Guide to getting your business online

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18 May 2020

People across the country are feeling the impact of coronavirus on our entire way of life, including business owners.

With many businesses being forced to close their doors as a result of the pandemic, those without any other means of operating – such as an online store or web presence – are being hit harder than most.

Primark, for example, announced that it had gone from turning over £650m a month to making nothing at all as a result of the outbreak, due to their lack of web presence, online shop or click-and-collect offering.

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, businesses may have to get creative as circumstances change and adapt to the ‘new normal’ quickly in order to meet your customers’ changing needs and expectations. But establishing a simple web presence for the first time doesn’t have to be a massive undertaking, and it could be one way of keeping your existing customers coming to your business or attracting new ones at a time when it matters most.

Here are AXA’s tips for getting your business going online.

The importance of online retail

In February 2020, online sales accounted for almost 20% of all retailing in the UK, before reaching a record high of 22.3% of all retail sales in March 2020.

With an online presence or store, small businesses can increase their product range and geographical reach without having premises or forking out on extra overheads.

Helinka Carr, the founder of stoma/ostomy lingerie company, Unspoken Rosebud, states: “The only way for me to be seen and heard was to get online. So, I found an e-commerce platform and just went out there…In the beginning most of my orders were overseas. If I didn’t have an online presence, it wouldn’t have happened.”

àHear more advice about getting your business online from Helinka in our Mind Your Small Business Podcast.

Many restaurants and cafes have got on board with e-commerce websites like Uber Eats or Deliveroo to expand their customer bases without having to change their physical locations. Similarly, designers and artists can use sites like Etsy to build awareness and sell their wares to their designated audience.

With more and more customers everywhere embracing the convenience of shopping from their computer or smartphone, it could be time to think about your own e-commerce strategy.

Setting up a website

How does the world know that you're open and ready for business? The first port of call for most customers is Google: accounting for more than 78% of desktop search traffic globally, and over 94% of mobile and tablet traffic. And to reach these searchers, you need a business website.

As well as informing your customers about your business, a website is a powerful marketing tool and gives you the opportunity to develop a remote sales side to your business.

You don't necessarily need advanced tech skills to create your own free website with sites like WordPress or Wix, which both have a range of templates to suit your business and brand. Make sure you also secure the website address you want and make the URL as close as possible to your business name. Run your name through a domain checker such as 123-Reg to double check it’s availability.

Google My Business also lets you build an online presence for any business, no matter how small. It's essentially a free listing that displays all your business details, right down to your opening hours. Your listing shows up on Google's pages and maps during online searches, making it simple for customers to discover you. To find out more, we've set up a step-by-step guide to getting on Google.

How to take payments online

Getting your business online and setting up a website will help customers find your business and get interested in your services, but if you want to make profit from your website you’re going to have to take payments online.

If your business primarily sells one-off products or services, you’ll probably want to take card payments using an online payment system. Common examples of online payment systems include Paypal and Sage Pay, and you can integrate these onto your business website.

Online payments must be secure. If you’ve created your online store using a site like Wix or Shopify, your provider should be able to ensure your payment system is created securely.

When starting to build out your online shop, choose a few key items to take online and go from there. Starting small makes any teething troubles easier to deal with. You'll also need to provide a smooth customer experience to allow your customers to receive your products, so research the best and most secure delivery methods or consider offering a click and collect service.

SEO for small businesses

So now your website is up and running, that’s job done, right? Well, not quite.

Just like opening a high street store, the work is really just beginning once you open the doors for the first time. And like any shop – online or on the high street – you need customers. And for your business’ new website, that means driving people to your site using search engine optimisation (SEO).

SEO is a way of structuring your website and organising your online content to make sure search engines like Google understand who you are, what you do, and why they should feature your website when a customer searches online for products or services like yours. And there are some simple tips to keep in mind if you’re just getting started:

Be descriptive – Your website’s title tag and meta description are crucial pieces of information which customers and search engines like Google use to understand who you are and what your business does. The title is the clickable headline you see on search engine results pages, while the meta description describes the page in a search result. Encourage visits to your site by getting your main selling points into these sections.

Use keywords carefully – Keywords are the words that customers type in online to search for a business like yours. When writing anything on your website or blog, choose the same words that your customers are using, and the search engines will start to send them your way. Use free keyword tools to help you find what people are already searching for, but avoid ‘stuffing’ your site with too many keywords in unnatural sentences, as your site will be penalised.

Start a blog page – Search engines like relevant and well-written content. An engaging, well-written blog could set you up as an expert in your field and provides fresh content, letting customers and search engines know you’re open for business. Break up the paragraphs into digestible chunks and update it regularly with information your customers expect to see from your business.

For a more in depth look at simple SEO for your businesses, take a look at AXA’s Ten SEO Tips for Small Businesses

Social media for your business

Social media can be another way for your business to meet your customers online, rather than in person. Giving your business a strong social media presence could help you:

Raise brand awareness – By being strategic with your social activity, you can grab the attention of your desired audience and encourage them to share your content with their networks, helping to build your brand awareness.

Being cost-effective – Social media can be a cost-efficient advertising strategy. You can try the main social platforms for free: Instagram works for visually strong businesses, Facebook for wordier posts, and LinkedIn for professionals or business to business. Paid promotions are also relatively low in comparison to other marketing tactics.

Connecting you with customers – Everything you do on social media is a chance for your business to connect with customers. Whether dealing with a customer complaint or query, social media lets you address the issue quickly and directly.

Find out the 12 steps your business should follow when getting started on social for the first time with AXA’s Complete Guide to Social Media for Business.

Getting started

For those that aren’t confident in their tech skills, all of this can sound a bit daunting but take it from those who have been there before. Louise Sturmey, the owner of Mendip Chocolate Chef, says: “It’s a learning curve for everybody – it doesn’t matter if you have a lot of experience or very little. The good thing about the internet is that help’s available everywhere online. It’s really about making sure you help yourself even if you’re a small business with very little [online] knowledge”.

àHear more advice about getting your business online from Louise in our Mind Your Small Business Podcast.

Working hard to support your business

These are unsettling times for everyone, and we want to do everything we can to keep you updated on how coronavirus (COVID-19) affects your business. Tale a look at our coronavirus-specific help and advice section.