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Pivoting to Online Sales and Marketing with Joe Casabona and Liam Dempsey

Podcast published: June 19, 2020

As more and more businesses are allowed to open across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Joe Casabona and Liam Dempsey discuss how businesses have pivoted their business operations to online and ecommerce. As web focused professionals, Joe and Liam share ideas and tips to help businesses get online, and offer a few local examples of businesses which have successfully implemented a change.


VIA DAILY LOCAL: Chester County on target to transition to ‘green’ later this month

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Intro: Hey, everybody. And welcome to another episode of Start Local, a podcast helping small businesses in Chester County and the greater Philly area as we navigate through this COVID-19 economy. 

Joe Casabona: I’m your host, Joe Casabona. And I’m here as always with my co-host, Liam Dempsey. Liam, how are you? 

Liam Dempsey: Fantastic. Joe, how are you?

Joe Casabona: I’m doing well. I,  yeah. I’m doing pretty well. Actually, the state’s opening up a little bit. We finally had a few days of nice weather, though it’s raining right now. So, I’m doing pretty well. And, this episode is going to be a little different. We don’t have an interview. We don’t have a guest this week. 

So, Liam and I are going to talk about a couple of quick news updates that we have seen. As well as the sources, right? We’re just presenting the news to you. And then we’re going to talk about our observations on the state of e-commerce. We are both web professionals, web developers by trade. We work on content and podcasts, of course. So, some of the things that we’ve observed and some takeaways for you, dear business owner.  So Liam, does that sound good to you for this week?

Liam Dempsey: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. looking forward to it. 

Joe Casabona: Absolutely. So, I want to start with something that governor Tom Wolf tweeted, well presented on his website. I saw it on Twitter and then clicked through to the website that Pennsylvania is one of three states that has seen a decrease in new COVID-19 cases for 42 consecutive days, which I thought was a really promising stat. You know, I’ve seen other news reports that other many states, well, certain states are seeing an increase in cases as they open up more. And, I’m glad to see that things are going well for most of the state, right? But, I think Liam that you, you found some other important information.

Liam Dempsey: Yeah. Again, i’ll just reading news, headlines, and clicking through the links on various studies and updates and reports. So, no independent research by yours truly, but there was an article in the Vista Today newsletter which is a fantastic little online newsletter if you have the opportunity to subscribe to that Vista Today is where you’ll find it on the internet. 

And It was talking about how the counties in South East Pennsylvania in and around Philadelphia including Chester County. We’re stacking up and transitioning from red to green to open up and that how Chester county was behind on a couple of key metrics around the spread of the disease. And inevitably, I have no doubt that our former guest Marian Moskowitz and her fellow county commissioners are working on that. But  It looks like there’s still some work to do to get Chester County back up and running, which, it’s probably a good thing that folks are still working on it. 

Joe Casabona: Yeah, for sure. For sure. I think that, you know, as we enter the third month, we’re in the middle of the third month as we record this, of the stay at home orders. I think people are getting anti, but I believe that, most people, you know, kind of anecdotally think that we should do it the right way. I see when I go out, I see everybody wearing a mask, which is really nice to see because you hear these other maybe fringe stories about people who are refusing to wear masks. But happily that has not been my experience, which is good.

Liam Dempsey: Yeah. I think embracing best practices around keeping others safe I think it’s hopefully pretty clear that the cloth masks that individuals wear don’t do much to keep themselves as individuals safe. It’s more that they keep those around them safe so it’s about the community coming together to keep each other safe and that’s I think is important. 

Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. And so, you know, Chester County is still in the yellow phase, right? Which I think we entered into a couple of weeks ago as we record this. And so that means that, there are some businesses are opening up at certain capacities, but we’re not, we’re certainly not all the way open yet.

And, you know, something that Liam, you and I were talking about was even if the government does deem the state ready to open up, that doesn’t necessarily mean that consumers are ready to go out, right? There might not be that conser confidence.

Liam Dempsey: I think that’s a hugely important point. And not to say whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing but the reality of that, that’s likely to be the case of the mere fact that the restaurant is open doesn’t mean that the same kind of numbers are going to be there, or that a retail shop is open that the same number of customers are going to walk through the door, or any other kind of in person type of service may not jump back to its previous pre Covid-19 business level simply because government restrictions have been lifted.

Joe Casabona: Right. Exactly. And, but that doesn’t, that’s not all doom and gloom. I think that there has been a big movement online to e-commerce. I saw something in an e-commerce newsletter I subscribed to that’s been floated around the internet that in the first eight weeks of the stay at home orders, kind of since the pandemic hit, there was the number of e-commerce websites doubled. So, take the eight weeks from, you know, March 13th or so to May 13th or so. And, the number of e-commerce sites was the same as the number of e-commerce sites created in the previous 10 years. And the newsletter is called 2PM. We’ll link that in the show notes. Everything that we’re talking about over at [startlocal.co]

But, I thought that was really interesting, right? Because as Web Developers ourselves, we’ve spent most of our career trying to convince people that they should be online, right? Liam, probably you know more than me. 

