The world is currently battling a global pandemic. The World Health Organization has even declared the novel coronavirus (also known as COVID-19 or 2019-nCoV) as a public health emergency. We understand how troubling these times are. Regardless of where you are in the world right now, it’s the same story. Roads are empty. Businesses are closed. And people are advised to practice social distancing and quarantine procedures to “flatten the curve” and reduce the spread of the disease…but what if you stay indoors? What if you’re planning to launch an online business? Do you have to postpone it? And if you do decide to go through with it, how should you do it? Is it really possible?
First of all, allow us to start this article by saying that it is indeed possible to launch an online business during the pandemic. We must do what we can in order to survive and earn a living, to continue with our lives as much as we possibly can while also keeping you and other people protected from the disease.
In fact, that’s what we are going to talk about in this article today. We are going to share with you a quick guide on how to start an online business during these troubled times.
As with any business, online or not, the first thing that you should do before diving headfirst into any business is to come up with a business plan. Grab a pen and paper. Your business plan doesn’t have to be detailed right now. The information that we’re going to share later on with you will help in filling out some of the important sections of your plan. However, at the very least, you must come up with a rough outline for your business idea. For instance, what kind of business are you thinking of? Is it going to be a product or a service? Who is your target demographic? What is your vision for this business? These are crucial information that will help mark the trajectory of your startup, especially later on during moments that you might feel lost.
Once you already have a rough business plan, the next thing that you should do is to prepare the necessary funds that will serve as your capital.
How is Your Current Cash Flow?
What’s unique with the situation that you’re in right now is that things are surely going to be slower, especially your cash flow. Analyze your financial situation. Do you have an emergency fund set that will help sustain you? Do you already have the funds set aside for your business? Take into consideration that your revenue will possibly be decreased depending on your product or service and that you probably have a very limited stream of income from your employment (if you’re employed).
Take Out a Loan
If you don’t have the funds necessary, then the easiest way to get the required funds is to apply for a loan. We don’t suggest that you use your emergency fund as capital for your business unless you are absolutely sure that you and your family are financially safe throughout the duration of the crisis. Anyway, here are the different loan options that you might want to consider:
There are different types of online loans that you can search and apply for. There are even high-risk business loans that get approved pretty fast but don’t expect the terms to be flexible.
Personal Loans from Friends and Family
If you don’t want to take out a loan from an online institution, or if your application has been declined, then another option is to get a personal loan from your friends and family. What’s great about these loans is that most of them don’t have an interest rate, and depending on the person who’s going to loan out the money, they might not even ask you to pay it back immediately.
Finally, you should also consider different government programs that are set to assist small business owners during the COVID-19. Explore both local and federal options. Just keep in mind that they might take a while to get approved since there are a lot of people applying for them right now. Aside from government-sponsored programs, there are also NGOs that offer microlending that you can also consider.
Find an Investor
We have mentioned a while ago that your family or friend might consider flexible payment terms for your loan. If that’s the case, then why not pitch him your business idea and make him a partner or investor instead? Should you wish to take this route, however, just make sure that you set an official meeting. Remember, you’re not just sharing another one of your crazy business pitches over dinner. You are serious. Level up your business plan game.
Set an appointment. Get dressed for it. And since there’s a pandemic and most people are on quarantine, be prepared to make your pitch via video chat. Send your potential investor a copy of your business plan in advance so that he can review it already. Make sure that you’re going to be in a quiet room without a distracting background and technical issues. It should go as smoothly as possible.
Raise the Money Yourself
Finally, if all else fails, why don’t you raise the needed money yourself? Sure, it might take a while, but it’s certainly doable. You have two options: you can launch a crowdfunding campaign, or you can offer online services as a freelance with the intention of dedicating your earnings towards your business.
In fact, if your online business is offering digital services, then you can simply go ahead and launch it already. Start with a few clients. Build on your online reputation. And simply improve your business little by little as you start earning until it reaches your vision or goal.
The Perfect Niche
Anyway, once you have secured the funds, you can start refining the niche or focus of your business. Since it’s a pandemic, it’s important to note that there are industries that are taking a step back right now like construction and travel.
