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Around the grounds How Sunshine Coast businesses innovated to survive during the COVID shutdown

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The shutters came down, tables and chairs were stuffed into cafe corners and the streets fell silent. 

Like the rest of the nation, overnight Sunshine Coast businesses were slammed with the reality of Covid-closures, lost sales, fear and the great unknown. In the spirit which makes this place great, there was no lying down and giving up. Our business owners hustled, collaborated, innovated, and learned on the fly. Under never-experienced-before trading conditions, businesses grabbed hold of digital tools to, not only survive, but thrive. Here are their stories. 

Sunshine Coast Orthopaedic Group

What they do

Practice owners and Orthopaedic surgeons Dr Daevyd Rodda and Dr Frank Connon run this leading lower limb orthopaedic care practice, specialising in hip, knee, foot and ankle care. They provide high quality surgical and non-surgical solutions with world-class surgeons who help people get back to doing the things they love. 

 What happened when Covid-19 hit

The Commonwealth Government ceased all elective surgeries, which meant postponing all existing surgeries booked at the practice, leaving many patients in pain waiting for hip and knee replacement surgeries. 

 How they innovated

Within a week the team were delivering a new telehealth service, hosting online video consults with the doctors helping patients manage their condition during shutdown. 

 “We focussed on helping our patients manage their pain by delivering non-surgical pain relief management treatments such as PRP Therapy, Synvisc® and Cingal® Injections,” Dr Rodda said.

 The team also prepared an integrated digital marketing campaign to be ready for when elective surgeries would be available again using their website, Mailchimp, Facebook and other communications.  

“On the of day the announcement we were ready to communicate that elective surgeries could commence again, taking surgery bookings from our existing and new patients – a win-win for everyone,” Dr Rodda said. 


Factory Direct Shutters

What they do

Justin Ralph owns and operates this blinds, shutters and awnings company based in Maroochydore, servicing all of South East Queensland. A large part of their client base are seniors and retirees who were somewhat fearful initially during the shutdown of having sales representatives in their home to measure and quote. 

How they adapted

To address the changed landscape and a downturn in the economy, Justin reviewed industries that had retained their employees like health and professional services and targeted those industries and roles using targeted Facebook advertising with offers specific to the industry, for example 50% off for health workers.   

 The team quickly included messaging on the website and ran online advertising to show what measures had been put in place to provide a safe service. 

“We also provided video calls for virtual sales consults so that no one had to feel unsafe and social isolation rules could be followed,” Factory Direct Shutters owner, Justin Ralph said.  

Understanding buying habits

The business continued to focus its efforts on monitoring the changes in people’s buying habits in Australia and quickly adapted digital advertising and messaging to suit. 

“Currently we’re focussing on messaging around how we sell Australian made products produced by a family-owned, local business, and interest free opportunities for customers,” Justin said.    

Hampers To Go

What they do

Hampers to Go offer a premium range of hampers focussed on locally sourced, decadent foods and beverages. Business owner Libby Marker started the business after spending a great deal of time researching the ideal gift hamper for her husband’s business and not really finding what she was after.

The exceptional produce in the region became her inspiration to design perfect, desirable gifts for those who matter most. It also provided an opportunity to support Sunshine Coast producers and showcase local food and beverages places which attract visitors from all over the world to the region. The business operates online and has a retail store in Marcoola.

How they responded to Covid  

“First we created Stay at Home hampers which could be ordered online to tap into the shutdown scenario and contactless situation, which we promoted via our website, enews and social media channels” Libby said.

Sales of the Stay At Home hampers soared during March and April with corporates buying for their teams and families using the hampers as a way to stay connected and supportive of each other.  

Easter and Mother’s Day were some of the biggest days in the business’s history too, completely selling out of all hampers, tapping into a significant increase in online shopping and home deliveries.    

Sunshine Coast Grammar

 What they do

Established in 1997, Sunshine Coast Grammar School is an independent, co-ed based school for Prep aged children to year 12. They also have an Early Learning Centre on the campus.  The school’s focus is on providing education based on individual care and attention with high quality academic, cultural and sporting programs in a supportive learning environment.

What happened when Covid-19 hit

The school had planned Discovery Week, a week-long series of open days to showcase the school for parents and prospective students. Marketing and Communications Manager Megan Meineke and the team had just finished planning the major open day series, including significant digital marketing campaigns which had to be postponed just days before launch.

 How they innovated

“As we were unable to do face-to-face tours for prospective enrolments, we quickly created virtual tours of our learning areas and facilities as well as video content on our website for parents,” Megan said.

 “We also continued to stay connected with our existing parents and students via our online learning portal which was key during the remote learning phase. Clear and regular communication was vital and allowed us to adapt and respond to the changing environment.”

 With the easing of Covid restrictions, a Discovery Week series has been rescheduled for 10 to 14 August. However, rather than offering the typical group tours, the school will showcase the campus and programs to parents via private, personalised booked tours for each family. No small feat!

MJJ Accounting and Business Solutions

 MJJ is a team of expert Chartered Accountants based in Maroochydore. Led by experienced Director’s Melanie Jacobson and Renee Spears, they work with a range local businesses across health, professional services, retail, property and construction and more. They help business owners realise their goals through empowering them to run better businesses.       

 What was the impact of Covid-19 shutdowns?

“There was a lot of fear and uncertainty amongst the Sunshine Coast business community when shutdowns were announced,” MJJ Accounting Director, Melanie Jacobsen said.

