Chief Executive Officer at Startup Canada
From lockdown measures and shifting consumer habits to mass online workforce migrations, COVID-19 has had immense, and often devastating, impacts on Canadian entrepreneurs and their ventures. With these barriers, comes the opportunity to capitalize on the ongoing digital transformation currently reshaping the workforce and national economy. While ample cash flow is helpful in mitigating the damaging effects of the pandemic, startups have one key advantage over large corporations in the online world: the ability to move fast to go far.
According to a recent PayPal study, 67% of Canadian small businesses accept online payments, with 47% starting in the last 12 months as a result of the pandemic. Selling online allows business owners to expand their digital presence, often translating to increased product visibility, improved success measurement, and introductions to new markets. Making the decision to sell and operate online can slingshot startups to global markets overnight. Before entering the world of e-commerce and global sales, consider:
While you’ve likely heard of Shopify, the multinational e-commerce platform with 1.6 million + users, you may not have heard of WooCommerce, Pinnacle Cart, or the endless other options. Each organization offers different payment options and customization ability – choose wisely!
Payment is a key part of a customer’s experience in an online store, so selecting the right payment methods and providers are vital. The two main payment categories are credit cards (representing 62% of all point-of-sale transactions) and digital wallets. Fees, available currencies, recurring billing options, and customer support differ based on the provider.
Founders should ask themselves what they want their business to look like in 10 years, and plan fundraising efforts from there. Are they self-funded and small scale, backed by non-dilutive bank loans and debt, or VC funded? Avoid backing yourself into a corner, both in terms of financing and business model.
One of the most overlooked factors leading to a startup’s success selling in new markets, including online, is digital marketing. Thorough market research, and identification of a strategy that fits your new market’s consumer landscape are both important to consider. For more in-depth international marketing advice, see here.
Strengthen Your Foundation
A new age of digital transformation is here, and with connectivity at an all time high, business owners run the risk of spending too much time in their business, not on their business. With the rapid expansion of e-commerce use, entrepreneurs should remember one guiding principle – don’t add an addition to your house before strengthening the foundation.
Avoid overstock or stockouts with cost-effective inventory management processes. These processes can include forecasting, calculated ordering, systems for multi-channel buying, and identifying a balance of investments in inventory versus other areas.
Over 60% of Canadian businesses have seen a rise in targeted cyberattacks since April 2020. Founders should ensure their cybersecurity protecoles are up-to-date before expanding their operations. RiskRecon offers free cybersecurity assessments for small businesses.
Take advantage of the new ‘work from home’ model, and see it as an opportunity to expand your hiring pool – nationally or internationally. With geographic location no longer being a barrier, new hires can serve your venture in numerous capacities, including acting as a physical presence in a new market.
Despite the unpredictability of COVID-19, 64% of small business owners in Canada say it has motivated them to innovate, and continue to grow. Along their journeys, many have realized the key to success relies on a hybrid of bricks and clicks, as well as prioritizing customer experience. Amongst a period of unprecedented change, one thing is certain – founders are strategizing and community building, not paying their way, out of this ongoing digital transformation.