June 4, 2020
The way you run your business has most likely changed significantly over the last three months. You may have shifted to a distributed workforce, requiring you to set up a home office and embrace the video conference call for both internal sync ups and client meetings. If you run an essential business, you’ve taken extra lengths to protect your team and your customers.
Although shelter in place orders are relaxing and many businesses across the country are reopening, the future remains uncertain. Not only that, but all the changes you’ve made to your business have probably required a significant investment of resources in a time when you may be losing revenue. Even if this investment will only make your business more resilient and competitive in the long term, you need new sources of income today.
We’ve discussed before why there’s never been a more critical time to move your business online, but what are the steps to actually create an online revenue stream? Here are 3 steps to get you started making money online with examples of how other businesses have successfully made the switch.
Step 1: Identify what you will sell
Some businesses have found that they've had to shift their offerings during the pandemic. Is there an effective way (both in terms of cost to you and value to your customer) to continue selling your current offering online, or do you need to pivot to meet people’s current needs? This pivot may only be temporary, but unless you have a large rainy day fund, a short-term shift in offerings could make it possible for you to avoid layoffs or at least stay afloat. Many distilleries, for example, have shifted to making hand sanitizer, expanding their customer base while providing an essential product. Many eateries, including one of our own local coffee shops, now also offer pantry boxes of fresh, high-quality ingredients so their customers can cook delicious meals at home.
If you’re a service-based company, you’ve probably already shifted your service to a virtual setting using video call software, social media, or just traditional phone consultations. For knowledge-based businesses this can be a relatively simple shift but for other types of service-based businesses, it may require more innovation.
Barbers and hairstylists, for example, have had to be truly innovative to maintain any sort of revenue stream, offering services such as personal, live video tutorials to walk you through your first quarantine hair-cut. Fitness studios have taken the more obvious choice of offering classes via video but some, like Luma Yoga, have also translated their wellness services into a virtual setting. Need a massage? Luma’s virtual massage workshops teach you how to give your partner or housemate a professional massage from the safety of your home.
Another option is to add branded merchandise that customers can purchase through your website. If your business has a visually appealing logo or a clever tagline, consider designing a coffee cup, reusable water bottle, or apparel to sell. If your branding is more understated, or this simply doesn’t feel like the right approach for your business, consider sending your customers a free thank you gift in the form of a branded pen or something relevant to your particular industry. Optometry offices, for example, often give customers branded cleaning cloths and spray.
Understanding what will best serve your audience in these times is key, as is the ability to leverage technology to effectively provide that service.
Step 2: Set up the online platform to sell it
Once you’ve determined your offering, you need to provide a seamless online user experience to your customers. Although most people want to support local and small businesses right now, if your website creates too much friction during the buying experience, your potential customers may bail in favor of Amazon’s irresistible convenience.
Related reading: The AWS Evolution: From Bookseller to Cloud Computing King
Now is the time to conduct an audit of your site and identify all the points in the buyer’s journey that might cause a customer to ditch you for the competition. Your top priorities should be up-to-date website content, an easy search function for customers to find specific products or services (if you have many offerings), and a seamless checkout process. If you’re using an online platform like Zoom to conduct meetings, workshops, or other virtual offerings, make sure you know the proper etiquette for these platforms and how to keep them secure. For phone calls, we recommend ditching your traditional phone line for a more reliable, flexible VoIP service.
Providing a high-quality user experience also means you need robust cybersecurity practices in place. This includes using the secure HTTPS protocol for your site, strong, unique passwords combined with two-factor authentication to protect your accounts (especially when collecting payment information), and your entire team should be trained in cybersecurity.
Last but not least, you’ll need to decide how you’ll accept online payments. Before selecting an online payments system for your business, do your research to ensure the platform takes all the necessary precautions to protect you and your customers. Popular choices include PayPal, Stripe, and AmazonPay.
Related reading: Can PayPal Be Trusted With Your Financial Information?
Step 3: Promote your online offering
This is so important. Once you have all the pieces in place for your online offering, you can’t expect it to sell on its own. Leverage online marketing platforms like social media and email campaigns to drive customers to your site. Make sure you have an active Google My Business Listing and reach out to loyal customers for online reviews. Now is also a great time to either start or relaunch a blog to help improve your search ranking.
In these promotions, consider including a message of thanks, reminding people that their purchases keep your workers employed and are supporting a local and/or small business.
Step 4: Partner with another business
This final step may not be the right fit for your business but is worth consideration. Is there another business with an offering that compliments your own? Consider who you could partner with to add an extra incentive to customers to buy your product or service while also expanding your marketing channels. City Home, a Portland home decor and design business, partnered with a local florist, sending a surprise bouquet to three of their clients as an extra incentive.
Resources to help you establish your online revenue stream
If your business is based in the Santa Cruz area and needs help setting up an e-commerce site, improving your SEO, or marketing your offerings online, there are several free or affordable resources available to you:
GetVirtual pairs local businesses with college students seeking experience.
Cruz One helps educational institutions, non-profits, and small businesses rapidly pivot to online programs.
Looker is connecting with local nonprofits to help with immediate data needs and their employees are donating their time to help with the shift to digital learning.
For more information on what Santa Cruz companies are doing to help out their fellow local businesses and communities across the nation, check out this article by Santa Cruz Works.
The pandemic is a good reminder of why it’s so important to have a robust online presence for your business. Having an updated, modern website can allow you to reach more people, establish you as an expert in your field, and gives you the opportunity to make sales online. Those businesses that take the time and invest the resources now in improving their online presence will not only survive today’s crisis, but will have the tools and framework to weather future challenges while continuing to serve their customers and provide stable employment for their team.
Want to get more posts like these once a month in your inbox? Sign up for the Pagoda newsletter and sharpen your technical skills, from cybersecurity to digital marketing.
Want IT to serve you better?
Based in Santa Cruz, California, Pagoda Technologies provides trusted IT support to businesses and IT departments throughout Silicon Valley, the San Francisco Bay Area and across the globe. To learn how Pagoda Technologies can help your business, email us at email@example.com to schedule a complimentary IT consultation.
Return to Pagoda Blog Main Page