The year 2020 changed life in unprecedented ways with far-reaching effects on social interactions and business. If conducting business online wasn’t already on the rise, the restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic made it the key to survival.
With multiple lockdowns and re-openings, it has become clear that a digital-first approach is the only weather-proof way to stay in business.
As a small business owner, whether you’ve already pivoted to online or are contemplating doing so, here are 5 ways to create a robust strategy that will help you thrive in 2021 and beyond.
Set up an online store
When you think of eCommerce, you think of global giants like Amazon and Walmart that are leading the way. Small businesses just don’t have the network and capital to sell their goods everywhere.
However, Shopify CEO, Tobi Lutke recently threw light on an interesting and heartening trend of small businesses increasingly going online to stay in the game. The company’s recent clients, he said, include grocery stores, farmers, and local food businesses.
Now, what can your business do in order to take its operations online? Here are the first few steps:
- Find the right eCommerce platform
You don’t have to be a tech-savvy web designer to create your online store. Platforms like Shopify, BigCommerce, and Magento do all the work for you with their customizable designs and a wide variety of features and plug-ins. All you need to do is research and find one that best fits your needs and budget.
- Get a domain name
As a small business, a brandable, premium domain name to represent your online presence will do wonders for you. When picking a domain name, there are two things you must never compromise on – relevance and memorability.
The former comes from choosing the right words. The latter has to do with brevity and simplicity.
An effective way of finding a premium domain name without the premium price tag is to research new domain extensions. Not only are they easily available, but they also make your domain name more meaningful. For example, nundle.store, budge.tech, kono.store are some great businesses thriving on new domain extensions.
- Plan your content
Your online presence needs to replicate your brick-and-mortar store or office as far as possible. This involves providing website visitors with all the information they need about your company, the ability to see and judge products through pictures and videos, and adequate customer support.
You need to plan an intuitive website design and add relevant calls to action to guide people in their user journey.
- Provide multiple payment options
You need to provide a large variety of payment options including all types of cards as well as e-transfer and PayPal so that your customers can pick a method that they are most comfortable with. In order to reassure them that their private information is secure on your website, you need to opt for the SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate.
Prepare for mobile
The uninhibited rise of smartphone technology has changed the way we shop. In 2019, smartphones accounted for over 60% of all global retail traffic.
A significant section of this mobile traffic comes from regions that lack other infrastructure. For instance, people in certain developing countries may not often have a computer at home but they will most likely have a smartphone.
Just from the basic aspect of being accessible to as many people as possible, especially during a global pandemic, it will bode well for small businesses to create mobile experiences for their customers.
The easiest way to do so is to work on it simultaneously with your online presence and focus on these three main aspects.
- Responsive website
A website is typically created to be viewed on a computer. When viewed on a smartphone or a tablet, its specifications can get skewed, making for an unaesthetic and inconvenient user experience. To combat this, you must ensure that your website design is responsive.
A responsive website is one that automatically adapts to the device it is being viewed on. Leading website design and online store platforms offer responsive themes.
If you’re getting your website designed by a professional, talk to them about how a responsive design can be integrated.
- Mobile application
Creating a mobile application is the best way to offer a smartphone experience to your consumers.
Apart from eCommerce, industries like fitness, real estate, food and beverage, medicine, art, and entertainment are using mobile apps to conduct business online.
Small businesses can use online tools like Appy Pie, Bizness Apps, and BuildFire to create user-friendly apps.
Harness social media
On average, people spend up to 145 minutes every day on social media. The usage of social media from mobile devices has also seen an increase, with 4.08 billion active social media mobile users worldwide as of October 2020.
Platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter have taken heed of this and enabled people to put their channels to greater use. This includes discovering brands and shopping.
For small businesses that cannot afford paid advertising, social media offers several features that can be used for organic brand awareness and even for conducting business.
Here are a few tips to grow your small business on social media:
- Create business accounts
Business accounts give you access to advanced features that help you track engagement, segment your target audience and make your products more visible and accessible through tagging and linking.
- Rely on analytics
All social media channels including Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest have powerful analytics tools that provide valuable insight into your audience, such as where they are from, which age group they belong to, and when they are the most active.
They also show how each of your posts performs, which helps you publish the right post at the right time and even define the audience for it.
- Make your channels shoppable
You can make your products shoppable on most social media platforms, which means that people can buy your products while they are still on your Facebook or Instagram page without having to navigate to your main website. This is a great tactic for boosting impulse buying and customer acquisition.
- Engage in content marketing
Even if you don’t have a content marketing channel like a blog, you can provide value to your audience, generate brand awareness and showcase your expertise by posting quick tips, short videos, images, and infographics on social media.
- Offer customer support
Transforming your social media channels into a one-stop-shop where people can connect with you, learn about your products and even purchase them also involves providing customer support.
People will post their concerns as comments or messages and your social media team should be equipped to handle questions that don’t require elaborate support.
Focus on Local SEO
People are increasingly using search engines to look for businesses and services in their vicinity. Approximately 46% of the searches on Google are for local businesses. Moreover, such searches have a stronger purchase intent.
After searching for a business close to them, 76% of the people will visit that location within a day.
As lack of in-store shopping and work-from-home increase our reliance on the Internet, local SEO becomes a great opportunity for small businesses to improve their search visibility and find their niche customers.
Here are some tips to boost the local search rankings for your small business:
- Create your Google My Business account
By setting up a free Google My Business account, you can list your business name, address, contact information, website, work hours, location on Google Maps, images, reviews, and much more. You can even add tabs for people to directly call your number or place online orders.
- Target local keywords
Use long-tail location-based keywords in your website content and meta descriptions to highlight your “localness”, such as “food delivery service in Charleston”, “web designer in San Francisco Bay area” and “tattoo artist in Chicago”.
- Improve local citations
Listings on local directories such as Yelp not only help you attract more customers but also boost your authenticity in the eyes of search engines. You need to ensure that you are listed on as many relevant directories as possible and that your business information across each of them is uniform.
Communicate with Email Marketing
As of 2021, 4.6 billion people across the world use email, which is more than the combined global usage of Facebook and Instagram. Apart from its large reach potential, emails give you a direct and personal line to your customers.
The people you email are either your existing customers or have signed up for your mailing list. Either way, they are interested in doing business with you.
Here are some tips that can help your small business, make the most of email marketing:
- Start by finding the right tool
From MailChimp to AWeber, there are a lot of options to choose from. Email marketing tools can help you design customized e-newsletters, set up automated emails based on customer behaviour, and segment your audience to send them more relevant emails. In other words, they automate the process of customizing emails.
- Build your mailing list
You can build an email list by creating a sign-up form on your homepage and social media accounts. When you invite people to subscribe, you need to ensure that you highlight what’s in it for them. It could be access to members-only deals, premium content, and the latest updates.
- Prepare your email strategy
If you’re just starting out with email marketing, you need to keep your tasks simple and manageable. A good place to start is a weekly or monthly newsletter that provides business updates, sales, and new products.
You need to create theme-based newsletters around seasons and festivals, such as spring and holiday seasons. You can also set up automated emails for sending invoices, purchase tracking, and asking for feedback.
- Experiment with A/B testing
To learn what kind of emails work best for your small business, you need to create different versions of the same emails and send them to different audience segments. This process is known as A/B testing and is offered by most email marketing tools.
Building a strong and sustainable business requires resilience as well as flexibility. Pandemic or not, people’s demands are constantly changing.
The usage of online channels to find and connect with businesses is only going to increase. Therefore, you need to make sure that your small business is ready to embrace 2021 with a digital-first business strategy that focuses on SEO, social media, and email marketing.