The essential steps to take a foodservice business online

Unquestionably, one of the industries hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic is foodservice. Small business owners found themselves starting nearly from square one, forced to rebuild their operations in a whole new way. A few succeeded. Many did not. And still more continue to struggle.

This webinar was one part of a few different efforts I helped create to guide independent coffee shops through the storm of COVID-19. I’m publishing it here because I believe it’s a valuable resource for all different kinds of small businesses who need to improve their online presences quickly.

Note: I don’t also moonlight as someone named Matt Milletto. Matt is the CEO of Bellissimo Coffee Advisors, and I happened to be using his account.

Website

Having a clear and appealing website is the first step to bringing any business online. Fancy widgets and animations matter a lot less than an easy to find menu, hours, and location. In fact, I cover what I call the website content pyramid.

Everything else

Pictures of food/drinks + your space

Location + Hours + Menu + Contact Information

One of my favorite things to tell coffee shop owners especially is that if your website was just a blank page with only your location, hours, menu, and contact information clearly listed, I would call that a passable website. It’s easy to get too bogged down in website creation.

Once you have that, adding as many images as you can is the next more important step when building a website. Food and drinks are often sold on how they look. Customers appreciate being able to see what they’re getting into before visiting a shop, especially if you can show off safety measures you’re taking around COVID.

Finally, there’s everything else. You certainly can include more, like your business’s story or your own bio, but 90% of new customers won’t care. Adding more about your business is much more useful to further engage with loyal customers, so it’s not something you should ignore, but it’s not a top priority if you’re doing major website renovations quickly.

To build coffee shop and other independent foodservice sites, I highly recommend a page builder like Shopify. I like Shopify specifically because it is fairly easy to use and offers ample online ordering ability from its ecommerce roots. Notably I also recommend small business owners avoid a custom coded website. While there are absolutely benefits to a custom solution, having the flexibility to change your site yourself should you need to is more useful. When COVID hit in full force, most business needed update their hours. With a page builder, that update is simple process. With a custom solution, you might have to wait for a developer to help you.

Search Engine Optimization

SEO is a massive topic, but most small foodservice businesses don’t need to worry too much about it. There are a few key steps to take that cover a huge chunk of good SEO, and everything else can be further refined along the way if there is a need for it.

Google My Business

I rate setting up your Google My Business profile only slightly below having a good website in terms of importance to local foodservice businesses. Your Google My Business profile is the very first thing that shows up when someone is searching for businesses like yours nearby. This is critical because you could not think of a better potential customer. This is someone within walking or driving distance who wants exactly what you’re offering. It is imperative that your profile is filled out as completely as possible and is up to date. Any additional pictures you can add to make your profile even more enticing are a huge boost as well.

Backlinks

Backlinks are another topic that we can dive much deeper into, but there’s no need for business owners to have an intimate understanding of how they work right away. What matters most is simply trying to get friends, business partners, local organizations, etc. to put a link to your website on their’s. This is called a backlink, and it signals to Google that your site is high quality. It’s basically a recommendation that others may also benefit from your site. With enough of these, you will start showing up very high in Google search results.

Social Media

Social media is immensely important to most coffee shops and small business, often the only kind of “marketing” they do, yet they don’t treat it like a priority. I believe this is almost always due to poor planning. With the right forethought, social media can both become a lot easier and a lot more effective.

Develop a plan

Simply think about what you want to post: what makes you unique, what do you get compliments on, what experience do you want your customers to have in your store. Write this down.

Pick only a few platforms

Trying to do too much at once will make everything you do suffer. As a busy business owner, any more than a 2-3 platforms at once is simply not feasible unless you’ve got a dedicated social media person helping you out. For more shops, Facebook and Instagram good options.

Build a media library

Create a shared folder with you and your employees and add all your shop’s images to it. Encourage employees to add to it as well with great moments in the store, fun interactions between coworkers, or anything else that might be fun to post about. As your library grows, you’ll have a constant source of inspiration that makes coming up with posts much less frustrating.

Stay the course

Pick a schedule and stick to it. I recommend most small businesses shoot for one post per week to start and adjust from there. To make things even easier, dedicate a few hours at the beginning of each month to come up with a whole month’s of posts. Much of the difficulty with social media comes from the panic that sets in when you realize you haven’t posted in a while. Be proactive and beat that panic.

Digital Advertising

If you’re a small business with even a little money to throw around, I highly recommend investing in some digital advertising. Ads on social media platforms like Facebook can have fantastic returns when done well. This is definitely the kind of thing you’ll want a professional’s help with, but a knowledgeable professional can easily be worth it.

Digital advertising has all the benefits of billboards or taking ads out in the newspaper, plus even greater transparency into how effective your ads are. You know exactly how each dollar you spend is performing and can make better decisions about where to allocate money.

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