“We reacted immediately to support our clients by initially providing tools for them to project where there business was at and what cashflow and HR issues they may be facing.  

“Once the government announced the various stimulus packages available for business, we began providing interpretation and advice on the various options for Job Keeper, Job Seeker and the range of support programs being announced daily.  

“This was delivered through a range of digital channels included our website, Mailchimp, Facebook, blog articles and of course many a phone call and video conference with our clients.”

 What does innovation look like for you?

“Our biggest innovation is the way we are helping our clients to innovate to explore new opportunities and do business a little differently to build a strong position in challenging times.  We’re really pushing our clients to use this time to become more efficient and try new ways of doing business.  Such as introducing new delivery options to their products and services, delivering ecommerce solutions to expand their market and looking at ways to streamline their business operations to improve cashflow.” Said Director Renee Spears.      

 In their own business MJJ have used the time to review their digital marketing lead generation approach including an update to their website and investing in search engine marketing to maintain their strong presence in the market. 

Alex Surf Club

What they do

This Club offers several significant social spaces for relaxed dining, takeaway coffee and eatery, bar and live music with a sea view that’s hard to top with profits supporting the Surf Life Savers equipment, training and other needs of that club. They also have venue spaces for hire.

How they innovated 

CEO of Alex Surf Club, Ashley Robinson and his team kept the kiosk open and introduced takeaway packages for food and beverages, including tap beers supplied in 2 litre growlers for members to order online. Rather than leaving their resources to stagnate, they also used their courtesy buses to deliver food and beverages locally.  

“We used our database to promote offers via email and Facebook to our membership which worked pretty effectively and kept us ticking along,” Ashley said.

Sunshine Coast Plants

What they do

Gardening fanatic and founder Anthony Lacon started Sunshine Coast Plants having noticed there was a gap in the market for home delivered, high quality plants.  His hub is based in Buderim and services the Sunshine Coast and South East Queensland regions with a newly built Shopify ecommerce website. 

What they did during shutdown

“We were in a unique advantage as our business was already contactless and providing door to door plant delivery,” Anthony said. 

The business took advantage of their online offering and promoted via Google Ads, paid Facebook ads and also direct-to-trade landscapers.

During the peak Covid shut down time, the home improvements sector experienced a huge surge and the business experienced significant surge in online sales and deliveries having been in the right place at the right time with a hassle free online delivery service and reasonable pricing.  

Mask Events

What they do

Mask Events started in 1999 with current owners Domenic and Rebekah Fusca taking over the business in 2014 and growing it to become the largest event management, experiences and styling company in the region devoted to living and breathing high quality, memorable events.

The big Covid crash

When Covid-19 shutdowns occurred, all of Mask Event’s bookings gut-wrenchingly cancelled and postponed their events overnight, leaving the team to hustle to remain operational. 

How they turned things around

As a major flip on their trademark face-to-face events, Mask quickly implemented a virtual event e solution from the US, which brings together all interactive technologies to run an event via online seamlessly. 

While restrictions lift, the team are currently delivering this offering as a solution for a range of businesses.  

The team also used this time to build a new ecommerce website and to develop a hiring equipment aspect to the business for delivery or pickup of event hire theming and equipment.  

“The scale back of real world events created space for us to photograph over 1000 event theming items and build and launch the new site,” Domenic said.   

“We’re also currently promoting a range of “DIY Cabin Fever Cures” event packages to host small parties at home as the restrictions lift.”

Smart Solutions Rehab Group

Regina Heffernan, Owner and Occupational Therapist employs over 40 staff in her multidisciplinary, individual rehabilitation NDIS service. As an NDIS service provider, the Group provides assessments, evidence based treatment plans, and clear treatment time frames to give people a plan that puts them back in control of their health. 

 How they navigated Covid closures

To support their major pivot in service delivery from face-to-face to virtual, Smart Solutions  created videos to show clients new safety procedures. The organisation also had to adapt fast to change all its business processes for home visits by implementing Telehealth solutions for the first time which they promoted via website, Facebook and email using their database to connect with the right stakeholders.     

During the shut-down restrictions the business also celebrated their 5th birthday.  

Regina said “We really wanted to bring the team together to say thank you for the last 5 years, though were challenged with event restrictions.  So we created a socially distanced drive-through style event where staff drove into our party zone and picked up a lunch box and birthday cake on their way to client sites.”  

F45 Caloundra

What they do

Alex and Penny are the owners of one of seven F45 fitness centres across the Sunshine Coast (each individually owned). The F45 ethos is focussed around delivering the world’s best workout.

“A huge benefit we have carried across with this transition during Covid has been the continuity of community and purpose,” Alex said.  

“For us it has always been about pushing hard at your own pace, but together.”

The impact of Covid 

Gyms were one of the first businesses to be closed to the public, so the team had to work fast to keep their community connected, looking after their health and fitness and keeping the business trading. 

We shifted our group training workouts from within a studio to completely online and after some initial hiccups, it’s now a streamlined experience for members,” Alex said. 

“All of our personal trainers also provide live online workouts on a platform that allows us to interact with our clients and still coach seven days a week.”

“We wanted people to be able to keep going with resistance and weights training too. The barrier for us was that all of the fitness equipment was sold out at stores, so we decided to introduce an Equipment Library, so our clients could ‘check out’ a piece of equipment each week from us and exchange it the following week. This has been fabulous.”

