MJSA. Professional excellence in jewelry making and design.

online business collage

Doing Business Online 2020

Do you need a systems tuneup?

By Andrea Hill

If you’re hanging out at a jewelry industry conference and experts start talking about doing business online, the conversation will be centered around websites, social media, and perhaps communication strategies such as website chat or SMS programs. But if you’re at a direct marketing industry conference or a sales convention, you’ll hear presentations about sales funnels, lead generation, opportunity management, marketing automation, drip campaigns, and mass personalization of messages. It’s time for us jewelry folks to elevate our understanding of online business.


The disciplines of sales and marketing have changed not once, but many times, in the past 30 years. The changes have affected how we prospect, sell, close, and retain both business customers and end-consumers. Let’s take a look at the practices you need in your business to generate new customers, build loyalty with your existing customers, and reactivate the ones who have slipped away to your competitors.

The Technology/Change Cycle

The digital age doesn’t just affect the way we sell. It affects the way we work and what people expect from work. This is a circular process: Technology makes new things possible, which changes our experience, which changes our expectations, which drives new developments in technology. 

This cycle has existed forever. The discovery of fire and the wheel were catapults for human development. Gutenberg’s printing press democratized knowledge and changed the way societies received information, which in turn led to a host of innovations including news, religion, public education, rebellion, and, ultimately, the Renaissance. The same technology/social change cycle is happening now at a furious pace.

Some events change our shared experience more than others, and the coronavirus is one of those experiences. How we work, communicate, buy, and sell will be changed forever. Most of those changes were already occurring, albeit slowly. The shutdowns to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks have hastened them. It is more important than ever to understand and implement the disciplines and activities that will make your business more agile, easier to manage, more transparent, and more effective. It’s time to get your business functioning effectively online.

Systems Control and Flexibility

You can’t have a conversation about being a more digital business without talking about the baseline of your business technology—your operating system. Jewelry businesses today use a variety of tools from legacy (homemade) operating systems to spreadsheets, from specially made-for-jewelers programs to cloud-based systems that can be used by many industries. Whatever you are using now, it must meet these conditions:

If you live in a house that was built in the 1820s, then you know how difficult it can be to update your electrical wiring or add digital capabilities to the house itself. Similarly, if your business is running on 1990s software technology, you won’t be able to take full advantage of the many digital tools available to grow your business.If your business system is not up to date or up to par, put updating it on your near planning horizon. You may not be in a position to change it right away, but you must understand how your current systems will enhance—or inhibit—your digital ambitions and start to envision how you will address necessary changes in the future.

keyboard and digital media graphic

If your business is still running on 1990s software technology, you won’t be able to take advantage of the many digital tools available to grow your business.

The cost of implementing a new system varies widely, depending on factors such as how many people will use the system or if you will be using an on-premise server or cloud-based access. Businesses with 10 or more employees doing sales, marketing, administration, production, and distribution should consider a robust solution such as Sage X3 or Microsoft Dynamics. For these systems, assume a starting point of $45,000 for the first year, and 20 to 25 percent of that for support and maintenance each year thereafter. For smaller companies, systems such as FreshBooks or Quickbooks Enterprise can be good solutions. Those are priced as monthly subscriptions. For a company with three employees, these systems would cost $250 to $400 per month, depending on features needed.

Stop Resisting the Cloud

When cloud computing first hit the scene, the reaction of nervous business managers everywhere was to assume that the cloud couldn’t possibly be as secure as their internal servers. But if your dedicated servers are open to the internet, then they are no more or less secure than a cloud service. Security depends on the proper implementation of appropriate technologies—locally or at a remote server farm. 

For this article, we’re not going to be talking about cloud servers (hosting your business systems on a remote server rather than an in-house server), but rather about cloud services. A variety of cloud services are available to help you do more business management, sales, and marketing online. These companies invest a lot of money in security—most likely more than you invest in your dedicated server. As long as you work with reputable software and do your homework prior to signing up, you can let your worries about security go.

One of the biggest benefits to cloud services is that your people can work from anywhere, and you can lead and manage them from anywhere. During the current crisis and beyond, that ability is now essential.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

In 1987, the first CRM (called ACT!) was released. It was basically a digital Rolodex that allowed you to organize customer information and keep track of important details such as birthdays, anniversaries, and preferences. Fast forward 33 years, and many companies are still talking about CRM the way it was in 1987. But CRM is dramatically different from what it was then. 

Today’s CRM systems still organize and manage customer data, and they make it very easy to access all the details about your customers and their purchasing history and behavior. But that is just one aspect of today’s CRM functionality. Your CRM system should also:

Automate marketing (also referred to as workflow automation). You can automate repetitive tasks by creating sequences of e-mail, social communications, follow-ups, and reminders. Once you program the sequence of events, these marketing functions manage themselves.

woman at computer with headset

CRM systems will organize and manage customer data, making it easy to access all the details about your customers and their purchases.

