Why Every Small Business Needs an
Strategy for 2020

For the past six weeks many small product and service businesses have experienced what I’d describe as a shock to the system . . ..

– An entrepreneurial-apocalypse, the Global Pandemic that has made even the simplest transactions difficult or nearly impossible. Restaurants, Child care services, barbers and stylists, small retailers, event planners, consultants and a plethora of others have been forced to operate and thrive in an environment where we can no longer stand within arms length of customers – a world where our highest priority is to avoid at all costs the very thing we’ve spent our careers and marketing dollars trying to create – crowds, gatherings, and communities of fans, followers and customers. For most of us this feels simultaneously counter intuitive at best, and odd at worst.

Inventive Entrepreneurs, Leaders, and Extrovert are finding ways to bring us all elbow-to-elbow again -- like the now omnipresent zoom meetings, one of which I participated in yesterday. These new opportunities to meet online with people around the world inside their homes has been a surprisingly intimate and delightful way to connect with speakers, leaders and history makers in my design community and local community in new a new way.

So far, I’ve attended meetings streaming lectures, workout classes and even a Friday night Facebook house party sponsored by a Chicago elected official. Once reserved for tech communities, distance workers or work teaming, I think these digital events, meetings, workshops and conferences are here to stay and will be one positive outcome of Pandemic of 2020. But for many, this last 6 weeks has been incredibly challenging time for small business owners – especially those who don’t have a web presence, delivery, or who haven’t given online purchasing power to their customers.

Within the last 20 years, web access has fast become a foundation of doing business in America, but, e-commerce and online purchasing power is not as ubiquitous as some might think.

According to SmallBizTrends.com, 95% of Americans shop online at least once yearly. 80% shop online monthly, and a whopping 50% of Americans prefer to shop online. While large businesses and retailers have well developed e-commerce functionality, only 26% of small business websites integrate any sort of e-commerce.

The space between consumers' preferences and the online experience that most small business owners offer when it comes to e-commerce represents a chasm filled with missed opportunities and lost sales. And while many a small business laments the impact of giants like Amazon, a lack of ecommerce strategy can become a factor that affects every small business owners’ bottom line. When Americans are free to “move about the country’ this difference is less apparent. But, with more than 300 million Americans under stay-at-home orders in March and April, and 150 million remaining under orders through May, e-commerce buying options may be a driving factor that will determine if many small businesses stay afloat or ‘take on water’ in what’s projected to be a 3 – 24 month national crisis.

Most small business owners have a water-tight plan in place for storm, flood, fire or business interruption or personal illness. But, very few had a plan in place for a global pandemic like COVID-19, that can create systemic closures, work absence, and require crowd disbursal and social distancing measures.

But, in my eyes, in the US, we’ve been blessed to operate our business and manage our families in an environment where infectious disease is manageable. If I’ve learned nothing else, I’ve learned that our businesses are not invincible, and good health, even for a community or nation, is not guaranteed. All scientific predictions indicate the expectation of a “second wave” of infection sometime in mid-to-late 2020. And at the risk of being a rain cloud on cloudy day, we have no idea if this will resurface in years to come. Integrating a strategy as a small business owner that takes into account the possibility that your customers and clients might not be able to gather, or may have decreased desire to huddle in small spaces or crowd into a conference room, allow you to touch their face to delivery elective services, or even shake hands is something that we’re all thinking about at this very moment– me included.

5 Reasons Why Your Small Business Needs an E-Commerce Strategy:

More Sales. More Revenue.

01. E-Commerce options create more opportunities to sell to your customer.
Plain and Simple.

Many small businesses, especially retailers, see online shopping as an enemy to brick and mortar shopping or their businesses – and, there is some truth to this. E-Commerce sales nationwide are growing at the rate of 15 - 19% annually, while thousands of traditional brick-and-mortar stores have closed their doors for good within the last 2 years. As a designer, we lament many of the “online” concepts with creatives in nations around the globe producing layout while we’re sleeping as a “fad”, but their systems are undeniably user-friendly, and result in significant sales for these businesses. Retailers, small businesses, restaurants, consultants and personal service businesses who incorporate the option to buy, book or order online have higher sales –something that most of us want.

