If you’re running a business but you haven’t got any online presence, you’re making things difficult for yourself. Taking your business online is a surefire way to get your products or services seen by more people, increasing the earning potential of your company.
In this guide, we’ve laid out several methods for taking your entire business model online. By following some of the information below, you’ll learn about migrating your business online to get more traffic, which can then be converted into sales. Many businesses that operate online also have less maintenance involved too, so you can save both time and money by making this important journey.
Below you’ll find five sections that cover everything an online entrepreneur should know:
- Developing A Business And Marketing Strategy
- Understand How To Market Your Services Or Products Online
- Build A Website
- Remember To Set Up Payments
- Let Customers Know You’re Moving!
After reading these, taking your business online should be a breeze. Let’s start with your online business strategy.
Developing A Business And Marketing Strategy
If you’re migrating your business online, there is every chance that you have already crafted a business plan and a marketing strategy to serve that venture. To take your business online, you’ll need to do that again. This is because there are differences in running a business online when compared to physical locations, so you’ll need to tweak your current business model to match.
This is also handy for those who haven’t got a pre-existing business but want to create one online because we’re starting from the very beginning. Every good business/marketing plan should consist of the five elements detailed below.
Create A Timescale And Budget
The two most valuable currencies are time and the dollars in your wallet right now, so you should try to save both when plotting your business. This is standard for business plans, so you may have experience here already, but the methods used for a digital strategy are different. Remember that the timescale and budget related to online ventures can be as strict or loose as you want, depending on how rigorous you want your business to be.
From the start, you should have a clear timescale that you hold yourself to. You can theoretically work on a website forever, tweaking its backend and prettying things up on the product pages, but at some point, you’ll need to call the project complete and start conducting business. Fortunately, operating a company online allows you to keep making changes after you’ve launched your online business.
As for the budget you set, that will act like the war chest that your digital strategy uses to establish and market your business. Note that timescale and budget are related, in that a longer timescale will demand a larger budget. Determine your maximum possible budget and keep that in mind when planning things out.
Knowing your budget from the start is useful because you know how to dispense cash to the fledgling parts of your business properly. You don’t want to sink most of your budget into one part of the operation only to realize you need even more for something else. That’s why planning is important.
Understanding Your Target Audience
For most businesses, finding a target audience is necessary if you want to have any success at all. You need to find the crowds that buy the products or services that you offer. With your pre-existing business, you likely have a dedicated audience of recurring buyers that like what you sell, and the prospect of hunting for like-minded people online may be daunting.
Like with many things, the Internet has made this much more convenient for entrepreneurs. With a few taps of your keyboard, you can find communities online built around entire industries or even specific products. Using your industry or products/services similar to your own, you can find such communities and market your new online business to them. Those are your target audience.
You should also identify competitors and shadow them. While you can’t spy on your business competitor across the state, you can easily see what online businesses are up to. Identify their strengths and their mistakes, then copy those strengths while covering for those mistakes so you’re the best service available.
Reach Your Target Audience’s Media And Buying Habits
If you’re here, you may not be clued up on the online world and how it works. Let’s go deeper into your target audience and how you target them when running a business on the Internet.
It’s not enough to identify your target audience after a few cursory Google searches, you need to anticipate their media consumption and their buying habits if you want to market and sell your service to them. The media they consume will dictate which ads get their attention. For example, here are some ways you reach people online:
- Establish your business as an authority through SEO (Search Engine Optimization).
- Use Google Analytics and Google Ads to advertise and remarket your business.
- Buy targeted ads for Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms.
- Use SEO on social media platforms like LinkedIn (great for B2B services).
- After you start conducting business, genuine online reviews come in.
- Word-of-mouth advertising, in person or on social media.
As for anticipating your target audience's buying habits, you have one main question to ask yourself. What is the motive behind the purchase? There are typically five motives that marketers consider, though buyers can cover multiple of them when making their purchase.
- Aesthetic/Emotional: The product appeals to the buyer’s emotions and/or aesthetic tastes.
- Curiosity: The product triggers a desire to know more through its marketing.
- Functional: The product improves or enhances the buyer’s life in some way.
- Social: The product signals something to others, as a sign of prestige or trend-following.
- Situational: The product was bought due to a particular sales environment that impacted their decision to buy (less important for online businesses).
Try to identify which motives are more influential for your target audience. If you have identified a community online, you can join that community and simply ask prospective customers or conduct a poll. Try to isolate which two motives are the most influential and focus on those over the rest.
