In a world driven by digital innovation, the prospect of launching an online business can be both exciting and intimidating, especially for those who feel they lack the know-how to navigate this new field. But fear not, because in this article, we will teach you how to do online business, providing you with essential insights, tips, and strategies to embark on your digital journey, even if you’ve never ventured into the online business landscape before.
The business challenges brought about by the coronavirus pandemic have prompted many companies to recognize the need to address the future sooner than they initially anticipated. This future entails diversifying their business and placing greater emphasis on the growth of both online and offline aspects.
Is There a Problem? We’re going to build an Online Business.
Recently, a friend of our founder shared a situation from his workplace. Their company operates both online and offline, but it heavily relies on the offline sector for profits and investments. Despite occasional mentions of an online future, they do not seem particularly committed to it. Instead, they focus on cutting costs in the online segment, hoping it will somehow thrive.
This shortsighted approach is glaringly evident. The company employs numerous salespeople dedicated to selling offline services. However, with the onset of the pandemic and its restrictions, this part of the business suffered a significant decline. Some savvy salespeople attempted to adapt by promoting online services to their customers. Unfortunately, this approach faced insurmountable challenges because neither the customers nor the salespeople fully grasped what “going online” entailed.
Online business is not offline business
Online businesses operate fundamentally differently from their brick-and-mortar counterparts. Comparing a physical shoe store in Złote Tarasy, Warsaw, to an online shoe store is a challenging task. What do they share in common? An assortment of products. Beyond that, their similarities are virtually nonexistent.
To transition from an offline business to an online one, signing a contract with a hosting company or buying a domain name is not enough. Creating an online presence goes beyond these initial steps. Establishing a successful online store demands a distinct approach, often requiring the formulation of a separate business strategy, as it operates under unique rules and dynamics.
If we were to transition our traditional offline business into an efficient offline and online hybrid today, we would need to begin from the ground up:
- We would seek guidance from someone knowledgeable about online business practices, who can advise us on how to integrate this aspect into our organization effectively.
- We would appoint or hire a change manager dedicated to overseeing this organizational shift. This individual would hold a position on the company’s board of directors to ensure a strong focus on fostering the new culture and work organization.
- We would task the change manager with developing a comprehensive transformation plan for our organization, along with an educational program for our employees, particularly those in sales and marketing. Additionally, there may be an option to provide a similar program for our customers, which I will elaborate on further below.
- We would start implementing the plan set by the change manager. And we would do it throughout the organization, from the top leadership down to every department.
Speaking with someone who has knowledge about building an online business.
Invaluable indeed. While you recognize that no one may understand your business better than you do, it is crucial to acknowledge that operating an online business entails unique dynamics and strategies. Essentially, you are embarking on the creation of a parallel business of equal significance alongside our existing one.
And let it not be one of those big international consulting corporations. This step is not about someone big and well-known putting their stamp on your recommendation report. It is about the actual project you are going to implement. It is worth arranging a coffee with one, two, or three trusted and experienced online business people to seek their advice. Ask who is worth meeting with and what company to work with. There will not necessarily be a seemingly obvious answer here. The non-obvious one in the end may turn out to be much more interesting.
A change manager for a transformational project
We are not fans of designating a project manager as the person responsible for organization-wide change for transformational projects. Firstly, such projects require more from this manager than in the case of a “regular” project.
Transformation projects require a wide range of skills, including both interpersonal and technical abilities. In these projects, the manager’s role is crucial, as they must convince skeptics about the benefits of the change and its profitability. A significant amount of work is necessary before, during, and after the project. It’s not just about implementing the change; it’s also about making it a permanent part of the organization. Additionally, unforeseen changes or optimizations often arise later on.
Furthermore, in the case of a substantial organizational transformation, it’s essential to demonstrate commitment to the change, especially to every employee. This can be achieved by including the person responsible for the new area in the overall company management structure.
Consider this: an organization with board members solely focused on offline operations is essentially an offline business. Conversely, a board composed solely of individuals interested in online operations defines an online business. However, if a business claims to be hybrid but lacks board members interested in the online aspect, it essentially remains an offline business masquerading as a hybrid.
Organization transformation plan and learning path
Every effective change manager should craft a plan for the entire transformation and stick to it. This may seem quite straightforward.
However, what’s somewhat less obvious but equally important is the need to establish a comprehensive learning journey for the organization’s staff and sometimes even for its customers. But let’s delve into that a bit further below.