E-Commerce shopping and buying of your products and services can reduce the workload on your team.

02. For service based businesses, like tattoo parlors, fast food restaurants, art galleries, home and décor shops, pet services or delivery and transportation services, workload is an important driver of profit margins for your business.

You want your team and employees to spend time serving customers. E-Commerce solutions can help to streamline your ordering and delivery process, even for a service or consulting business, and make it easier to project sales and bookings for the future.

And by reviewing the analytics produced by your site, these tools can also help you to see and quantify the products and services that appeal most to customers and clients, based on the number of page views of a product, service, or market segment landing page. To have your staff collect this data using analog methods like surveys or customer watching is a lot of hard work, can be difficult to quantify, and can be hit -or-miss. E-Commerce Web analytics, even if your clients and customers are just shopping and not yet buying, can help you to discover what information and products your audience is looking at, searching for and consuming.

Your Customers like
having the option buy online.

03. The Data shows that more than
50% of Americans prefer shopping online.

These stats also show that many shoppers visit brick-and-mortar stores to asses product quality before buying online. Shoppers prefer online buying for the convenience, the ability to instantly price shop, and to learn more about the products and services they buy as well as other factors. If they’re considering visiting a restaurant, they may want to see your dishes, see the prices, and see the wait time prior, so they’re neither surprised or embarrassed. Consulting clients like to review your terms, rates, and availability, and can appreciate the option to review these in the comfort of their home or office, maybe even prior to meeting with you in person. Most of us are comfortable with being evaluated online – creating tools and avenues to buy during the evaluation process is a natural and effective extension of your existing website, and helps to increase sales and revenue.

Pandemic Proof
Your Business.

04. Any pandemic will require distance measures of some type.

Infectious diseases and the fear that it creates become sinister players, hanging in the air at any meeting, across the table at every nail salon, and present as you exchange your keys at an auto repair shop, or hand your clothes to a dry cleaner. Like germs, the fear and anxiety is everywhere. The option and opportunities to deliver services, receive products, and make purchasing decisions without direct exposure to harmful germs in this environment is a win for everybody involved – your customers, clients, employees, and suppliers. The framework of an e-commerce website or app makes it easier to safely interact with your company, product or brand, whether you're close by or far away.

An E-Commerce strategy can upgrade the level of service and elevat your product or service In the minds of your customers, clients, and public.

05. Developing an ecommerce strategy – a method and specific approach to sell products or services over the web will force you to think about some important factors involved in the operation of your business.

Pricing, publicity, the publishing of prices, product or service quality, and convenience all come front-and-center when you’re working on an e-commerce plan or website. During this planning process, it’s also smart to look at what your competitors may or may not be doing online to engage customers. Most e-commerce websites provide some level of pricing to the general public, or, require users to submit data and create an account – data like email address, phone number, name, birthday and even some survey data.

This process of interaction with your customers via e-commerce platforms can be an excellent tool to collect demographic, psychographic and valuable preference data from your regulars, best customers, or potential clients. E-Commerce tools allow you to sell products, services and bookings, but, they also make it easy to get new insight on your customers, send birthday and holiday deals, learn about what’s keeping your clients up at night, Send reminders for visits and tasks like dog grooming or medication refills, collect data on desired products and services or schedule recurring orders for scheduled purchase of often used products without, a barrage of phone calls or time away from your customers. Access to this information can further improve the level of customization and customer service that you’re already providing to your customers, clients, and public.

An abundance of excellent new website building tools and platforms.

In the late 90s early 2000’s, my mom’s twin sister founded a small retail shop in our town. She had a website built, primitive by today’s standards. It was basic, but cost 10s of thousands of dollars to build, required months, and only had moderate success. Today, in 2020, there are dozens of exceptional do-it-yourself website building tools, thousands of qualified independent creatives and freelancers at your fingertips with web skills, and hundreds of agencies and creative studios who can build a custom, or framework-based website, app, or landing page, in anywhere from a few days to a few months from initial sketches to go-live. It’s a great time to build an e-commerce experience. And at the risk of ruffling a few feathers in the design community, there’s never been an easier time to build an ecommerce website.

