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Updated: July 12th, 2020
If there’s one thing that the COVID-19 pandemic has taught the small business community, it’s the importance of technology. Everything from grocery stores to veterinarians has adapted their businesses to the new social distancing standards. Technology has become the new best friend of entrepreneurs everywhere. If you haven’t looked into how to get your business online yet, there’s no better time than the present.
Consider Etsy, which sells everything from handcrafted masks to homemade bread. They have seen revenue double from a few short years ago, fueled largely by new customers. Meanwhile, the stock price has soared 90% year-to-date. Now is the time to capture that online sales momentum by getting your business online.
States are just beginning to relax their lockdown rules, but in the best-case scenarios, we’re moving toward what’s widely expected to be a new normal. While it may seem like a daunting task, the good news is that the trend of transitioning from offline to online business began before the pandemic. So, companies have already built turnkey solutions to make the process simpler. We’ve compiled some helpful tips around the question of “how to take my business online.” And quite literally, no matter the task, you can pretty much expect — there’s an app for that.
Let’s start with the basics. Just as you wouldn’t launch a brick-and-mortar location without a physical storefront, your e-commerce business will need an online version. Your virtual store is where your online visitors get their first impression of your business. So, you want to make sure it’s a reflection of you and your product or service.
Luckily, when taking your offline business online, there is no shortage of online store providers. One popular brand is Shopify, whose storefront API lets you build a custom shop. It also performs payment processing and supports major apps such as Apple Pay and PayPal. Shopify, which offers a free 90-day trial, will even make shipping labels for e-commerce orders. Plus, Shopify Payments supports credit card payments.
Recently, Shopify added a new way for small businesses to sell their products on Facebook “Shops”. Shops is a tool to help merchants build an online storefront for both Facebook and Instagram.
Another pair that packs an online punch is Square and Weebly. Square owns Weebly, and they make it pretty simple to integrate payments and build your website on a platform in which each service supports the other. Having everything on the same platform streamlines the process of adding inventory, product descriptions, prices, shipping, and more. Essentially, it eliminates many of the obstacles that can often occur when considering how to get your business online.
Shopify and Square work with major shipping companies such as UPS and DHL, as well as the U.S. postal service. And, they partner with respective third-parties to offer you competitive rates.
A company called A2X specializes in providing accounting services to e-commerce businesses. They support Amazon, Shopify, QuickBooks, and Xero, as well as your bank account.
Dear Inventory, as the name suggests, is a software product that will help you to manage your business’ “products, customers, suppliers, contacts, purchases, and sales” on one platform.
While you may not have heard of a company called Vend, it’s used by more than 20,000 retailers as a point-of-sale service across iPad, Mac, and personal computers.
Your customers will probably be looking for a similar experience online as they did in your physical location. And as you explore how to get your business online, you’ll quickly learn that you’ll have to work a bit harder as an e-commerce establishment in some ways. That’s because your products are no longer tangible to customers. They can no longer use their senses on an item, so you’ll have to be their eyes and ears for them through product descriptions and images.
Details are your friend: Don’t be shy about taking numerous attractive pictures from various angles. You don’t have to invest in a high-end photographer. Instead, you can take the images yourself – even with your mobile phone. You may want to use a tripod to get the best shots.
Consider posting a brief Q&A section in which you field some of the most common questions for an item like many Amazon sellers do.
While returns are no fun, they have a part to play in getting your business online. Your customer will look for features that they have come to use in your store’s physical location. So, you’ll probably want to carry that over to customer service online, too.
ZigZag Global specializes in handling returns for e-commerce companies and taking the logistical headache out of the process for business owners like you. Decide on a specific return and exchange policy and add it to your website so that it doesn’t get out of hand or confusing for either party.
Now is not the time to add your AOL email address onto your business card. While you’re exploring how to get your business online, consider your email address. It should also be a reflection of your brand.
Google’s G Suite has you covered here. They will allow you to customize your email address and give you access to a host of other tools. These include documents, spreadsheets, a calendar, and more. And don’t forget Google for Small Business! This tool helps identify the best Google products for your needs and how best to utilize them when taking your business from offline to online.
You’ll also want to add a section or a page on your website detailing how and where your customers can reach you now that they can’t pop in off the street. Google for Small Business includes that tool, too. They can help ensure the right hours and info appear across Google search results, Google Maps, and other Google products.
When you transition from offline to an online business, shout it from the rooftops so that your customers know you’re open even if the lockdown is still in place. You could begin by emailing them and getting the message out there on your social media channels, including Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. You could even post a sign on your brick-and-mortar storefront informing your customers that you’ve decided to take your business online.
Jessica Holcomb is the Content Marketing Manager at Funding Circle, specializing in small business marketing and social media. She has a degree from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. Prior to Funding Circle, Jessica was a Marketing Manager at a successful social games company and a freelancer for many small businesses in the Bay Area. Her work can be seen in top retail, gaming, and financial small business resource sites.