Just in case you hadn’t heard, the Internet is coming. The truth is, the Internet is here and it’s already affecting everything we do from our mobile phones, our friendships, the way we learn, watch TV, listen to music to how we’re educated.
Now it’s time for our businesses to be affected too. In fact, your business is already being affected either by your action in the digital revolution or lack thereof. If you’re an individual and have had that one idea that you wished you could sell to the masses, then your world is about to open up wide.
Commerce has changed. At the very least commerce shifted somewhat from a face-to-face experience involving human beings exclusively to one that occurs online while the customer sits comfortably at home or work and clicks around your website looking to buy something you’re selling.
A new form of commerce is already going mainstream and it’s called e-commerce. Trust me when I say this: Your customers are looking for what you’re selling and if you aren’t online to offer it to them they’re going to find it somewhere else.
David Perel, co-founder of Obox, a wordpress theme company and SalesGenius, a trend tracking company, says that an online store was the best way for him and his brother and co-founder, Marc, to gain exposure for their talents: “My brother and I are really good at what we do – web design and development – but we’re not great salesmen. So the best way to get our products out there was with a great e-commerce site.”
There are some among us who didn’t hesitate and created online stores that are generating revenue and will soon be huge. There are others who sell their digital goods online, their eBooks, stickers, clothing, pet food, website themes, kitchen accessories and everything in between.
Is it right for you?
When considering online commerce it’s important to think about the value of selling online for your business, product or service. Sometimes being online for the sake of it can do more damage than good. For example, if you’re selling something online but your payment process is broken, your customer will get irritated with you and probably never return.
Be sure to understand the reason for entering the realm of digital commerce carefully. This isn’t a case of dive in headfirst and learn to swim on the way towards the water. You’ll probably drown in all the nuanced complications that arise as you progress if you don’t prepare effectively.
For Luke Jedeikin, one of the founders of Superbalist.com (previously Citymob.co.za), starting an online store and selling other people’s products was a simpler proposition conceptually than doing it in real life.
“Build a webstore and find existing real world products to sell from it. As opposed to, build a webstore and build a digital product. We actually started selling coupons during the group buying storm but moved to physical products after the first year or so,” he says.
Some people will tell you that getting started is difficult, others will blame payment processes, design, the government, banks, technology or fulfilment for the difficult time South Africans have when setting up an online store. But there’s no good reason to avoid online commerce and there are many resources and tools to assist you along the way.
Choosing a platform
Choosing the correct platform for your needs can be a difficult task. As with anything, the first step is always the most overwhelming and this is no different. The biggest question on most people’s minds is “Where do I start?”
There are many options that you can choose from. The criteria you use to get started on your online shop should look something like this:
- How much money do I want to spend building?
- How big is my product list?
- Do I need people to pay me immediately using a credit card?
- Do I need to support recurring credit card payments?
- What countries will I operate in?
- Is my product virtual (digital download) or physical (delivered by a courier company)?
Each question is important and can lead you down a rabbit hole of confusion. Fortunately, most of the services out there will walk you through all of the solutions when you sign up.
Here’s a list of services that you can visit right now to evaluate, investigate and figure out which is best for your needs.
WordPress + WooCommerce
WordPress is a free to use platform that you’ll need to instal and host yourself to operate a WooCommerce store. There is a fair amount of knowledge to acquire in order to become an expert in using WooCommerce, but it’s the first choice of over 500 000 stores around the world and is a South African company. Online tutorials, walkthroughs, a forum and lots of Googling will help to get to grips with the platform.
I chose to use WooCommerce to set up my online store where I sell socks (www.nicsocks.com). The reasons for using this platform were simple; I found it easy to set up and it was free. I took photos of my products using my phone, uploaded them, added a price and began to sell. The cost of expanding happened after launch but this is standard practice for free platforms. They allow for growth if you’re happy to pay for it.
Courtenay Farquharson, an entrepreneur who founded www.petheaven.co.za, an online company that delivers dog food to owners around South Africa, chose Magento because it’s free and well supported: “I was looking for something free that would allow me to expand. Magento simply seemed to be the most supported software out there. I also liked the fact that I could write modules and extend it if need be and it came with hundreds of various themes for me to choose from.”
Shopify is definitely one of the most well-known online commerce platforms in the world. It’s well supported globally as well as in South Africa and is fast and easy to use.
If you’re a company that requires a lot of functionality that doesn’t come standard in any of these free platforms, then you’re probably going to require an online store that is built especially for your needs.
