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How to Move Your Business Online for Less Than $200

Lynn Morrison  |  April 15, 2020

Turning your bricks-and-mortar store into an online business has never been easier, or cheaper. Here’s a four-step plan to opening your virtual storefront.

Small businesses that depended on face-to-face sales before the coronavirus pandemic are suffering. With shoppers stuck at home, the only way to reach them is through their screens. But what if you have only a minimal online presence, or a site that can’t take credit cards? And what about business owners with no website, no tech skills and no spare money to hire someone to build an online store?

Don’t let a lack of tech-savviness or budget prevent you from pivoting into a new approach. Thanks to special discounts and new technology, setting up an online business is easier than ever. Follow these steps so you can hang the virtual, “Yes, We’re Open!” sign in your shop window.

Step 1: Define your product and service range

Before you worry about domain names or web hosts, you need to organize your product offering. If you’re starting from scratch, we suggest using a simple excel spreadsheet to guide your efforts. 

  • If you sell physical products, list out each product name, a short description and the price.
  • To justify shipping costs, consider package deals or minimum order quantities.
  • Take product photos if you don’t already have them. A plain white background (hint: a bedsheet will work fine) and a bright lamp are all you need for an in-home photo studio and a consistent look for your website.
  • If you sell services, think about service bundles (e.g. selling blocks of consulting time or off-the-shelf service packages that solve a common customer need) 

The important thing is to keep it simple, particularly if you want your clients to be able to self-serve themselves via the online shop. If they can’t understand what you’re offering or how much it costs, they may go elsewhere. 

Step 2: Pick your online shop platform

There are two main platform options for your online shop: a full-service online shop or a standard website with online shopping functionality added in. Each has their pros and cons.

A full-service online shopfront like Shopify provides a turn-key solution. These types of platforms provide a ready-to-use service in exchange for a monthly subscription fee of $20 to $30. This is a good option If you want a temporary solution. There are limitations, however. You will need to choose one of their prefab layouts and be willing to accept their offered payment solutions (which might not include your top choice). 

For businesses with an existing website — or if you can afford to invest more upfront — consider building your own shop. This is easier than it sounds! If you don’t have a website, we recommend using one of the main web platforms, such as WordPress, Wix or Squarespace. 

Start by purchasing a domain name for your online business and selecting a website host. You can do this directly with Wix and Squarespace, or through a third party if you choose WordPress. There are a variety of special offers available now, including hosting, set-up, SSL certificates and everything you’ll need to get up and running on a shoestring budget. 

If you already have a website and it’s on WordPress, Wix or Squarespace, you can add shopping capabilities by adding a plugin like WooCommerce, or enabling additional functionality.

If your website is on a custom-built platform, you may be better off using a fully-hosted service like Shopify rather than paying your website developer to reinvent the wheel. This is particularly true if time is of the essence and budgets are tight. That said, if you need specialist support, you can take advantage of the low-interest loans now available to businesses who need help.

Step 3: Arrange for payment and fulfillment

Before you press go on your online store, make sure your payment options are user-friendly and account for the costs of collecting payments. 

For example, if you’re paying a fee for each payment you collect, factor that into your product cost. If you’re selling a service, think about whether you want customers to pay in full upfront, make a partial payment or settle up their tab upon delivery of the service. You can also separate shopping and payment transactions for your online business by using your website to collect orders and billing through a separate accounting platform.

Shipping and delivery will no doubt require advance planning, particularly given how overwhelmed traditional delivery companies are now. One solution could be to focus on your local market. If feasible, consider acting as your own delivery service, reducing your fulfillment costs. Reach out to other local businesses to partner, allowing your customers to “add-on” other products and get a single delivery. This approach works particularly well for small specialty food shops — for example, having a butcher, baker, and vegetable stand collaborate to offer a one-stop online grocery shop. 

Step 4: Promote your new online business

There’s no point in moving your business online if no one knows that you’ve done so. 

  • Start by alerting your existing contacts. Send an email and post on your company (and personal) social media accounts
  • Leverage your network and the flood of community spirit. Cross-promote business connections, ask friends and family to spread the word about your new online business.
  • Alert relevant local or trade press and industry groups.
  • Consider setting aside an advertising budget. 

This is an incredibly difficult time for businesses. If your business can continue providing products and services using an online shop, don’t let time, money or tech fears hold you back. It really is easier and less expensive than you might think. 

More ways to help your small business thrive:

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