Whether you provide investment advice or plumbing services, people must have the ability to find you on the web. If you’re not there, you will lose out to competitors who are online.
The Internet is now the fastest growing advertising medium and it has to be embraced by businesses of all sizes. An informative, well designed website enables a business to break through any local barriers and become accessible to anyone, anywhere, at any time. It makes your business reachable to people 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The convenience factor is huge, and can help to boost customer satisfaction from the word go.
Your customers and potential customers can visit your site from the privacy of their home or office to find out information about the products or services you offer, making it possible for your business to reach a wide audience with a relatively small investment. And because you can change the content on your website, you can keep it looking fresh and tailor it to what your visitors are looking for.
Where to start with your website
The first thing you need to do is to register your domain name. This would be www.yourcompany.com .
Next, you need to work with a designer to create the look and feel for your website. A good designer will help you to figure out what information should and should not be included on your website. You want to be informative about your business without going overboard.
Your next step is to secure a hosting account for your website. Your web designer can help you to do this as well.
What makes a good website?
Before getting enmeshed in design details, get the big picture by writing a site outline. A well-thought-out site outline includes: content, structure, design, navigation and credibility.
An outline helps you get the most out of your e-commerce budget. You’ll know whether you or someone in your company can do each piece or if you need outside help. That way, when you hire someone, it will be for only the parts of the job that you’ll need to have outsourced.
A detailed outline to prospective web designers makes the process more efficient.
Content: The key to a successful site is content. Give site visitors a lot of interesting information, incentives to visit and buy, and ways to contact you. Once your site is up and running, continually update and add fresh content to keep people coming back for more.
Structure: Next, structure your site. Decide how many pages to have and how they’ll be linked to each other. Choose graphics and icons that enhance the content. Pictures of adorable children of different ages, for example, might work well if you’re selling children’s clothes, with pictures of toys and books that site visitors can click on to jump to other pages within your site where they can buy these items. At this point, organise the content into a script.
Your script is the numbered pages that outline the site’s content and how pages flow from one to the next. Page 1 is your home page, the very first page that site visitors will see when they type in your website address, or URL. Arrange all the icons depicting major content areas in the order you want them. Pages 2 through whatever correspond to each icon on your home page. Following our example of selling children’s clothes, perhaps you’d start with the icon labeled “birth through one year” as page 2. Pages 3 through 12 might be all products and services pertaining to that age range. Page 13, then, would start with the icon from your home page labeled “one to three years.”
Writing a script ensures your website is chock-full of great content that is well organized. Write well, give site visitors something worthwhile for their time spent with you, and include a lot of valuable information and regular opportunities to get more content. Whether you offer a free newsletter, a calendar of events, columns from experts or book reviews, content and its structure becomes the backbone of your website.
Design: With the content and structure in place, site design comes next. Whether you’re using an outside designer or doing it yourself, concentrate on simplicity, readability and consistency. Before you start using HTML tags right and left, remember what you want to accomplish.
For example, if you have a pet products website, you recognise that many pet owners have both dogs and cats. You want them to be able to shop and order in the way that’s most comfortable for them. Perhaps they want to get their pet food order out of the way first, then shop for toys and fashion accessories. Maybe they prefer to shop for their cats, then focus on shopping for their doggie goodies.
Cue them with graphics, colours and fonts that make sense to you. Should all cat-related text and icons contain blue, while dog items are red? Should all food text and graphics be green, toys red and accessories yellow? These subtle cues make all the difference in how visitors respond to your website. Keep surfing the internet to research what combinations of fonts, colors and graphics appeal to you, and incorporate pleasant and effective design elements into your site.
Navigation: Make it easy and enjoyable for visitors to browse the site. Use no more than two or three links to major areas, never leave visitors at a dead end, and don’t make them back up three or four links to get from one content area to another. For example, if you have a website for convention planners, make it easy for visitors to link to city sites where they can find information about theaters, river cruises, museums and the like so convention attendees can check out recreational activities on their own.
