Tips on free and low-cost tools to get your small business online
I’ve just been looking at my phone screen saver of a photo of me and the kids taken at Christmas – carefree and happy. If someone had told us then, what was happening in the world today, I’d never have believed them.
All of us are facing uncertainty in every aspect of our lives. For the employed, no-one can be sure their job is safe, for us small business owners and self-employed, there is the fear that our businesses won’t be here soon if we don’t take action to meet the new needs of this rapidly changing world.
I know at this moment there are many questions that no-one can answer but there are also some clear messages coming through. It’s clear that as a business owner, you have to take control of what you can, listen to your market, adapt to their needs and hopefully thrive.
And one of the best ways to do this, is to make sure your business is online in some shape or form.
We are rapidly moving to a virtual world, from home-working to virtual socialising, ordering everything online or following YouTube exercise classes or lessons, most of us won’t be going out and about much in the next few weeks and months. I’ve just put the house party app on my phone (much to my teenage daughter’s disgust) and set up zoom meetings with friends to have regular virtual glasses of wine together. We’re hoping to arrange a virtual dinner party next week – I’ll let you know how that goes.
So, what, as a small business owner, should you be doing?
Start by asking yourself:
- Can my business be found online?
- Can I communicate with my customers via my website and social media?
- Can I hold virtual meetings with clients and suppliers?
- Can my clients order online (or find the contact details to get in touch via phone / email)?
- Can I offer my services virtually or remotely?
If you answer no to any of these, you need address them quickly. (I appreciate every business is different and this is only a blog so I can’t speak for every type of business and your circumstances).
I don’t want to scare you (god know there’s enough to be worried about), but we are in a new world and it is very reliant on communicating and trading virtually. This is your chance to have some control and be proactive with your business.
Tips and tools for moving digital working, cheaply or for free?
There are so many aspects to being online and I’m going to touch on some of the main ones here. (Of course if you want more information on any area, please call or email me).
If you aren’t online already it’s too late for lecturing…but get online now. If you have any budget I can recommend some good web developers. Realistically you are looking at £500 upwards. No budget? You can build your own free or cheap website to have some presence. There are plenty of choices such as Wix, SITE123, Weebly or WordPress.com. Check out this article for advice on the best free websites in the UK Free Website Builders
- Social media
Love it or hate it, you need to be hanging out where your customers are. From the more formal LinkedIn for the B2B markets to Instagram for the more creative (and dare I say younger) audiences, check out my guide to social media here.
- Google My Business
Have a google account and set up your Google My Business page to be found in online searches. Here’s my guide to setting one up.
- Other online listings
Make sure you can be found outside of your website by being listed on other key directories. This is more time consuming and perhaps something for further down the line when we’ve been isolating for several weeks and you’re really bored 😉. Here’s my guide.
- Virtual meeting software
One of the big winners so far in this crisis – virtual meeting software. Again, loads of different free and low-cost options. Zoom seems to be the most popular among my network. It’s free to join but if you want more than 4 people in the meeting for more than 40 minutes, one of you will need to have a paid account. Check out this guide. Small business online meeting software Of course there are the more informal Whatsapp, Skype, Hangouts and even Houseparty.
- Ecommerce and online payments
If you are new to the world of online selling because you’ve always relied on face to face, you’re going to need to invest time and money to set up and sell online. At the very basic end, you could just sign up to paypal and accept online payments once you take phone or email orders. You could sell via an existing online marketplace like Etsy or Ebay. If you want to develop your own website, there are plenty of ecommerce plugin options for the free and low-cost websites (see 1 above). Bit more budget – I can put you in touch with a web developer who can get your ecommerce site up and running in no time.
- Virtual services via youtube or other social media
This is going to involve a complete rethink for many businesses. If you can’t see your customers face to face, can you still offer your services? We’ve been hearing examples all week of businesses that are adapting to the change. I’ve been talking to a yoga and fitness instructor about how she can move to Zoom and provide virtual classes. You need to work out what technology you need and how you can differentiate yourself. You may not have the budget and technical know-how to complete with the slick online experts but they don’t have your customers…at the moment. A smart phone on a tripod with the right lighting and youtube, facebook or zoom, might be enough to get you going.
Changing your current offer
It may be that your current business really doesn’t work in the new climate, or perhaps you have recognised an opportunity, like gin distilleries making hand sanitisers. Once you identify where you are going and what your messages are, you’ll need to change your current website and social media to reflect that. Need someone to help with the website copy, social media updates or your digital strategy – that’s me.
Your business is unique and your current digital profile will be different from the next business, so I have only provided general advice here. But I would love to help you get online or move to a more digital way of working if you want support. Please get in touch, via email, social, Whatsapp or even Houseparty!
Wishing everyone all the best in these turbulent times.