Liam Dempsey: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that, that number is staggering for so many different reasons, just the sheer speed with which so many businesses and owners and leaders have pivoted to online. It’s just astounding. And I suppose it’s reflected in so many different ways across COVID-19 that so many of us actually did stay home and were able to stay home, and were able to still eat and get the necessary things that we needed by and large. I don’t want to minimize the suffering and the shortfalls that a lot of folks are dealing with. That’s certainly very real and very quantifiable, even though if we don’t have the data in front of us. 

But yeah, there’s been a huge shift to online marketing and e-commerce, and a lot of business promotion online. And I think through the inevitability, I guess, of lockdowns with COVID-19, this might be a game changer, really. I don’t see folks going to the trouble of getting online as restrictions drop and people start to come out of their houses. I don’t think people are going to stop doing business online.

Joe Casabona: Yeah. That’s absolutely right. Like, you know, people aren’t investing in an infrastructure or a new system to abandon it as as soon as they don’t need it anymore, right? And I think probably that the truth of the matter is they’ll realize that they’ve needed it all along. And they just haven’t seen the value. I know, that happens to me constantly with tools I use and things that I wasn’t necessarily convinced of, and I start using and I’m like, where have you been all my life? So, I’m confident that it’ll be the same for people who are getting online now.

Liam Dempsey: Yeah. I almost feel like there might be some sort of a phone first moment here. I don’t know if you remember the old yellow book ads from decades ago that warned the audience not to just go to the store but to phone first to see if they had what we needed. In a COVID-19, it’s buy first and then go, collect at the store. And I’ve certainly done that with the local True Value near me, where I could definitely order it on Amazon. But I like my True Value. I can go there and be home in 10 or 15 minutes, and I have whatever little thing I need to deal with this little job at home. And if I don’t support that business, that little True Value might not be there in future years.

So, I think a lot of businesses to your point will see ways that they’ve been able to make money and keep themselves afloat. That their customers are still going to like and still going to want it. Maybe it’s going to look a little bit different when there is the opportunity to safely interact in person. But there’s a lot of value in just buying something and being able to go and get it yourself, and be home 10 or 15-20 minutes later.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. And similarly, there’s a bakery that’s close to where I live, the Brandywine Bakery  and they make great bagels. As a New Yorker,  as somebody who grew up in New York, I judge my bagels to a very high standard and the Brandywine Bakery does a great job with their bagels. So, you know, when all of this started, they implemented an online system where you had to order ahead online, you would get a text or an email when your order was ready, you would go pick it up. It was all contactless and they had that stood up in a matter of weeks. And I think that was an amazing and very smart pivot for them. And I know it’s working out because their stuff is on Sundays, their stuff is sold out by, you know, 9: 30. so you got to get in early and get your stuff. 

Liam Dempsey: That’s a great example.

Let’s talk a little bit about getting online and what does that look like? You know, you and I have, as you said, I’ve been doing this for years and and admittedly as developers and mud marketers and designers, we’re gonna push for more. It’s better than less. But realistically, it doesn’t need to be everything. We all don’t need super big fancy e-commerce websites that automatically send texts when orders come out of the oven and the like. Chat through some of the options, what could a small business whether it’s retail, (let’s focus maybe on retail for a minute) what could a small retail business reasonably get into on its own? How would that look like? Would that shape up to be?

Joe Casabona: Yeah, that’s a great question, right? Because I think that at least for me, I’ve been in the web development game a long time, so have you.

The first e-commerce website I tried to stand up as a tech savvy person seemed like an impossible task. But today it doesn’t need to be right. You’ve got Shopify, you’ve got Squarespace, which has e-commerce, both of those I believe you can develop your site without making it go live for free.

Liam Dempsey: Yeah. Big commerce is an option as well. Yep.

Joe Casabona: Yep. And so there are a lot of affordable options there, you know, Squarespace. I think Squarespace e-commerce starts at like $12 a month or something like that, or maybe it’s $30 for e-commerce. But either way, a small amount of money for you to make more than that back in that month. 

But even so, you don’t necessarily need to set up a full on website to make that pivot online. Right. Etsy is another one that I have written down here that I didn’t mention yet, but Etsy is another way for you. You know, if you’re doing crafts or stuff like that, they provide the infrastructure for you. You just list your products online. People can buy them and you ship them, but, you don’t have to worry about the web presence. But even aside from that, right, Liam, you, know, before we started recording, you mentioned a few great ways that even without using an e-commerce website, you can pivot online and still connect with your customers.

