As someone who works exclusively via the web, it’s interesting to talk with brick-and-mortar business owners who haven’t yet considered the possibilities of working remotely. The conversation quickly moves to ways to streamline work, increase the talent pool available to the company, and — most fun of all — unique and exciting ways to promote the business online.
Going Virtual With Products
Especially if you’re dealing with a physical product, there will always be a need for manufacturing facilities, but unless you’re creating a custom- or hand-made product for each and every customer, it’s likely your company already outsources, or in some way remotely manages, production.
The key then becomes creating a virtual setup to replace the traditional brick-and-mortar model, such as needing a physical storefront for customer experience or to showcase products and allow browsing. There are many examples, however, that prove it’s perfectly possible to create an amazing customer experience that’s also completely virtual.
This is one site that demonstrates how the virtual experience may even trump the in-person one. Heartbreaker Fashion offers vintage-inspired clothing, and as with many online clothing retailers, the way it beats the brick-and-mortar shopping experience is by displaying every single outfit on a live model so that customers know, at a glance, whether outfits will work for them or not.
What makes Heartbreaker Fashion stand out is in its branding. Their website provides a boutique experience that makes the customer feel special, beautiful and feminine, and like they are getting to treat themselves to something out of the ordinary — all with simple, unified website branding!
Amazon (s amzn) is great example of a company that has been a purely virtual business right from the very start. As the website explains, Amazon “strives to [be] Earth’s most customer-centric company,” and in my experience, it’s achieving just that.
While Amazon’s headquarters are physically-based, their products have always been sold exclusively online, and in fact, Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, was named as Time magazine’s person of the year (s twx) for his “vision of the online retailing universe [that] was so complete, his Amazon.com site so elegant and appealing, that it became from Day One the point of reference for anyone who had anything to sell online.”
Going Virtual With Employees
As even Amazon has seen, setting up remote employees can be the most challenging part of creating a completely virtual business, but for many businesses, it’s highly possible to set up a distributed team for managing the work of the company. Here, it’s not so much a matter of examples as of logistics.
Although you may be able to forgo a physical location, it’s still important to have a centralized place (even if virtual) where employees can gather to communicate, collaborate and even socialize. Here are just a few of the options for online communication and collaboration for your team:
It’s important to maintain a unified front with communications (email addresses, phone numbers, etc.), especially when working with independent contractors and freelancers, who generally have separate business-branded emails and may be dispersed around the world.
Services like Google Apps, Google Voice, (s goog) and RingCentral can easily and seamlessly tie communications together for all employees and remote workers, without costing a lot in money or setup time.
Going Virtual with Marketing
Marketing is perhaps the most interesting and fun part of taking a company virtual. The possibilities for creating unique and memorable promotional campaigns online are truly endless and can actually be a great way to interact with customers to strengthen brand loyalty and recognition.
According to Dachis Group, Honda (s hmc) is one company successfully integrating online social media for business. Through their “Friending Honda” efforts, they reportedly “increased fans from 15k to 422k, generating over 3,500 dealer quote requests.”
Smaller companies need not be afraid of big name power when it comes to online marketing, since it’s possible for almost any company to create successful strategies and campaigns around their products to help grow their customer base.
These days, with rapidly developing technology that’s available to businesses, as well as the Internet becoming the go-to method for staying connected as individuals, going virtual is not only possible, but in fact, quite necessary.
How much of your company operates virtually?