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Making The Connection

Cape Town-based cabling company maintains that quality and service are what count.

Monique Verduyn

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Ivan Blacher knew there would be a gap in the cabling market when he and his erst while business associate parted ways. An IT distribution specialist, Blacher went overseas to secure agreements with agencies such as Rextron, Rose and Bafo. With a good reputation behind him, he also succeeded in enticing many of his former employees back into the fold.

Industry expertise. “Many less experienced people see the cabling, networking and KVM (keyboard, video and mouse) switches sector as an easy one to get into,” says Blacher. The reality is somewhat different. With cheap and nasty products flooding the market, Blacher’s electrical engineering background and his understanding of cabling technologies have enabled him to get his new business,Linkqage, off the ground within months.

Launched at the beginning of 2008 with Blacher’s savings, the company now employs 14 people, and has offices in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth with Johannesburg opening soon. Better yet, it was profitable almost from the start.

Quality over cost. “Understanding the market is essential,”says Blacher. “Copper is expensive and has quadrupled in price in a short space of time. As a result, overseas manufacturers from countries like China try to do things cheaply, producing aluminium-based cables that cost less. But these products are inferior and result in endless problems for users. We have stood by our commitment to superior products and it’s paying off.”

Linkqage has extended its range to include all connectivity products, as well as the technical expertise to keep them functioning. The company supplies IT dealers and installers. Blacher says he took advantage of the fact that people already knew him and his team. He stresses, however, that in the distribution business, you are required to work your dealer base continuously.

“Our staff have played an enormous role in the growth of the business,” Blacher adds. “We have a team that has the right attitude and approach to customer service. All our clients are treated in the same way, regardless of the size of the order.”

To streamline the financials of the business, Blacher partnered with his brother Keith who has many years of experience in the systems and accounting sides of the import and wholesale industry.

With suppliers in Taiwan, China, Israel, the US and the UK, Blacher travels frequently. “It’s important to maintain contact with the people you import from. I speak to them almost every day.”

Keeping in touch. The greatest threat to his business is the fluctuation of the rand/dollar exchange rate. This results in stock that is overpriced and has to be sold at cost or even below. “Determining quantities is one of the biggest issues for any importer. I read a great number of magazines and newspapers so that I know what is happening in the market. As a result, I know when there will be a demand for a certain product and we are able to meet it head on.”

For more information, contact: +27 21 514 4800, www.linkqage.co.za

Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.

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Techniques

Why Does Good Client Service Matter For E-commerce?

Remember, bad service is remembered for much longer than any products that have been purchased. And if you provide a positive experience, you will have a loyal customer base and can use the insights gathered from interactions.

Clarissa Fleischer

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You might be scratching your head a little at the notion of an e-commerce store (yes, an online store) worrying too much about client service. After all, customers are using your website to purchase goods and avoid interacting with salespeople, right? But client service, or customer support as it is also known, is vital to running a successful e-commerce business. This is because consumers still expect the same level of care as they would from a brick-and-mortar store.

You will need to devise an e-commerce digital marketing strategy that can enhance your client service offerings. For example, you’ll need to put together an e-commerce email marketing customer base so that you can easily send out promotional emails, newsletters and reply to complaints. Your e-commerce website design should focus on the needs of the customer, so be sure to invest in a design that caters for them. Read on to find out why good client service is vital for e-commerce.

You can sell hundreds of products…

but bad service will always be remembered. For e-commerce in South Africa and around the world, client service is one of the major touchpoints that you have with your clients, meaning that you need to provide the best experience possible.

Online shoppers will likely have no physical contact with your brand, making client service the best chance to show customers that you truly care about them. Remember that customers want more than just a place to shop. They want an e-commerce business that is going to provide them with information that is relevant and help that truly solves a problem. You need a dedicated email address, Twitter handle, Facebook page or a live chat option where clients can contact you easily and efficiently.

Trust builds client relationships

By providing good customer support, you will be building trust between your customers and your brand. For example, if you provide personalised emails with product recommendations to loyal customers, they will see that you are taking note of their preferences and value their input.

As an e-commerce brand, you need to do more than brick-and-mortar stores to generate trust, which is where client service comes into play. You should look into building a customer support strategy that allows you to meet consumers at every touchpoint of their journey. This will show customers that you are a brand that is taking note of what they need. The reason for building trust is that, in the online shopping world, customers do not have to go very far (just a few clicks, in reality) to find another store with another shopping cart to fill. Focusing on what your client needs is a sure-fire way to improve consumer trust in your brand.

