COVID-19: The SOS guide to selling online (without coding know-how)
Nothing jolly in today’s preamble. The Corona Virus has ground many businesses to a halt, leaving owners scrambling for a short-term solution to their cashflow. For some companies, e-commerce is part of everyday trading. For others, making money on the internet is uncharted territory. This article is for small businesses and the self-employed who need to take online payment ASAP.
Assumption 1: Until now, you haven’t had the need to sell online.
Assumption 2: You lack the coding skills, time or budget to create a lavish e-commerce shop.
If you have an existing website, that’s great – more on that below. If you don’t, that’s no problem. This guide will get you selling online quickly, with or without a preexisting page.
Goal 1: Accept online payments quickly
You will create a functioning, secure and good-looking shopping experience that doesn’t break the bank. It won’t be pixel-perfect, but it’s perfectly fine in the short-term.
Goal 2: Creative ways to sell online
Real-world examples will show how your business can adapt for a market that is self-isolating or working from home. With persistence, creativity and the generosity borne out of COVID Mutual Aid, your efforts might even put you on the map!
- STEP 1, OPTION A: Build a popup e-commerce store
- STEP 1, OPTION B: Add payment features to your website
- STEP 2: Creative ways to sell online
- STEP 3: Broadcast Your COVID-19 Measures
- BONUS: Resources for business owners and the self-employed
If you had a website before: it will remain as it was, with clear signposts to your COVID-19 measures and an invitation to visit your new online store.
If you didn’t have a website: you do now! A last-minute online shop that you can share across social media.
Option A) Build An Ecommerce Store, Fast!
First we’ll create a ‘popup’ online store that’s affordable, secure and won’t break the integrity of your existing website. Don’t worry, it’s easier than you think!
In normal circumstances you’d sit down with a web developer and have a long conversation about goals, target market, design etc. In such cases I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this solution. However, for the purposes of speedy setup, Shopify is a solid choice.
- It’s easy to install… Shopify requires no coding knowledge and can be ready in an afternoon.
- It’s secure… Payments are handled by trusted merchants like PayPal, SagePay, with additional options for BACs transfer and Cash on Delivery
- It’s non-commital: after the 2 week trial, you pay £30/month for however long you need the store.
Shopify’s customers are not coders; setup is quick and straightforward. Others have written about this in more detail, so please refer to one of these guides for how to install a basic shop:
Make It Pretty
Spend as long as you like customising your Shopify theme. I found that the default settings, with minor tweaking, were perfectly serviceable. Click ‘customise’ and whizz through the following:
- Add your logo
- Use the same font as your website
- Use similar imagery to your website
- Use the same colour codes as your website
Here’s One I Made Earlier…
For the sake of demonstration, here’s an example store I set up in an afternoon. It’s not going to win the Turner Prize, but it looks nice and sells stuff. My demo shop features working examples of things you could sell online – have a look and refer to it if you need pointers.
Note: This is a demo shop created for demonstration purposes only. Browse at your leisure, but please do not try and purchase anything!
Option B) Add Payment Buttons To Your Website
In a previous post, I advised on how to accept card payments on your website without an e-commerce store. Browse that in your own time for inspiration. In a nutshell, these options include:
One-off payments (suitable for most businesses)
Clinics and health practitioners
Courses and online webinars
There’s more I could add here, and I will. Check back later. Suffice to say that you can ’embed’ payment processors into a website and not interfere with its look or layout.
STEP 2) What ‘Products’ Can I Offer To Those Self-Isolating?
COVID-19 has turned everything on its head. With people working from home or self-isolating, brick and mortar stores can’t trade the normal way. If you’re a business that doesn’t usually sell items online, you may be wondering what on earth you’d classify as a ‘product’.
Never fear. As we’re about to see, the business owner’s ingenuity always shines through. Here are some examples I’ve noticed in the past week.
Suitable for most brick and mortar stores that sell physical goods.
- Video game stores
Home delivery isn’t limited to Deliveroo and Uber Eats. If customers can touch your products, take to the van and offer a ‘to your doorstep’ service.
Don’t have a delivery truck? Why not team up with a local man and van or house removals firm? With people self-isolating, these firms might have space in their calendar to transport your product. Businesses are getting creative with their services right now, so even if movers don’t list this on their website, reach out and ask!
Example: The Fat Cat Pub
Hats off to The Fat Cat, who are delivering frightening amounts of ale to customers’ doorsteps. The good people of Norwich won’t be going thirsty in this crisis…
Aka “buy now, enjoy later”, these are suitable for businesses that require their customers to be in the premises.
Just because people are indoors doesn’t mean they won’t want your services in future. Give them something to look forward to! While some folks are tightening their belts, others are twiddling their thumbs looking for self-care, birthday presents and surprise gifts for loved ones. Market your service as the treat customers deserve after lockdown.