Liam Dempsey: Yeah, absolutely. It’s, you know, using sites like Facebook, maybe Yelp, maybe, even Twitter or any number of social media sites where really the goal is to share access to our business, to build an audience and collect contact details. And so that could just be Twitter followers. That might be enough. It could be likes on Facebook, but ultimately we want to communicate what we’re selling, why that’s good value, and how to buy it. And in this day and age, how to collect it safely or how to get it or how to have it delivered. 

And there’s a lot of different businesses that are doing this. The running store in Downingtown is a shoe store for runners and running apparel as well. And I’ve bought shoes there for a few years now and has, and they deliver. And so you and their shtick always was come to the running store and they will help you get the right pair of shoes. So they really know shoes. They don’t sell you a pair of shoes. They get you the shoes that your feet, your running style, your gait, your pace, your age, your body shape needs. And,  they’re old school. All of their records are on 3×5 index cards. And little, like recipe boxes kind of thing. But they’re selling, and you can call them. And they’ll drive their shoes out to your house, and it’s a great way to pivot. And yeah, they have a website, but is it all singing and dancing? No. But it doesn’t have to be, right. It’s really just find a way that your business can benefit in the way that works for you, you know, so if you’re only on your phone, and you don’t really do a laptop with any kind of regular basis, go with a solution that you can totally manage from the phone.

And really, then on the back of that is just communicate as often as possible or as often as is reasonable knowing that it’s a crazy world. It’s a crazy time. So sharing our sales message once people are going to miss it or they’re going to see it. They’re going to be interested, but dinner’s ready or their child is crying or their boss just emailed and said is that report done yet? So we have to come back to them over and over again might feel a little nauseating for us because we keep doing it. But if we’re genuine in it, we’re stopping by their virtual presence and saying hey, this is still an opportunity. That might be a value for you. And I think that’s how businesses can do it. And there’s a lot of different way in that big umbrella to make that happen. 

Joe Casabona: Yeah. I think that’s a really great point. And I know one of our previous guests, I think it was either Erik Gudmundson or Marty McDonald, maybe mentioned that just the importance of building some way for you to reach out to your customers has been something that a lot of business owners are realizing now.

And there are a couple of tools if you just want to build an email list. There are a couple of free tools out there. MailChimp is a favorite among people getting started in email marketing. My personal favorite is Convertkit, which now offers a free tier for the first thousand subscribers.

Liam Dempsey: Which is an enormous number. I mean, just as marketing folks go, a thousand email subscribers is a distribution list that you can make some significant money on. Most distribution lists start at the hundreds. And if not the dozens, but dozens are still valuable. They’re still totally valuable. 

Joe Casabona: Yeah. I mean full disclosure, I’ve been doing this for a long time and my email subscriber list is not much more than a thousand. You know, I finally started to make a concerted effort. But I’ve been in business for like 20 years making websites and I just started like a few years ago realizing that I need an email list. 

And so, you know, and Liam, what you said about feeling nauseated that I’m reaching out to my customers so much is absolutely true. But you know what? I have not seen a mass exodus. You know, I just launched a course and I emailed them every day over the course of a week and I did not see a mass exodus of emails. I saw some people open them. Some people didn’t. Some people said, I’m not ready to do what you’re teaching yet. Keeping you posted. 

And I read in Marketing Made Simple, a new book by Donald Miller, the same guy who wrote,  Building a Story Brand, love his work. But he said that, you know, in order to make a sale or to convert, you need to connect with a potential customer eight times or seven times. And In order to do that, you probably need to actually reach out like 50 times. So it’s just the nature of the game. Maybe they don’t check their email at 7am when you send your newsletter. And by 4pm when they do check their email. It’s gone. It’s buried in other stuff. So, reach out very, you know, send the emails at varied times. I know something that I’ve been doing in ConvertKit a lot is resend to unopens about five hours later, six hours later, and that’s really helped. That’s helped my open rates and my click rates, and it has not increased unsubscribes. So, you know, just a few tips there for managing an email list specifically. 

Liam Dempsey: Yeah. And I think with any kind of digital marketing, whether it’s email or Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn or anything like that, even TikTok, it’s thinking about the types of connections and campaigns that connect with us. You know, an email a day is a lot to send somebody. So don’t send them the library. You don’t need to send them a product list every day. You don’t need to send them a detailed sale about everything. It’s short, sweet, and to the point. And easily digestible, easily readable. But in some ways also easily ignorable, which is a good thing in a sense, because it doesn’t feel like we’re overwhelming them. Wow, another sales email? And thinking about what we like and wondering would we want to get that? And really thinking about it from a customer standpoint, because our marketing, in a sense, is not targeted at all for us. We don’t matter in our own marketing. I mean, we do in the sense that we want to make money out of it, but we’re not going to go into our store and buy a thousand dollars of whatever we sell. We already own it. We’re trying to sell it to others. So, really thinking about that, and just because we have the technology to send something doesn’t mean we should send it in that format or in that way. So, thinking about the audience and how would they want to get it.

