital and brick and mortar store is the drive-by and walking traffic that will likely encourage customers to visit, which does not exist online. When your store is digital, there’s no pre-existing roads that connect customers to your shop, it’s entirely your responsibility to build them. Fortunately, if you have a social media following or email list, you can now start directing your customers to your online store. Post on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter a few times, and send all of your CASL compliant email subscribers an email or two letting them know where they can now find you online. In addition to growing your social media followers and email list subscribers, you’ll want to create as many roads as possible that lead back to your site. This can be referred to as digital marketing, where there are many strategies, both paid and organic. Ultimately, your goal is to identify your target customer if you don’t have that already, and figure out where they are digitally spending their time. What social media accounts do they follow? What blogs or websites do they read? Do they use Reddit or other forum type platforms? Once you start to answer these questions, you can start figuring out ways to get your online store featured, highlighted, promoted, or otherwise advertised to customers to direct traffic back to your store. 

So now that you have created your website, decided on delivery methods, and begun marketing your online store, consider yourself digitized. While it’s certainly more complex and challenging than reading this article and snapping your fingers, there’s a lot of resources out there to help along the way, including courses, webinars and teachings to help you go deeper on some of the subjects such as SEO, SEA, CAA, ROAS, and a multitude of other acronyms that help to drive visitors to your website, while increasing your conversion rate. Just remember, starting a business is more of a marathon than a sprint. You can sprint every few kilometers, but sprinting 42.2KM is nearly impossible. Take your time to learn about what’s important to your business, and your products. Research your competitors and some industry standards. Dive into conversion optimization and abandoned cart recovery tactics. These are all subjects that may not resonate now, but will ultimately help you in growing your business online in the future. But remember, the most important action you can take today, is taking the first step in bringing your business digital.

Do you have any questions or are wanting to dig deeper into bringing your business online, book an appointment with Dustin or any of our Entrepreneur Strategists.