Going Online With Your Offline Business

With the Coronavirus pandemic having disrupted businesses across the globe, one of the ways that many have managed to continue trading is to make full use of their online presence. For the retail sector, this has substituted part of the losses from closed stores; for the professional service sector, online customer contact has replaced physical meetings with clients. Internally, businesses have expanded the use of online tools to replace previously offline, ‘real-world’ processes. 

All this is well and good for those businesses that are comfortable with being online and that have experience with online marketplaces. But what about those businesses that are still mainly offline? That are still ‘bricks-and-mortar’? How can they get online? 

First Considerations

Considering expanding your business into the online world can seem daunting – but it doesn’t have to be. In many ways, the online world is subject to many of the same considerations as traditional ‘offline’ business actions. So, some of the most important things to consider first of all:

  • Market and Customer Research. If you were going to open a new store, start selling a new product or offer a new service, you wouldn’t do so without having first researched the market and potential customer base. You’d check your pricing and what your competitors are offering. 
  • Online Purpose. It is important to consider what it is that you want your online presence to achieve. Is it just to let potential customers know that you exist and to make them aware of the services you offer? Or is it to act as an e-commerce route for direct sales? Are you happy with a fairly static website or do you need to be able to provide changes everyday or want to add something more personal, an associated blog, for example?
  • Resources. You need to consider how much you want to spend to get online. This is an investment that you’ll be making, and you need to know what your budget is and how much time and effort you will be able to devote to this business line in the future.
  • Comfort level. This is a bit nebulous, but it is critical. How comfortable are you with the online world, with e-commerce, with things like online marketing and website maintenance? Would you feel comfortable doing everything yourself or would you prefer to have someone else take care of it all? 

It’s worth writing answers to these down and examining the potential positives and negatives – for example on self vs. outsourced management of the service. In this way, you’ll have really considered what is best for you and your business start to look to go online.

Next steps

When you’ve reflected on these issues, it’s time to start getting online. Depending on how extensive you have decided that you want your online presence to be, your resources, level of knowledge and comfort with websites and e-commerce,  it’s now time to decide either to do the work yourself or to hire a development team to do it for you. 

  • Simple website. There are a wide range of website providers and developers available and if all you are wanting is a simple website, you can use the tools available through an online wizard to make one. But be careful to make sure that the website is of a high-quality. Having a website that looks like it was put together in the early 2000s does not inspire confidence in the business, even if is more of a ‘brochure site’ rather than an e-commerce one. 
  • More complex sites. Unless you’re very comfortable with online tools and systems, putting a more complex online presence together – one for example that incorporates e-commerce, marketing and diagnostic tools; that links a website and social media presence together; and that incorporates effective security and data-protection – may well need assistance from a web development firm. These firms are specialists in this field and are ideally placed to help you get an online offering up and running.
  • Custom online presence. This is really where you will want to be hiring a development team. If you’re looking at custom software development or something that is advanced and needs to be dynamic and maintained, then you really need to consider working with team that does this as its daily job. 

Building your online presence

Assuming that you’re looking to develop an e-commerce capability, when getting down to the details of what you want your online presence to be there are a number of questions to consider:

  • What payment options do you want to make available?
  • What is your maintenance plan? 
  • How do you intend to keep your website up to date?
  • How much automation are you happy with on the website? 
  • How much online marketing, such as search engine optimization, are you going to do? 
  • Which social media channels are you going to use? 
  • Is the online offering going to be responsive for both desktop and mobile devices?
  • Are you ready to scale your online presence up if needed?

There are a lot of questions to consider. It can seem very daunting. One of the advantages of using an external partner to build your online offering is that they know the field. They know what the latest trends are within online businesses, what the latest security and marketing tools are, and how best to position yourself within that. Whether you are looking for a custom software development or a more limited website, using a software development solutions or website development firm really can be an investment that brings benefits to your business. 

Ryan Kh