You will gain valuable insight

Client service is not only good for the customer, but can be good for your business too. You can gain valuable insight into the wants and needs of your customers as well as issues that you might not have known existed in your business.

Feedback that is constructive can help you to make changes in your business to improve client service and will allow you to introduce new systems for dealing with complaints and queries. If customers are repeatedly asking you if you will be offering new or different products or if they are asking about specific products that your competitors offer, you can use this information to meet their needs and keep your site up-to-date with trends and products. Even transactional emails can be helpful, as these will allow you to improve or enhance your checkout process.

It can make (or break) your brand reputation

Reputation is important, whether you are a physical store or an online one. And in the age of social media, can you really afford to offer bad client service? Today, people take to Facebook, Twitter and even Instagram to share their experiences with brands, whether their experience was positive or negative.

If your customer support is bad or inconsistent, customers will likely head to your Facebook business page or write something on their own profile for the world to see. And how you deal with this is also a part of your customer support. Be sure to always strive to provide customers with a positive interaction no matter the situation. Even if the customer is not always right, they should never have negative connotations with your brand.

Clients come first

Client service is one of the most important aspects of any e-commerce business. While you might think that all your consumers want is a place to shop without having to deal with crowds (an introvert’s dream), they expect the same level of client service they would receive in an actual store.

Remember, bad service is remembered for much longer than any products that have been purchased. And if you provide a positive experience, you will have a loyal customer base and can use the insights gathered from interactions.

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Techniques

3 Ecommerce Trends You Must Prepare For In 2019

The ecommerce explosion continues, but there’s also an element of evolution. To take your ecommerce presence to the next level, take advantage of these emerging trends.

Tiffany Delmore

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Retail ecommerce sales continue trending upward, and consumer confidence has reached an 18-year high. Conditions are ripe for brands with an established ecommerce presence, but that doesn’t mean business as usual will always suffice. Instead, the organisations that excel will be those with a forward-thinking approach to ecommerce.

Ecommerce is thriving because enough companies have kept up with changing technology and consumer expectations. For example, as mobile purchases increased in popularity, ecommerce retailers began specifically catering to this shopping avenue. Mobile purchases constituted the majority of ecommerce sales in 2016, and eMarketer estimates that 72.9 percent of online purchases will be made on a mobile device by 2021.

Device preferences aren’t the only thing in transition – search methods are also quickly evolving as technology becomes more sophisticated. According to predictions from ComScore, 50 percent of all search queries will be made via voice by 2020. And it’s likely that more people will be audio searching for buyable goods soon: Devices such as Google Home Hub and Amazon Echo Show are integrating voice and image search so that shoppers can see what they’re asking to buy. Ecommerce retailers that can’t cater to a voice-activated future (Read: optimise for natural language search) will quickly lose ground to their rivals.

Ecommerce companies are also partnering with payment processors to make online purchases as frictionless as possible. By offering payment options such as PayPal, Venmo and Amazon Pay at checkout, customers can leave their credit cards in their wallets, so buying becomes even easier.

No matter how mature your ecommerce presence might be now, you need to keep looking ahead to ensure future success. To elevate your ecommerce efforts in 2019, take advantage of these three emerging trends.

1. Sell your wares on social

Effective marketing is about optimising your messaging to appeal to your target audience, but messaging won’t matter if the audience never sees it. Meeting your audience members where they spend their time is crucial, and here’s a tip: If your customer base is online, it’s on social media one-third of that time.

If you’re not selling on social media, you’re missing a huge opportunity. Most social media platforms now support integrated buy buttons that transfer users to your website to complete a sale, and apps such as Instagram and Snapchat offer shoppable stories, too.

Retail brands like Jordan have also capitalised on event-related social commerce opportunities. For the 2018 NBA All-Star Game, Jordan partnered with Snapchat to offer access codes to an exclusive sale of the special edition Air Jordan III Tinker shoe. Users could only receive a code if they were near the Staples Center in Los Angeles, and the sneakers sold out in 23 minutes.

Related: 6 Steps To Building A Million-Dollar Ecommerce Site In 60 Days

2. Remix the buyer’s reality

Mixed reality technologies have yet to see mainstream adoption, but they have made huge strides in that direction. Vertebrae’s launch of its AR/VR ecommerce platform Axis aims to prove that the tech is much more than a novelty, and IKEA’s Place app provides shoppers with an AR-powered glimpse into what IKEA products would look like in their own homes.

“Augmented reality and virtual reality will be a total game changer for retail in the same way as the internet. Only this time, much faster,” says Michael Valdsgaard, leader of digital transformation at Inter IKEA Systems.

