Running an offline business certainly has its perks. Instant brand recognition from local customers, foot traffic that converts to sales and regulars that come in to see what’s new every week. While having local shoppers is great, you can reach even more (and make more sales) if you make the leap and take your offline business online. The possibilities are endless! You can sell just your best products online, do a niched-service or create a whole new line of products focused on your online audience. The best part? You can start small and add more products or list more services as you learn abouspat managing this new area of your business. If you ever toy with the idea of taking your offline business online, here’s a handy guide to run your online business like a well-oiled machine.
Setting Up Shop
Before launching your online business focus on getting everything ready behind the scenes so that things go smoothly on launch day. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
Audit your current brand
Take a step back and think about your brand as a whole. Do you carry products that are regularly selling out? If you offer services, is there one that is always requested or get the most leads? I’m asking this because these high-demand products or services can be the focus of your new online business. You could list everything you have in your offline business or do a smaller niche-focused company targeted to an audience that is already buying what you are offering.
Define the type of customer you want to reach online
At this point, you should have a clear idea of the kind of customer your offline business attracts. Now, your focus should be on finding out who you want to reach online. Is it the same type of customer? Do you want to widen the scope to include a new target market? The only way to know is by looking at your current data, doing more research, then creating a buyer persona for your online customers.
A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing clients. Your buyer persona should include name, demographics, motivations, personality, behavior patterns, and goals. The more details you include, the better. If you need help trying to get this done, use this MakeMyPersona generator from HubSpot. This will help tremendously with product selection.
Choose your products or service offering
The next step is to figure out what you are going to offer or sell online. Take out the research you did on the previous step, and use it to spot your customer’s pain points since to stay in business, you need to offer a product or service that your customers will actually need. Survey current customers to see if there’s something they want to see or think would be better off sold online. From all this data, you’ll start to see a pattern forming so write down similar answers until you have a good list of ideas on what to sell and offer.
Use the list of ideas to research competitors who offer a similar product or service. This step is necessary before launching or even setting up a site because you need to see what products are doing well out there, but also to determine how to differentiate your business from your competition. From this research, your list should start to get shorter and you should have just a few ideas that you can’t realistically turn into a profitable online business.
Develop a pricing strategy
After getting clear about your brand, target market, and your product, it’s time to determine your prices. Hopefully, you did the competitor’s research above because this will aid in putting together a pricing strategy. Also, considered fees and taxes when setting prices.
Doing business online
Your business is setup properly offline, but there might be a few tasks you should tackle before launching it online.
Doing Business As (DBA). If your business is going to have a different name online, you’ll need to set up a DBA for it. The DBA lets the state know you’re doing business as a name that is not your name, or the legal name of your LLC.
Resale certificate. If you’re launching an eCommerce shop to resale merchandise, you will also need a resale certificate. This is to save you from paying taxes that you don’t have to pay. It works in your favor, as you don’t have to pay sales tax on products that you are going to be reselling.
Sales tax. In order to collect sales tax, your state may require you to obtain a sales tax permit. Remember that, retailers and resellers don’t typically have to pay sales tax on wholesale purchases.
Spend some time reading the Small Business Administration (SBA) section on Online Business Law to get a better idea on what additional legal and financial considerations, you’ll need to implement.
Getting the right help
Running an offline business and launching a version of it online, it’s going to be some seriously hard work. You might want to consider utilizing your current employees, possibly hiring new ones or outsourcing to get everything done. The workload is going to be too much just for you to handle and hiring the right people from the get-go will help with launching and the day-to-day management of both businesses. Here are a couple of areas that you can delegate.
- Content Writing: This is one of the most important ones to tackle. You’ll need content for your blog, newsletter, website copy, product descriptions, social media, and other areas like guides and video scripts, so you need to hire someone that’s very good at this. It might even be more than one person. Set a good budget for this!
- Graphic Design: You can hire a student or an entry-level designer to help you make a logo, brand assets and templates that you can use later when you want to change graphics and promotions on your website. If you have an employee that’s good at graphic design (or going to school for it), you can also utilize that person to do this type of work for you.
- Blogging: If you’re not comfortable writing, outsourcing these tasks since like a no-brainer. Go over our section below on content strategy before hiring someone so that everything is organized and ready for this new hire.
