Take Your Business Online with This 3 Step Strategy
Regardless of what your actual business is, just imagine for a moment that you own and operate a yoga studio that relies entirely on in-person classes for income.
Depending on where in the world you live, at some point during February to March 2020, you woke up one morning under a social distancing lockdown forced to shut your studio doors... indefinitely
At that moment you thought to yourself:
“Oh sh*t! How am I going to make money and pay my employees? How will I make rent next month? Will I go out of business before I’m ever able to reopen my doors again?”
As all these scary questions began shredding your psyche, you finally took a deep breath and realized that there’s a way for your business to continue. But it requires a pivot... a complete move from offline to online services.
Although you may not run a yoga studio, you probably do run a traditionally offline company and this article is here to help you take your business online.
And the steps you're about to learn aren't based on some theoretical, pie-in-the sky pontifications either. It’s based on the actual experience of a local yoga studio (owned by my wife in the remote city of Windhoek, Namibia) taking her completely in-person business online — overnight.
So are you ready to learn all the steps you’ll need to take to keep your business running in these unprecedented times of social distancing?
Awesome! Let’s get started.
First, Figure Out What You’re Going To Sell Online
If you’re still reading this, then I’m assuming you do own an “offline” business that sells some kind of in-person products or services.
And because you don’t run an in-person yoga studio, I know the question you’re now asking is “How will the steps you show in this post actually help me take MY business online?”
Well, here’s the thing. It’s important that — whatever your business is — you avoid making the 1:1 Mistake.
In other words, it’s a mistake to try and offer the exact same thing online that you were providing offline. There’s very few offline businesses out there where this will be appropriate and it ignores the new tools and opportunities at your disposal to create a better online version of your product.
If you simply focus on replicating your business for the online marketplace exactly as it appeared offline, it will feel overwhelming or impossible to do. But if you take a step back and ask:
"What is the actual product or service I’ve been offering until now?”
...bringing your business online will become far more feasible.
Remember, people don’t want a drill, they want the solution the drill provides: a hole in the wall. So first figure out what the “hole-in-the-wall” aspect of your business is and bring an online version of that to life!
To help you with that, Hanne’s recently published an article about How to Adapt Your Business in Times of Social Distancing.
Read that now if you still need help determining what your new online service needs to be and then we’ll pick things back up in the next section.
Don’t worry… I’ll wait for you here until you’ve got it figured out.
It’s Time To Choose Your Own Online Business Adventure
Now that you’ve got your online service figured out, let’s continue by helping you set up the tools necessary to get everything going.
I’m assuming that your initial online service will hinge on hosting online events (1-on-1 consultations, group workshops or group classes). If this is not the case for you, then the rest of this article isn’t focused on addressing your special needs.
If you’re still reading this however, then it means you do need help setting up a set of tools to host online events. And don’t worry… even if you’re planning on offering more sophisticated products in the future (like online courses or even physical products), getting set up to teach your skills online is one of the quickest ways to get started.
To show you how this works in the simplest way possible, I’m going to maintain the yoga studio experience we discussed at the beginning of this article in order to walk you through this process.
Although your business may differ from the specific use case I showcase below, I’m going to offer you all sorts of “Main Takeaways” and alternative tools along the way so you can “choose your own business adventure” and make sure whatever online class system you setup meets your particular business needs.
So with that said, let me show you how to take your historically offline “yoga studio” online… ;-)
Step 1: Notify Your Students that Classes are Going Online
Since your “yoga studio” has been in business long enough to have an established customer base already, let’s assume you maintain a current mailing list that you communicate to your students with.
Get Started Building a Mailing List
If you don’t have a mailing list for your business yet, then you’ll need to begin growing one as soon as possible.
Take this free Thrive University online course to help you jump start that process. Just create a free account to get going!
It’s time to let your community know that — due to social distancing measures aimed at protecting the safety of all clients, employees and fellow members of the community — in-person classes have been suspended…
… but your online classes are about to begin!
And since pandemics don’t occur on business friendly timelines, that means you probably received some student payments already for in-person classes that are now canceled.
Oy-vey! Won’t your customers be upset?
If you explain the reasons for your closure in a rational way, probably not.
