Managing a small business is challenging, and the global Covid-19 pandemic is making it far harder. Moving your business online can be the best way to keep it alive.

Why is moving online the best advice for small business owners?

Right now, with hundreds of millions of people worldwide under lockdown or self-isolating, everything is taking place online. It’s the only way to learn, chat with friends, or shop right now. The coronavirus pandemic was caused in part by our hyper-connected society, which enabled the virus to zip around the world on planes within a couple of weeks, but our hyper-connected society can also be the solution, at least for small business owners.

We are already used to carrying out regular daily activities online, like chatting, making transactions, and researching purchases, so moving your interactions with customers online won’t feel like a radical change for them. Covid-19 has just given people who resisted an extra push to sign up to virtual experiences.

What’s more, you have a whole wealth of online tools to choose from to support your business. Zoom video is a great resource. Google Hangouts Meet, the enterprise version of Google Hangouts, is free till July due to Covid-19, plus solutions like Skype and Whatsapp video calls are also effective.

Which businesses can move online?

In my opinion, almost every business can make this shift. For example, lawyers and accountants can share information, get documents and data from clients, and hold consultations online. Life coaches, personal trainers, and therapists can all move to online sessions as long as they have the right equipment and platforms.

Many digital service providers already do almost all their work online. They might still hold in-person meetings in order to understand the client’s needs and plan how to deliver their services, but no reason why those meetings can’t be held online as well.

How can in-person service-based businesses follow your advice?

It’s true that it’s harder for some businesses than others to move online, but I maintain that every business can do it.

Here’s one example: I know a childcare worker who was in tears at having to close her private playgroup. She invests a lot of time into creating a nurturing and loving environment for the toddlers in her care. It’s more than just a business; it’s her life’s passion.

Well, she thought hard and found a way to make it work online. She now leads toddlers’ stretch and exercise sessions every morning and runs daily online storytelling sessions every afternoon. She reaches more kids than she could ever physically fit into her playgroup, and parents who are parenting 24/7 right now are incredibly grateful because it gives them an hour or so each day when their toddler is occupied happily and they can get some chores done, or just take a breather themselves.

She began the first couple of sessions for free, to test the waters and get the hang of the platform. Now she charges per family, and parents need to register in advance to get the link to each day’s session.

There are other options too, like turning your service into a product. For example, caterers could sell cook-at-home meal kits. You could create an online video course to share your knowledge, so photographers might make an advanced course in portrait photography or hair stylists could teach how to cut your own hair. I’ve heard of even more creative approaches too, like one tour guide I know who replaced her in-person tours with virtual scavenger hunts where families compete to complete quests without leaving the house.

Should small businesses be investing time and possibly money into a serious pivot?

You’re absolutely right that it’s an investment of time, and sometimes money too, to move your business online, but in my view it’s worth it. It might take some time and money right now, but that will pay off many times over in the long run. Once you find a way to deliver your services online, that revenue stream can continue to be a valuable part of your business even after life returns to “normal” and you’re able to resume in-person appointments and activities. If you’re delivering value, your customers will still pay to download your materials or take your online course.

Of course, I’m not advising that you completely change your business. We’re just talking about changing the format, like redirecting lawn care services into tutorials and advice sheets about caring for your lawn yourself or creating a series of classes teaching how to deliver a massage at home.

What do small business owners need to know before they move online?

First, do think carefully about how you’ll pivot your business to deliver online. You need to make sure that you deliver value if you’re going to charge for your online services. For example, people might love a free smokey eye makeup tutorial, but if you want them to pay you need to offer something more.

It’s also important to find the right platform to create your digital products. Zoom and Google Hangouts are great for live classes and consultations. Kajabi is good for building online courses, Canva for cheat sheets and infographics, and Buzzsprout or Soundcloud for podcasts.

You need to put the technical pieces in place before you launch your online services. Make sure you set up secure payment options, if you don’t already have them on your website. If you’re offering online coaching or other virtual sessions, include a frictionless way for your clients to schedule their online appointments directly within your website by using an online scheduling platform like vcita. Don’t forget to use your CRM to track the details of your online customers and leads, so that you can nurture the relationship over the long term.

Is there hope for businesses that can’t find a way to charge for online services?

Without a shadow of a doubt. The coronavirus outbreak will end and your business can roar back to full speed again, as long as you nurture it carefully during this period. That means keeping in touch with all your customers, updating them about your situation, and showing that you care about how they are doing. Share free resources so that they continue to benefit from your business.

At the same time, you should be investing in your business right now, so that you’ll be well-placed to bounce back after restrictions end. Plan your marketing strategy, refresh your website, adopt better tools and processes, rethink your business plans, and get everything fine-tuned so that you’re ready to return to normal asap.

Itzik Levy is CEO of vcita

 

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