- Photography: This is a biggie! You’ll need lots of amazing (high quality) product shots, lifestyle images for social media and the site and any other photos that will help your product or service stand out online.
- Listing: If you’re doing an online shop, outsource listing products to a virtual assistant (VA) or one of your current employees. Give them a quick tutorial and take that off your plate.
- Social Media: Go over the strategy section below, and make a clear plan for social media promotion, then outsource this task to a social media manager. Take a step further and set up guidelines for handling customer service inquiries on social media so that this person knows how to manage that in a professional and timely manner, too.
- Packing and shipping. Running an online shop? A current employee can be assigned to do this task every week.
Working with freelancers, employees and managing the business, it’s going to require tons of organization, so I highlighted here six great online tools that can help your team collaborate and manage projects more efficiently.
- Asana: This is a great tool to manage projects, collaborate with your team and keep everyone on schedule. You can also set up boards similar to Trello to brainstorm topics for all your content. The premium version of Asana has some handy templates that can be used as an editorial calendar, onboarding new team members, product launches, and meetings.
- Evernote: It’s an application designed to take notes and then save them for access on any device. A note can be anything an individual wants to save, be it a web page, handwritten note, or photo. You pretty much can use Evernote for everything from making to-do lists to collecting reference and collaborating with your team.
- HootSuite: This is a straightforward tool to manage your community and schedule social content. Other options to manage social are Buffer, CoSchedule or MeetEdgar. Choose the one that closely matches your goals, and it’s easier for you to manage.
- Feedly: Perfect for curating content and save articles that you want to share and read later. Another option with similar features is Pocket.
- Google Drive: File sharing is essential for collaborating professionally. This cloud-based file sharing service, it’s perfect for creating editorial calendars, writing articles, saving digital content, sharing files, keeping work organized, and saving business documents. You can also use Dropbox, but you’ll get more utility out of Google Drive.
- Hangouts: Google Hangouts is great to keep in touch with clients, your team, peers, and friends. It’s super easy to use, and you can chat, share, host meetings and collaborate. Another option is Slack, but I find Google Hangouts is a lot simpler to use than Slack.
Developing a Digital Marketing Plan
By now you should have a clear picture of your brand, who’s your customer, what their needs are and what you’re offering to solve their problems. Now, all the research you did on that first section above, it’s going to pay off when you create your digital marketing strategy. Because knowing who you’re promoting your products or services to is vital to develop an effective promotion plan. Here are the areas you should focus on for a successful launch.
Blog about the whole process
Start writing about the launch months before you plan on taking your business online. This is an excellent way to create anticipation for the new business and start building an audience for launch day. At first, write about your experience, the process, your story and why you’re doing this. As you get busier and start building an audience, you might want to hire a freelance writer or blogger to help you produce more compelling content.
Create a content and promotion strategy
But before you hire anyone to write, set up a content strategy and promotion plan for your blog and all your content.
Set up an editorial calendar on Asana, Trello or a spreadsheet and filled it out with topics that answer your customer’s concerns. Also, topics that you have researched that relates to your business with the keywords you want to rank, newsworthy content, holiday-related pieces, and content that link back to your store, product pages, and personal topics to keep the blog fresh.
Organize those topics into days of the month you want to write about them. Every week go over the editorial calendar to see how things are moving along. Planning out your content helps you when hiring because you can assign topics in advance to a writer since you are clear about what you want to cover every month.
Don’t forget to plan how you’re going to promote your blog posts. Distribution channels can be social media, your newsletter, converting a blog post into other content such as infographics, video tutorials, lead-magnets for your newsletter or a guide for your site.
Launch a newsletter
Create a newsletter, if you don’t have one, as soon as possible so that you can build your list. Write a post that’s just for the newsletter. It doesn’t have to be super long. A tip or a past blog post repurpose into a condensed version of the original is totally fine. Complement the newsletter post with a special promotion, a freebie or a relevant offer so that the content is unique to subscribers. If you use Selz as your eCommerce platform, create a custom field that asks customers if they want to sign up for your newsletter at the checkout.
