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How to digitalise your traditional business
by Startacus Admin
Last year we featured information on how some local councils are taking great steps in ensuring that traditional businesses have the tools and know-how to make the most of the digital opportunities open to them.
We were particularly impressed to learn of the ‘Growing the Digital Economy’ programme taking place in Derry / Strabane NI, which is leading the way in encouraging traditional local businesses to grasp the benefits of establishing and growing an online presence.
After hearing about this, we got thinking about some of the best and most simple ways that a non-digital, traditional business can make the most ‘online’.
The issue is certainly the most divisive to face the twenty-first century business; how to digitalise your enterprise by moving it into the online space. At times it can seem as though businesses are divided into two separate, mutually exclusive and very distinct camps; those which are ‘digital’ businesses, and those which are not.
Thankfully the reality of the situation is not quite as delineated as this perception would suggest;
In fact there is no mutual exclusivity between ‘online’ businesses and ‘offline’ businesses and certainly not to the detriment of the latter. Any offline business has the ability to benefit from growing its online presence.
That’s a bold statement to make, and usually we would be apprehensive about such an ironclad and sweeping assertion, but in this case it is prudent; we simply cannot imagine any type of businesses that could not improve its lot by carefully constructing a digital existence for itself.
The evidence is clear. If we take the UK online retail sector as our example, we see that year-on-year the amount of cash which people in the UK spend with online retailers is increasing by more than 10%, up to £45 Billion in 2014. If this trend continues throughout the rest of 2015, this figure will increase further to over £52 Billion, or an average of £1174 per person. If you are a small business owner who hasn't yet dipped their toe into the digital world, you really should.
Once this fact has been accepted, the next major hurdle follows quickly on its heels; what action must be taken to move a business into the online sphere? To help the more ‘traditional’ business to begin this process of growth, we have compiled some straightforward tips that can be useful in making the most of the digital opportunities which are open to you.
Create Social Media Accounts
No matter what article you are reading on the topic of digital business, this piece of advice indefinitely arises, and there is a very good reason for that. Social media is A) the easiest way to give your business an online presence, and B) It is possibly the most effective way to engage new customers.
Those are the basic and fundamental reasons to establish a social media presence, but naturally there are also other extensive benefits to be had. Market research, public relations, business partnerships, strategic development, and competitor research can all be advanced through the use of social media.
Twitter and Facebook are the obvious choices for the vast majority of businesses hoping to step into the digital space since they are particularly broad in their reach, but don't neglect some of the other more ‘niche’ networks such as LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+ and Instagram.
The most important thing to remember when approaching the issue of social media accounts, is that they are not all the same. That seems a rather perfunctory statement, but it’s so important to recognise that the diversity of platforms must impact how you use them, and your expectations of them.
For example, Twitter is notoriously good as a disseminator of information; short sharp bursts of opinion or commentary can be a wonderful way of engaging with potential customers, but as a direct sales tool, its effectiveness is much less apparent. Tweets are also frustratingly transitory in nature, once sent they (on the whole) have an extremely short time-frame in which to make an impression. The extent of their reach largely depends on the level of engagement they receive, so you should encourage interaction with short, concise, highly targeted tweets.
By contrast, Facebook’s structure has led to the situation where the impact of your posts is much more easily spread over time, but it remains equally important to ensure that you gather as much interaction as possible to encourage organic growth in your reach.
Overall, one of the most crucial things to bear in mind when using social media, is to never treat it as a marketplace. Platforms like Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter are beloved by billions as a social experience; and trying to piggyback on this to purely increase sales won't be greeted too kindly.
Social media marketing is a slow game and any success you do have will only come by degrees, through sustained dedication and effort. The idea is to use platforms available to you as a way of gathering a specific following of potential customers, who might one day be converted into paying customers.
Get a Website
With the creation of a business website, you will begin to identify how the various elements of your collective digital presence start to behave like a web; an interconnected system of threads carrying your prospective customers toward your ultimate aim for them. For most businesses with an online presence their website lies at the centre of this system; the digital ‘home’ of their business, if you will.
You really need a website
The importance of having a website for your business cannot be overstated; whether you are running a bar, restaurant, shop, taxi service, or funeral home, the benefits are incontrovertible.
Did you know that a 2014 study into the online habits of millions of consumers found that 56% of people don’t trust a business without a website? In other words potential customers are researching businesses online before making a decision about whether to buy their products or avail of their services. The lack of a website not only reduces customer confidence in your business, but risks you being overlooked in favour of your rivals, who are not only more visible, but available 24/7/365.
The Functions of a Website
The functions that a dedicated website can fulfil for your business are wide-reaching and extensive. From a simple means of communicating basic information about opening hours, to allowing customers to purchase your products and services, no matter what your requirements are, a website should be able to fulfil them.
This is the point at which most people begin to become a bit daunted, but rest assured creating your business website will be much easier than you think. Follow these steps as a simplified plan of how you can approach the issue.
Further to these most practical of reasons for having a business website, most enterprises use this online presence as an opportunity to add a friendly human face to their operations. Nowadays, customers expect a certain level of personal transparency when it comes to the businesses they engage with, and this is most effectively achieved through the well considered use of an ‘about us’ page on the website.
Create a Blog?
Blogging is something which has become almost an instinctive part of running a business, regardless of whether it is a digital venture or not. The benefits of having a blog that sits alongside your business are well documented, but in case you are still unclear, here are some of the reasons why it can be a rather good idea;
It can be a great, non-pushy way of introducing your products to customers
It can help to position you and your business as experts within the industry
It encourages engagement from your customers
It can be a good way of keeping abreast of major trends within your market
It gives you something to talk about on social media
It can help to improve your website's search engine optimisation (SEO)
It helps you to exercise discipline and demonstrates true dedication
A blog can be a really welcome addition to your website, helping to add another level of depth and individuality, but it can also be a rather daunting prospect, especially if you haven’t blogged before. The key in getting it right is not to let the process intimidate you. Check out some of these great tips we recently shared for advice on how to manage your business blog.
Sell Products Online
Although the two are relatively similar in their fundamentals, we are treating ‘selling online’ as distinct from ‘creating a website’ because the functionalities each offer to your business are quite different. On a most basic level, selling your goods online could mean something as simple as creating an account with one of the major online retail platforms such as Amazon or EBay. Here you will be able to easily open-up your small business to a huge potential market locally, nationally, and internationally, if you so choose.
Marketplaces like this are a good way of taking a first step into e-commerce because of the relatively straightforward processes involved; these platforms are created to ensure ease of both buying and selling, and so are an excellent choice particularly if you happen to have minimal technical skills.
It’s worth bearing in mind, that aside from the obvious major online marketplaces, there are many smaller more niche platforms on which to sell your products. This is particularly true for crafts and handmade goods.
Your own E-store
Taking a step up from this, a dedicated, personalised, e-store can offer a more substantial place in which to sell online. This could take the form of a bespoke e-commerce area within your website, or (more advisedly for the small business) the services of a managed e-commerce platform. This will provide you with a customisable online shop with your own shop front, the systems needed to process payments and various other features (depending on the provider).
The great thing is that many of these stores can be linked with your website, other online marketplaces, social media accounts, blogs and some even offer an automatic posting service, in which the products you list will automatically be uploaded to the other locations where you sell online. Some can even be imbedded into your own website, but again, this depends on the provider you use and what level of packaged you opt for.
There you have 4 rather simple ways that you can give your traditional business an online presence!