Moving Your Business Online? Here’s How to Start

By Kate Loyola | Last Updated: November 17, 2017

Websites are no longer optional. Today’s customers scroll down a webpage rather than strolling down a shop aisle, and business owners need to keep up. Otherwise, you stand to lose money and opportunities for growth.

Here are just a few benefits that you could be missing out on:

  • Greater exposure and accessibility to potential customers
  • Different ways to build a relationship with your existing audience
  • Streamlined operations through automation and other tech tools
  • Lower operating costs

Whether you’re moving your business entirely or just extending it, taking to the web brings a lot of advantages. But how do you start?

Strategize

How do you want the web to help you? Think about what you want your online presence to accomplish. Is it mostly another way to boost your business’ visibility? Do you want it to become your primary sales portal? Your answer determines the shape of your approach, and having a clear purpose will ensure that your online efforts don’t go astray.

One thing to remember: look ahead. You can save a lot of money initially by going for, say, limited hosting plans or a barebones fulfillment service, but those savings could just net you bigger expenses in the long run if they leave you struggling to cope with a growing audience. Whatever your goal — publicity, sales, or something else — give your business room to scale up. You’ll thank yourself later.

Build a Website

In terms of actually getting online, this is Step #1 for you and your audience. Your website is home base, and it’s the first stop for anyone who wants to find out more about you. Customers should take no more than 1 to 2 clicks to get important information like what your business is, what your products or services are, and how customers can reach you.

Setting up a website can sound daunting, but don’t worry: it’s a straightforward process, and it doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg, either. (RELATED: You can learn more about how to set up a website here.) Your designated purpose will determine what elements your website should have.

Are you looking to sell products? Include a shopping cart module.

Do you render services for a fee? Include a secure and reliable payment gateway.

Are you planning to build a database of customers? Include a form where they can opt-in.

Try an E-Commerce Platform

If your main goal is to sell products online, you might find it more convenient to set up an account through an established e-commerce platform or marketplace, like Shopify, Amazon, or Etsy. Going this route minimizes the amount of set-up you have to do, since these solutions typically have ready-made modules and infrastructure. Most of the time, all you need to do is provide your business details, upload your product catalog, and get started.

Be Smart about Social Media

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat — there are tons of social media networks out there, and you might feel pressured to establish an active presence on all of them. Keeping up with a multitude of social media accounts can quickly become tiring, though, especially if you’re doing everything by yourself.

Instead, try concentrating on the networks that your target audience uses the most. This requires a bit more research on your part, but it gives you an effective social media spread that doesn’t run you ragged.

Are you a B2B (business-to-business) hoping to reach out to industry professionals? Try homing in on LinkedIn.

Selling wardrobe pieces to fashionable millennials? Instagram and Pinterest might be the best spaces for you.

Social media can be a great channel for keeping your audience updated and getting immediate feedback on your efforts. Just play it smart so you don’t get overwhelmed.

Stay Up-to-Date

Moving your business to the web isn’t a one-and-done affair. To stay on top of search results and on customers’ minds, you can’t leave your website gathering dust. Instead, you need to keep giving customers value — that is, you should give them reasons to come back.

Nobody wants to browse a product gallery, only to find out that the inventory’s outdated and the stuff they want to buy has been phased out. Likewise, very few people will know or remember that you’re having a spring sale if you don’t tell them.

What kind of content should you publish? Updates on store events or promos are a good start, but you can also enrich customers’ experiences through entertaining and informative blog posts, a regular newsletter, related videos or webinars, and so on. The format doesn’t really matter: you can write blog posts and e-books, produce a podcast, or do whatever else you like. What’s important is that you produce content that’s useful and interesting, so you can establish your credibility, build trust, and burnish your brand.

Keep It Simple

You don’t need a feature-stuffed website or a viral social media hit to get good results from the web. In fact, too many bells and whistles can distract or turn off potential customers. Just focus on building a site and producing content that serves the goals you’ve set for your business.

At the end of the day, what matters is that your online presence makes it easy for customers to find and connect with you. All the features, products or services, and content that you offer should prioritize that — and when customers know you to be reliable, trustworthy, and convenient, then success will follow.

The Bottom Line

We’ve all heard stories of how the web is killing brick and mortar stores, but that story doesn’t have to be yours. With careful planning and a little elbow grease, you can leverage the power of the web to boost your existing business. Just jump in and get started!