The ongoing health crisis has impacted companies of all sizes, from mom-and-pop shops to big-box retailers and online retail giants. The global pandemic has also exposed issues for businesses relying on third parties as their core marketplace. As a small business owner, taking ownership of distribution channels can help create flexibility in reaching and selling to customers, strengthen direct relationships with customers, and help you become better prepared for disruptions to online marketplaces.

As an entrepreneur and small business advisor for over 20 years, I’ve found that taking ownership of your storefront involves developing an online presence, focusing on direct communication with customers, and optimizing your web presence.

If you don’t have an e-commerce site or professional business website, set one up

A few months into the pandemic we’ve seen how some small businesses have shifted their business models to stay afloat. Setting up a website for your shop could mean the difference between making sales goals or struggling to keep your business operating as usual. If you rely on a marketplace or your brick-and-mortar shop alone, now is a good time to consider new ways to reach customers.

Setting up a website allows you to sell both online and locally, through an e-commerce platform and by offering features like phone orders, curbside pick-up, or delivery. If you are unsure how to create or run an online presence, leverage a trusted partner to help build a site that works for you and your business. A partner company can help you with web design, development, and management, and help you convert site visitors to customers. Your ultimate goal should be to create a user experience that builds brand value and customer loyalty.

Focus on managing relationships and communicating directly with customers

People are eager to support small businesses through this pandemic. Now is the time to leverage the current relationships you have and build long-lasting relationships online. Utilizing your website and social profiles enable you to engage with customers and reach new ones. You can ask your followers to share your profile, like your page or leave a review; all of these help increase your businesses’ visibility and enable you to reach more people. Your end goal should be to build lasting relationships.

To continue communicating and engaging with customers, try leveraging different channels like blogs, video chats, or podcasts. If you’re interested in pursuing email marketing and social promotions, try to meet your customers where they are. Segment your list and send the right message, to the right person, at the right time. Using social media and email marketing during this time to send well-wishes and to let customers know just how much you appreciate them is also a great way to drive engagement. A small gesture like a call, card or email can go a long way.

Continue to update your website with the correct store and product information

If you’ve adjusted your store hours or sales processes but have not updated your website, now is the time. Small business owners often fail to update their website and local directories, which then reflect incorrect store and/or product information. While it may seem like a daunting task to ensure all local and online listings remain up-to-date, consider leveraging online directory services like Localworks, which update dozens of local and online listings and keep them consistent with a single profile.

As stay-at-home orders begin to lift and stores slowly reopen, update your website and social profiles to explain what restrictions you have in place to assure customers that your small business is a safe place for them to shop (e.g. all employees are required to wear masks). To reassure customers you are adhering to state and local requirements, consider including a link to your state’s requirements.

Now is the time to take control of your business, both online and in-store. Taking your business online doesn’t require you to be a tech expert; it’s okay to look to trusted partners who can help you meet your business needs during this time. Right now, there are resources available for free that will help set you and your business up for success.

As a senior business advisor at Yahoo Small Business, Maria Melo has been working with new and established e-commerce merchants for over 20 years to help them grow their businesses. Maria has also spent over 14 years working with her family in their brick and mortar retail store and is part owner of her own retail wine shop with her brother and sister.

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