Digital transformation for small and medium-sized businesses: Client-focused tools and steps

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    If you’re a small or medium-sized business owner, chances are 2020 didn’t quite shape out the way you thought it would. Companies of all sizes have drastically boosted their digital presence to keep up with the needs of clients. This is why businesses of all types – be it a small shop, a café, a farm, or a museum – need to get on board with their own digital transformation to stay relevant. Luckily, there are already a lot of tried-and-true ways to do it that won’t leave you scratching your head in 2021.

    1. Set your goals based around client experience

    First off, why is it important for small and medium-sized companies to get online? The answer is simple; there are less customers going to brick-and-mortar businesses and increasingly more turning to online solutions for shopping and services. They are also looking for the same user experience they’ve grown used to with the likes of Amazon and Google, and are expecting the same from other services. It needs to be positive, fast, and responsive, as well as available anywhere and anytime (within reason, of course).
    To get your business online, start by identifying the problems that you need to solve to keep profits afloat and get more interested leads. It’s important to understand your clients’ issues and figure out how to solve them. Focus on their online journey by looking at the best ways to reach them online and map it out. You’ll have to answer questions like how clients are going to discover your business online, whether it be via a website, Google Maps, Search, online ads, and on social media. Next, you’ll need to determine how you will actually sell products online with trusted payment options, or how to set up fast delivery that clients can rely on. Another point is how you’ll take care of your community and clients’ needs after-sale.
    The main portion of your digital transformation will therefore include creating new ways of communicating to online clients and multi-channel approaches to reach the widest audience possible. An online presence doesn’t mean you need to completely switch from offline, but adding it will ensure your business gets noticed during changing economic times.

    2. Build or upgrade your website

    If you don’t have a website, now is the time to get one that is professional and visually-appealing. There’s no need to hire a team of developers either. Thanks to website-building services like Wix, WordPress, and Google (we’ll touch on that later), you can easily customize one from a vast range of pre-made templates per business type. This will allow you to improve your branding by showing off you and your company values, and by integrating other trust elements that will encourage clients to buy from you. Just last year, poor personalization and lack of trust cost American companies $756 billion as 41% of consumers switched companies. Some “trust” elements to add would be to add client reviews, industry awards, your company values, such as ethical and environmental standpoints, and your contributions to good causes.
    Afterwards your website is up, you can start on search engine optimization to increase website traffic.

    Facebook Shops example

    3. Get an online store

    Once you’ve determined who your clients are and understand what they need, choose an ecommerce solution that will help you achieve your goals. This will depend also on your business, whether you are selling goods or services. There are many options for listing your products online, such as eBay, Amazon, Shopify, and Google Shopping. Etsy is a good option for hand-made goods.

    A good place to start though is with social commerce, simply because of the billions of people who use it worldwide. A new solution that arrived in May 2020 is Facebook Shops, a free, user-friendly digital store that focuses on mobile users. Businesses can create lists (called Collections) of their products, and highlight their brands creatively with great visuals. It also connects with other ecommerce platforms, like Shopify. Customers then find your Facebook Shop via your Facebook page or Instagram profile, and make purchases right there. Read our guide on how to set up Facebook Shops, and make sure to check its availability in your country.
    If you offer services, check out some platforms to list your businesses and services for people to make purchases, appointments and reservations online. For American, Australian, and European clients, check out the beauty, wellness, and sport platform, MindBody. Gastronomy businesses can partner with take-out portals, like DoorDash, Uber Eats, or any local option. For restaurant reservations, get listed on Yelp, OpenTable, and other booking services.

    google my business official screenshot

    Set up Google My Business for a stronger presence on Google Search and Maps. © Google

    4. Use Google’s tools for businesses

    There’s a growing number of services you can use nowadays, as software developers have identified the huge need for online management tools. However, start by choosing just a few that will fit your needs, add simplicity, and avoid chaos. A good option is Google’s G Suite that has you covered on many levels, like email address customization, and a wealth of tools such as documents, spreadsheets, a calendar, etc. In addition, there’s also Google for Small Businesses, which identifies products best for you and helps you get online.
    Google My Business allows you to customize your own Google Maps profile with your services and products, opening hours, contact information, news, and promotions. It even offers a simple website-building option. Using these tools make you more discoverable on Google Search.