 A modern CRM system is the cornerstone of any modern business. Online and off, managing customer relationships and the conversion of prospects to customers is the heart of any sales effort. A CRM system can streamline that process, help you do tasks you would not have thought to do (or had time to do) otherwise, and make sure you don’t miss any important details. CRM systems to consider for small-to-midsized customers include Zoho, Freshsales, Zendesk, GreenRope, Monday, and vCita.

Expect to spend between $150 per month on the low end to $800 per month on the high end for a quality CRM. Why the broad range? Some of the difference is in sophistication, and their licensing strategies can be very different: Some of these systems charge by the use, and others charge by the number of customers in the database.

Phone Communications

If you’re feeling like business communications are more complicated than they once were, you’re right. Customers want to communicate via mobile, text, social media, and e-mail—and you need to be prepared to serve them on whatever channel they prefer. But if your business is still using an old landline phone, that’s like trying to drive a horse and buggy on the interstate. Your business phone system can integrate with your CRM system, forward calls easily to individual mobile devices, and offer customer self-service options if you’re using a VoIP (voice over internet protocol) system. This isn’t the most important element of your digital business transformation, but it can be a surprisingly useful change that is easy to implement.

You can get a VoIP phone system for as little as $19.95 per month. Pricing depends on whether you use a cloud-based system or your own server, how many devices you need, and what features you want the system to perform. Most small businesses will spend $2,000 to $10,000 implementing VoIP. 


Everything we do in a business is to make our customers happy and keep them coming back for more, right? One way to make sure your business never drops the ball is with groupware—a good team management system that gives you visibility to what is going on in your teams. 

Groupware transforms teamwork from a hodge-podge of fragmented tasks connected only by the hope that people remember to tell each other what is going on, to a dashboard of communications that are always in context, completely searchable, fast, and flexible. If you’ve ever tried to manage a complicated customer project via e-mail, you know how disconnected and inefficient teams can be if they are not in the same room together. The next thing you know, you have an e-mail thread that has 30 responses, involving 15 people, and you have to keep mining the thread to remember what was said or to find the details you require.

Groupware example

Groupware systems such as HeySpace allow teams to work collectively, enabling them to better meet deadlines, manage details, and keep customers happy.

Groupware for team management lets you set up virtual spaces for teams, projects, or departments. Within those virtual spaces, the participants can set up projects, track project details, assign and respond to tasks, share schedules, ask questions and get answers, share and edit documents, document meetings, and collaborate freely and creatively. Running an online business requires you to manage more moving parts than you currently manage. Groupware helps your team do a better job of hitting deadlines, managing all the details, and keeping your customers happy. Some groupware systems to consider include Microsoft Teams, Zoho Connect, Slack, and HeySpace.

These systems are very competitive. They are priced per use, and range from $3.75 to $35 per user per month.

Online Customer Support and Management

Now that your work is under control and you are poised to be more responsive, creative, and productive, let’s talk about how you capitalize on your new capabilities for stronger customer relationships. 

You may have already noticed that your customers are communicating with you differently. Once they started working from home, they started using their smartphones for many of their business tasks. The habit of communicating with their personal vendors (Amazon, Nordstrom, Target, Uber, Grubhub, Instacart) using social channels, text, WhatsApp, and other apps has now been transferred to their business relationships.

If your reaction is to limit the channels they use to communicate with you, you’ll just limit sales. Instead, make multiple modes of communication available to them, and make sure you never miss a conversation. Before you had groupware, trying to manage and maintain visibility to multiple channels of customer communication was very difficult. But your CRM system—alone or integrated with a communications dashboard—can manage all that complexity in a very simple way.

You can integrate feeds from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, website chat, SMS, and even your VoIP phone system right to a consolidated customer communications dashboard. When you manage all customer interactions, regardless of channel, in one view, your sales and customer support people will have all the information they need at their fingertips. There’s no need to reach out to another remote teammate for answers or dig through old e-mails looking for what was promised. 

Most CRM systems offer some level of communications integration and management. But you can also use tools such as LiveAgent, Intercom, LiveChat, Zoho Desk, and Zendesk Support to integrate your customer communications into one, centralized dashboard.

Like groupware, these systems are priced on a per seat/per month basis. They range in price from $15 to $50, depending on the features you choose.

Online Meetings

Now that everyone has discovered Zoom, it’s time to embrace it for your future sales efforts. Online meetings are a fantastic way to bridge a geographical gap without the expense and time of traveling. You can use online meetings to accomplish almost anything you would have done at an in-person meeting. While the emotional proximity of a digital meeting is not as rich as an in-person meeting, you can get surprisingly close to the connection you would experience in real life.

For product presentations, set up a dual-camera at your desk or in your meeting room. One camera can be on your face, and the other can focus at a properly lighted desk or tabletop for showing products. For important presentations, ship a look box to the customer in advance, and then show your own samples of each piece during the meeting. The customer can feel and examine the same item on their end of the meeting.

Online meetings

Online meetings through platforms such as Zoom can be used to accomplish just about everything that can be done at in-person meetings.

