How to Build an Online Presence and Expand Your Local Business

Online business is an old trend – today, most companies large and small, have their online representations. Admittedly, there are businesses that have been going successfully without opening web stores or building an online presence, until the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus crisis had made an online shift paramount to survival. Let’s face it – in 2020 sticking to an old-school model spells losing competitive edge, new business opportunities, and revenues.

If you’re one of the SMB entrepreneurs who have been postponing digitization and are now thinking how to approach it, read on. Below is our comprehensive guide on how to build an online presence for your business and make it a success.

Why build your online presence?

Before we start, though, let’s make sure you fully understand the benefits of online presence for business. Every action plan works more effectively if you envision an end result. So, why move your business online, in the first place?

Creating global outreach

One of the main steps to building an online presence for your local business involves building a website accessible to anyone from virtually anywhere. Moreover, anyone can access it 24/7, which means increasing your customer base and global outreach.

More opportunities for promotion

Online is where most customers go today to look for products and services. As you build an online presence, you stand to benefit from SEO optimization and online advertising opportunities, which ultimately, help you gain more exposure.

Better customer service

Online presence not only helps customers find out about your company; they can also ask a question, buy products, or request services directly via your company website.

Less administrative hassle

As you create an online presence for traditional business, you can considerably reduce your bottom-line expenses. For example, instead of renting a warehouse for storing goods, you can have them sent directly to customers. On the downside, online business has to comply with state regulations, such as GDPR in the EU, and you have to ensure this compliance. 

online-presence-for-business

Using internet technologies for business

Depending on the goals you plan to reach and the issues you want to resolve, you may want to use different internet technologies:

  1. Corporate website. A company website, where your prospective clients and employees can learn about your business, your services, and contact you directly, if necessary. A company website may also vary in complexity, depending on your business type. 
  2. E-commerce. Selling on the Internet is, arguably, one of the most attractive aspects of going online. As of today, there are many platforms for building web-stores and you can customize and tailor them to suit your business.
  3. Accelerating your business processes. You can use online technologies to automate tiresome and routine processes and accelerate your operations. Online ERP systems can automate sales, supplies, warehousing, finances, and delivery, and help you build a full-fledged automated enterprise ecosystem. 
  4. Expanding your client base. You can use mobile apps or the Internet of Things (IoT) to expand your client base and access certain market segments. With IoT facilitating machine-to-machine and machine-to-human interactions, you can gain insights from data and streamline your operations. 

How to create an online presence for your business

Moving online means you have to learn how to do business in an entirely different environment, so it will take some planning and adjustment. If you’ve been wondering how to create an online presence for your business, here’s our step by step guide:

1. Think of how your online business will coexist with your traditional business

All in all, there are three viable strategies:

  • Shutting down your offline business entirely and focusing on doing business online;
  • Running two businesses simultaneously;
  • Gradually shifting online, while initially balancing between two businesses.

The good news is that you don’t need to make an instant decision: you can wait and see which strategy will suit you better.

2. Choose a product/service to put online

As said above, you don’t have to shift online all at once. Start by choosing a product or service within your existing offerings that you can digitize and thus create an online presence. Chances are you will have to come up with entirely new offerings for online customers. Before you do, though, conduct some research: study your key clients’ needs and expectations.

Industries

If you’re ready to plunge into an entirely new business area, below are some ideas about industries and technologies that are gaining increasingly wider traction these days.

Freelance Marketplaces:

Sports:

Education:

Transportation:

Travel:

Fitness:

Food industry:

Event Industry:

Entertainment:

Real Estate:

Healthcare:

Delivery:

IoT:

Automation:

 

taking-local-business-online

3. Research your competition

One of the critical steps to take when starting an online business is competitive analysis. Start by identifying key business players in your industry and decide which ones are your primary and secondary competitors. Further, examine their websites and other digital offerings, such as their mobile apps. Can you offer your customers a wider product range, flexible pricing, and a better customer experience?

Finally, check out the testimonials and find out what customers are saying about them on social media. This should help you understand your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses, and find out how you can outperform them.