The business reduced regular membership rates for the online environment too and added additional services and discussions from allied professionals in the community, plus weekly challenges to keep it fun and competitive for members. Even a DJ for Saturday morning training sessions was brought on board!

Local innovators

Some pretty spectacular collaborations and inspired offerings have emerged in the region during the Covid shutdown time too.

Ohana Group launch produce box

The Ohana Group is an online collaboration of chefs, restaurants, growers and processors based in Noosa but supporting buyers and collaborating with people all over the Sunshine Coast. 

Ohana launched The Crate Collective, a Sunshine Coast based initiative that brings together a collection of premium products not normally available to the public unless they are dining out. 

The crate consists of gourmet products and recipes, and is a way to support local producers during these times. Ingredients featured in the crate include Mooloolaba Prawns, Fraser Island Spanner Crab and Green Valley Finger Limes. 

Virtual tours with a twist!

Josh Donohoe of Creative Tours and Events launched a weekly Meet the Maker at Home series to keep folks connected and enjoying local produce and products. 

Each experience delivers local produce to your door which is followed by an online session featuring some of best local brewers, farmers and chefs bringing a mix of live interactive online sessions including information and tips. 

Josh has also launched a new online craft beer trail and map featuring 18 local breweries on the Sunshine Coast to help promote the region’s craft beer scene.

Key takeaways from these local innovators:

  • Digital marketing efforts like online teaching, digital advertising and eCommerce are great ways to support and grow your business easily.
  • Keeping a customer experience and customer needs focus is essential to survival.
  • Understanding market demands can help businesses adapt during challenging times.
  • Collaborating with other professionals is a great way to build new, innovative income streams and support your existing customers.

Keep your creative business collaborations flowing, virtual communities growing and your digital marketing efforts happening. Innovation happens when people come together to collaborate in new and creative ways. 

If you are looking for additional support and resources, check out the Sunshine Coast Council’s Level Up Program website for further resources and ongoing training opportunities.


Getting your online sales soaring with digital marketing

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As we slip our Ugg boots on to sit down at the desk parked awkwardly in the living room, another Zoom meeting loads up and it seems as normal as making toast. We’re all now starting to feel more at ease and productive running our businesses from home and even excited about the path to selling online. 

In our last blog From Bricks to Clicks … we shared tips on the key areas your business needs to succeed when making the move to selling online. Benefits like 24/7 trading, increasing reach to a global market and gaining invaluable customer insights were some of the main reasons to move to your selling efforts online. We also explored three main areas to get right to ensure your online selling is a big success: 

  • determining your online business model 
  • deciding where to sell and setup the platform 
  • providing excellent customer service.

With some new options, steps taken, and decisions made about selling online, we can now look at some powerful digital marketing tips to get your online sales soaring.

Why understanding your audience matters

Creating a clear and defined target market is an essential task before getting too far along the selling journey. 

It’s a foundational activity in marketing because your audience isn’t ‘everyone’. Imagine trying to promote and appeal to everyone with your particular offering, it does not work. Over time your market segments may expand or change, but it is best to choose one or two target markets only and understand them well. 

The trick is to identify and understand your particular forte, so you can dominate it. This makes your precious marketing budget go much further too.

Knowing who your audience are and what they like matters.

Ways to find out more about your audience

Keyword Tools

Not sure what search engine friendly keywords to use for your business or ad to get in front of the right customers? These research tools are a fun and easy way to help you out. 

By searching for words or terms associated with your products or services, keyword research tools help you find the keywords most relevant for your business. 

Google’s Keyword Planner as part of GoogleAdwords can also give you a bid estimate for each keyword, so you can determine your advertising budget. Semrush is another popular keyword tool which offers a free trial and ongoing paid option.

Google Keyword Trends

Data tells a story and the major benefit of Google Keyword Trends for your business is that you can identify seasonal trends then create and promote the right content at the right time to increase visibility of your offering. It also allows you to avoid overnight sensations by looking at data popularity spikes and finding relevant topics trending right now you can capitalise on within your website content and advertising. They also help to plan your social media content calendar more powerfully!

Google Analytics

Google Analytics is a biggie, so strap in! This tool is essential to have linked to your business’s website as it provides excellent reports about the kind people visiting your website, how they got their and what they do to help build a better picture of your audience.  

More about this one later.  

Facebook Audience Insights – using Ads Manager

Like Google Analytics, the more customer insights you can review, the better placed you are to deliver meaningful messages to people, which is the rationale behind Facebook’s Audience Insights. This tool allows business owners to learn more about their target audiences, including information about geography, demographics, purchase behaviour and more. 

For instance you can look at buyer behaviour around purchasing activity. For example, heavy buyers of men’s shoes instore vs. online. You can view that information for different groups of people such people on Facebook (your general audience), people connected to your page or event and other audiences you may have customised in the past. Handy!

Facebook’s Audience Insights dashboard. Have a play around with it!

Free online reports on media consumption  

Free online reports on media consumption provide a thorough view of how people are consuming media and entertainment, particularly in digital forms. They examine the behaviours, preferences, and trends impacting the industry and how they are changing. Knowing the popularity of the video medium, or whether certain audiences hate ads for example are useful insights for you to consider as part of your online selling tactics mix.

Surveying existing customers

Satisfied customers become loyal, repeat customers that are more likely to repurchase and share their experience with others. A crucial step in meeting the needs of your customers is asking how they feel about your company. You should survey them to find out how they feel about your products, services and prices and company itself. 