Think Which Ecommerce And Social Media Platforms Will Market Your Business
We don’t know what your business is, so we can’t offer specific advice on what ecommerce and social media platforms you should target. What we can do is offer you a brief rundown of the biggest names on the Internet and what content they’re geared towards, so you can find out if they’re compatible as part of your market research.
- Facebook – Identity-based profiles and great community pages based on geography and shared interests.
- Instagram – Photograph-based social media that’s great for visual or influencer marketing.
- Pinterest – Image-based social media where users create pinboards of images they like.
- Twitter – Short-form posting platform that drives Internet trends via their hashtag system.
- YouTube – Video-based content sharing site where you can pay for ads or create a channel of your own for advertising purposes.
- TikTok – Short-form video content site that is trialing Shopify marketing campaigns.
- Shopify – A handy ecommerce platform that allows users to set up online stores.
- WooCommerce – Another ecommerce platform with great SEO implementations.
- Wix – A website setup service that can be used to create a rudimentary, inexpensive site.
- Squarespace – Another website setup service that has many template designs to choose from.
Ensure A Consistent Brand Experience
When building a business, you’re building a brand. This is especially the case when you’re operating online, where you’re competing for short attention spans that consume so much information every day. Your business needs to be memorable for those who have come across it.
The best way to communicate a certain aesthetic or idea through your marketing is to be consistent about it. Mixed messages don’t get remembered, so your brand should have a consistent voice, color scheme, and logo no matter which platform they’re on.
Communications and content should be written in the same way, selecting a tone of voice and level of vocabulary that doesn’t change even when coming from different accounts and different people behind those accounts.
The same should be true for the colors you use. You can even create meaningful differences in colors if possible, so loyal fans can quickly identify different content. The logo is self-explanatory, you should have one logo that everybody knows and loves. Even fonts should be branded when they’re used as part of a logo and headings/subheadings in company marketing, from your website to individual social media accounts.
Developing a brand voice can be difficult, ask yourself these questions to figure out what yours will be:
- What is your company?
- Who are you as a company?
- How do you want to be perceived?
- Which voices work with your target audience? (Scope out competitors)
- Does the brand voice work well with other design elements, along with your logo and any fonts used?
Understand How To Market Your Services Or Products Online
Now that you have some idea of what to include in your business and marketing strategy, you should start thinking about how your business translates to the online world. If you operate a store that sells clothing, for example, then you sell clothing online through listing pages. This is an ecommerce solution and, with some help, the storage and distribution can be done for you too!
Here's a rundown of the most popular and profitable online business models that are around today. Your business should be able to translate into one of them, if not multiple so you can maximize profits.
As we’ve mentioned, ecommerce is where you digitize a retail store. Everybody has bought a product over the Internet nowadays and, through creating or hosting a place on an ecommerce platform, you can make your own and profit from it. Shopify is one of the largest ecommerce platforms that allow ordinary people with little resources to create successful digital stores. Ecommerce businesses can even be bought and sold via their Exchange marketplace.
This is an experimental ecommerce model ideal for beginners where you manage a sales funnel without needing to worry about upfront costs, storage, or distribution. You market and sell the product and then the factories manage storage and shipment. Because of this, margins are thinner than ecommerce but it’s a great way for people to cut their teeth in the ecommerce and online marketing fields. Once again, Shopify is ideal for hosting dropshipping stores inexpensively.
Amazon FBA, or Fulfillment By Amazon, is essentially an ecommerce store option that’s hosted on Amazon’s site. It’s separate from ecommerce because it is based exclusively on Amazon listings, leveraging the built-in traffic of the site to earn money by becoming the dominating seller within certain niches. If your products sell, Amazon will even promote them for free as part of their algorithms. Like with dropshipping, it’s often the first step before developing your brand and branching out into ecommerce.
Affiliate marketing is where you market other company’s products via a website, typically a blog or review site. After building a site based on a certain industry, you can earn money by including links to products or services. When people on your site click through and buy, you will get a commission. It’s typically a small percentage of the purchase price but, if you’re making commission often, those numbers add up. You can find an affiliate network in most industries, so consider it if written content is important for your business’ online presence.
Amazon is the largest and most popular affiliate program that offers commissions for placing Amazon links on your site. Everybody knows Amazon, so using their affiliate program eliminates any trust concerns.