Credibility: This is an issue that shouldn’t be lost in the bells and whistles of establishing a website. Your site should reach out to every visitor, telling them why they should buy your product or your service. It should look very professional and give potential customers the same feeling of confidence that a phone call or face-to-face visit with you would. Remind the visitors that you don’t exist only in cyberspace. Your company’s full contact information – contact name, company name, street address, city, province, postal code, telephone, fax and e-mail address –should appear on your home page.
From thorough contact information to customer testimonials, here are the essentials that every small business website should have for it to effectively help you do business.
1. A clear description of who you are
Someone who stumbles upon your website shouldn’t have to do investigative work to figure out what, exactly, it is that you do. That means clearly stating your name and summing up your products or services right on the homepage.
2. A simple, sensible web address
Don’t make things complicated. Your domain name is like your brand. It should be easy for a user to type it into a web browser or an e-mail address. Avoid dashes (which can cause SEO headaches) and numbers (which can cause confusion for customers).
3. An easily-navigated site map
Clear links to the most important pages, and a site map, are crucial for guiding visitors to the information they’re looking for. Be sure your navigation is clearly laid out. You can use dropdowns in the navigation menu so the visitor can see the content under every heading from virtually any page. You want to make it very easy for your visitors to find what they are looking for, or what you want them to know.
4. Easy-to-find contact information
You wouldn’t want to lose a customer to a competitor just because you made it difficult for them to get in touch with you. Not every online visitor has the patience to click through every page on your website to find the contact information. The best place for the contact information is the top left or top right corner of the home page. It is also good practice to include contact information in every page of the website in the footer or side bar or even in top right corner, which helps the visitors to find it more easily.
You should also be sure to include several ways for them to contact you – phone, e-mail, and a standard contact form, are all good options. One of the biggest mistakes business owners make is to force only one way to reach them. The point is to make it very easy for users to communicate with you on their terms.
5. Customer testimonials
Honest words from others help make your products or services more tangible to customers who are visiting you online. They help your potential customers to build trust in you, especially if you are new. And they help shoppers to confirm whether the product or services meet their needs. People love to hear stories from real people, they help people find out other things you haven’t said on your website.
6. An obvious call to action
Tell the online visitors literally what you want them to do with clear tones of commend. For instance, you may want them to call you now for a free quote, or sign up to your exclusively online coupons, or add products to the online shopping cart, etc. And, call attention to your suggestion by using special buttons or highlighting the text, for example.
7. Know the basics of SEO
Your website won’t do you as much good if no one can stumble upon it. Become familiar with the SEO basics to make it more accessible by search engine. You don’t need to employ mysterious, ninja, black hat SEO types to rank well on the search engines. Simply make sure your website is coded correctly. That means using the correct keywords throughout your text, putting in plenty of links, naming your page titles and URLs correctly, and employing the magic of images and videos.
8. Fresh, quality content
For many businesses, your website is your first impression on a customer. You want to give them what they’re looking for, and perhaps even give them a reason to keep coming back. The user is looking for something. Make sure you give it to them and be sure your content is original, well written and valuable. Fresh content is a goldmine for SEO, as well. You can keep your content from getting stale (and give your company some personality, too) by incorporating a regularly-updated blog or connecting in your social media feeds.
9. A secure hosting platform
Having your online information hijacked is a nightmare, and, should it happen to your business, it could cost you customers. It is imperative that you have a secure, trustworthy hosting company to keep the bad guys out and your content up and running. It is also very important to keep your content management system updated in order to stay one step ahead of the hackers.
10. A design and style that’s friendly to online readers
Online visitors often scan through a webpage to sample the content first when they open a new webpage. If they feel like they are on the right page, they will slow down to read the full story. To enhance the user’s experience on your small business website, you need to organise the content for scanning.
Keep these three style points for online writing in mind:
- Break things down into short paragraphs, with headers if necessary
- Use bullet points
- Highlight important words or phrases.
In the end, simplicity and basic colors are the best bet. Again, the content is the focus, not dancing clowns at the top of the page.