It’s a powerful way to tune into what they like, dislike and also spot any areas for improvement. Survey Monkey is a popular easy to use tool to get the job done.

Promotional Channels and Tips

Google Search (unpaid and paid)

People are searching for your products right now, make sure you’re visible! Google dominates the search engine use with 98% market share so focus on that.  Here are some top tips for doing search well: 

SEO – Unpaid Search

Start with these core areas to maximise your visibility and sales online: 

  1. Keyword research: It’s necessary to figure out what people are typing into Google, compare the data, and then optimise our pages based on that.
  2. Beautiful backlinks: Backlinks are links pointing to your website, from other websites. Think of it like a behind the scenes referral to your site. It’s one of the top three ranking factors in the eyes of Google (they do still matter. Don’t believe the hype).
  3. Optimise content: Those are the first places Google is going to look at to get a feel for what your page is about are the page title, the URL and the H1 tag and subheadings. Be sure to place your researched keywords there liberally so long as the customer experience is front of mind, that it is appealing for the user.  
  4. Write more: Google’s goal is to give users the best possible result that can solve their query. Most of the time, longer, high-quality content does that better so put the effort into providing SUPER USEFUL information without waffling on too much!

Moz create a free SEO 101 guide to get your head around the in’s and out’s of SEO

Google Ads – Paid Search

Digital Advertising (paid search) is an efficient way to drive more traffic to your site, rather than via organic content. While organic search pays off big time in the long run, it can take time to be recognised by the Google bots. Paid Search pays off fast, helps you generate more qualified (ready to buy) leads, provides measurable results (data is so handy!) and improves brand recognition.  Like unpaid search it is important to know what your customers are searching for and what problem their trying to solve to target and write your ads.   

There’s a lot going for Google Ads and it can be easy on your business’s back pocket! 

The basics of search engine promotions is easy to get started though the learning curve gets pretty steep and technical the further you go, though luckily there’s plenty of local marketing businesses on the Sunshine Coast who can help you get setup and get results in google.  

Build your own website

Creating your own website is an essential part of your digital marketing mix as it’s your shop front and the central point for which a lot of the other marketing efforts covered here point to. You might be getting great traffic from search and social media marketing though if you’re website isn’t doing it’s job you’re pouring money down the drain.  Once you’re up and running with your website there’s a range of additional promotional strategies you can use such as: 

  • Creating regular, fresh and engaging content which you’re potential buyers and existing customers and search engines LOVE
  • Time limited offers and pricing to drive a sense of urgency to buy now 
  • Value-add promotions like free downloads about the item or service. Free guidebooks for PDF download or ‘how to’ videos make customers feel they are getting some great free value.   
  • Collecting buyer data so you can remarket to them later when you have new or different offers by using tracking codes from google and facebook
  • We’ve all clicked on something to buy then left it in the cart just to be sure we reeeeally want it. Ensure your website can generate automated abandoned cart communications to seal the deal.
  • Live chat to service your customers and nail that sale while they are on the page!  

Social media

Which channels are you using?  Facebook, Instagram, Linked In, Youtube, Twitter are all channels which provide significant opportunities to build a tribe around your brand and act as a magnet to draw people to your online business. 

Unpaid content and paid advertisements have big pulling power to skyrocket your sales over time. The big ones right now are Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and private messaging apps. Does your brand have a presence there? Good chances are your audience is using one or both of these platforms.  And the good new is that Facebook owns Instagram, Facebook Messenger and you can connect these platforms and manage promotions from the one platform Facebook Business Manager.   

Make sure your brand is visible on social media, delighting customers and driving traffic to your website.

Unpaid vs. paid content opportunities

Social media helps you engage with your customers, allowing you to find out what people are saying about your business. Think of social media as a tribe creating magnet rather than a sledgehammer, like the noisy ads on TV. You can also use unpaid and paid social media for advertising, competitions and giveaways and mobile apps.

Social media help businesses with online selling by: 

  • increasing traffic to your website which improve its search engine ranking (visibility online) 
  • developing your brand
  • attracting customers, getting customer feedback and building customer loyalty
  • keeping an eye on your competitors
  • increasing your market reach, including international markets
  • doing market research at reduced costs
  • increasing revenue by building customer networks and advertising

Example of paid Facebook and Instagram ad created in Facebook Business Manager. The beauty of paid social media advertising is you can test a couple of different creative options and see which one is doing well with your analytics. Winning!

Email Marketing 

Email marketing is still one of the best marketing channels available to build an authentic connection with the people that keep our businesses. Email generates $38 for every dollar spent on average, which is a 3,800% return on investment. Not too shabby. It relies heavily on developing a clear acquisition plan to build a database of people who want to hear from you and ensuring they get the right message at the right time. 

Your planning need to cover the basics like defining an audience (tick you got that), establishing some goals, creating a way for people to sign up to a list such as via free value-add downloads on your website, choosing an email campaign type like eNews or new product announcement and making a schedule for sending such as once a month. Programs like Mailchimp or Campaign Monitor  are easy to use programs for email marketing packed full with templates and analytics to see how people are interacting with your email. 

Outreach – engage, engage, engage

Don’t be afraid to partner with others to sell your product and share the news via your social channels and traditional media like online newspapers, TV and radio.  

