4 Lessons Small Online Businesses Can Learn From Brick-and-Mortar Shops

3 min read · 7 years ago


The process of starting a business has clearly evolved. From 20 years ago, when only the established could become entrepreneurs, online platforms and an increase in availability of resources has opened the floodgates. This, of course, this hasn’t changed the fact that anyone can fail.

Only a real novice will ignore the experience of the experienced. Taking time to look at your competitors and those who came before you is important, because even though you may believe that your idea is better, you set yourself back in striding forward with unrealistic expectations.

The main comparison that I believe is important to make between your (potentially) new and unique idea is to see how that industry was handled before the Internet. This may be non-applicable for some startups (what was the offline equivalent of Google, for example?), but every concept can be traced back. The idea for Google came from the need for a simple landing page for the vast content of the World Wide Web — a starting point. It’s the information point of the Internet. The concept, however modern, came from a very tangible demand.

Take From the Old to Succeed With the New

It’s easier to translate other brick-and-mortar businesses online, like flower shops or jewelry sellers, with basic Photoshop and sleek web design. But ignoring the basics of what made these businesses successful is like trying to run a marathon without training first. So if you’re starting out, consider the essentials that have been honed with hundreds of years of handshakes and window displays.

  • Hold normal business hours. Even the online entity needs to maintain consistent when it comes to availability. Your local corner shop owner doesn’t just show up as and when he fancies it, and your online business should be no different. This translates to your delivery of service (or product), your response time to queries and how efficient you are at meeting client expectations. Just because you can run your entire enterprise online doesn’t mean you can log on when it suits you. Being an entrepreneur means living and breathing your business. There is no “closed” sign on the door of your website.
  • Remain customer centric. It’s easy to get wrapped up in industry forums and become hooked on a new stream of consciousness that you come to believe will be the lifeblood of your fledgling startup. Success is scintillating, but never forget to remain customer centric. Back in the days where business was done over the counter, you couldn’t just duck under the table and read the business section of the paper; you had to smile and serve on. And if you didn’t? Well, you’d end up with all the time in the world for your reading — and your shop would be closed within months. Remember this when you’re getting the balance right between looking after your existing client base and where you want your business to be in five years. The customer, as always, should come first.
  • Listen to feedback. The online culture makes it very easy for potential customers to write you off without a second thought. Far from having to physically turn their back on you and walk away, the modern-day consumer can simply close a window and you’re gone forever. First impressions count, and soliciting feedback from clients who can tell you what was the core of their decision to engage your services is key. Statistics and view counts are very helpful for translating the amount of traffic that comes your way. Find out how to increase the percentage of visitors that become clients and you’ll increase your income too. Listen to your client base and adjust your “store front” (landing page, web content, marketing strategies) to appeal to them and keep evolving to meet their expectations.
  • Upgrade and evolve. Don’t ignore the possibility of a rebrand or proverbial refurbishment of your business. As you grow, you’ll learn what works and what doesn’t, and be able to add new platforms to your repertoire. Sometimes, the idea you started with can look completely different in five years, so don’t dig your heels in. Stubbornly sticking with your original plan and refusing to evolve with your business will bring you to a standstill. Be constantly refreshing and breathing new life in to your concept to keep it thriving.

It’s no secret that the high street is dying a slow and painful death. With the majority of fresh faces in business basing themselves and their idea online, it’s easy to forget that physical commerce ever existed. But the lessons learned from years of tangible trading should not be overlooked when you’re considering creating your concept. Look back before looking forward, and you’ll give yourself a running start.

Xenios Thrasyvoulou is the founder of PeoplePerHour and SuperTasker. He is also a passionate PPHer, avid blogger, lover of art, design and all things quirky and minimal but words in particular; he’s also a fan of the uncommon and unconventional and a vintage fanatic who specializes in poking the fire and stirring things up, and suffers from an overly curious mind.

BusinessCollective, launched in partnership with Citi, is a virtual mentorship program powered by North America’s most ambitious young thought leaders, entrepreneurs, executives and small business owners.