by Ciaran Fagan

Tapping into online tools

SA entrepreneurs are encouraged to use online tools

Entrepreneurs are encouraged to make use of online tools to further their businesses
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Project manager of the Sanlam / Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year® competition, Nimo Naidoo, says there is a wealth of tools and information available online that can be used to empower business owners with crucial small to medium enterprise (SME) skills, as well as streamline existing administrative and marketing functions. 

“Data from the most recent 2011 GEM Global Report reveals that South Africa has the second lowest established business ownership rate amongst all efficiency-driven economies, consisting of businesses older than 3.5 years. This illustrates a high rate of failure or lack of growth amongst entrepreneurs and small businesses,” says Naidoo.

 To reverse this, she says it is crucial that local entrepreneurs constantly look for better ways to do business.

“One of the most obvious and often underutilised resources is the internet. There is an abundance of tools and information available online and by harnessing these resources, entrepreneurs and small business owners can improve their business performance and efficiency in a highly cost effective manner.”

Naidoo explains that an obvious challenge is finding reliable relevant sources amongst the sea of information available.

“Sites such as Fortune, Entrepreneur and Forbes offer credible sources of information and are often sourced from highly successful entrepreneurs and business people.

“Free online tools and virtual portals such as Business Mechanics offer a myriad of services that cater to the needs of the modern South African entrepreneur and SME owner.

"Not only does this online tool provide informative articles for users, but possesses valuable information on business property opportunities and contacts for accessing funding.

"An additional community component even allows entrepreneurs to network via platforms such as community forums and a business directory.”

Naidoo notes that small businesses and entrepreneurs are often incapable of completely fulfilling all the roles and functions of business adequately.

“Many entrepreneurs are either not skilled experts in all fields or simply do not have the capacity to fully satisfy all of the business’s requirements. There are however many free or inexpensive resources available online that are designed to comprehensively satisfy the needs of small businesses.

"Tools such as Pastel offer unique accounting solutions catered to the needs of small business owners or start up entrepreneurs.

"Another example is Sanlam’s Cobalt Solutions which provides a diverse range of financial planning solutions for business owners.

"These types of offerings are suited to all individuals, ranging from the small business owner and start-up entrepreneur, to students and employed professionals.” 

John Ginsberg, Marketing Director of Ensight, a leading international multi-channel marketing company, believes that many entrepreneurs in South Africa do not fully utilise the power of the internet.

“Ten years ago it cost a fortune to engage online. Fast forward a decade and you have the likes of cloud computing helping to reduce the cost of competing online down to double digits.

"In addition, social networking makes it easy for every business to have a one-on-one conversation with customers, and Pay Per Click (PPC) adverts enable anybody to target their customer precisely at the point of purchase. It's never been a better time to be an entrepreneur,” Ginsberg said.

Ginsberg says the challenge now is dealing with a competitive landscape, as every business is on a level playing field and needs to be unique to stand out.

“One approach we're advocating is to be multi-channel ready, which suggests that entrepreneurs build their online brand across multiple channels such as a website, email marketing and social media, among others.

“There are multiple tools to choose from, many free and some that cost money. For example, for under R2 000 a month you can build a website, set up and manage social media properties and start sending out email campaigns. With a little extra budget, you can invest in PPC advertising on sites like Google to drive targeted traffic,” Ginsberg said.

He explains that there are really only two factors that can grow a business these days: a great product and great customer service.

“The internet just takes both to a whole new level, as customers who experience your product, or fantastic customer service, will tell everyone in their social circles, which can generate immeasurable benefit to worthy businesses,” Ginsberg said.

In closing, Ginsberg says we must however not forget "tried-and-tested" techniques in creating a successful business.

“It's also important to be available to customers and don't be afraid to pick up the phone or send a bunch of flowers to a client. No comment on Facebook will ever replace that," he said 

For more information about Sanlam / Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year® competition please visit www.eoy.co.za 

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