Say you’re a sock seller and you know a great online shoe shop that seems to be a kindred spirit. Collaboration can be magical and foster new and unpredictable revenue streams (… think of the backlinks and social media fun too)

You can also reach out to prominent bloggers and influencers to sample your product or service too. Their public advocacy and trial of your brand could see your sales going through the roof with just one mention. Be mindful to align with those who’s values, style and tone fit with your brand.  Tribe and Scrunch are two useful online platforms to connect brands with online influencers.


Taking the time to understand your company’s data is one of the most vital components in selling online. It helps you compare expected results to actual results and can influence and the direction you take next. 

To answer questions about improving sales, to tweak marketing strategies, and customer acquisition tactics these areas must be measured in some form or another. Google Analytics, Facebook Insights and customer surveys or customer research are all powerful and simple methods to know your business well and to thrive in the online selling environment.  You can also configure them to specifically track your sales results and promotional efforts.  

Google Analytics can be quite complex due to the massive scope of information available to understand your audience and site’s activity, so we’ll focus on four of the most important areas to gain a good insight into your audience.  

A typical Google Analytics dashboard view

Gender and age

Knowing who makes up the main proportion of your site visitors is gold in terms of making sure how you market to them is appropriate. For instance has your site attracted 75% 40-60 year old males, or 18 to 25 year old females? Marketing to those two demographics would be done completely differently so it’s vital to understand the age and gender of your visitors. 


While many countries can share the same common language like English or Spanish, there are a number of different cultural aspects to take into consideration.

Visual content and writing that works well in converting to a sale in one country may not have the same outcome in others. It’s worth knowing where your primary purchasers are located so you know how best to customise your writing.


If you use the Interests insights with a GoogleAds Pay Per Click advertising spend, you’ll be able to better customize your advertisement writing to appeal to the right demographic. For content creators, you’ll know what content your users want to see better.

Acquisition, referral traffic

Looking into the primary sources of referral traffic is an exercise that pays off. This is because you can find out who’s mentioning your website and it tells you a lot about the audience.

If someone is referring their people to you, they’ve noticed something worthwhile and their website visitors (‘traffic’) trusts their judgement. It’s a strong endorsement of your business. 

We hope you’ve taken one or two tips and resources from this article to help you succeed in selling online.  

 If you’re looking for some additional resources to help you succeed with online selling, check out the Sunshine Coast Council’s Level Up Program website for further resources and ongoing training opportunities.

From bricks to clicks, how to setup to sell online

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As another Australia Post van drives up my street, followed by a Star Express truck, it’s easy to see who some of the busiest workers have been on the Sunshine Coast during the COVID shutdown. Shopping online has exploded to service our stay at home lifestyle, and it’s not just physical products taking a slice of the pie.  Digital products such as subscription and on demand software and apps, services, entertainment and education has also experienced significant growth.  

NAB online retail spending year on year change March 2019 to March 2020 

For businesses who have not previously offered an ecommerce solution for their customers, it can be a daunting prospect to transition your business model to selling online.  And while ecommerce is a marketing discipline that can take years to master, there are plenty of options available to get started quickly to help make your life a bit easier.  In this article we share some tips on key areas to plan for in your business to succeed when making the move to sell online.      

So why even sell online?  

Before we dive into the tips it’s important to understand the many benefits to selling online. 
Trust me…. it’ll help you get through those long nights uploading new products to your website and answering customer emails.  


Extending your trading period 

Selling online your business is open 24/7 where and when customers decide to shop. 

Increasing your reach  

If you have previously only serviced a local market, selling online opens up a much wider market opportunity into other cities, states and even globally.  

Lowering your overheads

Once established and with the right planning and resourcing it can be more cost effective to service your market online with less staff and operational costs.  

Gaining customer insights  

With freely available tools like Google Analytics connected to your website, you can measure and understand your customers behaviour and trends to make better informed decisions about your business and what you offer.  

Increasing your profits 

By opening up new online sales channels you have a new way to reach and sell to a market during and post COVID who may never visit your physical business.  

3 key areas to get right to start selling online

  1. Determine your online business model 
  2. Decide Where to sell and setup the platform 
  3. Provide Customer Service 


1. Determine Your Online Business Model

I know you’re excited about making your first sale online though before diving into setting up your ecommerce platform, it’s important that you define and understand your online business model.  After all, if you don’t understand it, your customers won’t either and it could be the difference between making a sale or losing them to a competitor.       

There is 3 main business models for selling online and you may decide to use a combination of these depending on the nature of your business. 


Selling physical products online 

Often the first idea that comes to mind when thinking about selling online is this business model. 
This is where a physical product that you make or source is marketed and purchased online, then packaged and delivered or collected by customers.  Things to consider in this model are your stock levels and storage, how you will package and prepare the orders, delivery timing and costs by region and how you will communicate with your customers during the whole purchase and delivery process.    

Another extremely important aspect of this business model is online content to present the product.  Given the customer is not able to touch, feel, taste or smell your product, online content needs to paint the picture for them.  This includes professional product imagery, video, copy and graphics.  

Selling services online 

This online business model is where the customer books and pays online for a service to be delivered either physically or digitally.  This includes a range of physical services such as health care appointments, trades, tickets to events or travel and accommodation post-COVID.   

The other way this model can work is the delivery of professional services such as business consulting or even health consulting via telehealth where you don’t physically see the customer or patient.  

An important aspect of this business model is making it very clear how the customer will receive their product and making it easy to book and pay for a time that suits them.  This model can also be combined with physical products – eg.  You buy a cooktop online, and also purchase an installation service at the same time.        

