How to future-proof your business: the shift online
As Australia starts to rebuild following the coronavirus shutdown, many business owners are wondering how they can pivot and future-proof their business – as well as entice customers back.
If you’re part of the 60 percent of Australian businesses impacted by coronavirus, you may be brainstorming ways to do just that – and looking at digital tools to support your new way of operating.
Experts predict customers may be wary shopping at bricks and mortar stores initially and for various reasons. Ensuring your business has an online presence and strong e-commerce strategy is as important as the look’n’feel of your actual shopfront – if you have one. What could future-proofing your business look like, and what are some creative ways you can start building a strong digital footprint?
Why future-proof your business?
If you’re a business which relies predominantly on face-to-face customers or word of mouth, the knock-on effects of Covid-19 may well have been brutal. The good news is, socially-distant customers are still buying – increasingly online, making your digital strategy essential.
It’s not just a band-aid solution. A digital arm to your business can create extra income, more value for customers, and ensure you remain more resilient in the years to come.
What to consider when shifting online?
Moving from a physical shopfront to an online one can be overwhelming if you don’t know much about social media platforms or website builders such as Wordpress, WIX, Squarespace or Shopify. The good news: many of these platforms are user-friendly and there are experts to who you can outsource to get you up and running.
Shifting online for the first time, you’ll need:
- A domain name (preferably as close to your business name as possible)
- A robust website host (a company which will ‘house’ your website for you)
- A platform that suits your needs (if you’re a clothing retailer, Shopify may be suitable).
- Social media accounts prominently displayed on your page (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram)
- A newsletter to inform customers, eg news and specials.
If you’re a retailer, creating an engaging ‘shop-front’ that highlights your products and your payment gateways (eg Stripe, Paypal or Apple Pay) and your shipping methods, allows customers to more easily buy from you. From the fundamentals, you can add on gift cards, discount codes, and so on.
3 tips to increase your digital offering’s impact.
Tip 1: Revamp your online presence
Whether your customers find you via a Google search or social media, it’s essential to serve them consistent messaging and a user-friendly website. Audit the copy, the images, and your overall brand message to achieve this. You’re probably operating in a new landscape post coronavirus. Perhaps, you’ve noticed a drop in sales or customer interaction. You may need to take changes onboard to reflect this new way of operating? Do you need to tweak your SEO?
Similarly, you need to ensure your social platforms are consistent across the board, reflect the tone of your brand and – most importantly – are regularly updated. And if you don’t have a Google My Business listing, now’s the time to get one. This is a free tool that helps you market your business in Google Search and Google Maps and enables customers to leave testimonials. Experts say it’s one of the most powerful ways to improve your local SEO so you regularly pop up in searches.
Tip 2: Invest in marketing
It sounds counter-intuitive, we know, especially if money’s tight for your business right now. But there’s actually a great deal of research to suggest that companies who invest in marketing and advertising during tough times reap the rewards as the economy recovers. And staying visible to your customers is a great way to both reassure them and help project an image of corporate stability.
If you’re able to steer resources – and it doesn’t have to be financial - into areas such as digital marketing and SEO, it’s well worth the investment. Optimising your website for the right keywords – such as ‘organic dog food’, or whatever it is you sell – can help you be found more easily on Google and potentially attract a whole raft of new buyers. There are free to use SEO products and Google analytics to support business in this. Also realise that people need more bang for their buck right now and giving it to them with special offers and incentives could well turn new customers into long-lasting ones.
Tip 3. Fine-tune your business model
Some of the best ideas come out of tough times – and there’s never been more evidence of that than during Covid-19, when we’ve seen businesses completely reinvent themselves.
There have been pubs and cafes morphing into grocers and convenience stores. Restaurants and bars have shifted to online delivery. Stage companies with no events to prepare for have switched to designing, manufacturing and selling stand-up desks and other home office furniture. Vacuum cleaner giant Dyson started producing ventilators. And gin distilleries have started producing hand sanitiser.
Figuring out whether your business could adapt to service a new market or draw in a new kind of customer could be the one thing that helps you stay afloat.
Why now is so important for business owners
Covid-19 has made it difficult to predict business future. Will we return to normal? Or a ‘new normal’ that involves social distancing and a greater reliance on the Internet? Will we see a vaccine before the year is out, or be waiting longer? It’s anyone’s guess.
That’s why for the next few months it’s important to do what you can to stay afloat: take advantage of government assistance like the JobKeeper payments; arrange payment plans with the ATO; keep the lines of communication open with suppliers and landlords; chase invoices diligently and do what you can to retain staff and weather the storm.
Trying to survive as a small business during a pandemic or other kind of crisis can be extremely challenging – and not all will make it to the other side. To be one that both survives and thrives, you’ll need to have a strong digital strategy and move your business online as much as possible.
Being innovative, tweaking your business model and making changes that will future-proof your business for years to come will help you survive now and forge ahead.