Beware, this route can become a black hole of expense and is not for the faint hearted or the under-prepared. Be sure to evaluate the partner you choose to build your store and be sure to find out about ongoing monthly costs to maintain your site, get access to the core platform and what would be required if you were to leave the partner.
Once you’ve had a look at your platform choices it’s important to understand what kind of payments you will need to support.
Are you selling a single product online? Is this product a once-off purchase or does it require a monthly recurring payment (similar to a magazine subscription)? Are your customers in South Africa or abroad?
Let’s consider the various scenarios and problems that may occur:
- First you can ask your customers to do an electronic bank transfer into your bank account. For this option it’s probably a good idea to get a business account at your bank. These are fairly easy to acquire and your bank should be happy to assist.
- You could also support credit card billing in your store. This option has become increasingly simple as most of the e-commerce platforms support various payment providers such as Payfast, Paypal or PayU. WooCommerce will even walk you through setting up and installing the various payment providers they support.
A word of caution about using Paypal. As of yet Paypal does not support the South African Rand as a currency. This means that your local customers will checkout and see dollars as opposed to rands in their baskets. This is not a major problem and many stores happily do this, but be aware of it nonetheless.
“Our products are sold in dollars which proved a huge challenge when setting up our payment gateway. We use 2checkout, which is based internationally, but sends payments to us once a week. The downside is they charge a lot per transaction but currently it’s the only way to sell our products to a massive international customer base,” says Obox’s David Perel.
- The other option for payments that is often overlooked by small businesses is cash on delivery. This option is available to you if you or a staff member are doing the deliveries for your online orders. You arrive at your customer’s door with the product and they pay you in cash. Simple and effective.
Take note: A red herring in this entire process is that sometimes you will be required to have a merchant account to support some of the payment options. While your bank will tell you that this is a quick and painless process, my bank made it extremely difficult for me and the process took over six months to complete.
At NicSocks my biggest issue isn’t platform, technology or payment providers. My biggest challenge is customer acquisition. South Africa is a very young online shopping market. There aren’t that many people who shop online using their credit cards or any other payment mechanism for that matter. Those who do shop online mostly shop at trusted sites with a history and shy away from young upstarts whom they feel may expose them to unnecessary fraud or risk.
This leaves small online stores with a major challenge: Marketing and promotion.
Almost all of the e-commerce products out there will help your store appear in search engines like Google and Bing. They’ll also optimise your content for these search engines (this is known as Search Engine Optimisation or SEO) so there’s no need to focus too heavily on this in the very beginning but this needs to become a focus as you grow.
Superbalist.com co-founder, Luke Jedeikin feels strongly about email as a key to their online traffic: “Email brings us around 90% of our traffic. SEO, Google, and social media brings the rest. We’re focusing heavily on lessening our reliance on email.”
Social media marketing is also extremely valuable to niche online stores. Building content that people want to consume and share with their friends can really boost sales and drive loyalty. Make sure you have a Facebook page, an active Twitter account so that you can respond to customers in real time and if you’re a visually driven brand or product be sure to make use of Pinterest for a further push.
Generally speaking the time is right to enter into the online space and provide your customers with a place to buy your products. The South African online e-commerce market is expanding rapidly and if you wait too long you’ll be left playing catch up to your competitors.
However, there are areas of concern right now to be mindful of. Be sure to choose the right fulfilment partner. Shipping is a sensitive issue in South Africa and if you charge your customers too much to deliver your product and fulfil their order you’ll lose them at the point of payment.
Access to Internet and the devices being used to access your specific shop online can become problematic for stores that aren’t optimised for multiple devices.
Be sure to consider who your target market is, where they are browsing and if they even have access to the Internet at all.
Fighting for consumers’ attention should be your priority. Be different, stand out and try to maintain their attention long enough to get them to buy something from you. For this you’ll need a few simple things: A great product, a visually appealing but simple website that promotes spending and finally, amazing customer service.
An online store is simply another way to get feet through your now virtual door and sell your amazing product. Keep it simple and dive in.
Recommended Reading: How to Not Lose Your Customers Through Your Site
Everything You Need To Know About Instagram’s New Shopping Features
The app is giving influencers and brands new channels on which consumers can discover them.
Influencers and brands have two new ways to sell products to users scrolling and tapping through their Instagram feeds. After a summer of testing shopping buttons that drive purchases via Stories, the Facebook-owned app has launched them for businesses in 46 countries.
It’s also begun rolling out a personalised shopping section in the Explore tab, which Instagram redesigned earlier this year to feature AI-powered channels categorising content based on topic (e.g. travel, art, decor).