Selling digital products online

The final online business model is selling digital products where the customer purchases a fully digitally delivered product.  This includes cloud based software and apps, entertainment such as video streaming services, ebooks and podcasts, on demand education and training courses and memberships to a range of online content resources.  Often sold on a membership or subscription basis, the benefit of this model is once the product is created it is easy to scale up to selling large numbers without the logistically challenges experienced by selling physical products and services.   

An important aspect of this business model is making the customer feel supported with their purchase through online tutorials, support centres or direct help if they need it.  

Whichever business model you choose, don’t forget about your terms and conditions of sale.  Selling online you are bound by relevant Fair Trading and Tax governing bodies in the locations you operate in, so make sure you’re playing by the rules and customers clearly understand their rights when making a purchase from you, and that you’re charging the right amount of tax.

2. Where to sell – Online Sales Platforms 

Just like the offline world of physical shops and offices, shopping malls and mobile service-based businesses, the online world has similar options when considering where to sell your products and services.   

There’s 3 main ways to consider 

1.Your own website

Over the past 5 years the barriers for small to medium businesses to provide their customers with a professional online shopping experience have significantly reduced.  There’s now a great range of ecommerce fully hosted website builders available for business owners just like you that provide a huge range of pre-built templates and plug and play apps to help you easily sell online.   

These website builders take all the hassle out of hosting, security, payment gateways and setting up your shop, and provide a range of free training resources and online community of users and web developers who can help get you started.  Many have the option to integrate a shop with your current website and use a subscription model starting from as little as $30/month + transaction fees.       


The market leader in ecommerce hosted website builders it powers over 500,000 stores globally.  

Easy to learn with a huge range of resources and support, it has an active app marketplace for add-ons to be able to do most things you will need without a web developer.  It also allows custom development if you want to put your own special features or designs into play.  For a basic setup you simply download a free or a paid theme, upload your content and products, connect your bank account and switch on your store to start selling.  Some things to consider when choosing to use Shopify are the costs of apps you might want to use, and the transaction fees charged.     


Australian founded, Big Commerce had a huge revamp in 2016 and is now globally powering over 100,000 stores and giving Shopify a run for it’s money.   Transaction fees are included in their monthly subscription and some of the functionality that Shopify makes you pay for an app is included out of the box.  It’s worth considering as a solid option that can scale as you grow.    


One of the most popular website builders on the market, Wix was late to the game when it comes to their ecommerce offering though are quickly developing their functionality and capability.  Starting as one of the world’s most popular website builders, it is easier than Shopify or Big Commerce to quickly build great looking content pages and then add shop pages to this.  It is suited to smaller shops selling under 100 items and a cheaper option than Shopify or BigCommerce, though does not allow integration with an existing website.   

Although a hosted ecommerce website builder is an easy off the shelf option to get started selling online, some business like to have more flexibility and customisation in their online shop which is where Woocommerce comes into play.  


The leading choice to integrate an online store into a WordPress website, Woocommerce provides limitless ability to customise your store.  A much steeper learning curve than the hosted web builders previously mentioned, you may need to engage a website developer to assist in getting things looking and working exactly how you want it to.  Some businesses prefer to have this full control and customisation over how their online shop functions, though keep in mind that it’s your responsibility to setup payment gateways, take care of the hosting and security for your store, so if something goes wrong it’s on you.     

2.Third Party Marketplaces 

Although it is recommended to have your own branded website to sell your products, it’s also worth considering third party marketplaces that attract millions of shoppers each and every day.   

Think of this like setting up a shop in a popular shopping mall.  You don’t pay rent to the landlords though they will take their cut through subscription fees to list your product, transaction fees and in the case of Amazon even provide a service to warehouse and ship your product for a fee.  

The benefits are the active shoppers these ecommerce giants attract, though they can also be a great testing ground for your products and services prior to building out your own website.  Though keep in mind that each of them is a different system you need to learn how to use and optimise and is certainly not a set, forget and count your orders type of operation.   

Some of the top third-party marketplaces for Australia to review depending on your product and services offering include:  Daily offer-based marketplace you can list and sell your products to engaged group of bargain hunters.     

Amazon Australia:  Global leader entering the market and quickly becoming a dominant channel.  

Ebay Australia: Auction based site though has gained popularity for branded stores offering buy-now pricing.      

Etsy:  creative and arts focussed marketplace for handmade customer and unique products such as art, crafts, jewellery etc.  

Udemy:  Global marketplace for selling online education courses., Airbnb:  For accommodation and tours post-COVID.

3. Social Selling 

The final online sales platform available is social media.  With the dominance of Facebook and more recently Instagram as a communication and marketing channel, it was only a matter time until they started to look at taking a piece of the ecommerce action.   

Facebook and Instagram both allow business owners to setup their products, pricing and promote them via their business pages and right into their posts.  A product catalog feature allows you to either upload your products or connect directly with your product inventory in Shopify, Big Commerce, Wix and WooCommerce mentioned earlier in this article. That way, when you change a product on your website it automatically updates your social stores.  

When a customer clicks on your products they are taken to your website store to complete the transaction though in the US, trials have commenced for the transaction being completed within Facebook and Instagram, so it’s only a matter of time until the feature is rolled out in Australia to provide fully functioning stores in social media.   