Joe Casabona: Yeah. I think that’s a really great point. And I know as a developer, I fall into that trap a lot. You know, I resisted the pop up email, subscribe to my list or whatever on my website for a long time cause I hate them, but you know what? I implemented one and it built my list with quality people who are just looking for good value. People aren’t going to just do something unless you explicitly ask them to. That’s been a hard lesson that I’ve learned. And I think it’s something that it’s harder to do online, right? If someone’s in your store, you could say, Can I help you with anything? Did you see that we have this on sale today? And they’re in the store, so they’ve expressed some interest. But, in an email, it kind of feels like you’re reaching out into the void and saying, Hey, does anybody want this? But, if somebody signs up for your email newsletter, consider that them walking into your store.

Liam Dempsey: Yeah. Two points on that is, the pop up functionality that you and I use to implement our own sites and on our clients sites Is much better, much more subtle and much more nuanced than it used to be. it used to just be bing bing bing, slap smash right in your face. But it’s a lot more subtle. It can do it. can wait. It can just be in a corner. It can only be on certain pages. It can disappear after a certain amount of time. So there’s a lot more subtlety there. So that’s one point. 

And then the second point around, you know, they’re walking into a virtual store. I think it’s really important because somebody comes up to the counter of what we’re selling. Hey, you got this, you know, we have this attachment that works really well. A lot of folks like, and yeah, it’s a sales pitch, but it’s one that’s delivered on value. You know, 9 out of 10 people who bought what you’re buying have bought this thing. Oh, really? That’s interesting. Cause yeah, I could see, I could put it on here and use it in that way. Yeah, I’ll take that too, please. And so, we want to find ways to do that online. And it doesn’t have to be about buy, buy, buy. It can be, here’s a valuable add on. If you don’t want it, that’s totally cool. Yeah, click the close button. We’re all about that. But, Oh, Okay. Yeah. So the average order went up by 20 or 30 percent because they’re buying the add ons that are relevant.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. And perhaps we’ll do a follow up on this. But this is all because they trust you. That’s, you know, they’ve signed up to your newsletter, you’ve delivered value, they trust you.

Liam Dempsey: In the same way when they come into your store and your restaurant, it’s, they trust you. They trust the food, they trust the staff, they trust the quality. 

Joe Casabona: But we’re coming up on our time here. And so, perhaps we can each maybe leave the listener with an action item or a takeaway for them to consider as they move more online or start to move online for the first time. 

Liam Dempsey: Yeah. And I’ll start with a basic is write a plan to get online in some structured way. And write us a few bullet points about how that plan is going to be rolled out over three months, the next three months. So much changing, no point in planning for six months or a year at this point if you’re just getting started. So that’ll be my action is start a plan. Come up with something really, just one side ofa digital docent or a piece of paper, not super detailed bullet points are fine.

Joe Casabona: Great. And my tip will be to, yeah, implement some piece of that plan, you know, in the next week or so, because we’ve mentioned a bunch of tools. If you want to start selling online, try Shopify or Squarespace. Those are super fast and very affordable. If you want to start building an email list, I recommend MailChimp. I think that’s the easiest one to get started and it’s free. And lots of people use it. So, either, you know, list your first product online or get that first email address. Email your friends and family first and say, Hey, I started a mailing list. Well, do you want to join it?

Liam Dempsey: And I’ll invite the folks who listen to the show here too. Let us know. What are you doing? Where have you, what have you implemented? And we’ll definitely chat about it in an upcoming episode. We’ll certainly share about it on social media or on Twitter. And,  let us know. 

And also, if you are aware of other businesses in and around Chester County that have successfully pivoted in ways that you find really valuable as a customer, absolutely let us know because we want to talk about those too and talk to those folks about how they did it.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, for sure, for sure. The ways that you can get in touch with us, if you’re listening, on the website, there’s a contact form. If social media is your jam, we are at @startlocalshow on Twitter. That’s @startlocalshow. So, all of that will be in the show notes at [startlocal.co].

So Liam, thanks for the good chat. I really enjoy when we get to shoot the breeze.

Liam Dempsey: Yeah, this was fun. A little change of pace for us and, I liked it. Hopefully people find some value in it.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. And thank you for listening. And until next time. Stay safe out there.

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