Share and post on social media
Create your social media accounts with your brand name and make a social media content plan. You want to create content that is tailored to each platform. But, don’t be on all of them. Promote on social media platforms where your target market hangs out. After a few months of posting, you can see the analytics of each social media account to see which ones are giving you the most engagement, leads, and conversions. Those are the platforms you want to keep posting on.
Local bloggers and influencer outreach
Reach out to local bloggers and influencers to create sponsored content, product reviews or for posting your products or services on their social media accounts. You want to research locals first, then the ones in your niche before reaching out. Add them to a spreadsheet and when you’re getting close to launch, email them to collaborate. Set a budget for this since the good ones don’t work for free or at least send them your product for free in exchange for a review or sponsored blog post.
Creating special offers for local customers
Reward your local customers with a discount or coupon code. It’s a great way to build anticipation for your online business launch, and they can help spread the word too.
Throw a launch party
If you have a physical location, you can plan a launch party for your online business. Invite your local customers, influencers, bloggers and other business owners so that they can experience the launch day with you. Hold a contest or give away something for free and hand out coupon codes inside gift bags. Also, you can partner with a local influencer and have her host a party at your location to get more buzz.
Before Going Live
You have taken a lot of steps to take your offline business online, but now the fun begins. This is where things start to take form, and soon you’ll have everything ready to launch. Let’s dive in!
Purchase a domain
Before setting up your business online, you must buy a domain. Search the name of your business through a domain name registrar. Hopefully, it’s available, and you can choose it and purchase it from a domain registrar. For example, if you pick a name like “example.com,” you will have to go to a registrar, pay a registration fee that costs about $10-15 a year, depending on the registrar for that name. Once you’re all set is time to shop around for a good hosting company.
Choose a host
Once you buy the domain, then it’s time to set up a hosting account. A web host is a company that will store your website’s file on its servers. Besides that, hosting services also provide website transfers, email, storage, site builders, SSL certificates, backups, and other features.
Hosting packages varied per company, it can be annual or month-to-month payments, some offer cheap ($3.95 per month) starting packages for the first year and almost always include a free domain for a year. Keep in mind that after the first-year prices might be a lot higher (over $100 or more yearly), and your domain will also be $14+ yearly.
Also, web hosts provide multiple hosting tiers such as shared, dedicated servers, VPS, and WordPress hosting plans. Each tier offers different specs and features that you should take the time to analyze. I’ll break them down.
This is the most common and popular type of web hosting. Shared hosting is when multiple websites share a large Web server, but each has its own domain.
- Pros: This is the best option for people just starting out since prices start at $3.95 per month up to $9.95 per month.
- Cons: Keep in mind that if your website starts to get popular and use up tons of server resource, then the host will ask you to upgrade. They might freeze or suspend your account before you upgrade which will make your site unavailable to your customers. They might not email to let you know so choose a shared hosting provider that it’s known for good practices and customer service to avoid this.
A few popular shared hosting companies to research: SiteGround, Bluehost, HostGator, InmotionHosting and 1&1.
If your website is getting tons of traffic, getting a dedicated server is your best option. Unlike a shared server, which powers multiple sites, a dedicated server hosts just one site. They are pricey, but you’ll get a rock-solid website site foundation that can withstand high traffic volumes.
- Pros: Website stability and reliability that aren’t shared with other sites which will also improve site speed. Greater control of your site scripts, installs, and apps. If you sign up for a year of dedicated hosting, you can save a significant chunk of money.
- Cons: A dedicated server will likely cost you more than $100 per month. You’ll have to manage everything yourself from maintenance to firewalls unless you get a managed server, which costs even more.
A virtual private server (VPS) offers more web hosting power and flexibility than a shared hosting plan without the high cost of a dedicated server. VPS hosting runs your website on a server that has other sites but not as many sites as a shared hosting server. Expect to pay anywhere from $20 to $100 per month.
- Pros: You share the server costs with other sites, so your monthly or yearly charge is much less than a dedicated server. Your site won’t share resources with neighboring sites so you can expect a more solid site performance.
- Cons: Most VPS hosts only offer servers running Linux-based operating systems; you’ll need to dig a bit to find Windows-based VPS hosting.