Software As A Service
So-called SaaS products are perfect for those whose businesses focus on licensing software. Whereas many had to hire a technician to get the latest software, they can now be bought and downloaded online, and your business could sell them. Customers get rebilled after the initial purchase to keep using the software, so it’s best used for practical, administrative programs that help people do their everyday work.
Where SaaS focuses on software services that allow work to take place, there are also information products where video courses, e-books, and other handy tutorials are sold online for-profit and the advancement of the industry. If your business offers any training or advice before going online, selling information products is a great way to carry that over. People sell anything and everything in this space but for you, it may be possible to translate some business practices like consultations into an information product to monetize them.
Lead generation is great for businesses that use a B2B model. That can be carried over to the digital world through lead generation, where you find information about prospective buyers after they visit your site and advance down your sales funnel, typically by showing interest via signups. The leads can be on a local or international scale and it’s bought by everybody from plumbers to university institutions so that they can find and market towards clients. If you were a client-sourcing agency before going online, you can enhance that work through lead generation by turning up more sources and monetizing them even more.
Last but not least, Google AdSense is the perfect opportunity for sites that drive traffic to make some cash on the side through displaying advertisements. It can be used in conjunction with many of the site ideas above, though be aware that certain ads may make your business look less trustworthy.
Build A Website
If you haven’t noticed yet, we’ve talked a lot about having your own website, if not just a place for your business to call home in the online world. When you’re serious about moving your business online, you’ll need to have a website. This doesn’t mean you have to build it from scratch, not many people have that skill set, but it is easier than ever to acquire, host, and grow a website nowadays.
There are four necessary things every entrepreneur should do with their websites. Check them out below:
Research And Buy A Domain Name
First, you’ll need to have a domain name. Whether you’re buying a pre-made site or building your own from scratch, your domain name will be the outward-facing component of your online business. This means it’s the name that everybody will see and remember.
Choosing your pre-existing business name may not work if it’s not brand-friendly or too long. You want something short and memorable while communicating the purpose of your business and the tone your brand wants to maintain. Here are some tips on choosing the best domain names.
Many domain names are taken by those who buy and hold them to be sold at a later date. If you need to buy a domain, make sure it’s the name that you want. Sometimes pre-existing sites are bought by businesses because the domain fits the new business in a new context, and they then get the power of that site because of its age and links profile.
Ensure The Website Is On-Brand
Once the website is taking form, it should conform to the many brand considerations that every online business must use. If you’re hosting on a website platform, they will have many templates, themes, and color schemes for you to choose from so it shouldn’t be too difficult.
Remember that the site needs to be easy to navigate for your customers, too, so don’t go too deep into an aesthetic if it comes to the detriment of your audience’s user experience.
Even when you’re using a standard website hosting platform, you can change all of the following features:
- Navigation Menus
- Header/Footer Links
- Email Signup Forms
- Product Showcase Images/Videos
With flexible customization options, you can create any site you want without needing to build your site from the ground up.
Make It Easy To Navigate
Since we’ve mentioned user experience already, let’s go deeper into UX and the principles that drive customer-friendly website design. Here are some pointers:
- The site should load within five seconds, maximum, but preferably within one second.
- Any images or videos of products or service demonstrations should be high quality and easy to understand.
- Link the internal pages of your site together in a logically consistent way, with a clear home page from which all other pages expand.
- Less is more – use simpler language and opt for a muted, sleek design over a “loud” one.
- Use site feedback (e.g. items and buttons on the site reacting to clicks) to show responsiveness.
Pages You Should Include
With some of those basics covered, there are five pages that you need when building an ecommerce site. We’re focusing on ecommerce because most modern businesses are selling a product of some kind. If that’s not your business, you can likely remove a page or two and replace them with more relevant ones.
You need to have the following five pages:
- Home Page: This is the first thing people see when they find your site. Include some welcoming visuals and tell them what your business is and what it offers in a concise, informative, yet attention-grabbing way.
- About Us: This page will tell them more about your company. If your company has an interesting history, include it here without writing a novel. Remember to write it in the brand voice and include relevant social media links too.
- Product/Service Page: The backbone of ecommerce and other sales-oriented websites, products, and service pages is where your customers see what they’re buying and close sales. Inform them of features in easily digestible formats like subheadings and bullet points, preferably with images too.