Take immediate action by pausing all memberships indefinitely, refund anyone who is adamant about getting their money back, and then be pleasantly surprised at how most of your customers understand the situation and offer their support.
End your communication to customers (email or otherwise) by letting them know that online classes are on their way very soon. Even better, offer free online classes for an initial period of time (or number of sessions).
Ideally, this will give both you AND your students some time to get the online class system running while everyone overcomes the unavoidable tech hurdles you’re certain to face.
Step 1 — Main Takeaways:
- Whatever your “offline” business is, notify current customers that in-person services are ending, but that your online services are on the way.
- Pause all in-person service memberships or subscriptions (if applicable).
- Refund customer purchases when and where appropriate.
- Be surprised at how much support your community gives you — assuming your services have been of great value to them.
- Announce you’ll be providing some free online events (1-on1 consultations, group classes or workshops) for an initial period to help everyone overcome the technical transition from offline-to-online services.
Step 2: Host Your First Free Online Events
Okay, so your students and customers now know that you’re moving the business online.
Awesome. It’s time to set up the tools you’ll need to start hosting actual online events.
Better Online Events: How to Run a Physical Class Online
If you need help learning how to actually run your group classes online, Shane published a free mini-course showing you exactly how to do that!
In fact, his Part 3 lesson titled "How to Run a Physical Class Online" will teach you about all the gear you need to host a class (cameras, microphones, etc.)...
... as well as how to set it all up to deliver great picture and audio for your students. Don't miss it!
Unfortunately, this is where things get a bit tricky.
So let me ask...
Does Your Business Already Use an Online Class Scheduling Tool?
Still using the yoga business example here, but does your “yoga studio” already use an online group class scheduling and student attendance system like PunchPass to help manage your business?
If so, I’ve got good news — setting up online classes is going to be pretty straightforward for you.
If not, then you’ve got some additional work to do.
Online Meeting Scheduling Tools for 1-on-1 Client Businesses
If your business relies on 1-on-1 consults like personal coaching, tutoring, medical consultation (like psychiatrists, dentists or veterinarians do), then you should use an online meeting scheduling tool instead.
We recommend using either Calendly or Acuity Scheduling for this.
These freemium online scheduling tools for personal meetings provide you with basic functionality without having to pay… and then allow you to host your 1-on-1 consults over free video chat platforms like FaceTime or Skype.
You can even learn how to automate your Calendly or Acuity Scheduling bookings with Thrive Architect by clicking here.
Yes, Your Business Already Uses an Online Class Scheduling Tool
Let’s say your “yoga studio” already uses a tool like PunchPass to manage classes and take student attendance. Then all you need to do is integrate it with Zoom to start hosting free online classes.
For just $15 a month on Zoom's "Pro" plan, you can host as many online classes as you want with up to 100 attendees. And PunchPass's Zoom integration only takes a few clicks to set up within your account:
With PunchPass, students create an account with your “yoga studio” (or any type of business that relies on group classes) so they can then book your online classes. If you were using this system with your students prior to the move online, then nothing really changes for them.
They log onto their account, see what online classes are available either through the Schedule-List or Calendar views, and reserve their spots in your classes:
And once you integrate Zoom with PunchPass, you simply continue create classes like normal on the PunchPass system, and then PunchPass automatically schedules those virtual classes for you inside Zoom:
When students reserve one of your classes, PunchPass emails them all the information and relevant links needed to attend:
PunchPass even sends out a reminder email to students 20 minutes before any class begins!
And since Zoom gives you the option to record your classes, you have the ability to send all students who signed up for a given class a quick email through the PunchPass dashboard including a link to the replay. How long you make your class replays available is up to you.
How simple is that?!
Already Using a Different Group Class Scheduling Tool?
If you already use a different class scheduling tool to manage your group classes or workshops, check to see if it already has some sort of live streaming video feature or integration available.
Hopefully they offer a similar setup and feature capability to what we’ve illustrated here with the PunchPass + Zoom combo.
If you use Mindbody — the most widely used (but also most expensive!) group class scheduling tool — they appear to be working on a live video streaming service that will be available to their mainstream users soon. However, this new Mindbody online class video feature is still in beta.
As of this writing, MindBody is signaling that they intend to charge extra for this video streaming service (on top of their already pricey monthly fee) on its mainstream release.
