How to grow your online business (even in a crisis)

by Anastasia Belyh
how to grow a business online

Wondering how to grow your online business during a crisis situation?

Adjusting to an unknown and turbulent reality can be harsh, especially for businesses. The Covid-19 crisis was the beginning of the end of a lot of small and medium businesses globally. 

According to the International Trade Survey, at least one out of four businesses were projected to close as the crisis endured. Most businesses, both online and brick and mortar, experienced a huge decline in sales and breaks in their supply chains.

effect on businesses

   Source: International Trade Centre

Thankfully, the global economy is slowly recovering, projected to grow 5.5% in 2021 and 4.2% in 2022, but the uncertainty still gnaws. 

New waves of the pandemic continue to resurface and lockdown continues to persist in some areas, maintaining its crippling hold on businesses and individuals alike.

The economic implications of the crisis might last for a while as new situations and challenges come into existence.

For businesses that couldn’t develop intelligent measures to stay afloat and adapt to the new environment, reality has been fatally certain.

Going online has been the core foothold for most businesses in a physically unhealthy economy that has drastically reinvented consumer culture. 

If you own an online business, then you’ve smartly positioned yourself in the percentage of businesses that are more likely to survive.

However, surviving, and thriving is more than just going digital. There are intelligent strategies to help grow your online business in any crisis. 

Accessing valuable information is just as necessary as keeping and expanding your consumer base in spite of severe changes because without one, you can’t attain the other. 

Strategies to grow your business online

If you really want your online business to grow, and not just hang on for dear life in these uncertain times and in future crises, then you must follow these 5 strategies: 

1. Boost your brand’s digital presence 

You need to channel efforts towards your business’ online and content marketing more than ever in trying periods like this.

“Digital is the way most consumers discover brands now, and if your digital presence is not strong enough, you wouldn’t be able to access and convince most consumers.” – states Kate Roth, a marketing specialist from Ivory Research.

Boosting your digital presence means: 

  • Advertising your services and offers with content marketing, SEO, and paid online ads.
  • Making your services and products available on online channels like eCommerce platforms and websites.
  • Making your business current and reachable on Google My Business, social media, websites, and landing pages. 

It would be tempting to reduce or even shut down online communications due to the lack of motivation and the bleak prospects usually engineered by crises, but consumers will always need businesses to provide them services sooner or later, no matter the situation.  

It’s your job to be the service they can access regardless of their location, and with ease, speed and security. 

Proactively sharing relevant online content will keep them aware of your existence. It will also slowly provide psychological ease for them where your brand is concerned. Whenever they need a service or product in your industry, they will naturally be compelled to reach out to you. 

You must update your business’ status on your online channels to represent your current reality. New business hours, updated inventories, product prices, and new policies, all must reflect on whatever digital store or space you currently exist on. It would be sad for consumers to develop an interest in your services, only to find out that your channels or information are misleading.

You should also consider trying new and creative methods to position and spread your brand’s presence. Stay in tune with the times. Engaging and trendy online channels are always sprouting up. For instance, Tiktok is now a viable method for businesses in almost any industry to spread awareness and make sales.

2. Offer unique and relevant services

Things change during crises, and consumers are usually forced to reevaluate their tastes and needs. Covid-19 caused most consumers to cut down on spending and focus only on necessities. 

Covid effect on consumer spending

       Source: UNCTAD

These are things you should take into account as you package your offerings. People only want to spend less in times of financial constraints and in effect, your product and service prices should reflect that you understand the situation. Make your prices more affordable if you can. That’s the first step to making your offerings more attractive in tough times. 

Find strategic ways to avoid delivery fees. Due to the restraints on physical movement globally and the new online shopping culture that has evolved due to the pandemic, free shipping has become a vital element in determining consumers’ purchase decisions.

free shipping effect on purchase decision

       Source: Practical Ecommerce

Offer discounts and special sales, and even offer free gifts with purchases. It’s all part of utilizing the consumer’s psychology and enticing them with more value. 

Most importantly, focus your offerings on services that would be more relevant to consumers. It’s better to sell them what they really need, instead of what they want. Factoring this, you must find creative ways to communicate the relevance of your products. 

Or better still, channel your efforts towards services that are related to your business and still remain very relevant and either use those to boost brand awareness or cross-sell your own services. This strategy is particular to businesses that offer products that have attained statuses of relatively little relevance due to the new situation. 

If it’s possible to adopt such services into your business culture without radical consequences, then do so. You’re not changing your business model, you’re only adapting to demand. 

Businesses with better prospects of thriving in financial crisis situations will focus on delivering short-term needs. For services of no immediate relevance, you can devise long term strategies and use content marketing to strategically position consumer awareness.

It’s vital that you discover what consumers actually want, rather than make your decisions solely on market observations. 

Consumer behavior has been upset greatly, and market observations wouldn’t account for the complex layers of interest they would have developed. 

