By now, we’re all familiar with how the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is impacting small businesses, including those owned by our MilSpouse community. Many Military Spouse business owners were required to temporarily freeze business operations due to COVID-19 regulations or to find new ways to operate without face-to-face contact.
While there’s still significant uncertainty around when business operations can go back to the pre-pandemic “normal,” there’s no need to think you have to close your business completely in the meantime. Now’s the time to take advantage of the growing virtual work environment and move your business online!
Not only will this allow you to continue safely operating during the pandemic, but you’ll also have the opportunity to grow your customer base and establish a business that can travel with you on your next PCS. Read on for 5 important steps that will help you get your business online so you can open up your doors again (virtually, of course) ASAP.
1. Check Your Licenses
When you first opened your business, you had to acquire several licenses in order to operate legally, such as a standard business license and an EIN (employee identification number), and you’ll need these same licenses for your online business. Luckily, they should carry over from your brick-and-mortar business to your online operations seamlessly, with a few exceptions.
2. Invest in Your Website
Now that your main customer traffic will take place online, you’ll want to make sure your website is ready to receive a high volume of users. Check with your website provider to ensure your site can handle several dozen people logging onto your site at once. You may want to hire a web developer to help with your site, or, if you’re on a budget, there are plenty of free online resources that will walk you through the ins and outs of website building and optimization — all it takes is a Google search.
Once your site’s in working order, review all the content on it to make sure it’s clear, accurate, and represents your company professionally. This is also a great time to double-check the branding of your site — are the color schemes, fonts, and messaging consistent? While you’re at it, check to make sure your offerings are up-to-date, there are no typos, and all links work properly.
The final but most important thing to remember is that your website will need constant upkeep. Make time each day to check your site and ensure all products, services, and promotions are up-to-date, your inventory is accurate, and everything is functioning properly.
3. Develop a Secure Payment System
If you’re collecting payment from your customers online, you’ll want to set up a secure online payment system that protects both you and your customers’ information. Talk to your bank about opening a dedicated payment account for customer transactions if you don’t already have one, and see if they have any recommendations for establishing a secure payment processing page. There are plenty of transaction options for small businesses out there, so do your research to find what works best for you and your bank.
Lastly, decide on a return and refund system that can be operated remotely. Will you give money back or will you offer exchanges? How will these transactions be processed? Will you pay for return shipping? Make these decisions ahead of time, so you can provide customers with a clear policy.
4. Build a Social Media Presence
Now’s the time to focus on social media — whether that means setting up your business’s first account or discovering new ways to utilize an already active presence. Research your customer base to find out what platforms they use and how they use them, so you can make the most of your social activity.
You may want to advertise special discounts on social media to drive customers to your website or consider partnering with other local businesses or influencers to endorse your products. Now is also a great time to get involved with your customers and encourage them to mention your business or products in their own posts, so you can share their images and/or reviews.
Everyone is spending more time online than ever, making it an ideal time to become part of the online community and get your audience excited about interacting with your business!
5. Announce Your Move
Once you’re set up online with the proper licensing and an optimized website, it’s time to get your customers’ attention. If you already have a list of customer emails, send out a notice to everyone to let them know you’re open for business online. Likewise, leverage your social media accounts to make the announcement with eye-catching graphics or videos.
Now may also be a good time to start reaching out to influencers or other local businesses, as mentioned above, to help spread the word. Likewise, ask your family, friends, and loyal customers if they’re willing to share the announcement through their own social media accounts or via word-of-mouth to their circles.
Offline business are at risk of falling behind in the market while doors are required to stay shut due to COVID-19, so leverage this time to move your operations online. You’ll be able to continue serving your current customers and grow a new online-only customer base who can stick with you even after brick and mortar businesses reopen.