4. Learn about the basics of web and app development

Even if you’re planning to hire a third-party company to develop online tools for your business, it still makes sense to learn about the basics of web and application development. What are the average development costs and timelines, how do you build a product on a limited budget, lessons to learn, and things to consider – we have it all conveniently outlined in the EasternPeak blog:

 

5. Choose a technology service provider

Ideally, your tech partner should have a proven track record of creating similar projects, but the experience is by far not the only thing to take into account while forging tech partnerships.

This selection of articles on our blog should set you on the right track:

 

6. Product development

As a customer, your role in product development will require your close collaboration with a Project Manager acting as an intermediary between you and developers, and helping translate your requirements into technical language. Most of the development teams today use an Agile approach, which means, they will turn to you after each of the development iterations, to make sure the product they are building matches your vision.

functional-requirements

Below are the key phases of product development, where your role, as a Client, will be a decisive factor:

6.1 Finalizing requirements

At the ideation stage, you will have to apply design thinking to envision your customer journey and decide how your product will help customers reach their goals. As a result, you should have your product specifications clearly outlined.

You can read about this stage in-detail in these blog posts:

 

6.2 Choosing a monetization business model

One more thing that you should do at the start of the software development life cycle is plan how your app will attract revenue, unless, of course, you are building a system for internal process automation. The product user interface and customer experience will depend on how well you handle this stage.

All-in-all, the most popular monetization models include:

  • A subscription model
  • Payment processing and transaction fees
  • Sponsored features
  • Ads from 3rd party advertisers
  • A pay per lead model
  • Sign up fees, or a combination of several models

When it comes to app monetization strategies, this blog post should help you understand the basics:

 

6.3 Visualizing your concept

You need to build your product design and prototype to offer customers and stakeholders a tangible representation of what your product would look like. This will help you evaluate their response and make the necessary tweaks in your product concept.

Design:

Top-notch design and usability will not only set you apart from competitors but also shape the quality of the user experience.

Read our selection of posts on product design for more info:

 

visual-prototype

Prototype:

Prototyping is creating a physical representation of what your end product will look like before you actually start the development.

This blog post selection should help you learn more about the specifics of prototyping:

 

6.4 Building and testing

After you have completed all the preliminary stages, the development team starts building a new product according to the specifications that you have outlined. According to today’s best practices, testing is an integral part of the product development lifecycle. Its purpose is to uncover your product’s deficiencies and vulnerabilities, and, ultimately, make sure it operates as expected.

7. Launch

As you finally arrive at the launch and deployment stage, there are still a few important aspects to consider.

Read our blog post of the essential post-launch steps you have to take, especially, if you’ve built a minimum viable product.

 

8. Marketing and promotion

Once the product is released, it’s time to market and promote it. Ideally, the promotion stage should start before the product is out. Content marketing, for example, helps you build an audience of loyal supporters by offering customers useful tips and insights. After the release, your product may still be experiencing operational issues, so make sure customers can access 24/7 technical support and communicate with your company about issues they may encounter.

Also, read these EasternPeak blogs to learn the ins and outs of product promotion and marketing:

 

9. Measure, improve and scale

Tracking how users are reacting to your product is an essential part of building an online presence. Finding out what they think about your product will help you focus on areas that need improvement, so study user reviews and ratings to learn about their experience.

product-marketing

Also, there are ways to analyze the market response to your product without engaging in in-person conversations with customers. The number of app installs as well as the number of monthly and daily users, the average duration of the user sessions, and other product-specific metrics will help you know where you stand. Ultimately, your earnings and revenues will speak for themselves – we have covered this subject in detail in our blog on 5 Essential Post-Launch Activities.

Finally, be ready to ensure continuous improvements and product updates. Your product must be future-ready: think about how it will integrate with emerging technologies like 5G or AR/VR and how will you scale it if you reach a peak number of users.

The bottom line:

Building an online presence is a complex process, yet, it’s doable and achievable once you split it into logical phases. In this guide, we have outlined the steps to take your business online, however, your ultimate action plan will depend on the type of the product you want to build, your audience, budget, industry, and other specifics. 

At Eastern Peak we have hands-on experience in building a vast number of products, from e-commerce websites to complex IoT systems for automotive and agriculture. Need expert advice on creating an online presence? Contact us now for a free consultation.