Adapting your business to an online audience has been crucial for the survival of countless businesses that have been forced to close during England’s lockdown(s).
We will discuss how small businesses have successfully adapted to the digitally focused world the pandemic has plunged us into.
Along with tips on how you can diversify your offerings, you’ll receive guidance on how to improve your digital presence on a budget.
Originally presented as part of the NewcastleGateshead Initiative, Citylife Business Support.
Hello Blueocto’s. I’m, Caroline founder of Blueocto Limited, and I’m a Google accredited Mobile Sites, Web Developer. That’s a mouthful.
And mostly, we work with micro businesses, small businesses and charities across the North East and the UK.
Today I’ll be sharing some ideas, how you can improve your online presence during a pandemic or lockdown.
Now, these are some ideas, you can, as a small business, use on your own digital presence and hopefully they can help diversify your online offering.
Before we deep dive into implementing any of these ideas, it’s worth recommending you perform some initial research.
Going back to basics, looking at a SWOT analysis or business plan, and even your marketing strategy, a lot of great small business owners who specialise in these areas.
Lucy Patterson at Flourish Unlimited offers comprehensive coaching and support in this area – Check out her website at https://flourishunlimited.co.uk/
It would be worth tapping into them in your network and find out more about what they can advise you on for that.
Product based businesses
Now, a lot of businesses have already had to overcome challenges with digital strategies, such as restaurants and cafes who have had to closed.
But, they’ve switched to online food ordering and using platforms such as Just-Eat, has become incredibly popular, with both sides of that experience.
A good example is a local business, who is similar to Just-Eat, is The Food House and it’s worth checking them out if you are a restaurant or cafe, and thinking about moving to that sort of service.
Hairdressers, barbers, and salons – they’ve had to close and think about how they can diversify their offering. One idea that came out with that was to use coupons.
You purchase your coupon now with the view that, you will book your hairdressing appointment at a later date, and that business gets the money to help them tide over until they can re-open and offer that appointment to you.
Service based businesses
If you are a service and not necessarily selling products and your service is predominately about knowledge.
For example, coaching, education, legal sector, you could deliver professional coaching or training online using pre-recorded videos, or you might look to create some group sessions on Zoom.
You could look to get people to sign up to those, and you actually deliver that on your website.
Rather than using saying the platform like Eventbrite, definitely drive that to your website and use your social media marketing to bring them back as well and deliver it on there.
And then from that, you could actually evolve that into a bit of a membership portal.
Whether it’s for clients or a community, you might have a lot of resources that you end up sending out on a regular basis or provide free training.
It may be worth looking to digitise those resources – especially if you have clients who would normally pay for those resources, again, that’s something you can do on your website and have them login and access those resources.
You can only really create them once, but you can repurpose them quite a lot, when they’re in a digital format.
You could look to move any events you would normally would offer online.
Yes, I know it’s not quite the same but, people are lonely, people are looking for engagement, they’re looking for entertainment.
Maybe you are a chorus and you do singing events, that you could move that online and maybe people can pay a small fee for a ticket to watch that on your website as well.
It doesn’t always have to be on other software and platforms because the idea is that they come onto your website.
They can find out more about you and your organisation or your business and create that kind of sense of, you know, they know more about you and in building that trust as well.
Another idea could be simply putting forms online so, more often than not businesses use a lot of forms and this can greatly increase productivity, help streamline your internal processes and reduce wait times as well.
As an example, if you write Will’s as your service, now that might entail a lot of paperwork, having to send it out in the post, have read it, send it back to you and make amendments, send it back out again, and then eventually get a wet signature.
Now, a lot of financial institutions are now having to accept online signatures, and there’s quite a lot of free platforms you can use to do that.
So again, that could greatly speed up process, which means for you as a business owner, um, you’re getting that income hopefully in a lot quicker, but also your users getting that better experience, it’s quicker for them as well.
Improving the user’s experience
If you do have a lot of downtime, apart from up-skilling or learning French, and a good opportunity would be to streamline the user experience on your website for your e-commerce shops.
Like a customer would, go through the actual look of the site, reading the blog, buying the product and get your friends and family to help as well.
You collect some feedback, note any bugs that you might come across and address them, make it better. If you are quiet, what could be better than improving your own business at this time.
With a view that when things change, you’re in a better position, especially if people are looking for information on your website and you come up in searches.
You want that experience to be the best they have – they hang about a bit longer on your website, and hopefully eventually they’ll convert as customers maybe as well.
If you are an eCommerce business and you already sell B2C or B2B, why don’t think about doing either way around? So as a good example, there’s a local business, Claire Giles greetings cards, and they already do all of that.
