Think of the web only as a new channel – a different way of putting products and services in front of customers – and you miss the threat and the promise of the Internet, which is that it will utterly change how you do business.
Reasons to Start an Internet Business
Need convincing that the Web is the place for your business to be? Here are 10 reasons why you have to be online:
- It’s cheap. There is no more inexpensive way to open a business than to launch a web site. While you could spend up to many millions of dollars to get started, low-budget web sites (started with as little as $100) remain viable businesses.
- You cut your order fulfillment costs. Handling orders by phone is expensive. Ditto for mail orders. There’s no more efficient–cheap, fast, accurate–way to process orders than via a web site.
- Your catalog is always current. A print catalog can cost big bucks, and nobody wants to order a reprint just to change one price or to correct a few typos. A Web site can be updated in minutes.
- High printing and mailing costs are history. Your customers can download any information you want them to have from your web site. Sure, you’ll still want to print some materials, but lots can be distributed via the web.
- You cut staffing costs. A web site can be a low-manpower operation.
- You can stay open 24 hours daily. And you’ll still get your sleep because your site will be open even when your eyes are closed.
- You’re in front of a global audience. Watch your site log, and you’ll see visitors streaming in from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Africa – wherever there are computers and phone lines.
- There are no city permits and no hassles. It could change, but in most parts of the country, small web businesses can be run without permits and with little government involvement. As you expand and add employees, you’ll start to bump into laws and regulations, but it’s certainly nice to be able to kick off a business without first filling out reams of city and state forms.
- There are no angry customers in your face. You can’t ignore unhappy customers in any business; in fact, how well you deliver customer service will go far toward determining how successful you are. But at least with a web business you’ll never have to stand eyeball-to-eyeball with a screamer.
- It’s easy to get your message out. Between your web site and your smart use of e-mail, you’ll have complete control over when and how your message goes out. You can’t beat a web site for its immediacy, and when a site is done well, it’s hard to top its ability to grab and hold the attention of potential customers.
Choosing a Website Host and Domain Names
With your website designed, you need a place to stow it so that visitors can access it –and you have hundreds of choices. Many hosts are free, and few cost more than a few hundred rands per month. Truth is, setting up your own host – a dedicated computer that’s permanently wired into the net – wastes money and time and, for most small businesses, is a bad idea. Better to outsource hosting to those who specialise in it.
When picking a host, you first and foremost want to know if a host can handle e-commerce activities. Some of the most barebones companies simply aren’t equipped. Other criteria that are important to most users: setup and monthly fees; amount of available storage space (you want at least 10 to 25MB to start as well as the option to add more space as your needs expand); and connection speed (some very low-budget hosts rely on slow 56K modems, while most business-level hosts have high-speed connections.
Comparing hosts is difficult, so a good policy is to quietly set up an account and test the host – kick the tyres, so to speak – for several weeks before announcing your presence to the world. Isn’t that expensive? Yes, but more expensive – and embarrassing – is to make a big push for traffic, only to have your host drop the ball and leave you with annoyed visitors who can’t quite make it in. Better to know your host is operating smoothly before inviting guests to the party.
Master of Your Domain
Before setting up your site, you also need to stake out your domain name. There’s wide agreement that nothing matters as much as a good name. Yet who would have thought Amazon was one? What most matters in a name is that it’s easy to spell and easy to remember. For my money, that’s an argument against using a catchy name with an unorthodox country code suffix. Most computer users automatically type “co.za” “com”, or “net”. Throw a weird ending at them, and you may lose them. So I would recommend a clunky name with a “com” or “net” ending over a catchy name with an unorthodox ending.
Search Engine Listing
Just about every search engine provides tools for easy registration of new sites. Just look for an “Add URL” or “Add Site” button, and then follow the directions (ordinarily no more complex than typing in the address and hitting “Send”).
There are hundreds of search engines to choose from. But there’s little value in being on an index no one uses, which is why e-tailers should focus on a handful of high-traffic engines. The leading search destination is Google.