The shopping tab will be a place for users who know they want to browse and potentially buy, with Instagram’s algorithm serving up brands the user already follows or would likely be into, based on past activity on the app. Meanwhile, the shopping bag stickers in Stories will give users a chance to not just admire their favourite influencers’ outfits, but actually click through and learn more about promoted items.
Since Instagram began testing the feature in June, more than 90 million users per month have tapped to reveal tags in shopping posts, according to a Sept. 17 Instagram blog post. The app already allows brands to purchase ads in the form of Stories.
More than 400 million accounts watch Stories daily, and one-third of the most-viewed Stories are from businesses, Instagram also reports.
Instagram has been testing shopping in feeds for nearly two years.
Related: Creating Power Digital Campaigns
Back in November 2016, the company explained on its Business blog that online shopping often involves research and deliberation, rather than impulse purchases, which is what led Instagram to build out shopping posts that would provide consumers with information about products without having to leave the app until they’d made a purchase decision.
Salesforce has forecasted that the referral traffic Instagram drives to retailer websites will increase by 51 percent between the 2017 and 2018 holiday seasons, according to Adweek.
Speaking of leaving the app, Instagram is rumored to be developing a standalone shopping app, according to The Verge, but the company declined to comment on these reports to both The Verge and Entrepreneur.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
Social Media Marketing For Start-ups: Essential Tips
There are plenty of ways to get the leads your start-up needs, but only a few tactics you’ll need in your arsenal to get the job done at a limited cost to your burgeoning business.
Social media marketing, when you’re short on funds, can seem like an intimidating prospect. If you and your team aren’t already knowledgeable about digital marketing strategy, you may think it’s impossible for you to manage marketing campaigns yourself. With a bit of determination and a great deal of studying, however, your startup will be able to successfully launch, direct, and refine your own digital marketing strategies.
What things can you do to help your start-up get more press, attract more customers, and get more brand awareness? There are plenty of ways to get the leads your start-up needs, but only a few tactics you’ll need in your arsenal to get the job done at a limited cost to your burgeoning business.
Get to know your niche
Many young companies adopt random acts of internet marketing. They’ll throw a few hundred dollars into promoting Facebook posts without necessarily understanding how to communicate to their audience.
Before you dive into advertising and promotion platforms, you should spend some time to define – and to get to know – your niche.
To help define your target market, use questions like:
- Who are your existing customers?
- How would you group them?
- Who does your product or service help?
- Does your product help business owners, stay-at-home parents, college students, or someone else?
- Who are you looking to reach out to?
- That is, are you looking to refine your target market or expand it?
Once you’ve answered a few questions like the ones listed above, you should be able to get a better idea of who you’re marketing to. With an understanding of who you’re communicating with, you should be able to craft a tailored message about your brand.
Related: 10 Laws Of Social Media Marketing
Choose social media platforms wisely
Many start-ups try to master as many social media platforms right at the start. Instead of dividing your attention between Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, you should identify one or two social media platforms that will help you market your product or service. This is why defining your target market at the beginning is so very important.
You must first decide who your message is intended for before writing, editing, and positioning that message. After you’ve got your target market down, you’ll be able to pinpoint which social media platforms can serve you best.
Here are a few examples to give you an idea of which social media platforms are best suited for your needs:
- Best for blog links
- Frequent posts: 1-4 posts every few hours is the most effective
- The community is open to businesses promotion
- Best for communicating to existing customers
- Daily posts: 1 post every 2 days is the most effective
- Users respond best to images, videos, and clips
- Strictly promotional posts are undesirable
- Building readership and/or a following is slow
- Better suited for long-term growth strategy
Do your social media research
Start conducting some preliminary research about social media platforms. Build a profile of each, listing their pros and cons. Try investigating other social media platforms such as GitHub, Stack Overflow, and Quora. While these aren’t platforms as large as Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, they could have a far greater impact on your start-up.
Answering questions on Quora and interacting with other users on GitHub, for example, could help you build genuine business and customer relationships.
Concentrate on mastering a few channels
Ultimately, it’s important to concentrate on one or two social media platforms based on your target market and your goals. Attempting to have a significant presence on all of them will prove expensive, time-consuming, and, at worst, counterproductive.
Focusing on one platform will allow you to track your marketing efforts with greater precision, revise your marketing strategy more easily, and help you speak more directly to your target audience.
Digital marketing, while best left to a team of experienced marketers, content creators, and creative designers can be done by your team.
