Why—and How—to Start Moving Your Business Online

6 min read • Jul 20, 2021 • Derek Miller

At first glance, you might not realize how much time you lose on manual tasks. According to a Smartsheet report on automation in the workplace, 40% of workers spend at least a quarter of their week on repetitive tasks. Furthermore, 60% of workers say they could save up to 6 hours per week if their tasks were automated. 

In business—especially small business—time is money. Saving 6 hours a week means more time to put toward other important projects that can help you to grow your company.

Moving parts of your business online does more than just save you time, too: it can improve customer service, marketing optimization, and employee satisfaction, among other benefits. 

For example, if you move your sales process to a customer relationship management (CRM) software, you can input important client information, develop retargeting ads, or even automate follow-ups—increasing the likelihood of closing a deal.

But where should you start with the automation process? How can you automate your systems effectively? Here are a few options to consider when moving parts of your business online.

E-Commerce 

The simplest example of moving a business online is the literal movement of your storefront from a brick-and-mortar location to an online webstore. The process of selling your goods or services directly to consumers online is referred to as e-commerce.

Online shopping exploded—more than it already had—because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, online retailers brought in $598 billion in sales. That number jumped to $861 billion in 2020—a 44% increase. Online spending accounted for more than 20% of total sales last year, up from 15% in 2019. 

E-commerce sales were projected to grow regardless of the pandemic, but the past year saw a significant behavioral change that many economists expect will remain. It’s unlikely that people who were unsure of web services before the pandemic will give them up now, and many people who use online tools because of COVID-19 plan to use them after the pandemic ends. 

This doesn’t mean you should go entirely online and give up your brick-and-mortar store. However, it does mean that you should consider this shift in consumer behavior and whether it makes sense for you to offer an online solution to capture missing sales.

If you haven’t already, consider setting up a basic online store or digital service platform for your customers—especially if you sell a physical product.

Customer Self-Service

One of the best ways to help your customers is to empower them to help themselves. Customer self-service stations provide information, scheduling, and purchasing options, freeing up your sales team for more pressing issues. 

Creating something as simple as a FAQ page or online scheduling portal can reduce the number of phone calls you receive each day from confused customers. 

Customer self-service also aligns with consumer preferences in the buying process. According to a survey by SuperOffice, the top priority among customers is quick response times, with 75% of respondents looking for a self-service option in the buying process. This was followed by consistency across channels (55%) and knowledgeable staff (52%).

When your customers can help themselves, they can solve their problems quickly. Should a customer need to talk with a staff member, they can go through the channels to do so—but enabling them to resolve their issue independently first saves you both time.

Look for self-service portals to guide your customers. These include online banking tools, healthcare patient portals, restaurant ordering apps, and appointment scheduling for various consultations.  

Digital Marketing 

Like e-commerce, digital marketing has grown exponentially in recent years—and one of the main reasons for this is data. When you buy a traditional ad in a newspaper, you can estimate its reach based on the paper’s readership. However, you can’t easily know the exact number of people who saw your ad, and you can’t track if they visited your business because of it. Digital marketing gives you visibility into these exact numbers—and much more.

Digital marketing tools allow you to track clicks to your website, conversions (purchases of your products), and other metrics, like the time customers spend looking at your ads and how they respond to them. There are even heatmap tools that track customers’ eyes, so you can see if your message is getting lost. 

This data allows you to improve your marketing efforts and drive more sales for less money. Even basic email segmentation can allow you to send fewer emails while driving better results.  

This year, dust off your social media pages and look for other digital marketing opportunities to invest in. Try out paid advertising on search engines like Google or sponsored posts on Facebook and Instagram. You can either run these programs in-house or work with a marketing agency.

Inventory Management 

Inventory management is essential to your business. Good management can alert you when items are running low, both for customer sale and employee use. You can stock your favorite products while keeping your employees in PPE and other safety gear. 

Unfortunately, inventory management can also be a tedious process. Employees are often left counting, recording, and reconciling their numbers with a static inventory tracking sheet. Instead, consider bringing this process online: your team members can scan the items they use or reconcile the used materials at the end of a shift. 

Digital inventory management saves time and makes the replenishment process easier. You can set an alert to replenish items when they reach a certain level (like when you only have 25% of a product left) and automatically record the newly received items when they arrive. This streamlines the inventory management process and allows your team members to focus on production, sales, and customer service.

Office and Warehouse Management

Digital tools are changing how companies manage their offices. Artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) use data to optimize offices and warehouses to help companies save money. This ranges from adjusting thermostats and lights to reduce energy bills to optimizing employee scheduling to maximize productivity. 

Even if you operate a small business, you can benefit from these smart systems. You won’t have to worry about the minutiae of your business—plus, you might notice that your team members actually get more done with better scheduling. Test out a few different apps to see what works for your team and how these tools can benefit you.   

Identify Your Operational Pain Points

You might not have the budget—or bandwidth—to bring all of your systems online at once. However, you can take steps to improve your operations by focusing on your current pain points. 

Which systems are sluggish and hold your employees back? Where are your bottlenecks? By highlighting your biggest problems and looking for digital solutions, your business can save time, money, and other resources that are currently being wasted on manual tasks.

Derek Miller

Derek Miller is a writer specializing in entrepreneurship, small business, and digital marketing. His work has featured in sites like Entrepreneur, GoDaddy, Score.org, and StartupCamp. He’s currently the CMO of Smack Apparel, the content guru at Great.com, and a marketing consultant for small businesses.