The no cost option
There are a number of free website options available.
- Among the most popular is Yola, which offers three levels of service. The most basic website is free, while a professionally designed site from Yola Premier will cost $349,95. You simply let the designers know what you want and they’ll make a custom five-page website for a one-time fee. You’ll have full control of the completed website, and you can make changes or updates at any time at no cost. The website is also hosted for free and comes with technical support. If you choose the basic, free option you will not be able to have a custom domain, but you will be given the option to upgrade to a custom domain. The free sites usually have existing templates that you can choose from and simply add your own content to.
- Other sites offering the freemium model include Wix and WordPress.
Web design mistakes to avoid
If you commit these site development sins, it could cost you more than you know.
Your site can’t be all things to all people. Be selective about the content you decide to put on the site and organise it in a clean and logical manner. A lot of people try to put too much, especially on their home pages, and cram more down their customers’ throats.
Making things difficult.
The route from first click to sale has to be easy. It’s important to think like customers and prospects when evaluating the design of a site. One pet peeve is having to set up an account before checking out. Let customers buy from you on their terms.
Your website is never done. Keep finding ways to engage your customers, add content and make your site fresh. This will help keep customers interested and may also help in your web rankings. If you’re promoting a specific product or service or have a special promotion going on, it’s a good idea to use landing pages that support e-mail and social networking outreach efforts.
Copying your competition.
Always check out what your competition is doing, but don’t be a copycat. If you look too much like other businesses, customers could have trouble telling you apart. Review what others are doing, but speak to your own customers and use your own institutional knowledge to determine what is important to them.
Ignoring your audience’s needs.
Try getting baby boomers to read eight-point type and they may get frustrated. Be sure you understand your audience and its preferences before you build your site. Tiny or hard-to-read typefaces or harsh colors may look great from a design standpoint, but if you’re not designing for the people who buy from you, you could be losing their business.
Review the analytics of any sites you have before you begin designing a new one. Know your bounce rate (the number of people who leave the site after viewing only one or two pages) your top entrance page and your top exit page. Google Analytics will help you understand where your traffic is coming from, what keywords people are using to find you and what they’re reading on your site. That way you can build more of what’s working.
Refusing to get help.
Don’t let your pride or fear of spending earn you a spot on WebPagesThatSuck.com. If web design is not your strong suit and you need more than what a web design template can provide, seek professional help. Check your local business associations and look online for sites you like. Many have links at the bottom to their designers’ sites, so you can find a designer whose work you already like.
- Yola: www.yola.com
- Wix: www.wix.com
- WordPress: www.wordpress.com
- Google’s Search Engine Optimisation Starter Guide: http://static.googleusercontent.com/external_content/untrusted_dlcp/www.google.com/en//webmasters/docs/search-engine-optimization-starter-guide.pdf
- Search Engine Journal: http://www.searchenginejournal.com/
Understanding Your Responsibility As An Employer
Now that you have your own employees, here is what you should know about your new responsibilities.
Hiring employees requires more work from you as the employer than simply placing a job ad, hiring the right person and training them on their role.
You need to be aware of the Labour Law requirements in terms of the various funds and other stipulated registrations.
Related: 5 Factors That Make a Great Boss
The law does not differentiate between different size organisations, and therefore it is imperative that SME’s fully understand the implications of all aspects of Labour legislation.
How To Write A Business Plan
A useful guide on how to write a business plan.
An international study showed that only 42% of small-business owners actually took the time to write a formal business plan, but of those who did, more than 69% said it contributed greatly to their success.
It’s no surprise that most experts and financial institutions advise those thinking of starting their own business to put together a comprehensive business plan first.
Related: Business Plan Format Guide
But before you put pen to paper, there are a few vital exercises you need to go through to ensure your business idea is a viable one.
Step 1: Research
The business you plan to start might be in an industry you have some experience in or it might be totally new to you, either way you need to do in-depth research into the industry and market to make sure you fully understand how it operates.
