By Gladys Mae
Gladys is the Associate Director of Admissions & Student Services with over 10 years of experience at the International Career Institute.
Research has shown that Australian businesses are transacting around $189 billion in online orders every year. Taking your business online offers a number of benefits: you can reach a global market, operate 24/7, and keep operational costs to a minimum by reducing the need for bricks-and-mortar spaces. Around half of all businesses in Australia had an online presence as of 2012-13. Whether you’re expanding your business online or establishing an online-only business, this checklist covers just about everything you need to take care of before and after launching your online presence.
Starting with a budget in mind allows you to manage your costs, so that you’re spending only as much as you need to spend. Keeping to a budget from the start also means avoiding cost blowouts, and having the funds to achieve everything you plan to achieve.
You will also need to develop an online business plan, which sets the template for building a successful online presence. Having a clear plan in mind helps you achieve your online business goals, keep to your budget, and minimise your expenses.
At a basic level, your online business plan should outline how you plan to use online tools and technologies to achieve your business goals. The plan also acts as a point of reference for the entire organisation, so you can get staff quickly on board with your goals.
Unless you’re a programming expert, you will probably need to work with developers to set up a website. A website is at the core of your web presence, so it’s important that your site reflects your brand personality, and is effective for attracting traffic and converting leads.
Speak to your developer and your marketing team about mobile responsiveness, using attractive graphics, and promoting your website. User friendliness and the quality of the user experience is also an important consideration to keep in mind when you’re designing and setting up your business website.
The type of content you use on your website needs to reflect your online business plan or what you are planning to achieve by going online. Is your key goal mainly to educate your customers in order to connect more deeply with them? Or is it to support specific queries?
Alternatively, your website might be focused solely on selling. In most cases, your website will offer informative content and channels for personalised queries. If you’re an e-commerce business, you’ll have a virtual store with content about specific products or services.
Many businesses maintain a blog to keep in touch with customers. You don’t have to write the content yourself; you can hire content specialists to create copy for your purposes.
An SEO strategy, coupled with a search marketing strategy, allows you to attract traffic to your website. The former uses content and other techniques to have your web pages appear in search engine result pages (SERPs).
The latter usually refers to paid online advertising for ads that appear in SERPs. You can complement these strategies with other approaches, such as email marketing, social media, and tools such as landing pages, affiliate marketing, or a phone app.
Your website is a valuable channel for communicating with your customers, but remember that it’s also a two-way channel by which you can obtain feedback for improvement. Listening to your customers is crucial for developing and growing a sustainable business. Feedback channels can be as basic as an online feedback form or as elaborate as an online forum.
Make sure that your website complies with all legal regulations and standards. There are rules and regulation pertaining to e-commerce sites, industry practices for your sector, and SPAM laws to be aware of.
Also be alert to consumer protection and competition laws and privacy obligations in relation to customers’ information. These regulations will have implications for everything, from web design and content to customer service and payments. Seek legal advice if you have any doubts.
About 30 per cent of businesses in Australia transact online. If you’ll be selling directly through your website, you should offer facilities for checkout and payment. You’ll need to set up merchant accounts with providers such as banks or e-commerce payment services such as Paypal. These services allow you to securely accept online customer payments.
Paper-based or bricks-and-mortar transactions usually leave a paper trail, but it’s also important to retain records of your online transactions for compliance purposes. Be aware of the electronic record-keeping regulations, and set up processes that will allow you to capture and store these securely and automatically.
Businesses are required to keep their customer data secure, but online security can impact your business reputation. E-commerce websites capture and process sensitive data such as credit card and personal details, so you need to make sure that your website and backend IT system are designed to secure your customer and business data. Support your online security with tools such as regular backups, security software, and good internal processes.
Data from the ABS suggests that over a quarter of all Australian businesses have a social media presence. Social media is an effective way to grow your online presence, supplementing your website and enabling you to interact with customers. Your can outsource all your social media activities to a marketing company, and tools such as Hootsuite and SproutSocial help you automate some of your updates.
Automating as many online processes as you can will help you save on labour and time costs. However, it should be noted that as your online presence grows and especially if you’re an online retailer, you should work with your IT personnel and your developer to review how your online processes are integrated with your offline processes.
The two are often already highly interrelated, and fine-tuning your processes to create a seamless online-offline system will save you time and money while boosting efficiency overall.
As you establish and grow your online presence, consider how you can deliver more personalised services in response to customer queries. Leads sometimes prefer to have personalised contact where they can have a specific query answered before sale.
You could have an email or web chat service through which customer queries can be quickly dealt with. A personalised channel can resolve queries, save you time on phone or even face-to-face interactions, and boost your conversion rates, especially if you’re an e-commerce retailer with many pre-sales queries.
Last but not least is the need for a monitoring and tracking process to measure your success. Tools such as Google Analytics will help you track your web traffic and where they’re coming from, among many other things.
Social media accounts also often feature tools for measuring engagements. Find out as much as you can about your traffic and adjust and adapt your online strategy as required. This will be an ongoing process for your organisation.