We are excited to introduce contributing writer Emily Thompson, owner of online store Almanac Supply Co. and co-host of top-rated podcast Being Boss. As part of our commitment to guiding our customers through the changing retail landscape, Faire is partnering with Emily on a three-part series highlighting online strategies for retailers.
Today, we’re sharing the second installment of the series. Click here to go back and read the first article.
Building a sustainably successful business online is all about strategy. It’s important that anyone embarking on the journey of online business understands the tools you need in your online tool belt, as well as how they work together, so that your online presence works for you. A smart online strategy is concise and can be easily contained to relatively minimal ongoing effort (but ongoing effort is absolutely required), you just have to have a good plan going in.
In this article, I’m sharing the biggest components of your online presence, along with my tips for making them highly effective and how to make them work together so that your efforts are really worth it, whether you already have an online store or are thinking about creating one.
Bridge the gap with email marketing
If you’re doing nothing else to take your business online, do this! The first step in taking your in-person business into the online world is by collecting email addresses from your customers and using that email list to stay in touch with them through email marketing. In your physical store, have a sign-up sheet on your check-out counter and get email addresses when people check-out, and be sure to ask them to sign up! On your website, have forms for people to fill out on every page (your website’s header or footer is a great place to put this), gather those email addresses at checkout, and regularly prompt your social media followers to go sign up.
Why? Because by regularly emailing your customers (as often as once a week, and at least once a month) you’re staying top-of-mind for them, so that when it comes to buying that next gift or filling that hole in their wardrobe, you’re the one who’s been staying in touch. And with each email with a clear call-to-action, you’re driving people back to your website, where all roads lead to checkout.
Develop content channels to increase engagement and drive traffic
In order to have an active online presence, you need to show up and deliver engaging content – it’s what makes online business tick. By creating content you create opportunities to attract and engage customers, as well as move those people from whatever platform you’re showing up on to the places you want them to go (like your upcoming shopping event or your e-commerce website).
Start a blog or a podcast
If you’re looking for a long-form way to create engaging, traffic-driving content, consider starting a blog or a podcast. You can use a blog or a podcast as a way to share content that reinforces the lifestyle that your brand supports. For example, my business Almanac Supply Co. has a journal that we use for creating content that supports seasonal living and as a way to occasionally drive traffic to our site in ways that aren’t just pushing products. Our monthly crystal posts have become some of our biggest website traffic-driving efforts that do result in ongoing purchases.
Share and connect on social media
Social media is an important part of doing online business, but I want to make this clear: it is not your business. It’s easy for folks to misuse social media and forget to use it as the tool that it is, so think of it like this: your website is your store, your major content (like a blog or podcast) is your display window, and your social media is the conversations that you’re having on the sidewalk. If you’re spending all your time chatting folks up on the sidewalk, you’re not actually doing much to generate revenue. Bring them inside and conduct your business.
To use social media wisely, set clear goals and boundaries. And I recommend starting on just one platform that you can really rock out. So many online business and social media experts will encourage you to be in All The Places – I believe that’s a mistake. Because if your efforts are spread thin and you’re in places you don’t even like to be, then you’re wasting your time.
Once you’re on it, use it as a place to 1) engage with your potential customers and 2) share content – most of which should drive people back to your big pieces of content or to your website to buy your products. The intention should always be to pull them off the sidewalk and into your store.
Need more insight into social media marketing? Check out Being Boss Podcast #223, Social Media Marketing for Online and Local Businesses with Ellen Matis >>
Choose an e-commerce solution
Your online store is the hub of your online business. As such, you should regard it with as much consideration as you do your display windows and sales floor plan. When building your online presence, this piece should get the most attention and the biggest start-up investment of time, money, and/or energy.
The internet is filled with e-commerce solutions, and though I 100% believe that every retail brand should be moving toward having its own fully-functioning e-commerce website, that is not where you have to begin.
The important basic requirement for whatever solution you land on is that it is easy to use, for both you and your customers.
It must be easy for you so that you will actually keep it up-to-date and relevant. A website that’s not being updated is a dead website, and that won’t serve you or lend to building a stronger business. Just as you keep your store dusted and tidy and consistently updated with new stock, so too should your website tidied and maintained.
And your website must be easy for your customers because online shoppers have no tolerance for the least bit of resistance in the shopping and checkout experience. Make sure your inventory is easy to search and navigate, your product descriptions are clear, and the process for checkout is smooth and glitch-free.
With those basic tenants in place, any e-commerce solution will work for you to get started. Simply find a solution that works well for your business.
Now, with those four pieces, you have a fully-fledged online presence: a way to stay in touch with your customers (newsletter), a glorious store (website), a sparkly display window (blog or podcast), and a happening sidewalk (social media). And if you remember that the goal is always to pull people inside, to get them onto your website, then all the pieces work together to help you achieve your goals.
Emily Thompson is a long-time business coach and creative warrior, helping retailers, makers, coaches, and designers develop an online business model and grow their creative business. She is the co-host of top-ranked podcast Being Boss, as well as the founder of Almanac Supply Co., a retail business that makes and curates products that help people connect with nature.