Example: ProActive Therapies
ProActive Therapies provide sports massages and injury rehab. Needless to say, the Corona Virus has made this increasingly difficult. To remedy this, they’ve added a gift voucher feature at the bottom of their booking page.
Suitable for service industries and those who sell their knowledge.
- Interior Designers
- Music teachers
Whether you offer 1-2-1 or group sessions, take your knowledge to the cloud and coach people remotely. Just because people are at home doesn’t mean they aren’t willing to pay for an expert’s service. YouTube can only get you so far; those in self-isolation will be hungry for a real connection. Offer this to customers with dedicated classes, group sessions or online webinars.
Example: ETT Photography
Undaunted by the prospect of a lockdown, Mary from ETT Photography offers interactive photography lessons for home-schooled children. It’s a novel way of imparting her expertise and helps nurture kids’ creativity.
Below: A local osteopath offers virtual sessions, striking a positive and reassuring tone for customers.
Suitable for energetic, sporty and social businesses.
- Yoga instructors
- Personal trainers
- Community groups
- Kids clubs
The video chat app ‘Houseparty’ is doing the rounds at the moment. While a lot of people are using it socially, you could use Houseparty to host group classes with all your regulars. Chats can be locked in so that only paying customers can interact. The same can be done on Zoom.
Alternatively, you could broadcast scheduled classes on Facebook Live, Twitter, YouTube, Twitch or Snapchat and make a fanfare in the run-up. Visitors can beam in as they wish, and you could leave a gentle reminder to donate if they like your content (see below).
Good, Honest Donations
If there’s one positive we can draw from this crisis, it’s the kindness and generosity of spirit that has come out of facing the same threat together. Your customers are decent people, earned from years of hard work and healthy connections. There’s no shame in adding a button to your website asking to “keep the lights on” or “buy us a round”. Chances are that many will take you up on it. Ask, and ye shall receive.
Turn your premises into a drive through
Strictly speaking this isn’t an online venture, but it’s worth a mention for its novel approach to selling.
- Coffee shops
- Garden centres
Example: Grain Brewery
Grain Brewery’s distinct brand were seen and enjoyed throughout Norfolk’s pubs. With venues shutting, Grain converted their brewing premises into a Drive Thru. Customers rock up, pay by contactless, collect their beer and exit. Social distancing is honoured, the city’s beer drinkers are happy, and Grain’s forward thinking gets the brewery a spot in the local news!
STEP 3) Broadcast Your COVID-19 Measures
By now, you’ll either have a new online store, or a website with added bells and whistles. With everything in place, it’s time to make a fanfare and GET PEOPLE ON BOARD!
Update Your Website (and make it obvious!)
I recently visited a website for a big local store in Norwich and found to my surprise that nothing had changed: no new opening hours, no announcements, no special measures. It felt stale and eery, like the site had gathered dust while the world was moving on without it.
Whatever COVID-19 measures you take, put them front and centre in your website:
- Add a new button to your navigation menu
- Write a blog post with the announcement
- Add a popup notice at the top or bottom
- Add a POPUP STORE link in the footer
If you can, signpost these announcements in a contrasting colour so people can’t help but click and read about your new store.
It’s easy to overlook the humble email signature. Update yours with information about your new COVID-19 services. Again, perhaps highlight the title in a contrasting colour to attract attention.
Fire up Mailchimp and send a quick announcement to subscribers. If you haven’t got a newsletter, now might be a good time to build a mailing list. A lot more people are online right now, and there’s a generosity of spirit about!
Goes without saying doesn’t it? Get on social media and let all your followers know about the change in service. Besides posting, slightly alter your profile picture/cover photo to entice people into clicking through.
COVID-19 resources for small businesses
Whether from government or from the commercial sector, reassurance for businesses is coming in thick and fast. Here are a handful of resources I’ve found useful that I think might be worth your time. Some address Norfolk directly, while others give out broader advice about business lockdown:
railwaymen.org: while nominally a blog about app development, this guide on how tech can assist your business is spot on. It helpfully frames problems from the business owner’s perspective, discussing everything from marketing strategy and networking to which apps can help with cost management.
newangliagrowthhub.co.uk: the go-to place for support and business advice from local experts. Includes a free “Business Toolkit” full of useful resources.
norfolk.gov.uk: ongoing updates on support for Norfolk businesses during the corona virus pandemic. A must-have bookmark if you run a business in the area – more info.
menta.org.uk: a 15-step checklist on readjusting your business to COVID-19. MENTA have themselves shifted to virtual servicing and now offer remote learning, networking and consultations.
delivernorfolk.co.uk: an excellent directory of delivery/takeaway businesses in the county. Follow the steps above and add yours here!
Watch this space
In such a rapidly developing environment, I’m sure there’s much more out there on this subject. I’ll keep this post updated with tips, innovative products and case studies on local businesses. If you hear about novel ways people are selling their services, let me know and I’ll feature them here!
Thanks, and take care.