What will lure visitors to a site? Winning visitors becomes a matter of creative, persistent marketing. And the good news is that it’s still the little things that will bring plenty of traffic your way. There are fundamental steps that too many businesses neglect. For instance? “You should always put your URL and a reason to visit your Website on your business cards”, says Larry Chase, publisher of Web Digest for Marketers, a weekly e-mail newsletter that delivers short reviews of marketing-oriented sites. “I call this cyberbait. For example, you should mention what people will get when they visit the site, such as a newsletter or a list of ‘Top 10 Tips’. That substantially increases visitors and eventually customers or subscribers.”
An e-mail signature is an especially powerful – and absolutely free – tool. Create a signature with a link to your website in it and have it automatically attached to every one of your outgoing e-mails. If your e-mail recipients click on the link, they’ll be taken to your site. It only takes a few seconds to create an e-mail signature, and it’ll bring in visitors to your site every day.
Another low-cost traffic builder: “Get active in online discussion groups and chats, and, where appropriate, give out your URL,” says Shannon Kinnard, author of Marketing With E-Mail. Sell organic products? Scout out the many groups that focus on organic food and get active. A good place to find groups is at Google Groups which archives discussion lists. Getting active in these groups spreads the word about you and your site and you’ll get traffic coming to you. Another big-time traffic builder for any website that retails is posting items for sale on the major auction sites, such as Bid or Buy.
Providing Great Customer Service
E-tailers used to be innocents who thought that with web-based retailing, all customer service would be a thing of the past with the entire sales and service process becoming neatly (and oh, so inexpensively) automated. Ha! If there’s a mantra for e-commerce players, it’s this: Customers may be virtual, but their money is real.
How can you provide the best online service possible? Just follow the leaders:
- Anticipate questions. Many e-tailers anticipate questions and then answer them in their FAQs. This will save you and your customers time. Of course, sometimes customers will e-mail you with questions, and this can be a good thing. Get lots of e-mail complaining about a certain feature that the customer has simply misunderstood or bemoaning the lack of a particular product that you know is in stock, and you are learning important things about how your site is failing to communicate to visitors.
- Stay in touch. At Hewlett Packard’s hpshopping.com, every customer is asked if he would recommend hpshopping to friends, and 88% say they would. But the small percentage who say “no” aren’t forgotten. Just contacting them alone is often enough to win them back.
- Respond quickly. The web is an instant medium – except when it comes to getting responses from many businesses that seem to route incoming e-mail into a folder labelled “Ignore Forever.” Smart e-tailers know better, however. With a small staff, you might find a 24-hour standard to be enough of a challenge. But monitor customers. If they demand a faster response, somehow you have to find a way to meet their needs.
- Hold their hands. Online, not every customer knows how to shop, and you have to be ready to help them buy. No brick-and-mortar retailer has to teach customers how to buy, but online, that remains a thorny problem. Every day thousands of shoppers log on for the first time, and these newbies genuinely crave handholding as they make purchases. Understand that and be ready to help. Be patient, too.
- Use cut and paste. Canned responses – cut-and-paste scripts – are used by all the leading sites, which track questions, hunt for the most asked, and produce templates for their representatives. You can do likewise. As you answer customer questions, file away your responses. Odds are, you’ll be asked the same question within the week, and it’s a great labour saver to have an answer ready.
- Stay sensitive. A worry with e-mail: It’s easy to seem cold and unresponsive in the formality of the written word. Read and re-read your responses before they go out. You want to be – and appear–interested in the customer’s issues and eager to find solutions.
- Offer choices. It’s important that you offer a variety of choices that customers can use to contact you, such as e-mail and phone. The easier the online shopping experience, the more likely the customer will come back for more.
These steps will get you started delivering better customer service, but they’re not enough. Successful entrepreneurs say that the only way to do online service right is to have the right attitude, really believe the customer is king, and make sure that every one of their customer service reps know it. Many fail on this score, but when you’ve made customer service your top and continuing priority, success is within reach.
