The growing online opportunity for service businesses

Kate Hislop is head of marketing at Booking Bug, an online appointment system that integrates with Moonfruit websites. Here, she discusses how to make use of the growing number of tools available to service-based industries, from online widgets such as those from her company to accounting platforms like Kashflow.

From fashion to art and electronics to antiques, when it comes to selling goods online there is an abundance of e-commerce platforms available to help retailers of all sizes sell more products over more channels. Unfortunately when it comes to the service industry, the story has been very different. Despite the fact that these businesses account for around 45 per cent of businesses globally, they have typically been playing catch-up when it comes to having the means and opportunity to market online, sell services online and engage with customers online.

However, things are changing fast and there is a growing list of accessible, easy-to-use tools available to help service business owners manage, market and grow their business online. From slick website building tools (a la Moonfruit), simple accounting platforms (such as Kashflow or Xero), mobile card payments (as offered by iZettle) or online booking and appointment tools (like BookingBug), there are many ways service businesses can benefit from the web-based tools at hand to build and manage a thriving customer base.

Here at BookingBug we’ve been working with service businesses since 2009 to help them to sell their services online. We like to think we’ve learned a lot along the way about how people want to access and book services – whether that be a dog walker, a dance class, an MOT, or a holiday cottage. So with that experience in mind, here’s a round-up of four key things that online tools can do for your service business:


1: Make your business as accessible as possible

This means both online and offline. At the core of online success is making your business visible and accessible to your current and potential customers – letting them interact with you in a way that suits them. Your customers are spending more and more time online – and they want to interact with organisations on their terms, not yours. At the most fundamental level, this means a basic, professional looking website with easy-to-find, relevant information about your business and what you offer. At a more engaging level, that could be an online booking tool that lets customers see your availability and schedule their appointment with you, essentially giving you a 24/7 receptionist.


2: Minimise unwanted admin

Automation of many of the most time-consuming tasks is key to freeing up your valuable time to spend with customers – and there are plenty of web-based tools available to help with this. From a financial perspective, have a look at the likes of Kashflow or Xero that can help streamline your accounts. To help with time-efficient ways to keep in touch with and market to your customers take a look at MailChimp. It’s a great service for sending regular, professional-looking email communications to all – or specific segments – of your customer list. Finally, when it comes to scheduling appointments, an online booking calendar on your website or business Facebook page can make a huge difference when it comes to minimising the time spent taking phone or email bookings and dealing with the confirmations or appointment changes that come with running any service business.


3: Reduce no-shows

No-shows, time-wasters and last-minute cancellations come with the territory when it comes to selling services. While some of these are unavoidable, there are things you can do to keep them to a minimum and free up that time for other customers. You can send automated pre-appointment reminders via email or SMS the day before a booking for example. Taking payment or a deposit at the time of booking will also help reduce the number of time-wasters and eliminate no-shows.


4: Nurture relationships and reward loyalty

Finally, think about retention. Keeping happy customers is far easier than finding new ones. As a service business your time is your most valuable asset – and unfortunately it is limited. As such you need to make the most of the tools available to spend as much time as possible focusing on adding value and relationship building – and minimizing time spent on admin. Your customers might not be with you forever, but it’s their recommendations that that will bring new business your way, so don’t forget to show your appreciation. Reward your customers for their loyalty with regular offers and promotions, and think about going that extra mile whenever you can.

To sum up, big impact doesn’t have to mean big budget when it comes to embracing online tools for service businesses. Whether you’re a personal trainer, beautician, photographer, plumber, B&B owner, driving instructor, cookery school owner – or any other service provider – a professional online presence is no longer a ’nice to have’, it has become absolutely core to commercial success. We’re now seeing the online opportunity for service businesses begin to explode and if you own or run a service business, this is a very exciting time indeed.

BookingBug price plans start from £14.95 a month for solo businesses, with a wide range of flexible payment solutions available. To find out more visit the Booking Bug website.

Have you tried these tools? Know of any better ones? Tell us what you think below…


Vicki Shiel
Editor at Moonfruit. Likes food and smoothies.

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