3. Give Outstanding Customer Service 

Selling online doesn’t mean you can switch off the phone and go and play golf while the money just rolls in.  Quite the contrary.  There are many new challenges you will encounter when selling online relating to how the customer thinks, acts and makes a final decision to purchase.  

In the space of the 1-2minutes a potential customer is on your website they will be thinking:


  • Is the site secure for my contact and payment information?


  • I like the look of the product but will it work for what I have in mind?  
  • Can I get a refund if I don’t like it or it doesn’t fit?
  • Can I try before I buy?
  • How quickly will it be shipped?
  • Is there any hidden costs?
  • Can I get it cheaper elsewhere?
  • What do other people think about it?



And the list goes on….

The ability to read a customer that you are talking to and solve their barriers to buying is much harder online unless they reach out to you.  So, make sure you’re available when and where they need help, and that they know there’s a real person and support available to them right throughout the customer experience.  

Be accessible:  Phone, Email, Contact form, Live Chat, social media channels, instore  

Let them test:  Provide samples, tests, demos, free refunds  

Give them confidence:  Show testimonials from other customers and provide videos of the product being used 

 Make them feel safe:  highlight your privacy policy, show the security measures used on your site, and how you are meeting government guidelines during COVID.    

Once you are setup and selling online, don’t stop there.  You’ll need to attract traffic to your stores through google, social media, email and advertising but that’s a topic for another article.  

Good luck with getting yourself setup to succeed selling online.  If you are looking for some additional resources take a spin around the Sunshine Coast Council’s Level Up Program website for further resources and ongoing training opportunities.

How to connect with customers during COVID

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The COVID crisis is constantly changing the way we do business. And our customers are also changing the way they think, what they buy and the way they are choosing to interact with the world.
Now more than ever we need to understand our customers and their changing pain-points to be able to meet their needs. Constantly adapting our marketing, products and services to stay relevant in a rapidly changing economy.
This article aims to provide some insights to the change in our customers thinking, and some practical tips for connecting with your customers in our new normal for business.

How customers thinking is changing

At the start of the COVID crisis we saw shortages of loo paper and panic buying of pasta as people grappled with a fear of the unknown. Nine Media Weekly Moodtracker has been monitoring trends in Australia and as the weeks roll on, our anxiety, fear and negative emotions are now trending downwards, while positive emotions trend upwards as we get used to our new normal way of life.


NINE Media Audience Insights
Mood Tracker – 23 April 2020


For the first time since the crisis stared, the positive emotion of Hope was the most dominant in the mood tracker as we start to imagine the world post-COVID.


Shopping online for a homebased lifestyle

With a change in emotions will come a change in spending patterns, and as we get used to spending more time at home, the Nine Audience Insights research also showed we are buying online more than ever before. And while our overall spending has decreased the research showed:  

  • 92% of us are shopping online, from groceries to take-away, entertainment and retail as we seek to improve our home-based lifestyle.
  • 40% of us are interested in DIY projects to improve the house or garden including interior decorating, furniture and appliances. 
  •   90% expressed an interest in supporting their local stores and small business, recognising the adverse impact on SME’s during this period. 

Our media use has exploded

As we seek home based entertainment and connection, we are also spending more time online than ever before.   

Nieslen Media Research Jan to Mar 2020 showed that across all age groups media use from Jan to March our digital media consumption has grown 80-100% as we google, stream Netflix and Youtube our way through the day and night. This increased media consumption gives businesses an increased opportunity to get in front of our customers and gain their attention.   

Nielsen Digital Media Use Research
Jan – Mar 2020

So how should we be communicating with our customers during COVID?

In case you were thinking that the last thing that customers want at this time is being sold to, then think again. A research study by DDB Global of over 4000 participants showed that people overwhelmingly want to hear from brands, even more so than pre-COVID.

The research showed people felt:

  • A definite need to feel that they are not alone, and brands
    gave them a sense of ‘the world is not completely ending’
  • A need of ‘help me today and be useful’/ action and
  • Keeping me safe was the #1 priority.
  • People want to know how you are operating during the crisis
    (home deliver, store open etc.).
  • Hearing about deals and offers is welcome – it is OK to sell stuff.
  • People are looking for a signal that life has not ended despite
  • Only 19% of respondents expected brands to continue as normal.
  • 52% wanted to know how brands were looking after their employee’s –
    a strong sense of wanting brands to put people first

8 tips to connect with your customers during COVID

Building trust, loyalty and bringing a human element to your communication with customers will help them reduce any barriers they may have with buying from you during the COVID crisis.   

Here’s 8 tips to do exactly that during the COVID crisis.


1.Provide an update on your home page with any new precautious you are taking for customers and staff to keep them safe, any changes to trading times and operations, promote any special offers and ways you are helping customers during COVID.  

2.Audit your website content to ensure your messaging and services are updated and COVID friendly. You don’t want an image on your website of your staff standing right next to a customer or people shaking hands during social distancing measures.     

3.Increase your customer touchpoints by offering more ways to connect with your business.
You could use live webchat plugins like Zendesk or Livechat , video calls/consultations using Facetime, Zoom or Skype and private messenger apps like Wattsapp, rather than meetings and home visits.

4.Allow customers to buy-online by adding an ecommerce plugin to your website, particularly if your business offering is a physical product, and offer a delivery services that keeps them feeling safe. Woocommerce and Shopify are two easy ways to add ecommerce to your offering.  