Here’s the blunt truth about e-commerce: Most of what you want to know will not be in books or even in magazines and newspapers. This industry is exploding so fast that the only medium that is successfully tracking developments is the Web itself. When you want to know more, or need answers to questions, log onto the Web and go searching. The information you crave is rarely more than a few mouse clicks away.
Business Opportunities In Printing And Signage
The event is taking place from 12-14 September at Gallagher Convention Centre.
In an entrepreneurial environment, people are seeking innovative ways to make extra money. The signage and printing industry offers opportunities for small start-ups or those looking to grow their businesses.
These opportunities will be showcased at the upcoming Sign Africa and FESPA Africa expo, which is co-located with Africa Print for commercial print solutions and Africa LED for professional LED lighting. The event is taking place from 12-14 September at Gallagher Convention Centre.
T-Shirt and Bag Printing
Embellishments and glitter help transform a simple shirt into a unique garment, and depending on the specific shirt and techniques used, it could become a high priced item. Shirts and bags can be customised, a key aspect to targeting millennials, who require unique products, want to stand out and want items that are Instagram-worthy. You can target this market with personalised bags and unique T-shirts, which do not require large and expensive equipment to produce.
Mugs and Promotional Gifting
While others may see public holidays as opportunities to relax, entrepreneurs can see them as money-making opportunities. Capitalise on trendy markets and popular holidays such as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s and Father’s Day by producing themed and personalised gifts. Other profitable options include: shopping bags, decor and invites, promotional, corporate and safety wear, wood, vinyl, paper, plastics, metals, flat substrates like clipboards, binders, notebooks, mouse pads, coasters, business cards, stickers and corrugated signs or posters, smart phones and tablet cases.
Business owners are constantly seeking ways to get their brands noticed. And with all the gigantic billboards, street pole advertisements and other media vying for consumers’ attention, it’s difficult to stand out. Enter vehicle wrapping, which is an effective promotional tool as it’s cost-effective, impactful and long-lasting. Besides cost-effective general wraps for corporate fleets, custom vehicle wrapping offers special effects that create Instagram-worthy wraps that get brands noticed.
Of course, these business opportunities require training and some research. Luckily, industry experts will be available at the Sign Africa and FESPA Africa expo to answer visitors’ questions. There are also free educational features such as a T-Shirt and Bag printing workshop featuring demonstrations by local experts on T-shirts and bags with speciality printing techniques as well as the Textile Experience, which shows how to screen print onto T-shirts.
Opportunities for small start-ups or those looking to grow their businesses will be showcased in daily 30 minute Business Opportunity sessions. For more information about the event, and to register online, please visit: http://bit.ly/EntrepreneurSignAfrica.
10 Businesses You Can Start Part-Time
Find your perfect match for a successful part-time start-up.
Launching a company – even if it’s operated part-time – is all about drawing on your skills, talents and interests to create a viable business.
What you know and what you’re good at form a good basis for a part-time business because these companies either become an extension of what you enjoy doing most or they are based on your strengths.
Working part-time while still maintaining a permanent job is time consuming and often exhausting, so choosing what you take pleasure in or are good at can keep you focused and motivated. The right fit is important when it comes to launching a part-time business. Selling a service rather than a product does not require large start-up costs, which means you can grow your business without financing until it becomes self-sustaining.
Corporate Communications & Promotions
Corporate communications covers a host of areas, mainly because this is the sector that takes care of how companies look to the outside world – something that is very definitely a service, but also that is not often taken care of in-house. If you can write, edit, have a knack for advertising, can take photographs or create promotional and corporate videos, you can offer your services part-time to companies both large and small that are in need of these services.
A 7-Step Guide To Starting Your Own Trade Business
With that sorted, it is time to get on with the more exciting operational stuff.