Bonus Goal: Get As Many People As Possible To Sign Up For Your Free Classes
Once your free online classes are up and running, you’ve got every incentive in the world — literally — to get as many people as possible to attend.
That’s because (unlike in-person yoga studio classes), there’s no limit to how many people can join your classes. In addition to your local students, anyone in the world with an internet connection can sign up.
If you’re using the PunchPass system, just encourage people to create a student account with your studio so they can partake in your free classes. If you promote this correctly (via your email list, social media accounts, etc.) you can transform your local “yoga studio” into an international audience.
After your free online class period ends, some of those international clients might just stick around to become paid customers… how’s that for an opportunity?!
No, Your Business Doesn’t Use an Online Class Scheduling Tool Yet
This probably means you’ve been managing all your in-person classes offline somehow. That’ll be hard to continue now that you’re taking your “yoga studio” online.
That’s why I recommend opening an account with a platform like PunchPass to help you create, manage, and track attendance for all your virtual classes.
Not only will this help you see who attends your online classes in one convenient place, it will also help you facilitate payments for online services after your free class period ends.
However, if you’d rather not get involved in setting up this more sophisticated combo tool just yet, here’s a single-tool option you can choose to use instead...
CrowdCast Live Streaming Video Events
Okay, so IF you’ve got ZERO technology setup and want a way to start offering free classes or workshops RIGHT NOW with a single tool, then I recommend you check out CrowdCast.
Want To Learn More About CrowdCast?
Watch Shane's CrowdCast webinar and live events review video below (from his ActiveGrowth blog) to get a better idea of how it works as well as all of the tool's Pros and Cons:
Once your 14-day free trial period gets activated, you can instantly create live streaming “events” you’ll invite your students to attend via a link.
The downside to CrowdCast is that your live events are limited to 2 hours in duration (bad for long workshops) as well as a certain number of live streaming hours per month depending on the payment plan you choose. For “yoga studios” wanting to offer more than 4 group classes per week, this will force you to use one of the higher priced CrowdCast plans.
And although you can stream live events without having to spend any money on social media platforms like YouTube or Facebook...
...the reason I’m recommending CrowdCast for your initial free classes is because it will give you the power later to start charging money for attendance — but more on that shortly.
Again, CrowdCast isn’t the most sophisticated solution for hosting online classes for a “yoga studio” business, but it may be the easiest thing to implement if you have ZERO technology helping you run your business at the moment.
Step 2 — Main Takeaways:
- Before you start charging for your online events, consider offering them free for some initial time period. This will give both you and your current clients time to work through any technological growing pains that surface as you take your business online.
- If your offline business is already using a group class management platform like PunchPass, integrate it with an affordable webinar tool like Zoom to start offering free classes right away.
- Online Scheduling Tool Alternative: If your online business is going to offer 1-on-1 consults rather than group classes or workshops, use a meeting management tool like Calendly or Acuity Scheduling instead. This way, individual clients can schedule meetings with you, which can then be conducted over free video chat tools like FaceTime or Skype. This tool combo will cost you little to nothing to get going!
- If your offline business doesn’t have a group class scheduling or individual meeting scheduling tool yet, you’re going to need one. Depending on your type of business, I recommend PunchPass for group classes and Calendly for 1-on-1 consult scheduling.
- All-in-One Tool Solution: If you’d rather not use a combination of tools for your online business just yet, check out CrowdCast to get a single-tool solution up and running to offer free classes right away. This option still leaves the door open for online Stripe payments in the future once you’re ready to offer paid online classes.
Step 3: Start Charging For Your Online Events
So here you are.
You’ve come a long way since that fateful morning where you woke up to find your community in lockdown and your “yoga studio” doors closed until who-knows-when.
Instead of panicking, you found a way to let your students, clients and customers know what the plan is, offer them free classes during the virtual transition, and now find yourself ready to start charging for services again — just online.
The only thing left to do now is integrate whatever system you chose to setup with an online payment processing tool.
Here's how to get that done fast so your business can finally start earning and income once again…
Option #1: Integrate PunchPass with Stripe
PunchPass makes scheduling your classes, managing attendance and accepting payments from customers easy — which is why I’ve mentioned it so much in this article.