Easier . . . but, I didn’t say that it was easy.

There can be a bit of a learning curve for some. As a creative and builder of e-commerce websites for more than 10 years, my recommendations are:

A. Work with a professional OR,

B. If your budget doesn’t include a professional, work with a professional system that is designed for your business.

I’ve personally built everything from hand-coded websites to framework-based e-commerce sites, php based frameworks, and everything in-between. I’ve even tested the templates, and experimented with quick tools like Leadpages, Mailchimp’s new website builder, and GoDaddy’s one-page websites.

Advice for DIY E-Commerce website building

One thing to keep in mind -- Each e-commerce tools has benefits and drawbacks. The wisest advice that I can give is that if you’re building your own site, or want to explore a DIY-effort, set aside twice as much time as you think you’ll need, and find a system that’s designed specifically for your type of business. If you’re a retailer, systems like the upgraded Shopify, Big Commerce or Volusion are built specifically for you. These tools are built and designed to support large inventories of products. They look great when you have more than 20 products and can manage thousands of products well. But, if you have a small shop with less than 20 products, sell services, create bookings for your clients, or, offer customized products, a tools like Squarespace or WIX might be better suited to your DIY approach. I’ve tested and built websites using each of these tools.

Wordpress is another platform that many small business owners are already using. When it comes to e-commerce, Wordpress is great because it integrates with many plug-ins and services you may already be using, like Woo Commerce, Stripe and Square. But, in e-commerce, for a DIY small business owner, Wordpress can be labor intensive, and may require a skilled full time or part timer to help to manage your site on a day-to-day basis, plus regular updates and plug-in changes.

Tips for working with a professional to build Your E-Commerce Solution for your small business.

If you collaborate with freelancer, agency or a studio, like mine, and you need a e-commerce platform for your small business, and intend to manage it yourself, it’s important to realistically communicate your needs, the nature of your business, your technical skill level, and how often you intend to update or add information. We have lots of options, and this key information helps your creative professional to assess the right tool for your e-commerce buying experience. If you’re “technically challenged” and have trouble with everything except email, be honest with your service provider about this, so they don’t’ set you up on a system that you can’t figure out. Many an e-commerce website has died a painful and visible death because the owners can’t figure out how to update prices, change photos, or remove a page. If you need to update inventory or prices yourself monthly, weekly or daily, communicate this to your design pro, BEFORE the project starts.

If you need to send out customized pricing for each client, communicate this as well. Many entrepreneurs believe that this knowledge should be intuitive or that a “designer should know the system is too challenging for them” – but, most creative professionals have a knack for learning software, and may not realize that you need something much more user friendly, that only requires a few minutes a day, until you’ve both invested dozens or hundreds of hours into your site, and it’s expensive or challenging to change course. Be up front, honest, and forthright about your needs, to guarantee you have a e-commerce solution that fits your budget today, is realistic for the amount of time that you have to invest, and works for your business in the long term.

If you’re interested in a live web chat how-to course
on building an e-commerce website yourself
for your business, follow this link to learn more:

Need a studio to build or manage
your e-commerce site?

Message me at projects@aal.agency or request a quote.

Janell Conner

Janell Conner is An award-winning, designer, entrepreneur, artist, design educator, and advocate for the power of design thinking to transform brand experiences, organizations, communities and human experience. For more than 10 years, she's developed engaging design solutions for consulting, marketing, promotional, communications and interpretive programs for Government Agencies, Corporations, Museums, School Systems, Arts and Community organizations and Brands. She's the Creative Director and Founder of Art + Legend, a Chicago design studio and TressClub.com. Janell Lives and works in Chicago's Hyde Park Neighborhood.

Learn More about Janell Conner