Your research should include:
- Understanding the dynamics and forces affecting the industry
- The preferences and characteristics of your target market
- Insight into how many competitors are already operating and the quality of their product or service
- Finding out who you could partner with to start the business
- How your product or service will be created and delivered
- How it is different from those that already exist, and identifying a profit and operating model for the business.
Some of the sources you can turn to for this information include:
- The Internet
- Industry experts and associations
- Suppliers who play a key role in the industry
- Existing competitors in the industry
- Interaction with member of your team.
Step 2: Stress-test your business concept
Many people are infatuated with their new business idea before they have properly evaluated whether it is worth the time and money they need to invest in it.
FREE Business Plan Template Download
An idea should be stress-tested before producing and selling it.
- Technical feasibility: When considering the technical feasibility you need to know if the technology for your product or service is available or still in development, what possibilities are there that the end user might not want to use your technology and what other technologies could becoming competition in future.
- Market feasibility: The market feasibility refers to the actual need for what you are selling, how large is the market and how fast it is growing. You need to know who your customer is, what their needs are and the advantages and disadvantages of your product or service over the competition.
- Financial feasibility: You also need to determine the financial feasibility by determining what the sources of revenue for the business are, what the major costs are for the new business, is there a good profit margin, what capital is required to launch the business, how long the business will take to break-even and you should develop best-case and worst-case scenarios regarding your cash flow. If you are using your business plan to apply for funding, the funder will also want to see that your cash flow will adequately cover your running expenses and enable you to re-pay their loan.
- Team feasibility: When looking at the team skills you will require to get your business off the ground, you should identify how many people it will take to make your business happen, what cost they will come at and develop a timeline for staffing if your budget does not enable you to hire staff immediately. If you intend to run the business by yourself then determine the skills and expertise you will require (marketing, sales, financial, etc). If you are not equipped with these skills, you should consider bringing a partner on board, outsourcing and/or up-skilling yourself.
Step 3: Refine your business concept
Based on the findings from your research and once you have stress-tested your idea, you may have identified weaknesses or opportunities.
The findings will allow you to refine the business idea so that it fills any gaps in the industry, meets market demands, is different from competitor offerings, leverages relationships with partners and suppliers and is financially sustainable.
Step 4: Writing the business plan
While a business plan doesn’t automatically guarantee success, it does assist an entrepreneur to avoid many of the common causes of business failure, including undercapitalisation or an inadequate market-share.
Related: Sample Business Plans
While there is no universal business plan template, plans generally include the following sections:
1. Table of Contents
This features the main headings of the business plan and their page numbers for easy reference. Finalise this section last to ensure the numbers are all correct.
2. Executive Summary
The executive summary is a summary of your full business plan. It contains the summary highlights of each section of your.
It should also describe the company, provide details about management and their strengths, the business objectives and why it will be successful, and if the business needs external funding, how much is needed, and how it will be repaid.
The executive summary is written last and should not exceed two pages in length.
3. General Company Description
This is where you give an overview of the company and the business it engages in.
It should include the company’s name, mission statement, goals and objectives, and strengths.
If you have a register company name, trademarks, patents, BEE credentials and/or a VAT number include those details here.
4. The Opportunity Industry & Market
Based on the research you conducted prior to writing the business plan, you will discuss the opportunity you have identified, the ‘gap’ that exists in the market. You’ll need to detail why this gap exists, how you identified it and how you will fill it.
When writing about the industry you must answer questions about:
- The ‘barriers to entry’ (how easy or difficult it is for future competitors to enter the same market and offer the same product or service as you do)
- Who the customers are and the influence they have over prices
- Who the suppliers are and their influence over the prices
- Who the competitors are and how strong their products or services are and the major changes affecting the industry.
Regarding the market you need to state the total size of the market, what percentage of the market share you will have, and major trends.
5. Business Model
The business model you choose will be a strong determining point of the future the success of your business.
Your business model must include information on what your companies offers in terms of products or services; what makes your offering unique; who you sell them to; and how you make your money.
