As I write this, we're in the first few days of most of the planet being strongly encouraged to isolate ourselves at home. Locally for me, thousands of bars, restaurants, breweries, shops, public spaces, and other businesses have closed following government instructions. Some are just trying to weather the storm, others are taking their business online.
Nobody knows how long the COVID-19 related lockdowns will last, but for everyone there is a need to move quickly. Thousands of small businesses globally have launched online store fronts in just a few short days — moves that are going to be essential to keeping themselves and their employees afloat if these lockdowns last more than a few weeks.
In all the rush to go digital, there's a million things to think about. Amidst all the hurry, make sure you don't miss these crucial pieces.
It's easy to get lost in website setup, but don't forget the basics. How are you getting your products to customers? When can they expect the order to arrive? Who's doing the admin, packing and deliveries?
Make sure you have a plan for the fundamentals: Who's receiving the orders and preparing them? How will you let customers know when they can expect to take delivery? Are you using a shipping company or making deliveries yourself? If the latter, make sure you've figured out when you'll be making those deliveries and how you'll make that as easy and predictable as possible for your customers.
Create a plan for dealing with an influx of orders, notifying customers about their deliveries, and refunding them when things don't go according to plan. Is payment processing happening automatically, or will you need to call all customers, or email them an invoice in order to get paid?
Identify bottlenecks early and often
With large parts of the world moving online all at once, it's difficult to predict demand for all these newly-remote ventures. Make sure you identify bottlenecks in your process early, and re-evaluate regularly as you learn. Find out what is slowing down your customers or preventing them from ordering. Talk to your staff about the hurdles they're facing, and figure out what you can do to make things move more efficiently.
Don't forget to talk about it! Existing customers, who know you for your bricks-and-mortar location, may not realize you're taking things online. Maybe they heard everything was closed in your area and assumed the worst, so tell people. Your existing customers need to know you're online, and you'll want to keep reminding them regularly too.
Choose the right platform
When choosing to take business online, there's a lot of options. Here's some of the top ways to take your bricks-and-mortar into the digital world:
Forms functionality on your existing website
This is perhaps the easiest, fastest option to setup. WordPress sites have plugins like WPForms and Gravity Forms, and services like SquareSpace and Wix have their own built in forms functionality. Some of them are even able to take basic payments through Stripe, Square, or PayPal.
If your digital venture is temporary or has only basic needs, this can be a good choice. You can get yourself setup online quickly, and at low or no cost. Unless your form takes payments, you'll have to follow up with customers through other channels in order to get paid. Don't be a victim of your own sucess - if your system proves popular, you might find yourself quickly drowning in emails, unsure who's paid what, and struggling to keep up.
The options in this category are plenty. Whether it's industry-favourite Shopify, SquareSpace ecommerce, Square online stores or one of dozens of other options. All these providers make it straightforward to get started. Pick a nice template, upload your logo, change a few settings and add your products. These are a great choice for building something now, that has room to grow with your business in the future.
Need more than the basics? If you're really in a hurry, you might have to start making some compromises. Custom solutions—whether it's a customized WooCommerce or Shopify store, or something more bespoke—all have two things in common: time, and money. To do them well, you need plenty of both. Time is not our side at the moment, and looking at the stock market, money might soon be in short supply too! If you have complex needs or you're looking to build something for the long term, this is the way to go.
In an urgent situation like this, it's important to make decisions quickly so that you can move forward. In doing that, you'll make mistakes, and there will be things you could've done differently. Don't sweat it—the important thing is that you did something. This is not business as usual, so no one is expected to have all the right answers from day one.
Even though it's important to be decisive now, remember to think about your brand, and how those choices will serve you and those around you in the long term.