How to shift your business from in-person to virtual & sell directly through your website

If you’re a business owner right now during the COVID-19 shutdown, things likely feel unstable, uncertain, and frankly, terrifying. Your business may have been branded as “non-essential” (and oof, that HURTS, right?) and you’ve been forced to halt operations. We don’t really know how long this will last. Some businesses will be able to open up again in a few weeks, others not yet, and most will be operating under strict guidelines and limited capabilities for the foreseeable future.

It’s especially difficult right now for people who have served customers in a brick-and-mortar shop or a restaurant, or in-person services, like interior designers or photographers. Many are forced to ride it out and hope that when the dust settles and “normal” life returns, customers are there waiting. But some business owners have services or products that allow them to come up with unique ways to shift their sales online.

Sometimes it’s messy, and it’s not perfect, and it’s certainly NOT what business dreams are made of. But it might just be enough to carry you through! But moving a business online seemingly overnight comes with a lot of questions and uncertainty.

As a website developer, I’ve been asked lots of questions about how to take a previously In Real Life business and make it virtual. 

How do I take payments through my website?

What can I do to make my website more effective?

How can I let people know how to buy from me right now?

What should I do so more people can find me online?

So I thought I’d share some specifics for how you can start the process for YOUR business if you decide to make the shift.

Add e-commerce to your website: sharing your products & taking payments

The specific details on how to do this differ depending on what platform your current website is using. WordPress has WooCommerce as a solid option for e-commerce, and Squarespace also has an online store feature. Shopify is another a powerful, stand-alone e-commerce tool. No matter which one you choose, the basic process and what you need to make it happen is still the same:

Make a list of everything you’ll be selling, including prices, titles, descriptions, and photos. It doesn’t need to be your full inventory or menu. Selecting a few of your most popular products might make sense in order to get things up and running quickly. I’ve also seen some business owners creating ‘mystery packs’ of existing products for a fun way to get customers excited about buying from them in a new way.

Decide how you’ll be accepting payments. It can be as simple as a PayPal button on your website, or if you’re already set up with a point of sale system like Square or Stripe, those can often be connected easily with website e-commerce tools.

If you’re selling physical goods online, you’ll need to do a bit of research into what shipping options make the most sense, both for you and your customers. Depending on your e-commerce platform, you may be limited in what shipping services you can use so be sure to weigh those options. If you have a lot of local customers, consider offering free local (contactless!) delivery. That’s been a big perk offered by many businesses in my area.

Review & refresh your current website content

Take a look at your current website (if you’re like most people, you probably haven’t touched it in a while!) Review the content on your website and make sure everything lines up with your shift to the virtual world. Temporarily remove anything that might be confusing if you aren’t going to be able to offer it for a while, or at least add an easy-to-spot notice that lets people know that things are a little different right now.

QUICK TIP: This is a great opportunity to invite visitors to join your email list so they can be notified when you’re back open at full force!

If you’re selling directly through your website, make it easy to find your products page. But maybe you’re not selling directly through your site but you have an order form, a phone number, or another way for people to buy from you. Make sure it’s obvious and easy for your website visitors to do that.

Promotion: Get the word out that you’ve got a new way of doing business

Okay! So you’ve got your stuff ready to sell! Now you need to tell people about it.

Send an email to your list
If you have an email list, use it to notify your audience that you’re still up and running! If you don’t have an email list yet, MailChimp, MailerLite, and ConvertKit are all email marketing tools that can help you start one. You can offer a first-time customer coupon code to sign up to build your list and encourage those new customers to buy.

Share the news on your Facebook page or Instagram account.
And NOT just once. Post every day, share specials, talk about behind the scenes stuff. People are genuinely curious about how businesses are making things work right now so being transparent can help foster connections with your followers.

QUICK TIP: Instagram just recently added new action buttons to business profiles. You can create a button to directly link customers to ‘Order Food’, ‘Donate’, or buy a ‘Gift Card’. (check out this video tutorial for how to add your Instagram profile button!)

Make it easy to find stuff!
If you’re a restaurant or food-related shop, share your menus in easy to find places. I’ve struggled a few times recently when I wanted to place a takeout order from a local shop and couldn’t find the menu ANYWHERE. Don’t rely on Facebook algorithms to keep a post visible for more than a day or two, especially if you’re posting frequent updates. You can pin a Facebook post to the top of your page or – even better – include it in a highly visible spot on your website.

QUICK TIP: If you’re running a restaurant, you can add a menu to your Google My Business profile and it will show up alongside your business info in the search results. (Just be sure to keep it updated if anything changes.)

Get found: Boost your search visibility to grab new website traffic

People are BORED right now, so they’ll inevitably head to the Google Box to search for… well, all kinds of things! (I recently searched for ‘blow up pool slide’ late at night in a desperate attempt to prep for a long summer at home with 3 kids!)

Competition for certain industries and keyword phrases will be even higher, and the volume of people searching for certain things has already changed. Optimizing your website for search is the best way to help your website be near the top of those results.

A quick look at Google Trends for the term ‘restaurant takeout’ shows a massive increase in search volume in the US starting right around March 2020. Not surprising!

The trick with search visibility is knowing what people are searching for in order to find businesses like yours and optimizing your website to meet those results. After you’ve identified those keywords people are using, you can incorporate those words and phrases into your website content.  When users enter keyword phrases into the search box, you increase the chances of your website being near the top of the list.

NEED HELP? SEO expert Danielle Zeigler has a great SEO basics post that will help you get started with keyword research. She also links to a few helpful tools you can use!

You’ll also want to make sure that you’ve got your technical SEO in place so that the search engines can “see” your site. The quickest way to do this is to submit your site to Google Search Console – here is a quick walkthrough of how to get your Google Search Console profile set up.

Moving to a virtual business doesn’t mean you have to do ALL of these things right away, or perfectly, or at the same time. But by implementing some of the tips I outlined above, you can try to boost your business for a little while and carry you through until “normal” comes back.

Hello there!

I’m Jennifer! For more than 15 years, I’ve worked to simplify the website design process for hundreds of clients. I’ve mastered blending creative and techie with sensible and systematic. My honed techniques and step-by-step systems support you through design brainstorming and the nitty-gritty details, seamlessly helping you create a website that does more than just take up space online!

AFFILIATE DISCLAIMER: Some of the links on my website are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, I will receive a commission if you click through and make a purchase. But! I sincerely recommend and love everything I share!

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