You need to take into consideration the source of revenue, the major costs incurred in generating revenue, the profitability of the business, the investment required to get the business up and running and the critical success factors for the model to work.
Discuss how your business will compete in its specific market.
You need to explain the strategic choices you have made including the focus of the business, how you will create a unique and valuable proposition, what is unique about your business and what value there is for customers.
You must also include your plan for how you intend to enter the market and grow your market-share.
7. Team: Management & Organisation
You will provide a breakdown of the people in the business. It should include a list of founders including their qualifications and experience, a description of who will manage the business, and an organisational chart if you have over 10 employees.
8. Marketing Plan
This should provide details on your marketing strategy based on your market research.
The marketing plan should include important marketing decisions about the product or service and the value thereof, a detailed description of the target market, the product or service’s positioning, the pricing strategy, the sales and distribution channels and the promotion strategy.
9. Operational Plan
An explanation of the day-to-day operation of your business. It should include the business’s operating cycle, where the skills and materials will be sourced from, if anything is to be outsourced and how you will manage those relationships, and the cash payment cycle.
10. Financial Plan
The financial plan is an overview of your business’s financial future. You should back up the main features of the financial plan with accurate financial projections.
The most important information to include in this section includes start-up expenses and capitalisation, a 12-month profit and loss projection, a 12-month cash-flow projection, a projected balance sheet at start-up and the end of years one and three and a break-even calculation.
This section contains any supporting documentation you think the reader would want to refer to and could include:
- Brochures and advertising
- Industry studies
- Blueprints and plans
- Maps and photos of locations
- Lists of equipment
- Letters of support from future customers
- Market research studies
- Detailed financial calculations and projections.
- Business plans vary from one organisation to the next as well as the reason for the business plan. If you are writing the business plan to submit to a bank or other institution for funding you should contact the institution beforehand to find out what their specific requirements are for business plans. If you aren’t looking for funding your plan will look different and there should be a focus on cash flow.
- If you are using your business plan as a tool to attract funders, partners or suppliers, the executive summary is the section that will be viewed first. The contents of the summary therefore must make a good impression and clearly demonstrate opportunity and viability.
- Some entrepreneurs are concerned that those who read it could steal their ideas presented in the business plan. While some experts say this really isn’t something to worry about since it is the execution of an idea that is most important, if you believe your plan contains proprietary intellectual property, you should take steps to protect your ideas by registering trademarks and/or patents.
- Using visuals like graphs, tables, diagrams and photos will capture readers’ attention. If you are communicating technical or complex ideas use a graph, table or diagram to increase the likelihood that the information will be read and understood.
- If you are presenting your business plan to third parties, ensure have corrected all spelling and grammatical errors. It is a good idea to give it to someone with strong language skills to edit it for you. Spelling mistakes make a bad impression.
- There are many people who offer to write business plans on your behalf. This is not the best route to take as the process of putting the plan together will identify areas that need further research and help you determine the viability of the idea. It will help you know your business inside out, which is especially essential when presenting to potential investors.
- If you don’t have a strong financial background, you can get assistance from someone who has, but be sure to let them explain the different aspects of your business’s financials. They will help you by pointing out key areas like payment terms and cycles, cash flow and any other discrepancies in your plan.
- One of the most common mistakes people make is in creating unrealistic and over-optimistic projections. You must spend enough time collecting relevant and realistic figures for your financials. As a rule of thumb, experts recommend that start-ups halve their revenue projects and double their expenses.
- Don’t make the business plan too long. In general it shouldn’t exceed 25 pages as this puts people off reading it. If you have more than 25 pages, cut out unnecessary information and include it in the appendix.
Zoning and Permits
If you are thinking about setting up a business in a residential area you will need to know about zoning.
Have you considered the legal ins and outs of starting a business in a residential area? You will need to know about zoning.
The Home Office
You want to open a simple consultancy, for example. You start out on your own, as so many entrepreneurs do, at home in your spare room. No inconvenient trading licences to worry about. As you take on some support staff, you hire your first few square meters of office space. Times are good and suddenly your new business is legit and firing on all cylinders.