Another way to make digital meetings pay off is to have an “always on” meeting room. This is a digital meeting space that you can keep open while you are at your desktop. Customers can click the link and knock, which is very similar to placing a phone call. When you answer, both of you are immediately face-to-face. There are a lot of good options for your company’s digital meeting software, including Zoom, Vectera, GoToMeeting, Skype, Google Meet, Cisco Jabber, join.me, and BlueJeans.

Right now is a good time to test online meeting software as many of them are offering extended free demos. Pricing is usually based on number of users and/or number of people permitted in one meeting at a time. Expect to spend $20 to $35 per month for a basic service package.


Your website must go beyond being a basic billboard or brochure site. But for most wholesalers, manufacturers, custom jewelers, and studio jewelers, a Shopify site won’t cut it either. Why? Because you need a lot more than e-commerce. You need a digital extension of your business operations and brand. For that, you need a CMS (Content Management System) website. (To learn more about the different types of websites, read “Pick and Choose,” which appeared in the 2019 MJSA Buyer’s Guide.)

Here are the most important elements of a B2B website:

Website laptop image

Your B2B customers appreciate a website that makes their lives easier, such as when you make it easy to find your products, download marketing materials, get complete answers about the specifications on products, engage in instant website chats…just think of all the things customers call you about. Imagine if they could find the answers to those things quickly and easily on your website. Your customers would be able to serve their customers faster and more effectively, and everyone wins.

The cost of getting into your website will depend on your requirements and goals. To achieve the list of objectives above, you should expect to spend between $8,000 and $12,000.

E-mail Marketing

E-mail marketing continues to have the highest ROI of all digital marketing—mostly because it’s so inexpensive to do! If you do it right, you can create lasting, meaningful conversations with customers that pay off in loyalty and sales. Do it wrong, and you turn people off.

Doing it wrong is easy; all you have to do is send frequent e-mail blasts. E-mail blasts (e-mail sent generically to your entire mailing list) are acceptable from time to time but should not be the core of your e-mail strategy.

Doing it right is more challenging. You must segment your list into categories of interest, and e-mail each segment with information that is exciting, relevant, and actionable to them. When your customers notice that everything you send them is helpful to them and their business, they will look forward to your communications.

computer networks social image

E-mail marketing continues to have the highest. ROI of all digital marketing—but only if you do it right. Do it wrong, and you’ll turn off customers.

Because e-mail marketing is such a valuable component of your marketing strategy, collecting e-mail addresses is the equivalent of minting money. Use every method at your disposal to capture e-mail addresses and categorize them in the proper list segments.

If you have a CRM system, e-mail marketing is likely included in your package. If you are using a standalone e-mail system such as Mailchimp or Constant Contact, the price depends on which features you choose and how many customers you have in the system. Most systems will cost between $30 to $45 per month for 2,500 to 3,000 subscribers.

Social Media for B2B

Social media for B2B sellers is valuable, but it should be managed differently than you would manage social media for consumer brands. The main thing to remember in B2B social media is that it is a prospecting tool, not a selling tool. Social activity is a way to stay top of mind with your customers, engage in conversations that heighten their understanding of your products and brand, and strengthen your relationships through the kind of casual, frequent contact that builds familiarity.

If you choose to advertise on social channels, use custom lists to target your ads. Instead of choosing an audience through geographic or demographic selections, upload your customer lists to the social channel and target your ads to them. Many of your company contacts are not your followers on social media. But if their e-mail address is associated with a profile in the social media platform, your ad will reach them. This helps you spend your B2B advertising dollars more intelligently and reduces the risk of fielding inquiries from unqualified buyers.

Digital Advertising

What about digital advertising such as Google AdWords, pay-per-click (PPC), off-page SEO, and search engine marketing (SEM)? Should you do those things? The answer is, it depends. As a B2B seller in a relatively small industry, nearly all the targets for your products are already known, or can be known. Before investing in digital ads, which are hard to target to specific industry members, do these things:

When you have all those marketing elements in place, you may find you don’t need to spend money on digital advertising. And if you do decide to do AdWords, PPC, SEO, or SEM, you’ll have all the necessary elements in place to maximize the value of those advertising investments.

Being a successful online business goes way beyond your website, and requires more skill than posting on social media. In this regard, it’s really no different from marketing and advertising 30 or 40 years ago. Back then, if a business invested a lot in running ads but didn’t have its operations and internal communications under control, then a big customer response to those ads could create more chaos than profit. The same thing is true today. The tools may have changed, but the principles remain the same.

The exciting thing about today is the abundance of tools available to make complex business operations, marketing, and sales efforts more manageable and more transparent. Is it overwhelming? Sure, at first it can be. But if you give yourself permission to learn one concept at a time, if you set a reasonable timetable for learning these new ways of working, then, step by step, you’ll find yourself closer to the goal of being an efficient online business.


MJSA Advantage

MJSA members receive exclusive informational and marketing benefits, from free promotional placements to information research services.