"Digital transformation" is an umbrella term for all the ways business owners can use the internet – or any digital technology – to modify or enhance their business. Even though it's been a business buzzword for over a decade, plenty of entrepreneurs haven't caught up. For example, 30% to 40% of small businesses still don't have their own website, despite the fact that around 80% of consumers claim to only visit brick-and-mortar stores after researching them online.
The consequences of adapting slowly (or not at all) to the landscape of digital commerce and enterprise have never been more clearly or painfully felt as they have been following the coronavirus outbreak of this year. With foot traffic in retail locations having been reduced by almost 98% year over year, an online presence in a post-pandemic economy isn't just something that can benefit a company – it's an actual lifeline.
That being said, not having leveraged digital technology in the past doesn't necessarily mean that it's too late to do so now. Of course, that depends on many factors, including the type of business you run and the speed at which your financial or personal circumstances may require you to pivot. However, companies are making it work, and there are certainly ways to simplify the process and improve your chances of getting good results quickly.
These are the most important steps to consider when making the shift to digital just can't be left on the back burner any longer.
1. Build it and they will come.
Social media accounts for your business – on Facebook, Instagram or elsewhere – are useful and important tools, but they don't give you the tools you need to actually conduct business online. For that, you need a stand-alone website with e-commerce capabilities. Now, you might have dreamed of just such a thing for years. You might have a clear vision of exactly how it should look and work in order to generate the best experience possible for your clients or customers. However, this is not the time to build that website. With the future of your business possibly on the line, what you need is functionality – now.
For that, your best bet is something like Shopify, a service that gives you all the tools you need to build a website for your business in a short amount of time. Another good option is the Fulfillment by Amazon system, or FBA, in which Amazon provides you with storage, packaging and delivery options for your products. With FBA, you worry about reeling in the customers, and Amazon will worry about all the logistics. Of course, if you have someone on your team who's built websites before, even better. Give them a budget, turn them loose, and limit yourself to executive decision-making when it comes to design.
Bear in mind that all the above can be used in a complementary fashion. Social media pages, an Amazon storefront and a company website can give you a triple-threat advantage over a surprising number of your competitors.
Don't forget the details.
For starters, you'll need pictures of any products you sell. If a photographer isn't in the budget, there's no need to fret. You can replace your photos later on if your skills or camera aren't up to par. You'll also want to take great care with any website or sales copy, whether it's on an About Us page or in a product description. Remember, online shoppers are limited to what they can see, so your best chance of tapping into their emotions is creating sales copy that resonates. New customers won't understand the benefits of your product or service unless you explain it directly, and that needs to be done in clear and convincing writing.
2. Don't reinvent the wheel(s).
Let the professionals handle the moving.
Not every business deals with tangible goods that need to be shipped around the world, or even to a nearby location. For those that do, however, developing a method of packaging and delivering those items reliably and on time can be a big problem when it's the responsibility of a small team without experience in logistics. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to outsource this stuff. One way is to go the FBA route, described above. Another is to schedule recurring pickups from a fixed location with an established delivery network like UPS or FedEx. The solution may sound simple, but that's all the more important when you're dealing with a problem that's both critical and complicated.
Go where others have gone before.
There are plenty of service-oriented companies out there that face an equally uphill battle when it comes to digital transformation. Just like with storage, shipping and other logistics, though, there are loads of prefab options for transitioning to the new normal of online business. Fiverr, Freelancer and other gig-centric marketplaces are available for business owners wanting to broaden their client base.
3. Leverage global human capital.
Cast a wide net.
Just 15 years ago, a small company's hiring pool was effectively limited to local candidates. Even where it was possible to make an international job posting, actually doing it was unrealistic for a significant number of entrepreneurs because of barriers like not being able to afford to relocate the right applicant. These days, no relocation is required. Fewer and fewer jobs require any type of communication or interaction that can't be done extremely quickly and effectively over the internet.
The era of remote work is in full swing. The number of options this new reality has opened up for business owners is incredible. Team members in different time zones can respond to customer inquiries or support requests much more quickly.
Think outside the box.
It's not just full-time hiring capabilities that have improved – it's human resources capabilities across the board. For instance, you might think that digitally transforming your business and scaling it for growth aren't feasible because you can't afford enough people or the right people. But thanks to the gig economy, you don't have to hire, train, insure or create contracts for employees the way businesses have needed to traditionally. Instead, you find someone with the skills you need to create or implement a particular solution and cooperate with them on an as-needed basis.
4. Banish your perfectionism.
Crawl, walk, run.
Compared to the other steps on this list, this one is obviously a bit difficult to quantify. You might wonder if it even applies to you. If you're a small business owner, it probably does – and taking calculated risks is the type of habit that can be a driver for success. You might have even noticed this as a theme elsewhere in the article. Maybe you have a specific vision for a website, digital marketing campaign, growth strategy or other aspect of digital transformation, and the advice here may clash with that vision. By all means, if your business has the security to coast until those dreams can become reality, then stick to your original plan. But for those businesses in a sink-or-swim situation, now would be the worst time to give into perfectionistic tendencies.
This isn't meant to imply that entrepreneurs aren't a generally flexible and self-aware group of people; they overwhelmingly are. However, a business – especially a startup – is also usually someone's baby. More often than not, they've spent a significant chunk of time, money and sweat on it, and it can be difficult to settle for less than what seems ideal. Just keep in mind that there will always be a chance later on to improve and perfect what you build today – as long as your business makes it that far.
Already have a business website, a Facebook page, a distribution network, a remote team and the right attitude? That's fantastic. If we're to learn anything from the global economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, though, it's that for business owners or strategists, there's always the danger of getting too comfortable.
Digital transformation isn't just about going from physical to digital. It can also mean going from digital service to better digital service. Whatever you're doing, chances are that somebody is out there doing it better. If your business isn't in imminent danger, then that's all the more reason to spend your time looking for ways to improve it even further. If you don't, the next big crisis might just be the one to unseat you from that place of comfort.