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Should 2016 be the year your small business launches online?

17 Dec 2015

It’s been a bumper year for the small business community, with over 5.4 million private sector SMEs trading in 2015 – a record level.

Initiatives, such as Small Business Saturday, have also helped to boost the appeal of independent shopping, and enable growing companies to take on much bigger chain store rivals.

However, there’s only so much revenue that can be won through stores alone; to break down geographical barriers and take their small business national – or even international – in 2016, SMEs need to be looking online.

Setting up a transactional website can bring many benefits to small businesses:

  • Cost-effective way to expand customer footprint compared to opening further stores
  • The internet is a more level playing field for trading than bricks-and-mortar
  • Opens up commerce opportunities among a new customer base
  • Free social media and email marketing tools available to drive online traffic
  • Gives existing customers a new route to purchase when physical shopping isn’t convenient

However, success relies on embedding ecommerce activity in a clear, focused strategy. Earlier this year, Retail Merchant Services released a SME’s guide to launching online, tackling some of the fears and challenges surrounding digital trading.

For example, one of the common reasons small businesses struggle online is because they don’t fully analyse the customer base they will attract. This will not always be the same as the store customer base – for a start, it’s not limited to people living in the local area – and therefore time and resources needs to be invested in understanding who they are most likely to attract.

Another barrier that can stand between SMEs and online success is the design and functionality of their website. First impressions count for everything – it takes shoppers 0.2 seconds to decide whether they like a site – and therefore it must appear professional and engaging.

But more than that, it needs to deliver on a practical level. Websites that are poorly categorised and difficult to navigate are very off-putting to consumers. Even if they locate the item they require and add it to their basket, potential customers can still be lost at the point of transaction if the online payment processing is poorly optimised.

From the moment they log on to the minute they check out, small businesses have to make it as easy as possible for shoppers to buy from them online.

Finally, the internet is a busy place, and therefore it’s easy for new websites to become lost amongst more established brands. We mentioned earlier that there are a wealth of email marketing tools and social networks through which SMEs can promote their new site free of charge – but this can’t be done as a one off exercise.

The best performing online small businesses put a marketing strategy in place, through which they communicate with customers in a regular, timely manner. By establishing a digital dialogue, they can highlight special offers, new products, and the benefits of buying from an independent retailer, in order to drive greater online traffic.

For more support launching your small business website, download our free SME’s guide to launching online.