AR might not be everywhere yet, but ecommerce retailers that successfully incorporate AR capabilities into the shopping experience stand to gain a significant advantage over their competitors.

3. Strengthen your Amazon strategy

Amazon has established a pre-eminent place in the ecommerce ecosystem, and Salmon’s “Future Shopper Report” indicates that 68 percent of American shoppers head straight to the site when browsing for products. What’s more, even when customers plan to buy from another site or store, 80 percent read Amazon reviews and check prices there.

Clearly, mastering Amazon is critical. Trevor George, founder and CEO of Amazon marketing agency Blue Wheel Media, says that the only way for sellers to win on the platform is through ads: “The future of Amazon is advertising, and if a brand wants to make money now and into the future, it needs to be able to navigate Amazon’s advertising platforms.”

According to George, that means investing in auto-bidding tools such as Prestozon or Ignite, isolating the right search terms, and incorporating negative keywords so your appliance company isn’t spending money to appear in searches for Easy-Bake Ovens.

The ecommerce boom isn’t waning anytime soon, and capitalising on it requires a thoughtful strategy that keeps your brand ahead of the competition. Keep social commerce, mixed reality shopping and Amazon advertising on your mind through 2019.

Read next: Watch List: 15 SA eCommerce Entrepreneurs Who Have Built Successful Online Businesses

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Techniques

How To Get Ready To Sell Your Business – Advice From Marnus Broodryk

If you’re thinking about selling your business, there are some critical steps you need to make first.

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MAKING THE SALE

A successful transaction will mostly boil down to having a solid business with great systems in place that is making decent money and the starting point for these transactions will be financial information.


Some entrepreneurs are ‘starters’, they like to start a business, get it off the ground and then flog it. Others are ‘growers’, they look for existing businesses and have the ability to grow them beyond their original value. Both will probably get to the same end point: Selling the business.

But entrepreneurs are often misled when it comes to the sale. They have put everything into the business and it is worth a huge amount to them because of it. But buyers are seldom willing to match the price, because what is being sold, and what is being bought, are not the same thing. Sellers see the emotional and financial investments they’ve put in; the buyer mostly looks at one thing: Profit.

Effort does not equal profit. The balance is out.

Related: 20 South African Side-Hustles You Can Start This Weekend

Prepare for the challenges of selling

Once you get to market you will soon realise that there are, unfortunately, fewer buyers than you’d like. Unlike listed companies, you can’t sell shares easily and quickly on a public platform. Instead, you need to find an interested individual or business, many of whom just aren’t buying what you’re selling.

Some of them are, but that doesn’t guarantee a sale. Most SMEs must put their faith in a cash deal, since banks will never finance anyone wanting to buy them. In reality, this means that you may have a genuinely interested buyer for your business, who won’t be able to get finance for it from the bank. So, after a few months, you’re back to square one. After a few rounds of this cycle many entrepreneurs will just sell out of desperation, forgetting what the business could actually be worth.

Selling a business can be very emotionally draining and this will be compounded by many people who will waste your time and mess you around. You spent a large portion of your life building this, but others will not see it the same way you do. Ensure that you prepare and mitigate against all of those issues, and have the stomach for the fight.

Always keep the end in mind

If you are looking at exiting your business, it is crucial to allow enough time to prepare yourself for it. Maybe you’re simply tired of your business and you just want to get out, but, because the business is not in a great state at the moment, you’re too fed up to care, and you simply don’t have the energy to fix the issues.

You’re at risk of letting your business go for next to nothing. All the hard work for hardly any reward.

Related: Selling Your Business To Your Business Partner

If you have the end in mind, and prepare for it, it can be a very different, more lucrative story. A successful transaction will mostly boil down to having a solid business with great systems in place that is making decent money and the starting point for these transactions will be financial information. You need to have proper financial records for your business and you need to be able to show the potential buyer how much the business is making and how it is making it. It sounds so elementary, yet most entrepreneurs don’t have financial information when they want to sell their businesses. If you think you may want to sell in the future, make sure you’re keeping solid records now.

If your business’s financials are messy, start cleaning them up at least twelve months before trying to sell your business. Remove all your personal expenses from the business and ensure that all transactions are properly recorded, and that your taxes are up to date and accurate. Work with your accountant to prepare a sales pack with all your financial information, including details of your clients, employees, suppliers, what your strong and weak points are and how the business could grow in the future. It’s at this stage that you can pick up on issues and resolve them before taking your business to the market, making it a much more attractive product.

With some (more) hard work, you will be in a great position to sell your business, you will have serious buyers and the valuation that you deserve for all your hard work. If you don’t, why bother?

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