    5. Develop your social media presence

    The next step would be to create a great social media plan and foster a presence on the networks where your audiences are likely to hang out. The goal is to promote your products, services and brand with authentic, tailored, and engaging content per channel. Start by creating a brand guide where you write down how you want your visuals to look (color palette, logo, illustration, photography) and communication style for a cohesive representation of your brand. Also include how you might create content differently for each channel. With social media, it’s not a one-size fits all approach. Though it’s OK to repurpose content, do it wisely and always consider the audience.
    For example, on Instagram, you would post an inspiring picture of someone using your product (imagine a adventurous man dangling his legs over a cliff with your brand’s hiking boots) to entice an end client, while on LinkedIn, you’ll want to talk about your company’s achievements in order to attract potential business partners. You could potentially use the stunning visual, but the message needs to be completely different.
    When choosing what to post, try splitting it into three types of content:

    • Business promotion to convert followers and viewers
    • Sharing posts from influencers in the industry to show your up on trends
    • Personal stories about your brand

    Social media can seem like a lot, however, there are platforms where you can do it all from one spot, such as HootSuite, Buffer, and MeetEdgar. These help automate and speed up your work as well as take care of community engagement, an important part of social media management.

    6. Reach clients with email marketing

    With your shop and social media presence set up, you can also attract new clients as well as retain existing ones with carefully planned and executed email marketing. It can be a very effective yet tricky task; you’ll want to send content they’ll want to read but not overwhelm them. Also, always allow clients to “opt-in” to your email list. The recipient must knowingly sign up for it on your website or via a special ad banner, so that it won’t be sent straight to the spam folder.
    Use an email service to get the job done, like cloud-based tools such as MailChimp, Constant Contact, and iContact. If you’ve opted to create a Wix or WordPress website, they have built-in email plugins. Your emails could be used for a number of things: sales automation with welcome messages, promotions, and company news, or a newsletter with your latest blog articles.

    7. Use digital advertising platforms

    After securing the most important basics such as a website, an online shop, secure payment methods, and fast delivery (or returns) of your products, you can then start scaling your business by running online ad campaigns.
    Here are three types of ecommerce platforms to start marketing your products (though more exist, as seen in our ecommerce channels guide):

    • Search Engines: Start with Google Ads to create awareness around your brand. This is for people who are actively searching for your type of product.
    • Online Marketplaces: The most popular ones are Amazon and eBay. It can be hard to stand out because of other competitors, but makes all the difference if you’re able to tap into a niche. Lyst and Wish are two more smaller, less saturated channels specifically for mobile users.
    • Social Networks: Facebook is a great advertising tool thanks to its Dynamic Ads, whose algorithm targets users based on their likes and behavior, and post ads with strategic timing.

    Online ads can go a long way even with a smaller budget – the prices depend on the audiences and the duration of your campaigns. Most platforms are extremely user-friendly and offer tutorials to guide you.

    8. Use the power of built-in data and analytics

    Each of the tools that are mentioned within these steps offers customer activity data that can help you tweak your online presence and make the most of it. Over time you’ll be able to make some smart deductions. The key is to first execute a plan based on your clients’ needs for a good length of time, then optimize it based on accumulated data from the past three to six months. It may take a little while for your online business to pick up, so you do have to let it run for some time to see if your strategy actually works. For example, on Facebook Ad Insights you may see that audiences are engaging more with one type of content than another, so in the future you’ll choose to publish more of that kind to increase your social media performance.
    Learn how to test your product catalogs to identify improvement potential.

    What’s next?

    Our list of “to-do’s” to get your business online are the fundamental building blocks of your digital transformation. Once set up, it’ll be important to maintain it with proper planning and execution, and always look for ways to improve the client experience. Think of your digital transformation as less of a crash-diet, but more of a lifestyle change that you’ll need to engrain into the very core of your business.

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