Taking your business online

Date: 29th October 2014

wanaka living website

In this day and age every business needs a website. More and more of us are spending time online and your business needs to be able to be found at the click of a button. Having a website isn’t just about making sure people know where to find you, though. Selling products on your website offers consumers convenience and increases your potential customer base.

A little while ago we examined the compelling reasons why your bricks and mortar store should be online too, so what are the next steps in the process of going online? Whether you’re bricks and mortar or online only, here are some pointers from SmartCompany that you should consider so that your journey into the online sphere isn’t a flop.

1. Don’t rush

Craig Reardon, director of The E Team, told SmartCompany he sees too many business owners rush to get a website and in doing so make mistakes that could otherwise be avoided.

“Typically, their first foray into the digital world is very much a knee-jerk reaction,” he says. “They get pressured from everyone because they don’t have a website – stakeholders, staff, family. But, really, in an ideal world your marketing plan would happen before your website.”

Reardon says a business owner will see a competitor ahead of them on Google’s search results or stumble across a similar business with a really nice website and think they have to get a website as soon as possible. In doing so, the business risks blowing their budget.

Reardon’s tip is to go to what he calls a “digital generalist” if you don’t know where to begin. This is someone who has a wide range of knowledge and can point you in the right direction if necessary – similar to how you go to a GP first and then a specialist doctor if need be.

2. Have a digital strategy

Reardon’s other key piece of advice is to have a plan – similar to how you would plan ahead for any other aspect of your business. Having a digital strategy means your website is more likely to work effectively with your social media channels as well as your bricks-and-mortar store.

“Digital is a result of business and marketing planning – it’s not a stand-alone thing. If you’re doing digital planning without those it will never happen.”

SME operators are often very time-poor, and setting up (let alone maintaining) a website takes a lot of effort. Reardon suggests working on a digital strategy during a business’s down-time or quieter moments.

3. Treat your website as more than just a phone listing

Fiona Stager, co-owner of Avid Reader Bookshop in Brisbane, knows all about putting the time and effort into building a website. “About three years ago we decided to put a lot more resources into our website,” she says. “It took a lot of time, energy and expense. But now our stock-listing is available on our website and we use it a lot for our events.”

Her advice to fellow business owners is to treat their website like an online community. That way, customers will be more inclined to come back to the website. Avid Reader does this by ensuring the website is updated regularly with events and reviews.

“We always try and have something that is community-related and book-related on the website like the local school fete,” she says. “We try and make it more than just a bookshop.” The website also links to the businesses social media accounts, encouraging an ongoing relationship on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

Andy Williamson is the co-founder of BeerBud, an online marketplace aimed at making it easier for Australians to find and purchase craft beer. Because the business is entirely online, he believes a key strategy is having a website that customers enjoy visiting.

“A website has to be so much more these days than just purchasing a product and checking out,” he says.

4. If outsourcing, find the right option

Williamson says there were definitely some hurdles to overcome when building the BeerBud website, something that is not uncommon for SMEs and startups.

“We’ve been through all these trials and tribulations,” he says. “We tried to outsource it initially to a bunch of developers in Argentina that we thought were competent.” Eventually, Williamson ended up paying a local web developer to build a “completely bespoke” website.

Key advice:

  • For small businesses who don’t need a complex website, an “out of the box” solution like Shopify or Squarespace may do just fine.
  • Find someone who can speak your language.
  • Shop around, get lots of quotes and know what you’re getting for your money.
  • Find out what happens if something goes wrong and who pays for it.
  • Look at websites for similar businesses, discuss what you like about them, and forward the notes on to the person designing your website.

5. Be prepared for something to go wrong

The online world isn’t perfect. Just like a bricks-and-mortar store, something is bound to go wrong eventually.

“It’s about having a contingency plan – making sure your data is backed up so if you do lose an email list you can restore that,” she says. “Do a little bit of homework and ask a lot of questions.”

More about doing business online:

Standing out from the crowd online

Why your bricks and mortar store should be online too


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