Few entrepreneurs start businesses because they are passionate about technology, and even tech entrepreneurs tend to say what they are most passionate about is helping customers.
But in this digital era, having an online presence is more important now than ever, and that means business owners must have at least some familiarity with digital concepts and tools.
According to senior CNET editor Claire Reilly, the past decade has seen the launch of numerous tools and services that make building an online presence easier than ever, and make even sophisticated capabilities accessible for novice users.
"The most important thing to remember is being a small business doesn't mean you don't have to market yourself," Reilly says. "You really need to compete with the big players - and you can. That is the really great thing about tech these days."
Reilly says the most important place to start is with a website. While this once required a degree of technical skill for registering a domain, finding a host and then building a site, Reilly says there are now multiple tools available that automate and simplify this process.
"There are tools like Wix and Squarespace that make it super simple with easy layouts – you don't have to be a design pro or a coding professional," Reilly says. "And it is a great way to do things like get your business hours out there, show photos of your products, and make it really easy for customers to find you."
Reilly says it is also critical for the business to have a presence on social media, as this is often the first place would-be customers will look for it, and social media is also a great place for supporters to share their experiences.
However, none of this will help in the long run if customers can't actually transact. Once again, Reilly says bringing ecommerce to a website does not need to be daunting.
For example, she says an app called MindBody delivers an easy way for customers of services-based businesses such as personal trainers and hair stylists to book appointments, while Shopify provides a simple option for retailers to start selling online.
"You don't need the big IT department, you don't need all of the infrastructure yourself," Reilly says. "You can just use one of these tools and really quickly and easily set it up, so once customers have found you, they can start buying things from you."
Once a site is established, business owners can then set about building out the look and feel that they want to present to the world. Some of the most helpful tools here come from Canva, an Australian company that makes it easy to create social media graphics, presentations, posters, documents and other visual content.
Canva's co-founder and chief product officer Cameron Adams recalls what it was like for his own business to get started in 2012, with just the three cofounders working from a cramped office. Today Canva employs more than 1150 people.
Adams believes there are two secrets to Canva's success that other entrepreneurs can learn from, with the first being how Canva builds its team.
"We create a real culture of inclusivity and empowerment, and we really focus on people who can take an idea from something that is very vague through to something that is really going to tackle the world," Adams says.
He says the second secret is how Canva works with its customers.
"Over the eight years Canva has been around we have grown from zero customers to over 40 million now in 190 different countries," Adams says. "And catering the product for each of those people, to let them do what they need to, in the language they operate in, to the market that they are going out to, has probably been the most important secret of our success."
Keeping on top of the needs of such a diverse customer base has seen Canva spend a lot of time listening to the needs of customers, and most recently that has translated into a new set of tools designed to help teams of people collaborate on designs.
Adams says this particular development has come as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, as many teams are no longer able to collaborate physically in the same place.
"e have focused on an end-to-end flow where you can come up with idea, share it with someone, get their input on it, get their feedback on it, and then take that through a finished product
According to Reilly, all of these concepts can go a long way towards helping a business build a successful digital presence.
"Be where customers need to find you, whether that is a website, or on things like social media," Reilly says. "Make sure you are collaborating remotely really easily. And then also convert your shoppers - make sure they can book and appointment or buy something from your site.
"It's really easy to do."