The way customers interact with businesses is changing. With the world currently driven by a need for contactless delivery, even more businesses are moving operations online.
Now more than ever, the customer’s journey has some sort of digital touchpoint. It might be from researching a product, purchasing a service, or looking for up-to-date opening hours. It’s your job to be ready for those moments, and meet the needs of potential or existing customers.
How can I prepare my business for online delivery?
The current climate might have pushed you into trying out ideas, and creating a new digital presence so your business can reach customers in entirely new ways.
In truth though, the vast majority of businesses can benefit from having a digital presence, no matter the size or industry. The key to getting it right is making sure your customer is at the centre of any initiatives. That’s true both online and offline.
How will market research help my business move online?
The easiest way to find out what your customers want is to ask them. Already built up a newsletter mailing list? Send out a survey asking how they’d like to engage with your business.
There are lots of free tools online to help you set this up. If you’re on social media, it’s even easier. Post a poll to your followers to test out which of your ideas are most popular.
A great way to ensure you get enough responses is to offer an incentive. It doesn’t have to cost a lot, and could be anything from a discount to a free gift.
Don’t overlook competitor analysis
Look to your competitors or other businesses in similar industries for inspiration. Learn from what is working for them. Do they have a large following on social media with lots of engagement? Do they have a website or an app?
Researching your competitors’ digital strategies will help you focus your efforts on the most effective digital strategy for your customers.
What should my online strategy be?
It’s not as simple as choosing an online versus offline strategy. Moving your business online doesn’t have to mean stopping your offline activity – unless you want it to! Online and offline business or marketing strategies work best when they’re integrated.
It could be that you decide to use your online presence to engage with customers and stay on their radar. Or, at the other end of the scale, you could set up a whole eCommerce experience. Then there’s everything in between. The opportunities are vast and could well have a significant effect on your business.
How can I combine bricks-and-mortar with a digital experience?
We’ve seen (and used) several examples of integrations between digital and physical business experiences, including:
Restaurants are offering customers the option to order online for takeaway, or to order kerbside collection.
Bars and pubs are making it easier to pre-order takeaway pints online to save time and limit contact.
Retail stores are offering customers the choice to reserve and pay for items online, ready to collect in store.
Some businesses have decided to focus on a full online experience:
Personal trainers and yoga instructors using social media channels or a website to provide online classes.
Therapists offering 1:1 sessions via video call.
Retailers setting up eCommerce stores.
Running your online business with a physical mindset
One of the most common pitfalls for those moving their business online is forgetting the physical effects of those sales.
You’ll still need to budget for warehouse storage, management, logistics or delivery. If you offer services, you’ll still need a physical space in which to operate and fulfil sales.
An online business has the potential for a much broader reach, and therefore a much higher potential volume of orders. Make sure you’re set up to handle scale!
Getting the basics right when moving your business online
When you start building your online presence, the amount of choice can be a bit overwhelming. Going digital is great because there are so many options and opportunities, but there are some basics you can tackle first to get you going.
Focus on two things: online search engines, and social media.
Having a presence on Google or your preferred search engine and on social media are two easy ways to reach customers that are already seeking out your business.
Create a footprint with Google My Business and social media
For businesses with a physical presence, this is a must. It means you will boost your business’ visibility for local searches.
Think about a customer typing in ‘places to eat near me’ for example. If you have a Google My Business page, you’re more likely to show up in these searches.
Even without a physical presence, setting up a page can help your customers find out your opening hours, for example. Your social media presence will provide a similar function.
Which channels you choose will depend on your business. For example, if you want to share photos or graphics, Instagram and Pinterest will work best for you.
Facebook works well for articles and engaging your audience with content, whereas LinkedIn is great for B2B businesses.
Do I need a website?
Your market research will give you a good indication of whether you need to build a website or not. If you’re ready to start planning, the best advice is to start simple.
You don’t want to commit to an all-singing all-dancing website if it’s not what your customers need, and isn’t going to provide a return on your investment. Start small and test, learn and improve to optimise your site.
You don’t need to be a web developer to set up your site. There are lots of great platforms out there that provide really stylish and functional templates, from eCommerce stores to blogs.
Think of your website as your shop front
How you present your business online is key. Consider the branding and tone of voice you’ll use, and always keep the customer in mind when making decisions.
Make it easy for your customers
The customer experience is just as important, if not more important, online. Make it easy for customers to achieve their goals.
Be mindful of putting too many barriers to purchase or engage in place. Complicated site structures or illogical navigation will slow your customer down, and even put them off.
Many customers use their smartphone to browse online, so make sure your site is optimised for a mobile experience. Good website platforms will have integrated options for you to choose from.
Help your customers find you
SEO or search engine optimisation is the process of making it easier for your customers to find your website. As with any of our recommendations, keeping it simple is key.
When creating your website, consider what your customers might type into a search engine to find you. These are your keywords.
If they’re on your website in a meaningful way that provides your customers with the information they need, you’re more likely to reach a wider audience.
Your product or service, but not as you know it
Where restrictions are driving down or delaying demand, such as the wedding, beauty, and hospitality industries, there are still opportunities to thrive online.
It might not be how you once interacted or engaged with your customers, but there is a customer base online that you could reach in a whole new way.
Tap into your knowledge and experience
E-learning is undergoing a mini-boom. Even pre-pandemic demand for online courses was growing, with people looking to upskill, retrain or start a new hobby.
There is real value in your own knowledge and experience. From cocktail making courses for stay-at-home virtual parties, to wedding planning courses for brides taking the DIY option or those looking to get into the industry.
There are lots of ways you can create relevant content that speaks to customers in a new way, or reaches a whole new customer base you might not have considered before.
Marketing your business once you move online
Once you know what your customers want and how you’re going to meet their needs online, how you market your business is key. There are two main methods of digital marketing – organic and paid.
Organic digital marketing is just as successful for your business as paid for campaigns. Start with the basics we outlined earlier, and look for ways to meaningfully interact with your customers.
That could be joining groups on social media and sharing tips, or starting a newsletter to keep your customers updated. The key to getting organic marketing right is to add value. It’s not about selling your business or product all the time.
Find ways to connect and engage with your audience whether that’s through a blog or social media posts.
Consider what resonates with your audience. Do social posts with videos get more likes or comments? Are customers spending time reading articles on your website, or visiting multiple pages?
Think about how you can get your local paper to write about your business, maybe you can offer your time for free to help someone in need. Think creatively about how to boost your business’ reach to get potential customers talking about your business.
Your other option is paid marketing, which might include:
Paying to show your social media ads to a particular demographic.
PPC (pay per click) advertising to help your website appear at the top of key searches.
The best way to find out if paid-for marketing works for you is to try it. Start small by paying to ‘boost’ a social media post or get it in front of a particular demographic.
It’ll involve lots of experimenting, but always track your spend against return on investment to ensure you’re making your money work as hard as possible for you.
Working with a marketing agency might also help you focus your efforts on the key channels that will support your goals.
Test, learn, optimise
Once your online presence starts reaching customers, you’ll be generating a whole range of additional data that you can use to optimise your business and marketing performance.
Most social media platforms have tools to give you insights into the performance of your activity. Use this!
Look at what customers are engaging with and when to see how you can optimise. Are more of your followers online on Friday evening? Schedule content to post then.
For your website, Google Analytics is your new best friend. This might sound daunting, but there are plenty of free courses that can help you to get started. Once you’ve connected your website to a GA (or Google Analytics), you’ll be able to track which products and services are attracting the biggest audience.
The key is to use the data you’re generating from your new online presence to make short term changes and to inform longer-term strategies.