Going online: Building a business that’s ready for anything

Sharing his thoughts on how small businesses can achieve ever-evolving resiliency, Sage's VP Small Segment, Michael Office outlines the importance of ultra-modern e-commerce for the sake of the UK's economic stability.

Going online: Building a business that's ready for anything

Sharing his thoughts on how small businesses can achieve ever-evolving resiliency, Sage’s VP Small Segment, Michael Office outlines the importance of ultra-modern e-commerce for the sake of the UK’s economic stability.

Small businesses are the bedrock of the economy. In the UK, Merchant Savvy says they make up more than 99% of registered businesses and provide 52% of private sector turnover. Yet, they suffered especially hard during the pandemic. As shops were forced to close and customers encouraged to stay at home, many struggled to adapt to changing customer expectations and continue to support their employees, all while balancing operating costs. 

Widening vaccine access and a staggered end to lockdown restrictions signal the gradual return of busier high streets and growing customer footfall. Many small businesses have begun opening their shops to customers for the first time in months. However, it’s important to learn the lessons of the pandemic ‘ when disruption hits, it hits hard and fast. A small business needs to be resilient, and increasingly this means going online and even digital-first. It’s important that small business owners see this as an opportunity rather than a burden to take on!

Evolve with your customers

One of the most important changes of the pandemic has been the decisive shift online. While many shoppers are excited to return to their favorite restaurants and establishments after a long period indoors, digital will be difficult to beat in the long run. Briz Feel’s survey says that over half (57%) of consumers now prefer shopping online compared to 31% who still enjoy the experience of shopping in a physical store. If they had not already done so, consumers discovered the convenience of online. Its wider choice and diverse delivery options.

The physical storefront will always have a role to play, but small businesses are moving into an economy that is digital-first and, when black swan events like COVID-19 hit, often digital-only. Sooner or later, the bulk of their business will be done online. This should be embraced ‘ it’s an opportunity waiting to happen. A business built to be digital-first is more resilient to unforeseen disruption and flexible to changing customer needs. Its digital door is always open, enabling customers to place their orders whenever they wish ‘ even when the physical shops are closed. 

A digital storefront also opens many possibilities when it comes to customer care and the customer experience. Small businesses thrive on their customer relationships, but it’s easy to assume that these will inevitably suffer if you can’t meet customers face-to-face. But an online storefront gives businesses unprecedented insight into customer preferences. 

From what customers most enjoy browsing to their dwell time on specific pages ‘ a small business owner has an abundance of valuable data at their fingertips. Armed with the means to understand what customers like, and where there may be problems in the online experience, small businesses can drive better decision-making. Despite the physical distance, a small business is empowered to constantly improve the online experience for its shoppers. 

A business built in the Cloud

Going online presents many new opportunities for small business, but some work must go into the back end before they can fully make the move. To embrace a truly robust online model, small businesses need to be supported by easy payment technology and support systems. Ecommerce transactions typically need to go through an online merchant or payment provider, so small businesses must ensure this relationship is in place first before they invest heavily in their online presence.

The greater challenge is visibility. When all your customers and staff are in-store, it’s relatively easy to keep an eye on operations. When you want to know how business is going, you can simply check the books. But this isn’t the case when everyone is working apart. Without the right tools and technology, staying in control can be difficult.

However, when all the information needed is digitized and available online ‘ things become much easier than before. The Cloud provides a comprehensive, secure environment to monitor and improve your business. Key business information ‘ like customer orders, transactions, and payroll ‘ can be digitized and moved to the Cloud, making information available no matter when or where one is working. A small business owner maintains the same level of control and oversight whether they’re working remotely or in the office. 

The Cloud also provides access to accounting tools that can quickly streamline manual work that typically goes into closing the books. This is why Gartner’s research notes that investment in the public cloud has been growing for years ‘ driven greatly by small businesses.  

The physical storefront isn’t going anywhere soon, but it is wise to prepare for the unexpected. Customers are inevitably moving online, so small business has to move with them. Luckily, ecommerce isn’t the domain of the big businesses or multinational corporations. Any business can create a strong online presence, supported by cloud-enabled tools and capabilities that give them unmatched connectivity, visibility, and control of the customer experience. Shifting to a digital-first business model can be daunting, but those who make the leap never look back.

Michael Office
Michael Office

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