6 Ways To Take Your Business Online By Web Designer Sarah Halliday
Today on the blog, indie Oxford business member Sarah Halliday shares her tips for staying visible online during the coronavirus pandemic, and six easy ways to take your business online. >>
Despite the hardships that we are feeling in the face of this global pandemic, we can at least be thankful that it’s happening in the digital age — enabling us to connect with people from afar. As we’ve seen with many businesses adapting and offering new services, there is still a lot we can offer online.
I’ve been running my own digital marketing business for about two years now, which has provided me with a steady stream of work. Sometimes even too much work! That is, until the bottom dropped out last Wednesday, when the large majority of my clients were faced with the uncertainty of how to stay afloat when they had been indirectly ordered to close down.
That being said, the circumstances I find myself in today are not totally unlike the environment in which my business was born. When I was suddenly made redundant two years ago, I launched my business as a temporary source of income to support myself while I searched for a new job.
I had originally built my website as a portfolio to show off what I could do, armed with a journalism degree, a range of relevant work experience and a passion for producing digital content. I offered friends, family and former colleagues a digital marketing handyman service — making websites, writing blogs, taking photos and making videos. The more job interviews I went to, the more I started asking myself, ‘do I want to give up what I’ve built?’, until eventually an interviewer asked me just that. That’s when I decided to really try and make a go of it.
Up until this point, the majority of my work has been word of mouth, so despite helping others with their digital presence, I haven’t put much time into my own. Now that I’ve found myself with a bit of spare time, I too must adapt and put a bit more thought into how I’m going to push my business online. And for all other businesses struggling out there, you can follow along.
Get Your Website In Order
A website is one of the only places where you have total control over how you’re being viewed. Think of it as an interactive portfolio showing off the best things about your business, and a direct message to your customer telling them about the services you offer. I chose Squarespace to build my site, but there are plenty of platforms out there. As long as you have some time and some patience, you’ll be able to use Squarespace’s templates to build a website of your own.
The best thing about having a website is that it allows you to make changes on a regular basis. Real time analytics show what’s working well and what isn’t so you can make changes based on your findings.
- Is your branding consistent across your website: colours, fonts, photos?
- Is the content (photos and copy) up to date on your site?
- Does my copy answer the questions that prospective customers regularly ask me?
- Does my website show off my ethos and personality?
Be Creative With What You Can Sell Online
Restaurants, cafés and bars have been quick to jump on takeaway services and there are plenty of other things people are still willing to buy online. Luckily, setting up an online shop has become incredibly easy.
For example, when I found myself with a surplus of chicken calendars after Christmas (something I send to my clients as a Christmas present at the end of the year) I upgraded my Squarespace account, made an e-commerce page on my website in about 10 minutes, and very quickly sold out! The great thing about e-commerce on Squarespace is that you only need to pay for it during the time you need it. Once I was out of chicken calendars, I downgraded back to a basic account.
Also, video tutorials are always in demand and hugely profitable. If you offer lessons that require visual demonstrations, consider filming them and selling them on your website. No expensive camera equipment necessary, just get yourself a little tripod for your iPhone and off you go!
Start A Blog
It would be nice if we could just make a website and be done with it, but the most successful websites are updated regularly. This gives people a reason to keep going back to your site.
I have a blog, in the form of case studies with clients I’ve worked with. Clients find this helpful because they can relate to other people’s digital journeys and it helps me with search engine optimisation. Many users end up on my website by Googling another business and seeing my little blog pop up.
Over the next few weeks I’m going to double down on my blogging efforts. Not only will it help you, but it can also help all the people you work with. Take for example the Handle Blog. I run the blog for the good people at The Handle Bar, who pride themselves on sustainability and running an eco-conscious business. To get this message across, we regularly profile their suppliers which not only highlights the care HB put into sourcing them, but also builds an even stronger relationship with the businesses they work with.
Running the Handle Blog is hugely beneficial to me as well because it has introduced me to a range of business owners who I would never have otherwise met!
Blogs don’t just have to be about profiles though. If you’re an expert in your field, share your knowledge to build a following. If there’s an issue that you’re passionate about, let your customers know about it.
If a tree falls in the forest, but there’s no one around to hear it, does it make a sound? Social media can be intimidating but it’s a great way to connect with customers and people in your industry. I will be the first to hold my hand up and say that, despite running a digital marketing business, I don’t put as much time as I should into my own social media. And there’s loads of stuff that I’ve been doing that nobody else has any idea about.
