There’s no denying it: The coronavirus crisis has completely changed how small businesses must operate.
Simply put, many small businesses are in a situation where they must use every resource available and adapt in many ways right now — especially by moving more of their business activities online.
No matter what your trade is, making money online is easier than you think, and even if you don’t consider yourself tech-savvy, you can set up online business tools quickly and easily on your own.
In this guide, we’ll cover the basics of bringing your business online, suggest tools and tech to help, and equip you with small business tips you can start using today to do more business online as the world reacts to the coronavirus.
The Basics for Running Your Business Virtually
Whether you’re starting from scratch or simply need to update your small business’s long-forgotten online presence, here’s a basic checklist of what you’ll need to start running your business virtually:
- A working website with information about your business, a way for customers to contact you, and the ability to charge for services or book appointments.
- Tools and accounts for accepting virtual payments and tracking payment information.
- A business email address and phone number.
- Various social media accounts for you or your business to interact with customers online.
Updating Your Website
Though operating a website can seem intimidating for some first-time business owners, you don’t have to be an expert designer to set up a site that’s useful for your customers these days.
That’s because many services offer the essentials you need right out of the box, and services such as Squarespace offer pre-designed website templates built with small businesses in mind, and they’ll even integrate with common tools for contacting your business or accepting payments.
Consider these the essentials for your business website — if you can’t code or design these yourself, we suggest using an already-made template for your site:
- Easily-editable copy: Sometimes you’ll simply want to describe your business. Other times you may need to leave important updates for your customers — such as how you’re operating during the COVID-19 outbreak. Either way, a website setup with copy you can easily change is key.
- Your business location (and/or hours of operation if applicable): Many times, this info is all a prospective customer is looking to find for a local business. Don’t hide it!
- Direct contact information: Your online customers could be one question away from being ready to buy. Are you making it easy to contact you easily? Add a contact form, email address, and phone number at least, and these days services like HubSpot even offer free chatbots for your website with no coding skills required.
- Payment or booking options: If you can’t sell items, make appointments, or buy gift cards from your site, you’re losing valuable online business. At a minimum, label your site’s contact form to show online shoppers they can use it, e.g. “Contact Us Here to Book Your Next Appointment.”
Creating Phone, Email, and Payment Accounts
As more of your business starts happening virtually, the best practice is to set up phone, email, and payment accounts for your business. This is for professional and practical reasons.
Professionally, you’ll make a much better impression on customers with contact info that matches your business — you may not want them hearing the personal voicemail message you’ve been using for 10 years or conduct business across the CrazyJoe620@aol email address you’ve had for decades.
Practically, you don’t want your personal voicemail and inbox to become a mixed-up mess of customer calls and transaction information. It’s best to separate these out.
If you’ve been putting these off because setup and maintenance seem intimidating, stop now. There are many free (or free-to-try) options for setting them up easily. Google in particular has recently expanded its products for small businesses, enabling access to business email, simple advertising options, and more.
Google Voice is also a standout option for a feature-loaded phone line for your business, but there are other options for free phone numbers as well.
Small business tip: Once you have your business email and phone number set up, add your business details to Yelp and Google My Business. These actions take seconds, and they give your business’s online discoverability an incredible boost.
When it comes to payment services you use for your business, choose options that are already widely-adopted by your customers yet incredibly simple to use from your website and phone. Stripe, Square, and PayPal are leaders in the market for these exact reasons.
Finally, as your online transactions grow you’ll want to avoid accounting headaches at the end of the day. Services like Xero or Plooto are designed to integrate with and organize your growing virtual business easily.
Marketing Online During the Coronavirus Crisis
A note from Ross Buhrdorf, CEO of ZenBusiness:
If you’re a small business owner hit especially hard by this crisis — say, a consultant or coach who typically relies heavily on in-person appointments — now is the time to take more risks with your online efforts. The amount of “normal” business opportunities is down for small businesses, so there’s less risk involved in doing something outside-the-box.
When we’re worried about handling massive volumes of leads, rushing to meet the next client and generally keeping the machine humming, we’re less risk averse. In times like these when volume is down, you have more capacity to try something new with your approach.