Clients are happy, word of mouth has taken care of your marketing and you’ve had to take on more staff to cope with the increased workload.
All of a sudden you no longer fit into the modest office space you hired for your fledgling business and you have to think about expanding. But you’ve been paying rent for over two years and it seems such a waste. And now that you think of it, you were considering selling your substantial home and moving into a lock-up-and-go townhouse.
It occurs to you that perhaps you should keep the house (it’s an asset after all) and convert it into business premises. That way you’ll save on rent.
On the surface it all seems to make perfectly good business sense. Except for one thing. Your house is in a residential area and therefore not zoned for business purposes. In order to trade as a business on those premises, you will have to apply for the property to be rezoned – and the time and energy needed to achieve that may make another year’s worth of paying rent not seem so onerous after all.
If you are operating a one-person business, don’t employ staff and don’t have clients calling regularly at your premises, you don’t have to apply for business rezoning. But if you need to put up signage, expect clients, suppliers and staff, and if the property is used solely for business purposes then, in all likelihood, you’re in for a rezoning application.
If you are searching for a business premises, here is what you need to know about leases and landlords.
The Rezoning Battle
But here’s the catch – applying for a property to be rezoned as a business in no way means that it will automatically happen. As South African cities boom with business growth and congestion becomes an ever-increasing cause of frustration and wasted time, businesses are moving out of the CBD and into what were previously residential areas.
This is a natural phenomenon of urban geography and over time, as residents realise the potential value of selling up their homes to businesses that want to move in, areas are rezoned for business. However, if an area is not yet zoned for business, the residents usually have fairly strong objections to it becoming so.
Businesses generate traffic and parking problems. Local councils typically take the concerns of residents seriously and are reluctant to rezone an area for business on the strength of one application.
Add this to the fact that every local authority has a different set of parameters which guides rezoning decisions – and that each application is taken on its individual merits – and the process becomes extremely complicated.
Ultimately, if you want to avoid the daily horrors of traffic and purchase your own business premises in a residential neighbourhood, your best bet is to set up shop in an area in which other businesses are already established. After all, there is strength in numbers and this greatly improves your chances of getting the area rezoned.
Related: Register A Company In South Africa
To apply for rezoning in an area that is not zoned for business, you have to secure a zoning scheme departure or special consent from the City Council. Getting this can take a while – in some cases up to three months. You may need to advertise your business’s intention to conduct a particular business activity in the local newspapers.
Residents and other stakeholders will have the chance to respond with any complaints, which are heard by a board, before you will be granted or denied the departure. Being granted a departure usually paves the way for successful zoning approval but, once again, there are no guarantees. And all the while, you can’t operate legally as a business in that particular area.
When it comes to the legal side of setting up a business, it pays to do your homework and get professional assistance where appropriate. The cost of mistakes and bad judgement calls in this area can be severe.
Trading licences are governed by the Business Act of 1991, No. 71, which states that certain businesses require licences. These include:
- Those that sell or supply meals or perishable foodstuffs
- Those that provide certain types of health facilities or entertainment. These are defined as Turkish baths, saunas or other health baths; massage or infrared treatment; escort services (male and female); games halls that have coin- or token-operated mechanical or electrical devices or three or more snooker or billiard tables; night clubs and discothèques; cinemas and theatres, and “adult premises” as referred to in section 24 of the Films and Publications Act, 1996
- Those that hawk meals or perishable foodstuffs
Before you open your doors, you had better check whether your business needs a special permit or licence. Certain types of businesses, namely those that sell, hawk or supply meals or perishable foodstuffs and those that provide certain types of health facilities or entertainment, require a licence to trade. In addition, purveyors of liquor need to apply for a liquor licence.
To obtain a trading licence for your business, you need to apply to the Licensing Department, which in turn requires reports from the health and fire department and town planning. The latter two departments will check that your business meets health and fire regulations and that your proposed premises are in an area zoned for business.
- Provincial and Local Government directory
- South Africa Government Services: Permits, Licences and Rights
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