Have a look at how other businesses are dealing with this crisis, and talk about what you’re doing. We can make this a lot easier on ourselves if we work together. Already, I’ve seen people live-streaming gigs, people giving online instrument lessons, and the more we work together we can establish the new normal. My first post in response to the pandemic lead to me writing this post today!
Remember, you don’t have to do everything. Pick the social media platforms that work for your business. If you have a blog, then maybe twitter is the best place to connect with like-minded people in your industry. If your work is very visual, then Instagram is a great place to start.
Also, if you’re just starting out, don’t get hung up about numbers. Use social media the way it was intended — to interact, and to receive and share ideas. After setting up your account, follow the people who you find inspiring, follow your competitors, and follow accounts that you find fun! It doesn’t have to be all about your work. Make your social feed something that you actively want to look at in your spare time!
Learn How To Use A Social Scheduling Tool
A lot of my clients have big followings on social media, but many of them spend more time than they have to updating their accounts. It’s always scary learning a new thing but trust me, it will help you in the long run. Many people who I speak to tell me that when posting on Instagram they have to think of and write out their hashtags every time! That’s enough to put me off social media altogether. With scheduling platforms, you can save your hashtags and track how successful they’ve been and change them around based on the data.
If you find yourself with some free time, have a look at the images you have and set some time aside to write captions for all of them. Then with social scheduling, these can be automatically published for you.
I’ve used many in my day (I would advise to avoid Hootesuite like the plague) But my favourite so far is later.com. Expensive if you’re managing a lot of different accounts, but free for individual businesses. With Later, you can also do cool things like Linkin.bio which you can see in action on The Missing Bean’s Instagram account.
Another alternative is just to keep your hashtags saved in a document or in a note on your phone so you don’t have to type them out all the time.
Give Your Website An SEO Audit
There are an infinite number of things you can do to boost your SEO. Large businesses have entire teams running this for them, so I wouldn’t get too hung up on trying to place first on Google. Rather, take stock of your site. Ask yourself, ‘does my copy answer the questions that people will be searching for on Google?’.
A good place to start with SEO is by making sure you are signed up to all of the various Google platforms:
Google Search Console — Google Search Console allows you to submit your sitemap so that Google understands the structure of your website so it can offer more accurate results.
Google My Business — do you have control over your Google My Business page? Do you even have one? Your Google My Business page is that little box that pops up on the right hand side of a Google Search if you Google your own business. It also pops up on Google maps when you type something like ‘coffee and pastries near me’. If you claim this as your own, you’re able to add extra photos, opening hours, descriptions, and generally have more control over the first thing people see when they find you on the internet.
Google Analytics — get a better understanding of who your audience are, and what’s working well on your website so that you can tailor it to get even better results.
Google Ad Words — Although I wouldn’t recommend Google Ads for people operating on a small budget, it does give you some really interesting insight into what makes people click on your site, which you can use later when optimising the copy on your website for search engines.
Another simple yet effective exercise for boosting SEO is emailing people for back links. Essentially, anywhere the name of your business is mentioned online (blogs, news articles, etc), you want your site to be linked. A simple email saying ‘Hello! Would you mind adding a link to my website in this article you posted about me?’ will suffice.
If you really want to nerd out, consider getting a free trial of Moz (but remember to put something in your calendar that tells you when your 30 days are up!). This will crawl your website and tell you exactly what is affecting your SEO and even lets you track keywords against your competitors.
Many of these tips and tricks are in response to the crisis that we all are facing, but can also become valuable new assets to your business no matter what the circumstances. I hope these words have been a helpful step into getting started on your digital journey. You will definitely be seeing more of me than usual, as I plan to practice what I preach! If you want to follow along with my own digital marketing journey, follow me on Instagram @hallidaily.
Or, if you need help with any of the above, I’d be more than happy to assist.
Sarah Halliday helps small business owners promote their brands online through photography, videography, graphic design, animation and website design. Sarah creates beautiful, simple, elegant, photo-driven websites that reflect the core values and personalities of each unique business.
Thank you so much Sarah for sharing these great tips with us today. Here at Independent Oxford, we feel that it is more important than ever to make sure you keep up your online presence, especially if you have had to close your physical space. Use this time to work on your business, even if you can’t work in it, and get your digital presence in tip top condition. Talk to Sarah if you need help setting up your website, online shop or digital content.
Being part of communities like Independent Oxford, is also a great way of promoting your business online. The great SEO on our site means you get 1000s of views and clicks via your profile page every year, and our 12,000+ social following means you can make sure your business gets seen. If you would like to find out more about membership, email us or join our next online Indie Oxford meet up.