They also offer great customer support and are quick to add requested features, which I can attest to from personal experience.
So now that you’re ready to charge for classes, PunchPass makes it easy to create different class “products” your customers can then buy to access your live events.
Create products like single class drop-ins, 4-class packs, 8-class packs or even an unlimited class monthly option… you’ve got lots of choices when it comes to pricing your group classes:
The only caveat is that you’ll need to pay for PunchPass’s top tier “Banyan” service ($89 a month) to get the Stripe payment integration you’ll need to charge for classes.
But think about it.
Once you combine the “Banyan” plan with your $15 per month Zoom webinar plan, you’re only paying $104 USD per month to get everything needed to schedule, manage and sell your classes online.
As a quick comparison, MindBody charges a whopping $159 per month for their most basic group class scheduling plan alone — and that’s without any access to any of their upcoming online streaming video features added yet!
If I was taking an offline “yoga studio” virtual, this would be my tool stack of choice to get a group class business online ASAP.
Option #2: Integrate CrowdCast with Stripe or Your Patreon Community
A much less powerful, but RIGHT NOW solution for hosting paid online classes is the CrowdCast option discussed within the Step 2 section above.
Assuming you’re going to host at least x4, live 1-hour events per week, you’ll need to select CrowdCast’s $89 per month “Pro” plan to stream up to 20 hours of online classes within a 30 day period.
And once you’re ready to assign prices for event attendance, you can integrate your Stripe account with CrowdCast to accept payments.
As an additional benefit — if you have a community of Patreon supporters already — you can integrate Patreon with CrowdCast to host exclusive events for your patrons. Because it’s possible to monetize the skills you teach through the support of a Patreon audience, CrowdCast makes this “paid event” option easy for you as well.
However, a big downside to using CrowdCast is that you can only set up a single price point or sliding scale donation options for each of your events.
Instead of being able to offer different sized class packs or even unlimited monthly attendance plans (to incentivize economy of scale purchases), your students will be forced to always buy per class — which could be problematic for your business.
Are such lacking features worth the simplicity the platform affords you to get started? You’ll have to decide.
Option #3: Use Calendly for 1-on-1 Consult Scheduling and Send Clients an Invoice
Let’s face it…
Your business is going to be a bit simpler to manage if you’re only dealing with a single client each time you host an online call.
That means you only need an efficient way for people to schedule 1-on-1 consult calls with you and then a way to accept payments to get things rolling.
Your meetings don’t have to occur on some fancy webinar platform… they can take place over a free online video tool like FaceTime or Skype.
Consult scheduling is as easy as signing up for a free Calendly account and telling the system what time you’re available to take calls. From there you can send potential clients to your scheduling page where they book one a time slot that works for them.
And accepting payment for your consultations doesn’t have to be complicated here either. Have them send you money over PayPal, Transferwise or just send them a good ol’ fashioned invoice.
By the time you have so many clients banging down your doors for high dollar consults that this starter system becomes unwieldy, I guarantee you’ll have upgraded to a more sophisticated method already.
Step 3 — Main Takeaways:
- Option #1: If you want a complete, affordable and feature-rich solution to offer paid group classes online, I recommend using the PunchPass “Banyan” plan + Zoom’s “Pro” plan tool combo ($104 per month in total fees)
- Option #2: If you want to start charging for live online events with the least amount of technical hurdles (but with a very limited set features that could be deal breakers for your business), consider using CrowdCast’s “Pro” plan ($89 per month in fees)
- Option #3: If you’re only looking to conduct paid 1-on-1 consultation calls with individual clients, start by using Calendly’s free plan for scheduling meetings, a widely used service like Skype for video calls, and manual payment requests through PayPal or Transferwise.
Ready To Take Your Business Online?
When the decision came to move my wife’s yoga studio from 100% in-person to 100% online classes, we had the technology setup and running in a matter of hours and hosted the very first free class in just two days.
Instead of rolling over and letting things beyond our control decide if and when we can do business, we made a quick pivot and are now providing an online yoga service to those in our local Windhoek, Namibia community as well as new customers from around the world!
So are you ready to make the pivot and take your business online?
If yes, then let us know in the comments what sort of business you’re trying to take virtual and any questions you have about when it comes to taking these steps to succeed!