Since lockdown was implemented nearly a year ago, so much of our lives has changed – from social distancing to how we maintain a balance working from home and how our once mundane daily routines have radically changed to involve masks and an awful lot of sanitising hand gel.
One change though – which I’ve been monitoring on a daily basis in my full-time job at EKM is how people shop, and how online shopping in the UK has grown massively since we were all confined to the Great Indoors. Since lockdown has begun, plenty of bricks-and-mortar companies have been creating their own online presence, and I can’t emphasise how important that is to do yourself in the current climate. Human beings go down the path of least resistance always and given the choice between masking up and visiting a business down the street or looking up a product on their smartphone, plenty are automatically opting for the latter.
With this in mind, I’ve gathered together a wee list of resources that some of you may find incredibly useful when money is tight, budgets are limited and you need to make an online presence for your company from the kitchen table.
If your business provides products or services strictly within the local area – such as a florist, bakery, hairdresser, takeaway, butcher or so on, sign up for free at Obodo.shop. Here you can set up an ecommerce website for absolutely nothing. The only thing you need to spend money on is a domain name, which can be for as little as £3 right up to the £20 mark, depending on where you purchase it from. I write Guides for this platform too, so even if you’re a self-confessed technophobe and the idea of going anywhere near a computer fills you with dread, don’t worry – there’s a ton of resources to help you and a forum you can ask any questions in if you get stuck along the way. If your business is bricks and mortar and usually delivers goods or caters for customers within a 15-mile radius, this is a good place to get started and get your business online
EKM is an ecommerce platform built with businesses in mind – and where you’ll find me writing the Guides for the Support Centre on during the week. If your business retails products to customers that are across the country or the world, I’d strongly recommend you give the 14-day free trial a go. The reason I say this is because of all of the ecommerce platforms I’ve ever worked with (and this was a lot when I was still a freelancer, believe me!), this one offers the most jargon-free technical support at the best price. You can speak to someone in the Customer Support Team seven days a week if you get stuck with anything, and out of hours, EKM Community is a forum full of other business owners you can ask for advice from. The trial is free and you can ask the team plenty of questions within this time so you can be sure that platform suits you and your needs.
When you have acquired a platform to host your business on, one of the next things you’ll need is a place to create a logo, graphics and images to advertise it. An account with Canva is free and here you can use ready-made templates or create your own designs from scratch. Canva is a godsend if you have little to no graphic design experience as you can learn how to create your own branded media there and will save you a fortune long term. From design images for a website to business cards, Facebook Page covers and Instagram Stories – this is a rich resource for anyone new to design
When you’ve created some images for your website and your social media, the next thing to do is to optimise them to make sure they load up quickly for your website visitors before you pop them online. Images that are made with lots of different layers have a large file size and take a long time to load when they’re online, which in turn can slow down your website. Upload your images to this platform and it will optimise them for you, without loss of image quality for free, ensuring that your website loads quickly for your visitors. Use TinyJpeg for Jpeg images, TinyPng for Pngs, obviously.
Whether you’ve set up a website or not, once you’ve got a domain name, it’s essential to set up an email address that matches. Why? Because it’s unprofessional to be emailing potential clients from an email address with a free provider! If you’ve bought a domain, you can set it to forward emails sent to that name to a Gmail account. Within your Gmail account settings, if you set up 2 Step Verification, you can then set your Gmail account to send outbound emails from an email address which matches your domain name, without costing you a penny! Use Canva to create an email signature listing your contact information and links to your socials. Completely free and very easy to set up.
Obviously, a Facebook Page is essential for your business, but it’s also free to set up a Shop Tab on that Page which lists all of the products on your website, providing a way for Facebook users to be quickly redirected to your own website to complete the sale without any cost to yourself. It’s worth mentioning here that Facebook have recently launched Facebook Checkout which is slightly different – customers are not redirected to your external website and Facebook will, of course, take a cut of your sales, but it does not have to be the case if you point those customers towards your website instead.
Facebook owns Instagram now, and if you’ve set up a Shop Tab on your Facebook Page as I advised above, an Instagram account set up for your business can be set up to use Instagram Shopping. What this means is that like Facebook, when you post nice pictures of your products to Instagram, you can tag these, which in turn redirect customers to your website to complete their sale. Free and very easy to set up.
8. Google Accounts
Google accounts are hands down one of the most beneficial things a small business owner can have – in fact, if you’ve opened a Gmail account as I advised above, you’ve already created one and this will give you access to a host of different tools (many of which are completely free to use) that can help you with the marketing of your online business presence, including Google Analytics (where you can monitor traffic to your website and ascertain your customer demographics), Google Merchant Centre (where you can submit your Products to be listed on Google Shopping for free), Blogger (where you can create a blog to attach to your website and discuss your products and services in greater detail), Google Photos (free storage for images up to 15gb), Google Drive (free storage for files and documents up to 15gb), Google Docs (Google’s equivalent of Microsoft Word) and Google Sheets (Google’s equivalent of Microsoft Excel).
When you’ve set up your website or online shop, the next step is to get it listed on Google. Obviously, there’s plenty of third party companies you can go to for this task – but it will cost you, and both prices and results can vary wildly. As one thing we have in abundance with lockdown is time, invest some of yours over at Google’s Digital Garage. Here, you’ll find over a hundred free courses which vary between two and over twenty hours in length. They teach you everything from digital marketing, improving your online business security, effective networking and graphic design. Some of these courses also offer certification too. Instead of spending your budget on a third party, it may be more cost-effective to invest your own time and teach yourself instead.
I know what you’re thinking already – ‘how will a silly app for kids help my business?’ – but don’t rule out TikTok just yet. It’s a very popular app and it’s not just for kids; there’s a large contingent of silver surfers, millennials and gen-Xers like myself on there. It’s free to download and free to use, and you can upload simple videos up to 60 seconds long. I’ve seen quite a few businesses achieve overnight success on here recently, including Ivy And Twine, who make hand-poured candles from their home in Scotland and at the time of writing, boast over 30k views per video. Tiktok is an excellent medium to tell the story of your business and show off your products – especially if you specialise in handmade or custom goods. Download the app, create an account and spend a few weeks getting a feel to see if it’s right for you.