How to Shift Your Business to an Online Model: A Roadmap for Small & Medium-Sized Businesses

28 Apr. 21


The economy is reeling, there’s no doubt about that. The pandemic has wreaked havoc on businesses as stay-at-home orders keep shoppers inside and the threat of contracting the virus keeps physical in-store capacity to reduced levels.  As a small or medium-sized business in Canada or the USA, moving to an online model can help you survive and even thrive in this new normal. However, pivoting can be difficult, and knowing where to start is challenging. Here is our roadmap for shifting your business into an online model.

Re-Evaluate How You Operate.

To move your business online successfully, you will need to re-evaluate who you are as a business and how you want to operate. Answer the following key questions.

  • How can I serve customers in this new way?
  • How can I solve my customers’ problems with my online offerings?
  • How can I enhance my customers’ experience through online tech?

In answering these questions, you will find yourself asking about which products and services are good to sell online and how selling online can increase revenue. In figuring out the answers to these questions, may have you pivoting to offering something new. Many businesses have transitioned from their original offering to something new to meet the new market that the pandemic has created. An example of this is Mr. Holmes Bakehouse, who went from offering home-baked goods to offering home bread-making kits.

Which Online Channels Will You Use?

Some of the best digital tools you can use are the online channels that are available. Your business is likely to use multiple channels to build a communication ecosystem.

  • Social media platforms.

The easiest way to pivot your business initially is, to begin with, social media platforms. Not only is it likely that your audience is already using social media, but you can easily connect with them and begin your communication strategy without much time and investment. It is important to note that social media marketing platforms are fantastic for connecting with your potential customers, sharing your content, and posting images of your products or services. 

  • Live streaming.

Social media platforms have a live streaming element to them that give you more possibilities for reaching your audience. Not only can you reach your customers via your feed and comments section, but live streaming allows you to share behind-the-scenes footage, teach live workshops, or showcase personal moments and milestones that your business is going through. If you have a devoted audience, you can also use live streaming for weekly check-ins and Q/A sessions. Popular options include Facebook Live, Instagram Live, and Youtube.

  • Marketplace Platforms  A great way to shift online is through online marketplaces. Both individual sellers and small businesses are setting up virtual storefronts through these marketplaces to shift their business into an online model without the need for setting up a website. The trick here is to do your research so that you can find the right marketplace for your needs while still considering your customer demographics and competition.

With marketplaces, there is a caveat in that while they are easy to start on and don’t require much investment, you will lose part of your revenue to subscription fees or commissions. Marketplaces tend to work really well for larger vendors. Popular ones include: Amazon, Ebay, Fiverr, Upwork, and Thumbtack.

  •  Website For Your business

Whether you are hiring a company for your website development or using an existing website, there are several things you need to keep in mind.

  • Make sure to have an engaging design that is aesthetically attractive.
  • Make sure that your navigation is easy and intuitive.
  • Make sure that your website loads quickly – in under 3 seconds.
  • Make sure it is optimized for mobile devices.
  • Make sure that your blog content is relatable and consistent.

For a lot of small and medium-sized businesses, websites are marketing tools used to drive traffic, leads, and conversions. Keep this in mind and pair it with an eCommerce store.

  • Ecommerce store Whether your digital transformation is full to an online model or is supplementing a physical store, it is critical that you use an eCommerce platform. While there are open-source and self-hosted options, we recommend choosing a ready-to-go platform as this offers pre-built solutions that save you time and money. It also allows you to create a store without coding, website builders, or the need for technical know-how. You can select Shopify or WordPress Woocomerce or Magento Platform for going online.
  • Conference tools. If you are running a small consulting business or offering services that can be taught through lessons, consider using conference tools.  For example: lawyers can conduct initial consultations online & dance teachers can provide online lessons.  Popular options include Zoom, Skype, Google Meet, Microsoft Reams, and GoToMeeting.  You can use conference tools in combination with scheduling and management tools as well, so it works well for individuals like educators and fitness trainers.

What will Your Communications Strategy Look Like?

You will need to redesign your communications strategy to account for the new possibilities that the online sphere brings to you. For instance, you need to create clear and consistent messaging, schedule how frequency communications will be, choose which online channels to use, and how your physical location – if you have one – will help direct your customers to you online.

  • Keep your customers informed of your online status by using call-to-actions like “find us on social media” or “order through our website”.
  • Use visual content to create a brand story. Share this with your customers to build trust around your business.
  • Tell customers about your offerings and communicate their value, even if they haven’t changed.
  • Use online social media channels to respond to customer feedback. Nurture your relationships by engaging with your customer base.

Embrace Digital Marketing.

With moving your business online, the majority of your marketing endeavors are going to be digital. This means that you’ll need to learn how to reach your target audience through digital marketing tools such as:

  • Email Newsletters.

You can use emails to announce sales through newsletters. This will attract attention to your newfound online presence. 

  • Social Media Marketing.

You can provide time-sensitive discount codes and sales to create urgency through social media channels. This will also encourage online engagement from your customer base.

  • Content marketing.

You can gain your customer’s loyalty by sharing valuable content online. This is done in tandem with keyword research, search engine optimization, and analytics.

  • Online advertising.

You can use Google Ads, Facebook Ads, Instagram Ads, and display ads to test and experiment with advertising. Use a small budget, to begin with and scale as you discover what works for you.

It is important to note that no matter what online channels you use for your Canada/USA business,  the conversion journey will be the same. You will need to catch interest with social media posts or website advertisements, provide customers with a choice via offerings, live streams, and question/answer sessions, and give customers a purchase decision. This is done by offering a robust online store with your products. Don’t forget to add seamless payment options and a wide variety of them!

What To Do Next: Moving From Offline to Online

If you have already taken the initial steps to move your business from an offline brick-and-mortar store to an online, eCommerce business, what should you do next?

  • Adopt a Learn Approach.

You need to adopt a learning approach that gives you queues as to whether you are on the right track or not. We recommend that you implement a build -> measure -> learn loop that allows you to gain constant feedback from your customers. This will allow you to make changes as feedback comes in, giving you the ability to hit milestones easier.

  • Adapt to Customer Expectations.

Your digital transformation won’t be a completely smooth changeover. Some of what you do will work, while other tactics will not. You may need to change how you communicate to your customer base, or you may need to change what online channels you use. Your model will need to adapt to customer expectations and the best way to ensure this happens is by being flexible and responsive to the customer feedback you get in your learning loop.

  • Use Emerging Tech.

One of the best ways to make your transition from an offline to an online business is by using emerging tech that is available. These tools can help you reduce the money and time needed on digitizing your business. For instance, hire a website development company that can implement encrypted cloud hosting on your website server so that you aren’t a target for data breaches. Or, use machine learning and artificial intelligence to help you manage customer requests. By using these types of tech, you can increase profits while boosting productivity.

Wrapping It Up

For any small to medium-sized business, the digital transformation that needs to take place when shifting your Canada or USA business from an offline model to an online model, means that you must renew your business strategy and reassess your business’ running operations. You have to make sure you choose the right digital channels for communication that fit your budget and goals. To do this, you must develop a digital marketing strategy, build a robust online store, and adopt new technology to push your business into the eCommerce sphere.




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