This type of hosting is for people who want to build their sites on the back of the popular WordPress content management system (CMS). Plans can be as low as a shared hosting plan ($3.99 per month) to $60 per month for higher-tier plans.
- Pros: Some hosts preinstalled WordPress for you and automatically handle backend stuff, so you don’t have to worry about updating the apps and CMS, and enabling automatic backups. Other features usually included are site-staging for posts and pages so that you can test them before they go live, automatic malware detection and removal, and enhanced security, too.
- Cons: Keep in mind that if you want to do a non-WordPress site, you’ll be better off building your site on a shared, VPS or dedicated server.
This process seems a little intimidating, but choosing the right hosting account is all about figuring out your hosting needs, and researching prices, reliability, uptimes, features, add-ons, admin panels, and customer service. Once you know what you want, it will be easy to pick a web host.
Select the best eCommerce platform
You got your domain name secured and a hosting account all ready to go, so now you need something to sell your products or services online. What you’ll need is an eCommerce platform that has the right tech and features to take your offline business online.
Choosing your shopping cart can be a little overwhelming since there are tons of options out there. You have enough to worry about, so look out for one that makes it simple to take orders, payments, ship items and manage things behind the scenes while also keeping costs low. A really good, easy-going option that can help you create a beautiful online store for your business is Selz.
With Selz, you can create an online shop, sell from your current site but also via social media using its buy-buttons and widgets. Every Selz account comes with a free Facebook store so that you can start selling directly to your customers where they hang out.
You can try Selz risk-free and cost-free for two weeks. No matter the size of your business, there are a variety of plans to choose from which is why Selz is the eCommerce platform of choice.
Create a website
You have tons of options to choose from such as WordPress, Wix, Selz, and other site builders or content management systems. Let’s say you went with WordPress and you’re all set up, you can use Selz to add your products to your existing WordPress website by embedding customizable buy buttons, widgets or your whole store. The best part? Your visitors stay on your site through the entire shopping experience.
Another option is to create your own Selz website. Point the site to your domain or customize your unique selz.com address, then add an SSL certificate to serve all of your traffic over HTTPS. You can use one of the professional pre-designed themes provided by Selz and rest easy because your store is designed to be fully responsive so that it will look great on desktop, mobile, and tablet. Utilize the store editor to customize the look of your site to match your branding.
Pick a theme
Depending on the platform you can get a free theme, buy a premium one or hire a web designer to customize the look of your online business.
If you’re using Selz, pick one from their range of beautiful, professional themes. Remember that you can customize the theme to go with your branding with little to no coding experience.
Once you have selected an eCommerce platform, and have your branding and theme ready, you’ll need to set up your shopping cart. Here are a few more things that need to be set up before launch day.
Security. Installed your SSL certificate first to make sure that credit card information is securely transmitted. Selz uses the latest SSL encryption for peace of mind for your customers.
Payment gateway. First, you must make a decision on how you want to accept payments. The two most popular options are merchant accounts and PayPal. If you decide on using Selz as your eCommerce platform, besides PayPal, you can process payments with Selz Pay.
Configure tax rates. Set up your local tax rate. Using Selz? Tax rates are automatically calculated at checkout, including US sales tax and EU VAT.
Shipping options. Create accounts with the leading carriers, and either offer a flat fee for shipping or let the customer calculate shipping when they purchase a product from you. Selz calculates real-time shipping rates during checkout for domestic and international shipments. Also, it connects directly to Zapier so that you can connect your store to Shipstation and automate the process.
Communication. Set up beautiful and clear invoices. Have a system in place to recover abandoned carts and customize your checkout page.
Analytics. Connect your site to Google Analytics or your fave analytics web service to see where your visitors and customers came from and how they found your online store. Selz includes this feature and also, lets you connect your analytics program of choice.
Take product images
Product photos are crucial to selling online since it’s the first impression customers will see. Hire a photographer to take high-quality pictures of your products so that shoppers can see it from a variety of angles. If you offer services, then invest on a good photo shoot featuring yourself and lifestyle images that you can use for your website and social media too. Selz lets you upload multiple images so that customers can see every angle, variant and glossy photo.
Write product descriptions
Product descriptions are just as important as the product images. The product description should captivate your customer and give a detailed description that focuses on the benefits of your product or service. If you’re not a writer or can’t think of how to make the description more enticing, hire a copywriter to help spruce up your copy.
