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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

How to Move Your Shop or Business Online

Many businesses had to reinvent themselves almost overnight because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Business owners had two choices: take action to change the way they work, or close up shop. Companies that refused to take their company virtual or adapt either didn’t make it or at the very least suffered a loss. Innovation and a willingness to change your business to virtual turned out to be crucial for survival.

So how did successful businesses adapt to the challenge the pandemic created, and how do they continue to adapt as the pandemic lingers? There are a few things those companies—and their leaders—have in common that we can all learn from. Below are a few stories of businesses that took the pandemic by the horns and created change overnight. One business previously had refused for years to offer online services. Today, that same business generates 20 percent of its revenue from virtual services. Never say never.

Taking Music From In-Person to Online

Music Compound, my company, is a membership-based music school in Sarasota, Florida, for all ages and genres. It is a performance-based music school with a 3,000-square-foot concert venue onsite. The 20 instructors it employs are empowered to customize each lesson to the student and use their educational background to do so.

Music Compound continued in-person operations throughout the entire pandemic and never missed a beat. After Covid hit the gulf coast of Florida in March of 2020, our gross sales reduced by 50 percent during the peak of the pandemic. The entire staff was impacted and decided to rise to the occasion. Within 24 hours, we rolled out a virtual music school business model. Nearly 400 members and staff connected weekly via Zoom. Each instructor had individual profile pages, each spruced up with videos, bios, and a Zoom link for members to use to connect with them.

Having one process for all instructors and members provided a seamless transition for substitutes as well. Since schools were either in remote-learning mode or shut down for spring and summer break, Music Compound offered free daytime music classes via their Facebook and YouTube channels. This allowed working parents who were suddenly now homeschool teachers a much-needed break and additional tool for their children’s education. We also launched a virtual concert series Facebook group that generated a new group of followers and possible future clients, and the company hosts regular Facebook Live sessions to highlight local artists, music history, and short lessons.

Prior to the pandemic, Music Compound held four to six events per month to market their services and recruit members, but since in-person events were canceled, that funding was shifted to uses like search, SEO, and social media marketing instead to keep the business running. Being present online was critical during the pandemic due to the number of people stuck at home, looking for an outlet, and wanting to learn since they now had the time. Many businesses were closing or canceling programs while Music Compound was expanding its services and hiring more instructors. The changes that we introduced were so successful that they incorporated its Covid model into its daily operations.

Taking Small Businesses Online When Shops Closed

The Bazaar at Apricot and Lime is a 6,000-square-foot indie market in Sarasota that houses nearly 40 small businesses that sell art, repurposed products, jewelry, cool gifts, plants, clothing, and green products. A majority of the businesses with space in the market are small, and many are startups. Most of the business owners didn’t have an online store or social media presence at all. When mandated to close up shop, many didn’t have an outlet or following to sell their products. In an effort to stay in business and generate sales, Kim Livengood, the owner of the market, immediately turned to Facebook Live.

She went live every day for three weeks, calling her online videos the “Bazaar Shopping Network.” (Yes, she was inspired by Home Shopping Network). She showcased available products and offered curbside pickup, delivery, and shipping. When she mentioned discontinuing BSN, a fan in another state begged her to continue. It brought her comfort in a crazy time, and kept her connected to the community and she thrived in it. With that note, Kim continued to go on weekly.

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The success of BSN was noticed by national News, including NBC’s Inspiring America and ABC’s Good Morning America. Livengood’s BSN is fun, and most importantly it generates sales and excitement for the Bazaar. She has passed 100 episodes and says she will continue to do them as long as people keep watching, and as long as they help generate sales for her vendors and small business partners. Kim claims to not be tech-savvy, and her first episode was sideways. The next video was shot backward. Now, she uses a variety of apps and Facebook tools to add graphics and personality to her videos and use them to reach more people.

Flowers and Candles, Entirely Online

Two Bloom Events is an event company that specializes in floral design classes for groups of individuals wanting a fun and interactive experience. Robin Kornett and Melissa Estep, co-owners, both enjoy floral design, events, and entertainment. Their business was, before the pandemic, 100 percent in person. And once the pandemic swept the globe, they had to redesign their business overnight. Zoom came to the rescue: They were contracted by their clients to host virtual classes instead of in-person ones. Kornett says this approach boosted her confidence and allowed her to grow professionally and personally. “Teaching via Zoom required more energy and engagement than in-person events,” she explains.

Both cofounders were previously scared of cameras, but if they wanted their business to survive, they had no choice but to become fearless and start making videos for social media. Through a women’s network called The KNOW Women, they met a social media expert who taught them how to grow their Instagram account to 10,000 followers, which allowed them to get the “Swipe Up” option in their Instagram stories (now available to all accounts). Two Bloom Events’ new approach offered followers hours of content and resulted in a full calendar of events to close out 2021 and begin 2022.

It also boosted and revealed their public speaking skills. “Our attitude and approach changed when in-person events resume,” Kornett says. Now, Two Bloom Events have a recurring monthly calendar at local nonprofits, country clubs, and other companies eager to host events, or just bring in a fun activity for their teams. Prior to the pandemic, Estep and Kornett had to make sales calls and find people to host events. Now companies and people seek out and call them. Kornett’s advice? Commit: “Just do it without fear or overthinking it.”

Bia Candle Company launched in September 2019. When Bia Antunes started her business, she sold to local boutiques in Sarasota, where she’s based. “Candles are personal and buyers want to touch and smell,” she says. The goal was to start local and then expand online. She dreamed about securing a national chain. When local boutiques had to close their doors due to the pandemic, Bia spruced up her website and sped up her plan to offer her products online to people who wanted them.

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Despite not having the resources to hire videographers, photographers, or editors, she grew her platform organically and landed a regional deal with Whole Foods in the midst of the pandemic. Antunes credits consumers being at home more, wanting to create peaceful spaces, and being more mindful as the pandemic continues. She was inspired to release Enlighten Me, a new candle variety, in light of the new year to promote mindfulness, gratefulness, self-awareness, and meditation.

Regardless of the type of business you’re in, it is crucial to look for inspiration within your organization. Your team can be a resource for ideas and influences, and offer a new and fresh approach to your marketing. Act fast and without fear, especially in the face of situations out of your control. Both your customers and your teams will appreciate live, fun, and relatable videos, behind-the-scenes looks at how you run your business, and a sense that you’re in the same boat as they are. Confidence is key to your success. You must believe you have the best product, approach, and message. If you do, your customer will too.


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