- Return/Refund Page: When you have a sales page, you need to have a page that can be used to reverse or refund sales that go wrong. Sites that care about customer experience have these pages so that your customer base knows you care. It will also avoid potential legal issues if you refund or return items when there are issues. Fortunately, there are boilerplate return policies online you can check out.
- Contact Us: This is a page that you can use to include relevant information such as phone numbers, physical addresses and business hours, and sometimes social media handles. Sometimes they are at the bottom of about us pages but others prefer to use a separate contact us page instead. You can even include a contact form or email signup on this page.
Remember To Set Up Your Payments
If you’re selling anything via your website, you’ll need to have payments set up. Many ecommerce platforms like Shopify have payment processors built into them, so it shouldn’t be too difficult, but here’s a quick explainer on what ground you should have covered.
Different Customers Prefer Different Payment Methods
Before you understand anything, you should know different customers like different payment methods. Some don’t like inputting card information directly into websites, so they’d prefer to go through a third-party payment processor, of which there are many to choose from. You should have as many payment processors as you can comfortably support so you don’t lose potential customers over a payment method dispute.
Including Different Payment Options On The Website
You may not think too much about payment processors when you’re buying something online, so here are ten suggestions that you should consider:
- Apple Pay: A mobile wallet for those with Apple devices that support a one-click payment option.
- Amazon Pay: A secure checkout service backed by the instantly recognizable and trusted Amazon name.
- American Express: Another processor with high consumer trust and satisfaction rates, along with rigorous fraud protection. You need to pay to use it, however.
- Google Pay: Google’s own one-click secure checkout service also features full PayPal and Visa Checkout integration.
- PayPal: A classic payment processor that facilitated the rise of eBay by protecting purchases by individuals, from individuals.
- 2Checkout: A great worldwide payment processing option for those frequently undertaking international business.
- Stripe: A payment processor platform known for its rich features and malleability when used by website developers.
- Square: In-person point-of-sale processor that also features ecommerce options to be used online, accepts Apple and Google pay.
Let Customers Know You’re Moving!
After doing all of the above, you should now be ready to start moving your business online. This means you need to start letting everybody know that the move is taking place, whether that’s your existing customers or the vast herds of online customers who don’t even know you exist yet.
Spread The Word About Your Business
First, start bragging about your accomplishment. It’s a lot of work to add an online component to your business, if not take the entire enterprise online, and so you probably want to talk about it. Don’t badger people but spread the word to those in your personal and professional life. Word-of-mouth is still very important when it comes to marketing.
Promote Through Using Digital Marketing
You may have an advertising budget; in which case you can use that to buy advertisements via Facebook or Google AdWords. This is a more traditional but tried-and-true form of advertising that places your business name and imagery on people’s screens in the hopes that they notice and check you out. Track the returns you get via traffic through these ads, so you can stop wasting money if they are not working.
Email Your Existing Customers
Since you’re taking your business online, you probably have a list or database somewhere full of your existing customers. Use an emailing list to contact them en masse. Respect their time, however, by sending out one or two messages that are short, informative, and appreciative, as opposed to spamming their inbox.
If you have an interested customer base and your emails land well, you’ll have an instant shot of traffic and word-of-mouth advertising for your new online business. You may have a brick-and-click business model, where you have a site and keep your store, in which case you can ask customers to tell others that you now have an online component so people even further away can enjoy your services.
Promote The Website Through Social Media
If you haven’t already, you should create business social media that you’ll then use to drive traffic to your website and other business entities online. Create posts hyping up the new site launch and let everybody know when they can start buying.
If you were a local business and had popular local social media pages then you can advertise to friends if you have a base there that wouldn’t mind doing business with you.
Establish An SEO Presence
Lastly, sometimes standing out online depends on how well you play the SEO game. Search Engine Optimization is the discipline where you tailor your site and your content towards ranking highly when people search for certain words. By targeting relevant keywords to your business and your industry as a whole, you can slowly climb the results pages until you’re sitting at a top spot.
Now we’ve reached the end of our guide on migrating pre-existing businesses online. From planning to execution, you should now have the knowledge needed to take a brick-and-mortar store and enhance it by using the Internet, whether that’s by starting a site or taking the entire operation online.
Whichever one you choose; you can rest assured that the possible returns on investment for online businesses are great. With relatively little investment on your part, you can fine-tune ecommerce and affiliate sites to perform very well and generate a lot of revenue over time, creating passive income with less effort.
While you have established an online business, remember that you can always grow your online brand in the future to make it even better.