Now’s as good a time as any to think about bringing your business online. Whether you’re a clothing manufacturer, kombucha brewer, or beauty salon, reaching customers through the web can be a huge boost to your finances. And it can be easier than you might think.
We’re inspired by traditionally offline companies like The Bookends Bindery that have successfully expanded into the online space while staying true to their roots.
We’ve already put together some resources for running a small business with digital tools - so to follow up, here’s what you need to do to start marketing and trading online.
From simply having a web presence, to taking orders and shipping things out for delivery, here’s some of the first steps you should take when bringing your business online.
Getting your business online is going to involve a few different steps. You could write lists and use post-it notes, but that’s a rather messy way of doing things (and isn’t great for the environment, either).
What better way to start your paperless journey than using some nifty task management software?
Basecamp - ’the all-in-one toolkit for working remotely’ is a great way to manage team projects and easily understand who needs to do what.
Asana - minimal and easy to use project management software - another great team collaboration app.
Microsoft To-Do - If you like to keep things really simple in just a few lists, this is the way to do it.
Making your website
Your home on the internet: a good website is essential. And these days, it’s much easier to get a nice-looking one made without spending big.
First, make sure you know what your website is going to do. Make sales online? Collect leads for your services? Point people towards your physical location?
Once you’re clear on intentions, it’s time to pick a website builder. The easiest way to begin is with a hosted platform. With these, you pay a monthly subscription and are given the tools to set up a site without needing any programming knowledge.
You can have a basic site up and running within an afternoon, but allow for a bit more time if you’re a beginner.
Squarespace - modern, design-led site builder with great blogging tools and really nice visuals.
Wix - similar to Squarespace, but focused more on beginners. They have a free plan as well.
Carrd - for super-simple webpages that only require a page or two.
Webflow - this one’s focused on more interactive websites, and has some nifty integrations with useful online services for marketing and ecommerce.
Wordpress - one of the original and biggest platforms, Wordpress has loads of templates available and is highly customisable. But you have to arrange hosting yourself and if things go wrong, it’s harder to fix.
Getting people to visit your website
Social media - get yourself active on whichever platforms work best for you. Post a combination of useful information, links to your site, and occasional fun stuff. Experiment to see what works, but remember, you won’t see instant results. Here’s some sensible strategies to start with.
Paid advertising - you might want to set aside some budget to spend on PPC (pay per click) ads - but be warned, it’s easy to waste money if you don’t do it properly. Either do some research yourself or seek help from experts.
SEO - this stands for Search Engine Optimisation, and it’s all about increasing your visibility in search engines like Google and Bing. It usually consists of making sure you’ve got the right words on your website, and that things are structured properly so people can find you easily. If that sounds too technical, don’t worry - many of the website providers above can help you, or you can hire specialist companies to do it for you.
Offline marketing - if you’re an established business, you’re probably already marketing in various ways. Just make sure your new web address is visible wherever you do business - signage, vehicles, ads and everything else.
Content creation & marketing
This is where you tell the world about what you do. Many business leaders don’t realise that customers don’t just trust them for products and services - they trust in their expertise.
Even when traditional revenue streams aren’t available (in times of lockdown or other disruption), sharing expertise can be a useful, and even profitable, business activity.
Blogging is a great way to showcase that expertise - writing articles that help your current customers solve their problems. (Yep, that’s what we’re doing right now!)
It’s also great for SEO, giving readers the chance to check out your site after they’ve read the article, and potentially become customers.
It takes a bit of effort, so you do need to make sure you’re writing about the right things. Here’s a great resource to get started with business blogging.
And if you hold expertise in a particularly valuable area, people will be willing to pay for it. So you could consider making an online course on Teachable, sending a premium newsletter that people pay for on Substack, or making exclusive content for followers on Patreon.
Training new staff isn’t particularly easy. And when things go wrong, having them ask you for help can get tiresome quickly. The best way to prevent this is to have clear documentation on how things work.
Creating guides on how to do things sounds a bit boring, but thanks to modern tech it’s much easier than it used to be. Gone are the days of heavy ring binders and endless Word documents.
Cursive Scribe - auto-generates PDF documents from your recordings, making easy-to-use guides for anyone to follow.
Loom - this records your screen and your webcam at the same time, so you can walk people through software processes by showing them - no writing needed.
Notion - this creative publishing software is great if you’ve got a lot of process documents that need to be linked together. You can use it to make a company Wiki - imagine a private Wikipedia for everything that goes on in your company.
If you’re more of a service provider than a product maker, you can still benefit hugely from going digital. For many businesses, taking bookings in advance is crucial for adhering to capacity and social distancing guidelines. Here are some good tools for doing it online, which should work nicely alongside your website.
Simple Salon is a booking system for hair & beauty salons that integrates nicely with your accounting systems.
That Booking App - this gives your customers a custom app to book directly with you, whether you’re a physiotherapist, barber, wellness pro, or other service provider.
Calendly - a super simple calendar app that lets people book you online without needing back-and-forth email chains. Great for consultants, coaches, and those with lots of Zoom meetings.
You’ll have a few things to figure out when taking a retail store online. Taking orders, managing inventory, shipping things out, and so on. Each of the below e-commerce platforms have extensive guides on these subjects, and you’ll find many more resources on Youtube, course providers, and elsewhere on the web.
Shopify is the leading e-commerce platform for selling your stuff online, whether that’s digital products or physical goods. You can hook it up to your website and loads of other marketing tools. Their learning resources can hep you get started .
Etsy is a retail platform focused on handmade craft goods. Easy to use for both merchants and customers, with a system for search and discovery. Make sure your photos and product descriptions are up to scratch - make it as easy as possible for customers to find and buy from you.
If you build your website on Squarespace or Wix, you’ll have access to built-in e-commerce platforms within them, too.
Timetastic - of course we’d include this - it’s the only people management software we’d recommend!
But building a successful online company needs a team that's sharp, healthy and motivated - and for that, they need restful time off. And to make booking time off easy for everyone, Timetastic is the paperless annual leave software you've been looking for.