Start-ups tight on cash don’t need to fret, they only need to do a bit of market research and direct their energy accordingly. After narrowing down your audience and performing some preliminary research on social media platforms, you can start working on your social media marketing strategy.
Master a few channels rather than trying to dominate all of the social media space. Keep conducting research as you start your marketing campaigns. Each community naturally changes so you’ll want to keep up-to-date. Leverage your research and dedication to get the most out of your startup marketing.
How To Create The Best Small Business Website: 5 Easy And Effective Steps
Check the steps below and get ready to create a successful small business website.
It doesn’t matter how big or small your business is. If you don’t have online presence, it will become difficult to obtain the results you expect. Your target audience is using the internet nowadays for almost anything. So, if you want to attract more customers and build your brand reputation, you need to build a website. This is how you will be able to expand your business in an easy and not so expensive way.
On the other hand, you don’t have to be a savvy web developer to create a basic website and let the others know about you. Web development and design software have evolved a lot and now you can use several website builders to develop a functional site. You will have plenty of templates to choose from to increase your business’ visibility.
Check the steps below and get ready to create a successful small business website.
Easy and Effective Steps to Create a Website for Your Business
1. What is the purpose of your website?
It doesn’t matter if you develop a simple or a more complex website. Before you start working on anything related to your website, you should start with saying what your company does. Your customers need to understand from the first minute they access your homepage what is your mission and vision. They don’t have too much time to invest when they enter on a website. So, you can make their journey smoother by telling them from the beginning about you. In case you are not so talented at writing, you can use writing companies like RewardedEssays or SupremeDissertations to give you a hand.
2. Choose a domain name and a web host
Even though many think they shouldn’t focus too much on it, the domain name is an important feature of your website. You will use the URL to promote your business to existing and future clients. So, this means that your domain name should be explicit and talk about your business to anyone who wants to find more about you. A domain name should be short, clear, without acronyms or numbers. What is more, you shouldn’t forget to check if your domain name isn’t already taken by someone else.
Apart from a domain name, your website will also need a server where all your data is stored. When you own a small business, creating your own web host will represent a serious financial effort. So, it would be more cost-wise to choose an external host.
As your business grows, you can choose a different host, or you can ask several providers to work on a personalised solution.
3. Build your website’s pages
You will need more than a homepage to create a good website. If you want your customers to understand that you are a professional in what you do, you will create several pages dedicated to different elements of your business. For example, you can include a catalog with your products or a blog.
Natalie Andersen, CEO of GetGoodGrade mentions that “It is obligatory that apart from the homepage, a website should have at least a page with the products’ catalog and a Contact Us page.”
Below you can find a list with the minimum number of pages a professional website should have:
- Homepage – here you will include details about your business, making sure that you also talk about your mission and vision.
- List of products and services – your customers need to know what are the products and services you offer. This will help them decide whether you can answer their questions and provide a solution to their problems.
- About Us – “About Us page is the place where you talk about your story. Your target audience wants to know more about yourself. This is how you will create a connection with your customers and let them know more about you”, says James Daily, Head of content department at FlashEssay.
- Contact Us – it should include your address, email, phone number and working hours. You can also include the links for your social media profiles.
Furthermore, if you want to achieve an international presence, you can also use the translation services offered by IsAccurate. Thus, you will be able to address your message to a wider group of people and expand your business on new markets.
Related: How To Secure Your SME Website
4. Test if your website works properly
Christopher K. Mercer, CEO of Citatior recommends that “before you launch a website, you should first test whether it works. You cannot tell your future customers about your website without knowing for sure that it will work without problems once you launch it”. Therefore, you should click on each page and check whether it has any errors. You still have time to fix something if necessary.
Once you have launched your website and something goes wrong, it will become more difficult to do any change. Plus, always remember that the first impression matters. So, you need to be perfect in the eyes of your customers.
5. Maintain your website
After you launched your website, this doesn’t mean that your work is done. You will need to keep your customers engaged and curious about your business. Therefore, updating the products’ catalog constantly or producing content for your blog will keep your audience informed about what you can offer and the latest trends in the industry. Plus, you should also check if your website is up to date with the latest add-ons. If you don’t know how to produce new content for your website or you feel that you are not talented enough, you can collaborate with HotEssayService or RatedByStudents for professional writing services.
It shouldn’t be complicated to create a website for your small business. As long as you keep a clear structure and create a story around your business, you don’t have anything to worry about. It is very important to understand that a website is very important for your business visibility. Thus, you should put all your efforts into it.
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