Attention sole traders: How to carve out your digital space in 2021

sole traders 2021

Gold Coast artist and sole trader Jess Lambert's signature surfboard designs have gained her worldwide popularity.

Online retail sales surged by 74.5% year-on-year in September 2020, as more consumers embraced the safety and convenience of digital purchases during lockdown.

But while many businesses that thrived during the crisis increased their online presence — from digital marketing, to the adoption of new tools and moving to the cloud — this year’s SmartCompany Reader Survey found nearly 40% of SMEs and sole traders are falling behind on e-commerce.

We know the importance of getting ahead of the curve when it comes to trends with real staying power. So — here’s a simple guide for sole traders to help you carve out and own your digital space in 2021.

Automating admin pays off

Getting rid of space- and time-consuming paper trails and automating administration tasks makes sense, as it frees up more time to focus on the heart of your business. Embracing handy digital tools such as accounting software will allow you to automate everything from online payments to sending invoice reminders.

Plus, a seamless, hassle-free experience is what customers have come to expect these days, even from sole traders. 

Digitally-enabled sole traders are also in a better position to respond to changing consumer trends in 2021. By leveraging tech to monitor your cash flow, you’ll gain a clearer picture of how your business is faring and help boost your resilience in the long-term. 

In fact, 72% of businesses that thrived during the initial stages of the pandemic used cloud accounting software, according to Xero’s Rebuilding Australia report

Whether you lead a small team or are going it alone, you’ll find the support you need at Xero’s dedicated resource page – complete with free tools and guides to help everything run smoothly. Xero is online accounting software designed to let you do business beautifully and simply, nab a free 30-day trial today.

How to set your website up for success

One of the positive stories to come out of 2020 has been an increase in community feeling and support for SMEs and sole traders. A Xero-commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting shows that 87% of consumers agreed that small businesses played an active role in shaping the culture of their local community.

However recent research by the nbn found that a lack of online presence was preventing SMEs and sole traders from capitalising on this goodwill.

If you don’t already have a website — or don’t have a good one — make it your New Year’s resolution to get a slick site up and running (these tips from are a great place to start). Creating a user-friendly website is only going to become more crucial for sole traders in 2021. 

The good news is: options for doing so are more immediate and inexpensive than ever. 

“Business owners have everything we need at our fingertips, including phones that take amazing photos. It’s just so easy to add a product on your website once you’ve figured it out,” says Gold Coast artist and sole trader Jess Lambert, whose signature surfboard designs have gained her worldwide popularity. 

“I went from knowing nothing about [how to run a website] to it now being second nature.”

Of course, going digital is about more than building a website. Don’t forget about the value of apps to help to run your business smoothly. Lambert uses them for accounting and other back-end processes, managing her Shopify account and scheduling social media posts. 

And it pays off. SMEs and sole traders that engaged more heavily in the use of apps had revenue falls one-third smaller, and job losses 40% lower, than other businesses during COVID-19, according to the latest Xero Small Business Insights data.

Finding your audience and where they ‘live’ online

A solid social presence can help extend your reach interstate or even internationally, as it did for Lambert, but you’ve got to be very specific about where you’re investing your time and energy.

The first step is determining who your audience is, and a great place to start is through a customer relationship management platform, or CRM.

CRM platforms, such as Mailchimp and Hubspot will give sole traders a clear overview of who’s buying from you — their customer history, order status, and so on.

Seeing how her customers were discovering her work online was a huge learning curve for Lambert, allowing her to “grow in the best way” through specific targeting. 

“I started off thinking I was marketing my work for surfers, but it’s actually considered more art than a surfboard,” she says. 

Now, Lambert’s hashtags and photos are aimed at “positioning myself more in the eyes of people who want to decorate, renovate and have something really unique, instead of always making content that is appealing to surfers.”

A quick snapshot of audiences on some popular platforms:

  • People primarily access Facebook from their mobile device.
  • Pinterest has a mostly female audience.
  • Instagram is all about visuals.
  • LinkedIn is great for B2B.

The basics of social media e-commerce

On average, people spend 2 hours and 15 minutes a day on social media. Sole traders can tap into this market by using social media to drive traffic to your website, or as a direct sales platform. 

Here are a few basics:

  • Start by building engagement. 
  • Focus on one or two channels.
  • There are integrations and plugins available for most e-commerce platforms – for example, Shopify’s is Instagram shop by Snapppt.
  • Set up shopping carts on your Facebook page with an app like Ecwid, or use third-party tools, such as Like2Buy, to make your Instagram shoppable. 

Aim to only plug your product in around 20% of your posts, as too much hard selling can make it difficult to engage your audience. 

“Sharing more about who you are helps people feel connected to you, and that leads to them wanting to support you,” says Lambert, who has an Instagram following of nearly 100k. 

“I used to have two Instagram accounts — one was just photos of art; one was art plus what I was doing, and that’s the one that blew up. People like connecting to the face behind the brand.”


Xero is a cloud-based accounting software platform for small businesses with over 2.7 million subscribers globally. Through Xero, small business owners and their advisors have access to real-time financial data any time, anywhere and on any device. Xero offers an ecosystem of over 1,000 third-party apps and 300 plus connections to banks and other financial partners.

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