Ottawa County

Expanding online presence can help businesses succeed now, come back stronger

Editor's note: This column is part of a series featuring Lakeshore experts offering advice to small businesses as they navigate their recovery through the COVID-19 crisis. 

With so many people staying home, working from home, and social distancing, it is no surprise they are spending a lot more time online. Even as Michigan’s businesses are opening back up and welcoming customers, online marketing and selling will continue to be extremely important as we adjust to this new normal.

If you have a brick-and-mortar business and don’t have an online presence, now is the time to do so. Already online? Now is the time to expand your presence and look for new opportunities. Double down on your digital marketing efforts, create or upgrade your e-commerce storefront, and look into social media selling.

Email marketing

Your customers need to hear from you now more than ever. In this rapidly changing environment, they want to know what is going on with your business, your inventory, open status, and the safety precautions you have in place.

Hopefully, you have been collecting your customers’ email addresses. Now is the time to use that list. With people staying home, they have more time to read and engage with your marketing messages.

Consider offering discounts and specials to help get new customers, show loyalty to existing customers, and get people through the doors or buying online. Think about volume discounts and bundles to raise each customer’s order value.

When communicating with your customers, strike the right tone — upbeat and positive, but still empathetic and genuine. Don’t minimize the impact of the pandemic, but show that you are hopeful for the future. Be transparent, and manage expectations. During this time, customers will understand if there are product shortages or shipping delays.

Don’t’ forget to end with a call for action.  It could be to go to your website, make a purchase, or engage on social media.  

Social media

Now is the time to invest your time and energy into social media. Big companies are pulling back their marketing dollars, but posts and ads are seeing higher customer engagement. What does that mean for you? Less competition for a more engaged audience.  
Let customers know about the many ways they can shop at your business.

While you might usually use social media to drive clients to your physical location, now might be the time to encourage online or curbside pick-up sales.

If you are a retail store owner, do a video-walkthrough of your business, highlighting certain products. Mention what you are doing to keep your products, employees, and customers safe. End by telling viewers how to make a purchase.  


It’s no surprise that e-commerce revenue was up 49% during the month of April, according to Adobe Analytics. With much of the economy shut down, customers are turning to online shopping for items that, prior to the pandemic, they would always purchase in person.  You want to make sure that shoppers can find you today, and have a way to easily purchase your products. 

If you have a little technical skill, you can create your online store using platforms such as Shopify and WooCommerce. If you have WIX, Squarespace, or Weebly websites, you can easily add the built-in e-commerce functions to your site.

Social commerce

If you don’t have the resources to build your own e-commerce platform, you can sell your products and services directly on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and other social channels. Social media shopping, also known as social commerce, refers to companies selling products directly within social media platforms.

By using social commerce tools, you can build your entire store on your chosen social media platforms. The entire shopping experience happens without the customer ever leaving the social media site. You can add and update products, sell directly from your page, manage orders and shipping, and promote your store with organic posts or paid ads.

We can’t predict what the future holds. Stay positive, be innovative, and keep working toward your goals. This is an opportunity to use your downtime to come back stronger than ever, with the online tools in place to succeed now and as the economy starts to return to normal.

Michigan SBDC COVID-19 Assistance
Facebook Global Coronavirus Resource
Instagram COVID-19 Playbook
Google for Small Business COVID-19 Assistance

Liz Hoffswell is a certified business consultant for the Michigan Small Business Development Center, which is based at the GVSU Seidman School of Business in Grand Rapids. She has more than 25 years of experience in management, operations, finance, sales, and marketing, working with organizations of all sizes. Additionally, Hoffswell is a serial entrepreneur and has started several small businesses throughout her career. 

If you have a topic or question you would like Liz to address, send an email to Managing Editor Shandra Martinez at [email protected]

This article is part of The Lakeshore, a new featured section of Rapid Growth focused on West Michigan's Lakeshore region. Over the coming months, Rapid Growth will be expanding to cover the complex challenges in this community by focusing on the organizations, projects, programs, and individuals working to improve conditions and solve problems for their region. As the coverage continues, look for The Lakeshore publication, coming in 2020.