Social Media

5. Stay active on social media. Whether Facebook, Instagram, Linked-In or Twitter provide regular updates on any changes in your business operations, any special offers and create content that makes people smile. Show customers how you are helping your staff and the community to show them we’re all in this together.  And get creative.  People are craving entertainment during this time and tired of hearing the COVID doom and gloom. You could livestream or video a demonstration, class, seminar or product overview for your customers.      

6.Consider using video or livestream to provide an update on your business to personalise any messages you have for customers.  You could do a short video providing your customers with the confidence that you’re still open and appreciate their support.   


7.Emailing your customers using an email marketing tool like Mailchimp or CampaignMonitor is still a highly effective way to directly reach your customers.  Send a monthly update telling them about how your business is going, promote new services and offers, how they can help your business and thank them for their support. 


8.Don’t discount a good old fashion phone call to your customers to make them feel the love. Although we’ve quickly evolved to facetime and video conferencing, it’s a personal one-on-one approach that we all know and trust.  Ask how they are going personally and professionally and see if there’s anything your business can do to help.  They will appreciate the effort in reaching out to them. 


For more information and overview of the digital tools you could use to improve the way you connect with your customers, check out the resources and downloadable guide on Council’s website here.


Survive and thrive working remotely – A guide for employers

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Lisa Crawford-Jones, Converge Marketing

Remote work and flexible arrangements can be tricky at first. How do you choose the right technology, engage and support your people, facilitate team collaboration, and ultimately drive your business forward during this time? 

While it can take some effort to get it right, there’s many benefits to flexible or remote work. Globally, many successful companies use remote working tools and practices both in and out of the office, so consider the longer-term benefits of introducing some of these approaches.

Here’s our quick guide to help you thrive:

Get the right tools for the job

Enable your team with a tech set up that suits your business. Factor in a budget, time to train staff, and don’t be afraid to experiment and change tools until you find what works best. Take advantage of freemium options, or free trials until you get the mix right.

The first step is getting clear on your needs before diving into the technology solutions available. Here’s five things to ask when choosing the right tools for the job:

  1. How many staff do you have and do employees need to collaborate across teams?
  2. What business functions need to be done remotely? For example, do you need cloud storage, online and shared calendars, email access, chat or communication tools, bookkeeping and billing, online task lists and management, or video conferencing?
  3. What is the cost for subscriptions in the short to medium term?
  4. Is data you store in the software going to be adequately safeguarded?
  5. What internet speed is required to run the tools, and do your relevant people have adequate internet access?

A basic technology set up might include:

  • Google Suite for easy collaboration and document sharing
  • Zoom for team face-to-face catch-ups and external client meetings
  • Slack for quick questions and updates throughout the day. Create project or team channels as well as a #general channel for whole of business issues and a #watercooler channel to help build culture online. And, best of all – look forward to reducing your email by up to 90 per cent! 
  • Trello for capturing whole of team to-do lists and handovers for part-time staff, or Asana for even more advanced project management and KPIs-to-tasks tools.
  • Email (if you really have to) for major pieces of content or decisions you don’t want to lose.

Establish etiquette for using the tools

Like any communication, it’s easy to be misunderstood. Even more so when you’re not working face-to-face. Do some research into etiquette for tools like Slack and consider how using it would translate to an in-office work situation. For example, direct messages are private and should remain so; praise in public but criticise in private; use ‘do not disturb’ for deep work; be reasonable with response expectations; and always, if in doubt or it’s urgent, pick up the phone.


It’s absolutely possible to nurture productive, engaged and thriving teams online. But beyond fancy tools it requires trust. If you’ve never had staff working remotely before, this is an opportunity to lead by example, build trust, and have faith your people will reciprocate with loyalty and enthusiasm.

Set expectations

Flexible work and working remotely needs guidelines. If your people haven’t worked remotely before, don’t assume they know what’s required of them or can transition easily to working at home. Chat about any questions or concerns, check their assumptions, and be very clear on your expectations.

There are fundamental policies you’ll need to put in place, such as a Workplace Health and Safety Policy. You may also like to implement a Remote Work Agreement, for example. 

Work hours and degree of flexibly, in particular require discussion and may vary across your business. Consider your business and customer needs and the challenges many staff will have in working at home with children during this time. For example, you might implement core work hours from say 10am-3pm, then additional hours could be done when it suits the employee.

You’ll also need clarity on how to use tools like Trello and Asana or shared documents on Google Drive. For example, agree time periods for updating and how much detail is required. 

Remote working is an opportunity to operationalise your company values into behaviours. Consider your company values and what each behavior looks like in this new work arrangement. 

Support culture and productivity 

In person interaction can be the first thing people miss when working remotely and it can have flow-on effects on productivity and morale. It’s harder to understand what’s going on in people’s lives, but you can facilitate natural socialising or digital watercooler chitchat using a #social channel on Slack.

Working remotely can increase productivity as it can be easier to stay focused. The downside is that employees can power through lunch breaks, reducing productivity and effectiveness. Encourage your people to get to know their natural energy peaks and encourage short breaks, standing up and walking around. 

Maintain phone and face-to-face video communication 

Maintain contact with one-on-one video check-ins and team meetings. It will help keep your people engaged, moving towards your common business goals and supported during a time of upheaval.

Engage your local support team

For those times when technology gets the better of you, reach out to local information technology experts to help. There’s a thriving community of IT specialists, digital marketers and web experts on the Sunshine Coast who can help you get it done, and fast!

For more information, check out the resources and a free downloadable guide on Council’s website here.