Developing a comprehensive transformation plan for organization
One of the initial signs of an organization’s commitment to change is implementing adjustments at the board level. Equally crucial is instilling this new vision throughout the company, from the highest echelons down to the entry-level employees. The concept of an online business should become ingrained in the mindset of every staff member, regardless of their position within the organization.
Once again, the journey starts with your board of directors. But having only one board member interested in online business is not enough. You need to share this vision with other board members who look after different parts of our company, like making products, advertising, selling, handling money, making deals, running day-to-day tasks, taking care of our people, and more. Why you should do this? We’ll explain that at the end of the article.
After the board fully understands and supports this vision, the next step is to pass it down to the lower levels of our organization. This includes deputy directors, top managers, program leaders, department heads, team leaders, and eventually every single employee who plays a role in making our organization successful over time.
B2B, B2C, online business, hybrid business
Once we’ve established these foundational principles, we can delve into the specifics. While the exact details will naturally vary depending on numerous factors, including industry, individual cases, and should always be assessed on a case-by-case basis, there are some broader considerations worth noting.
The next steps may diverge somewhat depending on whether the business operates in a B2C (business-to-consumer) or B2B (business-to-business) context and whether the goal is to transform an existing offline business into an online one or create a hybrid business.
If we were running a B2C business
Depending on what your goal is, you can use one of the following strategies:
a) Transform the offline business into an online business.
b) In this scenario, you would replace our sales team with marketing professionals or consider outsourcing marketing to an external agency. The funds saved from this transition would be allocated to a comprehensive advertising budget, primarily focusing on online platforms.
A hybrid business in place of an offline business
The situation adds some complexity, as it is necessary to retain the sales team for the offline business (potentially exploring cost-saving measures in this department). Simultaneously, there should be the recruitment of at least one individual responsible for the online domain.
The reason for hiring someone is to have an on-site presence who can inspire others within the organization with their work. Having one dedicated person for this role should suffice initially, as other tasks can be outsourced to a specialized external agency.
Running a B2B business
Again, depending on the specific goal, two different approaches would be feasible here.
Transforming an offline business into an online business
Vendors are needed in both offline and online businesses, so there are two options:
- Teaching salespeople the sales model for online business, and those who can learn it stay.
- Replacing the current offline salespeople with online salespeople.
In either case, offline marketing needs to switch to being online or should be replaced by people who specialize in marketing geared toward online businesses.
Transitioning to a Hybrid Business
In our view, out of the four models we’ve discussed, this one presents the greatest challenge. The reason is that, it requires substantial changes in both sales and marketing approaches.
Changing marketing methods, such as adjusting advertising strategies, altering promotional channels, and modifying performance metrics, can be perceived as a relatively straightforward process. This transition is evident in scenarios involving hybrid B2C businesses.
However, when it comes to sales, it is more complex. In this scenario, you need to have salespeople dedicated to offline sales and others dedicated to online sales. Furthermore, you must train offline salespeople to excel in online sales and vice versa.
But there is another fascinating aspect to consider in this model. For an offline merchant to effectively sell online, their customers must also undergo proper education. This is because we assume that these customers have primarily engaged in offline transactions until now, and now they are suddenly venturing into the online realm.
This element may be the most crucial in the entire transformation. It is not just about getting customers to sign a contract; it is about teaching them how to conduct business online. The success of the entire transformation hinges on this critical factor.
Do these changes need to be permanent?
Lastly, we address a matter of utmost importance, one that should remain at the forefront of your minds. You might recall earlier in our discussion that we mentioned the significance of appointing or hiring a change manager who becomes a part of the board of directors to emphasize the transformation’s importance for the entire organization.
Let’s revisit the definition of a change manager. A change manager is the person in charge of change. They plan, manage, and directly oversee the change process, ensuring it happens and becomes ingrained in the organization’s culture among all employees.
But what happens once the change has occurred? Does the organization still need the change manager who facilitated this transformation? If the change manager has been successful, they would have so thoroughly imbued the board of directors with their vision that every board member, responsible for their respective areas, naturally incorporates the online aspect.
So, is such a change, exemplified by a board member overseeing the transition to a hybrid business, a permanent one? Should this role persist in the organization over the long term?
The answer is not necessarily yes. It may or may not be needed in the organization’s ongoing operations. Once the change is effectively integrated into the organization, the role of the change manager may naturally conclude.
Embarking on the journey of creating your online business? Don’t hesitate to reach out to us! We’re here to provide expert guidance and support every step of the way.