They offer sales of cards through their own website. They sell cards through shops across the UK – who’ve inevitably moved entirely online now – so various shops they can still sell the cards through.
They also sell on Amazon and eBay – now it might not be your first thought to go find a greeting card on those platforms, but they actually perform really well for them, so they’ve clearly found something right.
All of that is amalgamated back on their website. and they manage all of that inventory from that one place so it’s incredibly productive for them as well.
Try and think a little bit out of the box about how you can diversify where you’re actually selling as well.
If you’re thinking of venturing into eCommerce this year – perhaps you only have a Facebook Page or Instagram account. We have a great 60-day trial with Shopify on offer at the moment!
Another idea is, especially on that strain is, you could branch into other countries. You could have your content translated.
You could offer new currencies, look at different shipping options, researching this could expand your online reach, not just to English-speaking countries.
You might be surprised to have a big following in Russia or China, depending on what you sell. And if they can read that in their own language, how much of a better experience is that for them?
Start a new venture
Another idea is you could tap into your pet projects or side projects or ambitions. Just because you have a specialism, doesn’t mean you can’t correlate that with another passion that you have.
Another great example of that is Alice Hall who owns Pink Boutique, and has a very successful e-commerce business, selling women’s clothing and accessories.
Now she’s delving into other avenues such as interior design, selling low calorie snacks and, Allergy Box – a brand for those with intolerances.
None of which might have anything to do with the other, but she’s using her entrepreneurial experience from that first business to delve into other areas.
Diversify your income – it’s also creating a lot of jobs in the region as well. So what could be wrong with that?
So, just because you love mountain biking, doesn’t mean you can tie that into something else and maybe there’s something in it.
Those are still your passions. And if you’re passionate about it, it’s likely is, you’re going to do more with it as well.
Change how you do business
Another idea is, you’ve obviously already heard of Airbnb. It’s incredibly well-known now and they connect hosts of people with homes or rooms to-let, out to guests and you use their platform to do that.
You would expect them to do badly in a lockdown, but they have diversified by changing that platform to allow for online events focused around cooking, meditation, art, therapy.
They’ve gone back to the, sort of, drawing board, really and becoming more of a full-range lifestyle platform.
Rather than taking the hit they’ve decided to do something different, again, if you were in that kind of realm of business, you could have an event space, you could have conference space, you might be an B&B.
Tap into technology
Why not think about things like video tours or 360 experiences?
You could even tap into some edge technology with like Oculus or Google VR – walk us through the space and let us see what it’s all about.
If you offer catering, what does that look like? If you’ve got a fabulous hall, let’s see it!
If you offer co-working spaces for so many people who are micro businesses that want to get away from home and work some where, why not show us? Show us everything about it, entice us into your space!
So when again, lockdown lifts, we already know all about it. We just want to book!
And finally an idea would be to do a Christmas Digital Advent Calendar.
A lot of digital agencies have done this well in the past and what they’ve done is with the 30 days or 25 days, they’ve done something different everyday.
A recent example of this was “It’s a Shape Christmas” by Shape Agency in Manchester, check it out: https://itsashapechristmas.co.uk/
So it could be a giveaway, a gift could be a tip that they’re going to offer, it could be a coupon discount code that you put in for their product.
Maybe you have a competition winner for the day or for the overall competition.
And it’s a great way to get people taking part. There’s that sort of FOMO; fear of missing out.
If you create a unique hashtag for the event, you could spread the news on social media and hopefully people will share it for you with a view that they might win something.
It’s a great way to kind of generate that brand awareness, bring people back to the website and again, if they’re there, once they’re there, they can find out a lot more about you and what you’re about.
Google MyBusiness for local SEO
After you’ve had a look at all them ideas, or thought of some of your own, another tip I really want to share is if you’ve previously had a retail space or office space, or even if you have a virtual address, get yourself registered for Google MyBusiness.
They’ll send out a postcard just to confirm that you actually are at that location.
Then there’s a whole new dashboard where you can configure your profile, of course, but you can also create posts on there a little bit like social media in a way, like we do update some things about your business.
You can put videos on, you can put photo’s of where you are at internally, externally, or some of your work, if you do something like myself.
It’s great for people searching – it will show you on the maps when people are searching for things in their local area. So it’s great for local SEO.
What I would say is a big tip is make sure you put yourself in lots of good categories.
Perhaps, even categories you wouldn’t necessarily think of, but your customers might think of.
For example, we don’t offer a hosting per se, we’re not a hosting and company. We certainly get involved with hosting on every project and can offer advice.
So, I have put ourselves in that category because we could still help someone in that realm of work. Definitely put some regular posts on there.