I know you can do it, and I know we as a small business community can #GrowTogether during this time.
As you start doing more business virtually, naturally you’ll have to do more online marketing. This might feel especially daunting for some small business owners. There are an overwhelming amount of options and approaches, and maybe you don’t consider yourself a writer or advertiser.
But you don’t have to be.
Marketing online during this time is much simpler when you realize:
- Businesses aren’t the only ones shifting more focus online. Customer interactions are also shifting to virtual. Because they’re spending more time online, your virtual marketing efforts have more opportunities to make an impression and connect — if carried out the right way.
- It’s crucial that you put some quick thought into how and where you communicate with your customers online right now. If you’re doing that, you don’t necessarily need award-winning copy or stellar ad designs.
- Where small businesses should be marketing online won’t change much. Your customers are still spending their time on email, Twitter, Facebook, and community discussion services like Nextdoor.
Small business tip: Running a generic social media ad is like screaming into the wind. Yes, you need to post on social, but make sure your customers are seeing those posts. It’s never been easier to target the right people on social with very little budget. Consider “geo-targeting” a tweet to people in the same zip code as your business for instance.
Let’s look at some less effective and more effective ways small businesses can connect with customers using these common channels while communities stay inside due to COVID-19.
- Less effective: A restaurant sending a tweet that says, “We’re still open!” from its Twitter account with 13 followers.
- More effective: A restaurant tweeting that it’s is still open for pickup to support employees and the community, that it now accepts “contact-free” payments via Square, and advertising the tweet to people within 10 miles of its location.
- Less effective: A local thrift store posting on its Facebook Page that hasn’t been used in months.
- More effective: The owner of a local thrift store finding active Facebook Groups for their town, joining discussions about local businesses to say they’re now listing their inventory online if others would like to support them, and contributing useful advice for how to safely disinfect drop off clothing donations if people want to help others during this time.
- Less effective: A lawn care service running generic ads to combat client turnover.
- More effective: The owner of a lawn care service posting daily “lawn care tips” while the neighborhood shelters in place, answering questions from the community, and letting people know his site now sells virtual gift cards and discounted appointments booked months from now.
In all of these examples, you can see how putting a little thought into how and where you market online can turn into an out-of-the-box opportunity to market your small business.
When you lean into the passion that led you to start your business and the care you have for your community when marketing online during this time, the copy comes naturally, and you have a much better chance of connecting with customers.
Small business tip: Interested in taking online marketing crash courses right now? Coursera offers excellent resources for online marketing, many of which are free to enroll in.
Additional Online Resources for Small Businesses
ZenBusiness isn’t the only company offering free resources for small businesses dealing with fallout from the coronavirus crisis. Sites like Wirecutter have started curating free services being offered online. Here are a few from Wirecutter’s list that may help you or your small business right now:
Moving to video calls with clients:
- Krisp, an app that removes background noise from calls, introduced a free tier that gives all users 120 minutes of free noise cancellation per week. The company is also granting unlimited use of the app, for free, to all students, teachers, and hospital and government workers worldwide for the next six months.
- Loom Pro, a screen recording platform, is removing the recording limit on its free plan through July 1.
- Jamm, a video call platform, is allowing free access to its program for four months.
Learning and staying productive:
- LinkedIn is offering free business development courses through LinkedIn Learning that are centered on remote working.
Connecting and communicating business needs:
- MeeroDrop, a visual content sharing site, is offering large file transfers for free. It’s also increasing the storage capacity to 10 GB and the length of time that files can be accessed to three months.
- Mint Mobile is giving customers free unlimited data until April 14
Quick disclaimer: The links and services we’ve suggested above are purely for informational purposes. The ZenBusiness team neither has a business relationship with these companies nor are we being compensated by them. We can’t guarantee any discounts or freebies mentioned here will stay that way, but we’ll do our best to keep this information accurate.
If there’s anything you’d like us to change or include here, please let us know. Thanks for your help as we commit to helping small businesses #GrowTogether.