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Tips from a few experts on transitioning your business to online

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Posted at 7:33 PM, May 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-04 00:33:40-04

MICHIGAN — With in-person shopping at most businesses minimized or stopped altogether right now, more and more businesses are transitioning to doing everything online.

Take Stacy Gnewkowski, for example, owner of Hawthorne Boutique. At the time when her 3 boutiques closed their doors on March 16, she really didn’t have an online presence, but that quickly changed.

“We had done some 'live events' before, where you sell online, and lot of boutiques do it and we decided, ‘Okay, let’s try this’”, Gnewkowski told Fox 17.

The live events are similar to HSN and QVC, and are held on Hawthorne’s Facebook page every week or two, where potential customers can hear and see Stacy talking about each item while she wears it.

“It’s meant to be interactive with our customers, we get to chat with them as we sell,” Gnewkowski said.

We spoke with Liz Hoffswell of the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) about businesses doing exactly what Stacy did: transitioning to online during the pandemic and even after.

Hoffswell is a certified business consultant and said while an online presence is vital right now, it doesn’t have to be an expensive new website.

“Another thing a lot of our clients are starting to do, which, a lot of them maybe they’ve heard of it but didn’t realize how easy it was to do, but, you can actually sell on Facebook, you can actually sell on Instagram, on Pinterest. You don’t have to have an e-commerce platform to be able to do that,” Hofswell said.

That is exactly what Hawthorne Boutique is doing.

“It was perfect because a website takes way more time to set up”, Gnewkowski said.

In addition to those "Live Events", Hawthorne sells directly from Facebook with a subscription to a platform called “Comment Sold”, which looks more like a traditional website without video, but allows the customers to easily make purchases, as Gnewkowski explained.

“So if I were to put up an item, I could say this is number 105, and then the customer could say ‘okay, sold 105, large blue’ and that’ll automatically goes in their “comment sold” cart," Gnewkowski said.

Hoffswell said social proof is incredibly important right now for business looking to sell online, and adds that businesses should reach out and ask their clients to post reviews.

“It’s been found that people trust the reviews that they read online more than they trust recommendations from their friends and family," Hoffswell said.

Other important keys to successfully selling online, according to Hoffswell, include a good product description which includes size, and letting the customers see the item for themselves clearly with a picture and a video if possible.

But, Hoffswell adds, you don’t need a fancy camera or a fancy backdrop, just some natural light with your latest cellphone camera should do the job.

She adds that an easy secure payment system like PayPal or Venmo is important too, and lastly, don’t hesitate to reach out to the resources that are available for local small businesses.

“Whether you meet with us (SBDC) once or 100 times, you’re never going to get a bill from us,” Hoffswell said.

She also recommends the Small Business Association of Michigan and local Chambers of Commerce.

You can access the SBDC website here and the Small Business Association of Michigan website here.