The New Business Model—We’ve All Gone Virtual

The Internet and Managing Your Business

shopping online

Shopping online. Image: William Ivan, Unsplash

[San Juan Silver Stage | May 2020| Kathryn R. Burke]  

Today, we are living in a brand new world of business technology, and it’s evolving exponentially. Yesterday’s tomorrow is now tomorrow’s yesterday. The Covid Pandemic created pandemonium, and thanks to technology—specifically the Internet—we are finding a way to get through it and, hopefully, come out stronger because of it. There is a lot of good information out there, and unfortunately, “too much” information out there.

TMI is not helping when it comes to making sound business decisions that take into account the technological intricacies of our changing business environment. At the Silver Stage, we are right in the thick of it as we cut back on print and transition into a bigger and better web presence. Which means, we’ve been doing some serious studying. In the spirit of sharing—another positive outcome of Covid distress, we sincerely hope that sharing what we’ve learned with you may prove invaluable as you try to slog your way through neck-deep TMI.

BC-DC-AC (Before, During, and After Covid)

Before Covid, we welcomed our customers and clients, in person, to sell our merchandise and provide our services on a face-to-face basis. Unmasked. If somebody came in our place of business wearing a mask, they were likely to get arrested!

During Covid, we were shut down, at least for a month, and for some even longer. Today, many businesses are open again, but on a limited basis, and everyone—from business owner to those we sell to—is wearing a mask. In some places, not wearing a mask could mean getting arrested!

After Covid, of necessity, we learned some techy new ways to do business as we struggled to make ends meet. Some of us even prospered while we waited for those government checks to arrive. How? We used the Internet. Regardless of our prior knowledge of how to use it, the Internet gave (most of) us a new way to connect with customers, to sell our merchandise or services virtually. To join the world again while social distancing. We might not be able to sell in-person, so we figured a way to do it face-to-face over a computer (or smart phone) screen! A lot of the technology was already familiar—Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Vimeo, and other social media some of us had already been using. We just needed some personal fine-tuning.

How does it work? Wikipedia defines social media as “interactive computer-mediated technologies that facilitate the creation or sharing of information, ideas, career interests, and other forms of expression via virtual communities and networks.” In other words, instead of opening the front door to your customers to let them into your store or office, you open a “virtual” door to sell merchandise and provide services via the.

Social Media Sharing & Selling

Here is how savvy business owners are doing it (and if they can’t figure it out, their kids can, and since they’re quarantined, they can help set it up).

  • Email. To your customer/client base announcing new offerings and reminders of available services. (This could be dangerous if your list contains bad email addresses or your send list is too large.)
  • Newsletters. Much safer, using a social media service like Mail Chimp, which weeds out spam and bad emails and lets you display lots of pictures (people love pictures).
  • Virtual stores. Display merchandise for sale using a virtual “shopping cart” to keep track of purchases. This can be done via your own website, social media store, or through various platforms where you can purchase a membership. (The best is to set up a store on your own website, because it helps build a customer database, handy for sending newsletters and emails announcing new items. The more social media you employ, the more people you will reach.)
  • Live streaming. This is a two-way system with audio and optional video, letting presenter and viewer share information using a free or fee-based platform like Zoom. Examples:
    • Retail. Virtual fashion shows and trunk showings, where customers can buy online right that minute (and also add to that customer database).
    • Service. Virtual business meetings, consultations, or presentations on Zoom. You opt in and get an email with the link to join a meeting and a reminder when it starts.
    • Health. Virtual exercise classes, health care consultations, psychological therapy, and more for well-being accessed through “closed groups” (usually fee-based or by paid subscription) via platforms like Facebook and Zoom.
    • Entertainment. Virtual plays, concerts, and entertainment events that are live streamed and broadcast, usually via Facebook and often inviting friends to join in via a “Watch Party.”

One of the fun things about these activities is that with group events, such as a Watch Party, the viewer not only sees the performers or presenters, but also everyone who is participating. When someone joins the event, if they turn on their screen video, you can see them. Participants can “chat” by entering comments or making requests during a performance or sale event. Everyone is together while apart. Pretty neat!

Setting up an online store. Image: Roberto Cortese, Unsplash

Getting Paid

This all sounds great, but how does all this make money? Seems like a big learning curve, but is it worth the time and effort to learn digital marketing?

The short answer is, “Yes.” The long answer is “Yes, and the more you learn, the more you can make.” How does it work?  You sell merchandise directly, sell “tickets” to events, charge for services, set up monthly subscriptions, ask for donations (preferably through recurring contributions, i.e. monthly). You get paid through a payment portal (usually PayPal or Square) that collects the money, online (at point of sale) via credit card for a small fee. The money goes straight to your bank account and the portal system does the related bookkeeping, even building a customer database to keep track of who bought what. You may need a little professional help (IT person) to set it up, but after that you can easily maintain it yourself.

Working from Home

Elevate installing a computer in a residence. Image, courtesy DMEA Elevate.

Another big change that looks like it will be part of the “new normal” is working from home. Thanks to the Internet, in many cases, we can do our work remotely—tune in while we’re tuned out, if you will. The side effects are major, too. Less commuting means less air pollution, and therefore a positive effect on slowing climate change. Less traffic on the road means less traffic accidents, so less trauma ER visits. Family units can have more time together when parents aren’t spending so much time working away from home. How do you get paid? When you submit your work, the employer can see how much time was spent on a given project. Most times projects are fee-based: Work fast, you make more money; work slow or struggle, and your earnings-to-time-spent ratio goes down.

High-speed Internet

Virtual sales, performances, consults, working from home, and the myriad other changes resulting from Covid are possible today because we have high-speed Internet. Accessed with a modem (a device that transmits data from one computer to another without physically connecting them) and managed by a service like Elevate in Montrose and Delta Counties, we can do business remotely.

Now that some businesses are allowed to open, at least partially, and more will soon, access to high-speed Internet is no longer a luxury. It’s a necessity. And once you’ve learned how it works and what it can do for your business, you will continue to use it to manage your business and build it into your long-term business plan. None of us want to be caught short again if—better make that when—the next pandemic or economic crisis comes along.