Offering services? Selz can also be used to sell services by adding a service item to your store and making sure to include a detailed introduction and description of the service that you are providing.
As I mentioned before, you can have a VA take care of this so that you can focus on other aspects of running your business. If you want to tackle this yourself, Selz has made the process incredibly straightforward by offering different variations of your products, such as multiple sizes, images, colors, materials, and more. Selz is also search engine optimized (SEO) friendly, it can help optimize your store for search engines with product and category specific meta tags, titles, and URLs.
Create site pages
Write web content for your key website pages (About, policies, and FAQs) so that customers can learn your story, and get to know your brand a lot better while also getting vital info to make purchases. Create your own About pages, Contact pages, or any other pages you need with Selz easy editor feature.
Test the shopping cart
Before the launch, check the shopping cart and the whole site too. Make a purchase and go through the checkout process. Jot down any problems you see and set a deadline to fix all of them.
Ask friends, family, and even employees to go through the same process and have them write notes so that you can analyze that data later or fix problems they found.
Run these tests not only on your computer but on tablets, mobile devices, and other browsers. You want to see how the site looks and checkout process in action on all kinds of platforms. Also, test search results, category pages, tags, and filters.
Once you’ve tested everything, collected feedback and all the errors are fixed, you can launch the site.
Getting Traffic to Land Your First Sale
Your first sale is going to be your most difficult one. After launch, go over your numbers, keep blogging, and promoting on social media while also networking, and doing everything possible to drive traffic to your online business. Here are a few more marketing ideas to land your first sale and keep them coming!
Check your stats. With a platform like Selz, you can access analytics to keep track of your sales and conversion rates. Use this data to see what’s working and what’s not. Also, it can help you with sourcing products, and creating better content.
Create compelling content. By now you have been blogging for a while so keep at it, check your data and update your editorial calendar to add content that your audience finds informative and engaging. Continue writing your newsletter and share special offers with subscribers. Plan to write long-form articles a few times a month, and guides to generate more leads, and create new lead-magnets to get more newsletter subscribers.
Share and engage on social media. At this point, you have an idea of what social media accounts are working for you. By that I mean that you are getting good lead conversions, engagement and your posts are getting shared. Focus on just the social media platforms that are working and keep tailoring your content to those accounts only.
Network with other online business owners. While you were blogging earlier in this journey, you should have run into other bloggers, influencers, and business owners. If you didn’t then now take the time to get to know other peeps in your industry. Leave comments on their blogs, share their content on social media, go to their events but more importantly be genuine.
Guest post. Reach out to other bloggers in your industry or where your target market hangs out and write a post on those publications. You’ll get more eyes on your online business and possibly pick up a sale.
Distribution channels. Post your product on other distribution channels to get more sales. With Selz, you can easily install the Facebook store app to your Facebook business page, and you can start selling directly to your customers. Amazon and Wanelo also let you distribute your products there but for a fee. So, research that before posting. You can upload your product list to Google Shopping so that when people search on Google, your product shows up on the Google Shopping section. This can be a little hard to set up, so read, research and possibly get some help to get that install.
Online advertising. Pay-per-click ads are still a very popular way to advertise your products or services. If you want to reach a more targeted audience go with Facebook advertising. Plan a budget for this, use the data from your buyer persona and do a couple of test ads. You can always turn off the ads that are not performing in 24hrs or less.
Coupon codes and sales. Set up promotions as often as you like, but check your data to see if they are profitable. They are a great way to drive traffic and attract buyers. Especially those first-time buyers that haven’t discover your awesome business, yet. Just don’t overdo it. Offer coupon codes and promotions on special occasions or when you work with an influencer and want to give a unique code on her sponsored post. A few times a year launch a big sale. If you have an online shop, this a great way to get rid of merchandise and make space for new items. Selz makes it easy for you to offer free shipping or give discounts to reward your loyal customers.
Well, there you have it. Anyone can try to take an offline business online, but to have a successful launch you need to work really hard to make it happen. Now, take a deep breath–this was a really long read–pull out your notes, and take action. In no time, you’ll be launching the online business of your dreams.