The internet has opened countless opportunities for small business owners, including the ability to expand their storefront through online sales. According to Forbes, 71% of store-front businesses now have an online presence. Growing your e-commerce site can give you the potential to reach a broader customer base and increase revenue. Whether your brick-and-mortar business focuses on selling products, offers services or showcases your unique skills, the idea of taking your business online can be a game-changer.
This article aims to provide you with a roadmap for successfully expanding your online brand. The digital landscape is dynamic, but with the right strategies and tools you can establish a thriving online enterprise.
1. Identify Your Target Audience and Research Competitors
Market research and planning are critical steps when expanding your online business. Hansen’s Clothing, in Spencer, Iowa, branched out from operating a high-end clothing store to creating an online business. The company did this by identifying its target audience and understanding their needs. By researching competitors, the company was able to identify gaps in the market. Logan Wood, one of the owners, said most customers find their business through Google. The company focuses on both paid and organic growth online and on its social channels.
Don’t forget to revise your business plan to outline your business's goals, strategies, budget and timeline when growing your online presence. Clear online business planning and research will guide your decision-making process and set a strong foundation for a successful expansion.
2. Choose the Right E-Commerce Platform
Select an e-commerce platform that aligns with your specific needs and budget. Popular options like Shopify, Etsy and WooCommerce offer varying levels of customization. Evaluate such factors as ease of use, available templates, integration with your existing systems, mobile functionality and payment gateway compatibility. Additionally, prioritize a platform that offers robust security features to protect customer data and transactions. Make sure to register a domain name that aligns with your business name and is easy for customers to remember and spell. The e-commerce platform you choose will significantly impact your customer’s user experience, efficiency and the overall success of your online venture, so make this decision carefully.
3. Set up Online Payment Options and Establish a Secure Payment Gateway
Choose reliable online payment options that cater to your customers. Offering multiple payment options and secure gateways will enhance the overall shopping experience for your online customers, potentially increasing sales and trust in your brand. Direct processors, like Professional Solutions Financial Services, provide a secure payment gateway and direct processing for credit card purchases and can link with your payment gateway on your e-commerce platform.
4. Market Your Online Business
To grow your online presence, develop a digital marketing strategy that outlines clear goals and objectives to attract customers using various marketing techniques. The plan should integrate with your business's current marketing strategy. A few tips:
- Set up an accurate Google business listing and keep it updated. Yelp and Bing are other popular online business listings to sign up for and keep up to date.
- Optimize your website for search engines (SEO) to improve organic visibility in search results.
- Leverage social media platforms to engage with your audience, share valuable content and run targeted advertising campaigns.
- Look into email marketing platforms like HubSpot and Mailchimp to help you nurture leads and retain customers.
- Consider pay-per-click (PPC) advertising for immediate visibility, and monitor and adjust your strategies based on analytics and customer feedback.
Building a strong online presence through a variety of digital entrepreneurship tools and actively engaging with your audience across multiple digital channels will help you reach and connect with your target market, driving traffic and sales online.
5. Look Into Small Business Accounting Software
The importance of small business accounting software cannot be overstated when expanding online sales. Using a trusted software program, like Quickbooks, will help you streamline your finances by automating tasks like bookkeeping, invoicing, expense tracking and payroll. It ensures accurate financial records and provides real-time insights into your business's financial health, allowing you to make informed decisions. By integrating your online and physical store financial data, you have a comprehensive view of your business operations. In addition, small business accounting software simplifies tax compliance, reducing the risk of costly errors.
6. Invest in Cybersecurity Measures
Cyberattacks and data breaches pose significant threats to online businesses and can lead to financial losses. It's essential to invest in robust cybersecurity measures to protect sensitive customer data, including payment information and personal details. Implement firewalls, encryption and regular security updates to defend against cyber threats. Adequate cybersecurity measures not only safeguard your operations but also bolster customer trust, as customers need to feel secure when sharing their information online. By prioritizing cybersecurity, you can protect customer data and help ensure the long-term viability of your business.
Northwest Bank offers a Business Security Center with tools and educational resources to help prevent cyberattacks on your business. Tools like Positive Pay and treasury services can help you and your customers make safe and secure online transactions.
7. Meet With Your Business Banker
Your business banker can provide valuable insights and guidance on how to expand your online presence. During the meeting, discuss your business plan, budget and financial projections, as well as any potential financing needs. Your banker can help you assess the financial implications and give you advice on funding options, such as loans. It’s also a good idea to meet with your lawyer and CPA on other strategies to optimize your finances come tax season. Their expertise will enable you to make informed decisions, mitigate financial risks, and ensure that your online business integrates smoothly with your existing operations while maintaining financial stability.
The Small Business Development Center (SBDC) has free tools which provide you with counseling and training for your small business as well as can help with financial projections and creating business plans to expand your online sales.
Remember that expanding your online business is a gradual process. Be patient yet persistent: building an online presence and customer base can take time.
Contact our team of business bankers today to learn more about how Northwest Bank can help position your business for long-term success.
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