On the other hand, you might want to set your sights on industries that are actually doing really well, such as food and health products. Online services such as content creation and digital marketing are also showing no signs of slowing down.
Adapt the Right Marketing Strategy
Speaking of marketing, you need to adopt the right strategies according to the special circumstances of the global pandemic. Here are some tips:
- Invest in digital marketing, particularly social media marketing — Since people are staying indoors, that means there are more people online right now. The people logged into their social media accounts for constant updates have also significantly increased. Take advantage of this by leveling up your social media marketing game instead of offline marketing strategies. This technique can also work for brick-and-mortar stores granted that your online network has people from your locality.
- Consider paid ads— You can do your social media marketing the organic way by scheduling your posts and publishing them during peak hours, or you can also consider signing up for paid ads. They’re not that expensive and it can help boost your business’ online visibility significantly.
- Offer freebies — Finally, let’s face it, people are not in the spending mood right now. We have been thrown into financial instability. However, this doesn’t mean that they don’t want to try new things and purchase in the future. While it doesn’t necessarily follow that just because you offer a free trial of something, that these clients will automatically convert into paying ones after that trial period, theoretically, it still makes sense that the more people who can get to experience your product or service, the more you can expand your reach, get more leads, and convert more people.
Here’s a pro tip — offering freebies or special discounts and gift cards, is also a good way to reward customer loyalty. If you’re just starting out your business, you can do this to reward the very first clients that are going to sign up for your services or purchase your item.
Aside from marketing, you might want to consider the following tips in order to have smoother business operations even during the pandemic:
- Come up with a pre-order plan — This could work for products that you’re sure is bound to get delayed, or those that will only get delivered post-COVID-19.
- Make room for delays — Speaking of which, don’t forget to take into consideration the delays that you are going to experience, especially in the delivery of certain supplies. Plan accordingly in order to continue your operations without significant hiccups.
- Offer discounts for underperforming stock — While some of your stocks might get delayed, on the flip side, there might be items that are currently in your inventory right now that are experiencing a slowing down of demand. It’s okay to store them until the pandemic ends and regular operations resume, but for products that are going to lose quality as time passes (like food items that can get expired), you can offer them at a discounted price. It’s better than not getting anything from them and simply letting your products go to waste.
- Follow up if you can get similar perks from your suppliers — They might be offering extended payment options for their business partners or significant discounts on some of their products. Take advantage of these perks for as much as you can.
- Cut both your clients and suppliers some slack — Work with your suppliers and extend your patience especially in delivery delays. Do the same for your clients as well. One thing that you can do is to extend your return and exchange policies.
Give Back to Your Community
Now that we’re done with the most part of our guide, we believe that this is also a good opportunity to talk about solidarity. This crisis is a chance to show the world how your business can be of service to something much bigger than its own.
Make an effort and go out of your way to help your community. Work and collaborate with other small business owners. This is also a good way to co-promote your businesses along the way and show your ventures in a new, positive light.
Anyway, we have finally reached the end of this guide. Here’s a quick summary of the tips that we have mentioned above:
- Explore different ways to fund your business — Don’t allow your new business venture to eat into your emergency fund. That’s for you and your family’s daily needs. Instead, we recommend exploring other options such as applying for loans, business grants, and even crowdfunding!
- Take advantage of the niches that are doing well during the pandemic — Food and health products are in-demand right. When it comes to services, delivery services are also performing very well.
- Social media marketing is the best way to go — Ever since the home quarantine started, more people are going online these days for work, entertainment, and information. Social media networks, in particular, are experiencing a surge of active users daily ever since the pandemic has brought most of us indoors. While you can always post your social media ads yourself, we want you to consider paid ads as a viable option as well.
- Work with your community — Finally, be more understanding of your suppliers and account for possible delays. Extend your return and exchange policies and offer significant discounts to your clients. And of course, use this crisis as an opportunity to help out other people, especially the ones within your community and other small business owners like yourself.
You see, launching an online business during a pandemic puts more strain to an already challenging pursuit, but by keeping the tips that we have shared with you in mind, we’re sure that you will be able to push through and accomplish your business goals, pandemic or not.