It gives you some insights and information about what people are searching for when you signed up, it lets you put a call button on there and unlike Facebook, which is, you know, it’s a bit of a closed ecosystem.
Google is not. If you play Google’s game, you genuinely get more exposure.
Now, another thing to know about Google MyBusiness, is, if someone searches for a keyword, for example, they’re searching for ‘dermal fillers‘ and it’s not on your Google My Business profile.
However, it is on your website, they’ll still show your card from Google MyBusiness because it’ll say and highlighted this keyword is found on our website.
That could be another way of you being found, so when you’re typing in things like ‘hairdresser near me‘, ‘cafe near me‘, ‘coffee near me‘, ‘petrol near me‘, all that kind of thing, the “near me” is looking their geo-location and you could potentially come up and their results.
Why websites are ‘evergreen’
Now to look at on-site, things you could do on your actual website.
The reason I do keep mentioning website and not social media is because your entire website can be found in search engines and it’s evergreen.
What I mean by evergreen is if you look at Amazon, Jeff‘s website, he just mushed together in his garage to sell some books and it’s the same website it’s never changed for like over 20 years.
No social media existed back then! And social platforms are much better for your Marketing efforts and creating communities, things like that.
Rather that being your sole existence online and social media should be part of your marketing strategy as opposed to being the place to have your website.
Content is number one
If you do have a website or you’re going to have one, content is still definitely King.
Making sure that your content is well-structured – going back to sort of school – you’d have your main heading, you’d have some text, have another heading, smaller heading, some more text, using lists and bullet points and block quotes and things like that. It’s a nice structured piece of content.
It’s worth having a look at ensuring that your Titles for your pages and your Descriptions that show up in search, are descriptive to human beings. Don’t sort of, stuff it with keywords.
Because it’s going to be a human looking at it and deciding whether to click or not, so you need to make it appealing to a human being. Google loves fresh content. So make use of your News or your Blog section and share your wins.
If you’re a micro business, don’t be scared to talk about yourself and people buy from people, so make it about you, make it about your business.
They’ll enjoy the sort of variety of content you’re putting on there, rather than just being sell, sell, sell all the time.
If you have already got a News section, or Blog it’s worth re-purposing, or updating old content.
If you wrote something a couple of years ago, and it’s still technically relevant, but it could do with a big refresh, update that actual content and say you’ve updated it and these are the new bits.
That will always get Google to kind of have another look at your website. And it’s a good habit to get into as well.
Another way you could repurpose your content is making videos from written content or visa versa, which is what I’m going to be doing with this video!
And that kind of ties in nicely with Web Accessibility. Now, we talk about this a lot and this is to ensure that content is accessible to all users, not just all able-bodied users, but those who are, or have inabilities or disabilities, can access that (your content) from other means.
If you are making videos, it’d be nice to have some captions on there. People might want to turn off the sound for a variety of reasons and having those captions really helps make that video useful.
And images as well – please make sure that you’re putting ‘alt tags’ on the images.
Not just for web accessibility, so that you can explain what that picture is, but it can help you in your SEO.
It would actually come up in Google Image Search as well. So you’ve kind of hitting all those sort of points really, but at the end of the day, it’s to make a bit better for human users, that you’ve got, your customers, your clients.
Tracking your changes
And Don’t forget about Analytics, if you aren’t tracking all your progress on this or your results, how do you even know if your efforts are working or not?
Planning your goals, checking to see if it works, you can amend and iterate your Marketing efforts, moving forward. You can use that data, you know, as you research, to see what works for you and what doesn’t.
There isn’t a one size fits all – how many blogs should your post, and how frequently and what day it is different for everyone – everyone’s business is so unique. So do it and learn from it.
Then establish what your good days are or times to post. What kind of content people are looking for and Analytics will help give you those answers.
Just to wrap it up, we do offer free one-on-one Digital Marketing advice and we do offer website audits, which would help you see where there’s any security/insecurities on your site and how we can make it faster for the user experience.
Also having better Web Accessibility, which all go hand in hand with great SEO as well, (Search Engine Optimisation).
I hope you find some of this useful; I will share links that will help you get started with your keyword research, auditing your website and seeing where you can come up in Search and the Chamber of Commerce events. And there’s a lot more information that we often share on our blog as well.
Thanks for your time. I hope you have a good day.
Caroline brings over 15 years as a Designer and Developer; featured in .NET magazine, the only woman in the UK accredited for Google Mobile Sites. A business mentor with Enterprise Nation, STEM Ambassador and Google Women Techmaker Ambassador Previous client projects include Blackberry, FIAT, Clark Shoes and Sky.