1. Introduction

Superfast Business Wales digital expert Catrin Williams provides a helpful guide to moving your services and courses online.

Life has certainly changed over the past 12 months for us all both professionally and personally. How we took for granted those little things like going to the shops, eating out and socialising face to face. For those of you in business has come the added stress of losing valuable income and potentially customers, if they are either not spending or have gone elsewhere.

What can you do? Well depending on your business offering, adapting your service to help create cash, maximise resources and build resilience is an option but where do you start? You may see others flying along, quickly diversifying into new products or markets and you feel like you’re standing still because you just don’t know what to do, what to offer, how to do it, or if it’s even possible - and confidence plays a big part of this too!

2. Then and now

Maybe you were running busy fitness or yoga classes, flower or cake workshops, or art and craft sessions, and lockdown restrictions have put a stop to all your physical face to face activities.

Planning has been so hard for businesses. One minute restrictions ease and the next it’s back into local lockdown for yourself or your customers living outside of the area, all of which have caused headaches for lots of businesses over the last year.

Many businesses have been able to develop their existing online customer base and add new products and services. However for others it has been trickier – perhaps not having systems and infrastructure in place, not feeling digitally confident, limited IT kit, severely impacted income but also hoping that their business would be able to open its doors again at some point.

So nearly 12 months on, how can you secure your business and your future?

Your customers are a good starting point to approach and gain some thoughts about your potential idea of running online activities. They have supported you previously and hopefully they will be keen to support you now. Ask them what their thoughts are about your ideas, would they like to see your service online? Customers are desperate to have some level of activity and engagement with yourself and others, especially your regular customers. Ask what their hesitations would be e.g. technical ability, access to the internet and computer equipment or smart phone.

In the new world of Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Classroom, Facetime etc., different people have varying levels of knowledge, skill and confidence of using these platforms. Haven’t we all heard those dreaded words “Karen, you’re on mute!”?

Some customers may already be used to accessing your service or similar online, but for others it may be a totally new way of doing things. For example, some customers may regularly watch dance videos on YouTube but not considered accessing a dance class online before. Or for the avid cake decorators out there always looking at Facebook videos and Pinterest images, but until now they hadn’t considered joining your monthly online workshop.

They may be thinking:

  • How will it work?
  • Can I ask the tutor questions?
  • I’m not very good on the computer etc.

...so have a think about those possible questions, hesitations and barriers that people may have – put yourself in their shoes, you will know a cross section of your customers and their backgrounds so use that as a starting point and there will probably be lots more questions once you go out and start approaching customers for feedback.

Some customers will like the group interaction learning style whereas others may prefer more one-to-one tuition so something to bear in mind when planning.

Customer feedback is great and will hopefully reinforce your idea that online activities are the way forward – for the time being, and for the future, to run alongside your physical classes and workshops when you can throw your doors wide open again. You may pick up customers who are not local to you who will want to continue with the online classes, helping to secure your business for now and for the future.

3. Online platforms

Consider your platform of choice – where do you start? There are a whole host of different platforms out there, free and paid-for. Some of the more popular are:

4. Equipment & environment

Well the good news is you don’t need to spend a fortune as long as you have a reliable laptop or desktop computer, that should be enough to get you started.

Inbuilt cameras are usually sufficient although you can purchase a web camera for closer up or side view facility. Halo light rings are very popular for enhancing light coverage especially in winter months. You may also wish to use a clip-on microphone depending on the sound quality of your computer equipment.

Do you need a backdrop or dedicated desk/table space for your activity? Plan your space accordingly.

Will you have peace and quiet to deliver your activity? Again something to bear in mind in this day and age of home schooling, partners and others also working from home, and onscreen cameos from family pets!

You may think about setting up a dedicated space in your business premises if you have one, where you will have everything to hand including products that you may wish to demonstrate (or link sell).

5. Think about your to-do list

Lesson planning and content: how many sessions a week/month? Consider producing a How to guide for accessing your platform (or a what to do if it goes wrong guide!) What else do you need your platform to do? e.g. share photos, facility to ask questions outside of the session, etc.

Will you record your whole sessions or just the demo element? This is an area to think about for people who perhaps cannot attend all sessions. It’s also good to have this for people to watch back after the session as a reminder or if they are unsure about a particular technique.

Once you have this content saved, you could consider using another learning platform such as Udemy where you can sell your workshops to a wider audience at varying prices.

How will you take payment? Will there be an upfront fee for a certain number of classes (term) or pay as you book? This is an important area to consider depending on your offering.

Test your activity out before launching to the big wide world!

6. What could work online?

Could you deliver your face-to-face service remotely? Do you have a great idea for an online course? Here’s just some of the services that could be run online:

  • Fitness, dance, yoga and other health-based activities
  • Art and craft workshops and tutorials
  • Cake decorating
  • Floral designs
  • Make-up masterclasses
  • Wine tasting
  • Language classes
  • And much more!

7. Increase your income further

So not only will you have some income from your customers attending your online activity, you also have the opportunity to link sell and make some extra cash! For example, if you sell fabrics or sewing/craft accessories you could promote these through your online class and have prepacked items ready to order before the class starts.

Or you could offer an entry level course, leading onto the next level which will build up skills and knowledge but also encourage repeat bookings from customers.

8. How to get people interested

So how do you roll out this fantastic opportunity? Consider who your target audience is. This could be current customers, former customers, your social media following, your email marketing database - the list goes on!

Also have a think about using social media ads and Facebook groups centred around a particular interest e.g. fitness, cake makers, crafters, etc.

And don’t forget your loyal friends and family to start with. Sometimes it is the ones who are close to home that can really help to push your message out to their contacts, work colleagues and neighbours. And good old word of mouth certainly doesn’t do any harm!

9. Get expert help

Finally, speak to a digital adviser like me or one of my colleagues. By registering onto our free programme of support you can access free webinars and one-to-one advice.

You’ll find more how-to business guides, tips and articles in our Info Hub, as well as our free and impartial Software Essentials directory.