Tips for Moving Your Business Online

With the Canadian government announcing the temporary closure of non-essential services, many businesses are struggling financially. Thankfully, business owners can arm themselves with the tools to help their businesses adapt in this uncertain economic climate by transitioning online. 

First, evaluate the state of your business

Now is the time to sit down and critically evaluate where you stand. Where are the financial risks, competitor threats, pre-existing or new business opportunities that the physical closure of stores present for your specific business? Taking your business online can help you mitigate your risks as well as allow you to take advantage of new opportunities.

Part I: Do what you can immediately

Now is the time to move your business online

With non-essential business physical store closures and essential hours limitations, Canadian businesses coast to coast are showing up where the customers are – on the web.  Moving your business online or expanding its online offering may be beneficial to your bottom line because:

  1. Customers are beginning to see traditional business transitions to online sales and delivery models as the new norm
  2. Customers have more free time to discover your product
  3. Not having traditional storefronts can give you a chance to re-evaluate the need for physical square footage

Moving your business online is a big undertaking, but it doesn’t have to be intimidating. 

To start, you can move your business online with the help of third-party local delivery apps. If your business sells a physical product that travels well and is portable enough to be delivered by a single individual, signing your business up for this service also means you don’t have to worry about organizing a delivery fleet since that’s taken care of.

You can get started using apps like UberEats, Doordash, Fantuan, which focus more heavily on prepared food and beverage delivery. Foodora is one of the first apps that has expanded its delivery services by adding a “Shops” category, including independent grocery stores, pharmacies, breweries and even florists. Toronto has been beta testing the feature since Fall 2019, with more cities joining the ranks in 2020.

These apps connect customers with your product and provide you with an opportunity to evolve your existing offerings.  For example, some restaurants using local food delivery apps have taken a creative approach to marketing their products to home-locked customers in recent weeks. They have transformed their food and drink menu items into deliverable “meal kits” so that customers can enjoy recreating the experience in their home. 

When shipping your products to your customers, packaging is a key piece of the puzzle that ensures an enjoyable customer experience and discourages negative reviews of your products online. If a shopping product is new to your business, or if you’re looking for tips on how to scale your shipping logistics, here are top 5 shipping tips for small businesses.

Recently, AirBnB also announced the introduction of their AirBnb Online Experiences program, which connects individuals with guided experiences and lessons from the comfort of their home. If you think your business offers experiences that can be offered or transformed for participation remotely, you can apply to become part of the program here. When it comes to services, there has also been a notable migration to video-conferencing communication methods for services like therapy and accounting.

Moving your offline business to a website

While using third-party delivery services is a quick and easy option to get your products seen, creating your own POS-enabled website helps you control the look and feel of your product, and gives you more freedom when it comes to the types of products and services you can list.

First, take stock of your product and service portfolio. How much of your product range do you want to make available online? It’s important to consider your current stock levels and distribution models–including the hidden costs of shipping and contactless delivery–to ensure you can meet customer demand.

Next, choose your website builder.  Once you’ve decided what products and services you want to make available to your customers online, it’s time to set up a website that showcases your products. To accomplish this, choose a website builder that stands above the rest and will help you easily create an online storefront with payment integration. Some of the qualities to look for in a website builder are:

  • intuitive to use
  • built-in e-commerce/POS integration
  • mobile-friendly design formats
  • SEO options
  • design flexibility

While most website builders carry month-to-month running costs to host your website, the price is as low as $5/month depending on your business’ needs. 

Lastly, take care to keep financial records. Ensure that your banking institution and payment processor makes it easy to classify your sales. This can help simplify filing your taxes at the end of the fiscal year in addition to giving you a clear line of sight on your profits.

Whether you choose to transition your business to a website, utilize the help of a local delivery app, or both, it’s important to let your existing customers know you are still open and doing business online so they can connect with your products. You can use your businesses’ social media accounts, mailing lists, and the entrance of your physical store to tell customers where to find you online and how to order.

Explore options to cut down or defer business expenses

In addition to moving online, you can take steps to help your business get through this difficult time by taking an essentials-only expenditure approach.

  • Consider deferring your tax payment until your cash flow stabilizes. The government of Canada is allowing all businesses to defer the payment of any income tax amounts until after August 31, 2020. This applies to businesses that become owing on or after March 18, 2020 and before September 2020.
  • Apply for wage subsidies. If you employ staff, you can apply for subsidized wage reductions through the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, which covers up to 75 percent of salaries for qualifying businesses for up to 3 months for successful applicants.
  • Have an honest conversation with your suppliers and/or customers. If you anticipate production fluctuations, communicate with other businesses to see if 30-day payment terms can be extended to 60-days with no penalties, and consider extending the same flexibility to your own suppliers.

Part II: Ensure the long-term success of your business with online integration

Adapt your business model to reflect an evolved  vision

Moving your business online in a time where physical stores are limited can be helpful in bringing in revenue, but it may also call for a larger assessment of the day-to-day operations of your business. 

Distribution. The distribution of a product with an online POS may call for the expansion of your delivery fleet to get the product to your customers. You may want to evaluate and re-train your employees before transitioning online to prevent a surplus of orders that cannot be filled within your business’ standard timeframe, or to your customers’ standards.

Operations. With your business taking on a new shape, consider how the new changes affect your overall business model. With economists projecting long-term economic impacts for businesses and consumers,  it would be beneficial to revisit your cash flow management or risk mitigation approaches to ensure you are set up for success under these new economic conditions.

Identify alternative revenue streams for your business

  • Consider expanding your online business offerings. If there are any products or services your business can evolve to help serve customer needs in a new way, consider showcasing them in your online storefront.
  • Get creative with product and service offerings. Some establishments are integrating delivery services into their product distribution and supply chains. For example, restaurant establishments across Canada are beginning to offer delivery meal kits, while microbreweries are adopting contactless delivery systems that maximize employee and customer safety. Is there a way you leverage the current circumstances to be more creative in your new service or product offering and grow your business in the long run? 

Anticipating hurdles

With any business changes,  there are bound to be setbacks. For example, some businesses may be more suitable than others to shift to an online-only sales model.

If this applies to your business, consider going back and putting on your creative thinking cap. Is there any way to evolve your products and services to maximize an online sales model? 

If you’re still struggling with the transition, you can find financial and informational resources in Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Resource Plan for Small Businesses

We’re all in this together

While you may be feeling more isolated from your customers and employees in this time of social distancing, you don’t have to face the challenges alone. 

Reach out to support lines. It’s important to take stock of how stress may be affecting you as a business owner or employee.  Consider the impact on your mental health and reach out if you need support. If you are looking for health care advice, call 8-1-1 or your local or provincial public health authority for a professional opinion.

The government of Canada offers short-term or crisis counselling 24 hours a day, 365 days a year through the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to more than 80 federal departments and agencies, while other organizations provide this service internally or purchase it from the private sector. 

Canadian business owners are benefiting from online transitions 

Some businesses are using this time as an opportunity to re-think everything from customer acquisition tactics to product distribution, resulting in evolved business models, new revenue streams, and even a new vision for their business.

No matter what sector your business is in, there are tangible ways to protect your investments in the short and long-term by moving your business online.

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This article offers general information only, is current as of the date of publication, and is not intended as legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. While the information presented is believed to be factual and current, its accuracy is not guaranteed and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by RBC Ventures Inc. or its affiliates.