Conducting online surveys to reach out to your consumers and discover their true interests is a logical process you must take. Consequently, you can redirect your practices to better suit these needs. 

Your customer service is also a good channel of discovery. Train your personnel to listen attentively and tactfully to generate information from your customers.

You must engineer or create your unique value propositions. Keep in mind that there are competitors always actively trying to grab market share. One way to top them is by providing services that are better, more valuable, and more unique than the market standard. 

This would appeal more to consumers and develop their confidence in your brand. Your unique value proposition could arise from the features of your products or services, or the way you offer such services. It could be discounts, your shipping policy, and more attractive pricing. 

3. Create an empathetic brand identity

Crises are always trying times, and emotions tend to be intense and sensitive. It’s in times like this your brand strategy must focus on communicating your company’s human qualities. 

Tone-deaf, uncalculated, “salesy” messages and marketing should be avoided. People naturally want to feel like they’re understood and appreciated. An economic and social crisis heightens this tendency.

Whatever content your brand puts out must be inspiring and very connected to customers. Positive, visually engaging content, encouraging messages that reflect your brand values and at the same time apply to the situation are what you should aim for. 

Your brand identity doesn’t rely on your content alone, it also depends heavily on the value of your products and on the actions and policies of your company. Basically, any consumer touchpoint is a valid determinant of how people will evaluate your brand. 

Reach out to your community and execute philanthropic acts like donating products or volunteering your services when you can. You can also partner with brands to do this. 

Share these philanthropic acts online to reinforce the positive values of your brand. 

Offer generous discounts at timely intervals and seasonal periods to capitalize on the festive awareness and increase popular belief in your brand. Do giveaway contests to create excitement and boost awareness for your products and business. 

Focus on garnering social proof and good reviews and testimonials to accelerate the overall process of increasing and expanding consumer trust for your brand. Engage your customers and incentivize them to create user-generated content. 

This would create new loyalty and attract new customers. It will also further existing customer loyalty and increase the prospects of your long-term relationship with consumers. 

4. Target your marketing

Your products and services will only resonate with people who need them. Bearing that in mind, your marketing efforts should aim at narrowing down your advertising and offers to the relevant people, using only relevant methods. 

This means you would of course have determined your target audience and your customer persona. Those are only the basics, as you still have to work on placing your offers when and where these people need them.

Retargeting is a good strategy for this purpose. By collecting information such as browsing behavior and products bought or chosen by visitors and customers on your website, you can send relevant, enticing offers based on the information you’ve collected to them through other channels, like social media, mass email services, and website ads. 

Retargeting is an overall positive and very effective marketing tactic because you won’t have to waste time, effort, and capital on generic marketing.

retargeting ad statistics

    Source: OptinMonster

It’s also more focused on retaining regular customers than acquiring new ones, which is generally an advantageous strategy. Naturally, it costs five times as much to acquire new customers than to retain existing ones. 

Regular customers are much more valuable, as they can develop to become loyal customers, build a lifetime value and provide more opportunities for upselling. They can also become brand promoters and champion the awareness of your products. 

5. Control your cash flow

As long as you have customers to sell to, you will always have to incur expenses from your suppliers and the costs of running your business. 

But in tough economic times, it becomes even harder to account for expenses as incoming cash reduces in comparison to business management costs. 

If you’re an online business that mostly sells products, you have to develop creative alternatives to reduce your supply costs. 

A good step to take is to re-analyze your inventory management and spot which excesses and processes you can afford to drop. 

Products in excess quantities can be dropped down the supply priority list. You can use discount strategies to offload such products if they’re short term valuables, or if demand for them seems weak.

Dropshipping can be a good, cheaper alternative to expensive shipping and warehousing. You can work with third-party logistics that offer dropshipping alternatives at reduced costs and also guarantee quality, speedy delivery, and security of your products.

Whatever alternative you take, be extra careful that it removes nothing away from the assured quality of your products, or the ends wouldn’t justify the means. 

Businesses generally should look at processes that can be removed. As an online business, some services and products might simply not be worth your time during crises. They may only act as distractions to pull your focus and efforts away from main, particularly relevant offerings.

A logical practice for any business to make any business thrive during tough situations, to help with managing costs and increasing productive efficiency, is to focus only on the most relevant products or services. This can be done as long as it doesn’t affect too much, the business’ culture and brand outlook. 

Online businesses that specialize in services should scout the market for cheaper, and even free ways to generate their workflow. There are several very functional and free software on the market that can perform several vital business processes. 

This software can be very convenient to use, and more importantly, it can save companies the time, money, and effort needed for manual-intensive labor. 

Surviving in a harsh economic reality is very demanding, talkless of thriving. But the latter is very possible if you maintain a positive outlook, conduct continuous market and consumer research to gain cutting-edge information, tools, and strategies and then use what you’ve learned to pursue consumer satisfaction.

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