4th December 2020
Boosting your business online
During the past year, particularly through lockdowns, many local businesses have taken advantage of online shopping platforms as a way to keep offering their goods and services, even while their physical premises have had to close or operate in a different way. As a Town Council we have sought to provide assistance through our websites, social media and newsletters, as well as via the ShopLocal scheme.
However, understandably, not all businesses have been able to get online, whilst still more have found their existing websites may not incorporate the technology that big retailers are able to take advantage of, and customers have come to expect.
Even beyond the current pandemic, more and more shoppers are now buying online, so it’s a great time to consider ways to reach new potential customers, both near and far, as well as attracting shoppers back into town via your website.
However, refreshing your site or setting up from scratch can be daunting, perhaps especially for small retailers who may have time and financial constraints. The different ways to build websites, get the look and feel right, the complex terms sometimes used, right through to the logistical challenge of getting stock listed online can all feel like hurdles.
To help with this, we have contacted some of Bradford on Avon’s own online gurus and collated some sage advice for anyone wanting to upgrade their existing business or organisation website, or those who are starting from scratch.
Having a good-quality logo and consistent colours and fonts across your website – and maybe even your shop-front and window displays – means that you’re recognisable, as well as providing shoppers with a recognisable and memorable online experience.
Laura Darling of Mixed Pixel comments that:
“Branding isn’t just about good design. It’s about creating a whole identity for your company, one that reflects the people behind your brand and the feeling you want to convey to your customers. It’s important to capture the essence of our local shops online.”
If you are looking to brand or re-brand your business before embarking on your website build, as with website building, there are do-it-yourself options, (just type ‘online logo maker’ into your web browser), graphic designers, right through to branding specialists. To find a local designer have a look at our Explore BoA Shops and Businesses page.
2. What type of site?
Think about what you want the site to do – is it just to get your customers to come into your business, or enquire about services? Or do you want to sell products online? Knowing this before you start is a good way to prioritise if you are short of time or on a limited budget.
Tom Beavan notes that:
“Someone who is looking to improve the look and feel of their website will have vastly different goals to someone who is looking to increase their traffic.”
If you have an existing site but it was built some time ago you may find that updating from an older text-heavy format to a bright, image-led template can make all the difference. Your website is just as important as your physical shop window. An attractive Home Page can make all the difference between a customer merely glancing and coming in to purchase something.
Andrew Eberlin of Brighterside adds:
“For a relatively low investment (compared to fitting out your store, or your rent or business rates), an e-commerce store gives you a wider range of opportunities to sell beyond your normal customer base and also when you are closed (even during a Government lockdown). Shopify and Squarespace offer professional, off-the shelf, secure and easy to use platforms.”
Many of our local designers are happy to discuss your needs, and will offer a free consultation to help you to decide on whether to invest in a new or upgraded site.
As the owner of a small business, it’s unlikely that you’ll have a lot of time to build your own website, though if you do want to and are comfortable learning on the go, it’s a way to save some money in the short term.
Andrew Eberlin of Brighterside noted that:
“If you have patience and some knowledge, the tools and tutorials make it fairly straightforward to set up an e-commerce store yourself. There are forums which provide answers and help should you need it.”
Veronica Hannon of Transform also notes that:
“160 million people use Wix to build a website. Other sites like Squarespace are also good options. If you’re relatively tech-savvy and you need a simple shop window, we would recommend that these might be the right option for you. They’re also good for first-time users but have limited functionality and aren’t particularly good for search engine optimisation.”
This means that, although it can be a cheaper option, it may lead to compromises both on look and feel, and in getting your ‘shop window’ in front of your audience. That said, it can be a good place to start and may help you to understand what you need of a more bespoke website in the future.
4. Going pro
If you’re tight on time, bringing in a professional can provide a cost-efficient solution and help with more technical elements, as well as bringing years of experience and professional tools to the table. After all, your time is also money, so handing over the website build to an expert can free you up to concentrate on running your business, or taking photos of your stock for the website.
Andrew Eberlin of Brighterside notes that:
“A professional web designer intuitively knows what good design is, and how to structure a website that will encourage your customers to browse and give them confidence to purchase.”
This is also true if linking to third-party payment services. Using established and trusted payment providers gives customers confidence in making online transactions, and provides you both with a safety-net in the event of something going wrong.
5. Content is key
It may seem obvious, but actually having things on your website is really important to making it a success! Just as customers enjoy browsing when they visit a shop, a website needs to be enticing and easy to navigate.
Attractive images combined with small amounts of well-written and succinct text are also key to keeping the attention of potential customers. With smart phones taking better and better images, and DSLR cameras more user friendly, it’s possible to get really nice shots of stock. Try to take images in natural light and from several angles. And if photography is not a strong point, consider using a professional photographer to at least capture your main shopfront images. Photography students and amateur photographers may also be able to help if your budget is tight.
Finally a critical point, especially if you’re looking to get people into your shop, is making sure that your information is accurate.
David Foy of Varn notes:
“You would be amazed at the number of companies without correct contact information. Make sure you update all business listing pages and your website with your correct email address, phone number, and physical address. Also, make sure you clearly list opening hours that may have changed during Covid.”
6. Stay social
Social media, love it or hate it, is a great way to promote your business or organisation and push traffic towards your website. Many platforms also allow you to sell directly online.
Making sure that your branding is consistent across your website and social media, and that you’re putting out regular visually appealing posts, is a great way to increase your audience, and in turn, your customers. It can take a little time to build a following; be mindful to remain on-topic and always positive, remembering that often less text is more! Remember too, if you support other businesses, organisations and groups on social media, the favour will often be reciprocated.
David Foy of Varn comments:
“If you can interact with local people on social media, create helpful content, product reviews on your blog, and share local updates and information it will really help with local referrals and brand awareness.
Your Google My Business is your digital storefront to the web. It lets you illustrate your opening hours, contact information, and Google Reviews. Make sure this is updated with all the correct information, high-quality photos, and positive Google Reviews. This will help you keep customers informed, build credibility on the web, and will also help how your listing performs on Google search.”
Setting up online can be challenging, but all of the local companies that contributed to this article can help to de-mystify the process, and guide you through the various options.
7. Let us help spread the word
Don’t forget, once you’re up and running, let us know! Create or update your listing on the Explore BOA website and you can also sign up for the #ShopLocal scheme too, which provides offers to customers with the #ShopLocal card