Skilled tradesmen are always in demand. Whether you are a plumber, electrician, cabinetmaker, refrigeration expert, tiler or builder, there is a ton of work out there. For many, the best way to make the most of the opportunity is to open your own business.
Where do you start? The first step is to register your business with the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC). Look for a catchy name that is easy to spell and memorable – you do not want customers to struggle. The CIPC will tell you which names are taken. It is also a good idea to do a trademark search before deciding on a name. Register with SARS and make sure that all your tax affairs are in order.
It is a very good idea to get a good accountant right at the early stages of the game. They can also help you set up the legislative requirements for running a business. The National Small Business Chamber is a non-profit organisation that offers a range of services to its members that aim to help them grow faster, save money and receive the support they need.
With that sorted, it is time to get on with the more exciting operational stuff.
1. Finding customers
You want to find customers in order to grow your business beyond the ones you already have. These days, that means a website and some smart online marketing.
This can be as simple as setting up a Facebook page and any one of several other social media sites (like Instagram and LinkedIn). These services are at no-cost to you and allow you to quickly build up a following of loyal customers. You can share ‘jobs well done’, so prospective customers can see what you are capable of, while your contact details are easily accessible. In due course, consider some paid averts on relevant social media platforms and perhaps a website of your own. It is a good way to get potential customers on board.
At the same time, list your services in community newspapers, noticeboards and newsletters so everyone in the area can easily see that you are available and what it is you do. Also, keep your eye on social media community groups – and ask family, friends and existing clients to refer and/or recommend your services when an opportunity arises.
Finally, there are many government initiatives and non-profit organisations whose aim is to help small businesses succeed – with a particular emphasis on black-owned businesses. This help could range from facilitating access to finance, all the way to mentorship. Spend some time finding out what help is on offer. The SME Movement site also has this kind of information.
2. Stay focused
For those just starting out, there might be a temptation to take any job that crosses your path. Rather stick to your area of expertise to build a reputation based on proven skills. If you are an electrician with a little plumbing experience, for example, tackling a piping job could cause more trouble than it is worth. Every trade is different and you are an expert for a reason.
Leave the other work for experts in those fields – but build up relationships with them so that you can refer work to each other.
3. Ride on your qualifications and references
You have spent a lot of time getting certified. Let your customers know about your qualifications and experience by putting it on your Facebook page, your invoices, e-mails and other communications. The same goes for references; these are valuable and provide evidence of your ability to get the job done. Ask for a reference when the job is complete and then on to social media it goes. The good news with social media, by the way, is that these references do not ever go away.
4. Stay on top of the paperwork
The good old days of doing business on a handshake may be behind us. Providing quotes, contracts, invoices and records of payments electronically makes paperwork a whole lot easier by creating a digital archive where physical copies aren’t needed, but it serves the same purpose, when it is formally recorded, it is far easier to see what has been agreed to, done and paid for. Do not skimp here, even the best customer service provider relationships can go awry if verbal agreements are all you have to go on.
5. Register with your trade association (and invest in CPD)
Being a member of a trade association (like Master Builders, the Institute of Plumbing or other professional bodies) lends credibility to what you are doing. It also provides access to new customers should larger contractors need to sub-contract. Your trade association also formalises training and continuous professional development (CPD).
6. Get business insurance
All too often, this crucial coverage is ignored by those starting out on their own. You want to protect tools and equipment on the one hand and you also want broadform public liability to safeguard yourself, your employees and your business against third party claims should something go wrong on the job. It provides cover in connection with your normal business activities and also your liability if any employees are injured in the course of work.
Putting the right insurance in place can mean the difference between staying in business for the long term or folding the minute the tools grow legs and disappear.
7. Deliver good service
Do not forget that every job is a potential reference and, at the very least, is your entry into that client’s network of friends or business associates. Concentrate on giving good service and actively request feedback so you can remedy any shortfalls. A take-it-or-leave it attitude may be relaxing, but it will prevent your business from growing to what it potentially can be.
MiWay is an Authorised Financial Services Provider (Licence no: 33970)
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