Businesses need to make their business, products and/or services known to the public to attract new customers and maintain existing clients. Traditionally, businesses reach out to their clients or customers by either word of mouth or direct advertisement. In this new digital age, traditional methods will not work for businesses that want to greatly increase their customer base and revenue. With the increasingly high adoption of the Internet in Africa, customers now actively search for products and services on the Internet and discover new businesses, products and services online. a recent google publication indicated that most searches in africa are commercialized search, this implies that a lot of african search before making a purchasing decision for either goods or services. With your business online, you can reach millions of potential customers far more than can be reach by traditional means of marketing and advertisement and at a cheaper price. Having an online presence will grow your brand’s reputation and launch you as an authority figure.
Building an online presence is a process that needs to be nurtured. As such, businesses should make sure that maintaining its online presence should be embedded in its policies, processes and procedures and should be aligned with the corporate vision of the organization. Building and maintaining your online presence is not an easy task and it is time-consuming. But, it ultimately is an aspect of your business that cannot be neglected because your online presence allows existing and prospective customers to find you, interact with you and get to know your brand, products, and services and trust you. With this, you spread brand awareness worldwide, gain leads, customers and positive public perception about your business.
But, it ultimately is an aspect of your business that cannot be neglected….
How can you use the Internet to build your business and reach out to customers online? Here are few ways that will not only increase your online presence but also attract more customers.
Create a website for your business
The most basic online presence for your business is creating a website that lists and describes your products and/or services. Other important information should also be displayed on your website like your business logo, goals, mission statement, contact information and other relevant information. You can also provide an interactive communication system on your website to communicate directly with your customers from your website. When setting up a website, it is very important that the company name is the domain name of your website. This will make customers easily remember your site and associate the website with your business. In addition, it will make it easier to search for through search engines. You can also sell your products or services directly to your customers on your website by including a shopping cart.
Building a website is just not enough, you need to have an optimized website that is mobile friendly, load quickly, has up-to-date information, and has optimized URLs. In Africa, the Internet accessed mainly on a mobile phone and mobile data is expensive, so it’s paramount you design a mobile optimized website. In addition, you have to optimize your website for search engines. This will allow search engines to list your websites at the top of the search results when a customer searches for business, related products or services. Below are the steps/task required to setup a website. These are not in-depth but I will write a more in-depth article on building a website in the future. You can follow this if you are technical savvy. If you are not technical savvy, you can get consultant to do all this or parts of this for you. A decent website can cost you just over $200 but if you want more features on your website you will need to commit more resources to this.
- Buy your domain name: You can purchase domain names from the following among others – Go Daddy, 123reg, 1and1, names.co.uk.
- Purchase website hosting: This will be used to host your website web pages. You can purchase hosting from the following among others – Go Daddy, Hostgator, Blue Hosting, 123reg.
- Design website: You can use predefined themes, or used various content management systems like WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, PrestaShop or Magento. You can also build a website from scratch. This part of the design might need a professional website designer.
- Optimise Search Engine Optimisaton (SEO) – Sign up to different search engines and setup SEO on your site. You might need to consult a web designer for simple SEO settings but if you need more complex SEO then consult an SEO specialist.
Create and Use Corporate email for business communications
The use of email for business communications is a very efficient and effective way of communication. It is cheap and messages can reach recipients – internal and external – within minutes. Messages are kept for future reference and compliance. Although you cannot use email communications to fully replace face to face or phone conversations, emails remains a very effective way of communications that can increase productivity. I would advise using a corporate or business email for communication. Using a public email such as Yahoo, Gmail or Hotmail for conducting business and communicating with clients or customers is not professional. With a corporate email, your customers and suppliers will not take you seriously and this will increase the prestige of your brand.
After purchasing a domain for your website, you can setup a corporate email to be used for internal and external communication.
Use email Newsletters to Communicate with Your Customers
As part of reaching out to your customers and other interested parties, use email newsletters to convey extensive information about your products and services to customers or prospective customers. You can use email marketing to inform existing customers about new products/services available, sales, promotions or discounts on products/services, top products/services or any information you would like to convey to you customers. With email marketing, you do not need to pay for expensive advertisements to convey information to your existing customers. You can also attract new leads by requesting new visitors or prospective customers on your website to sign up to newsletters. You will request users to sign up their email addresses to a mailing list which you will use to send email newsletters, notices and adverts to you customers and prospective customers. However, be careful not to bombard you customers with emails to avoid spamming because this will make your customers lose interest. I would advise sending two emails in a month.
Do not neglect email marketing when building your online presence. This is a vital and effective marketing tool. According to a research by McKinsey.com, “E-mail remains a significantly more effective way to acquire customers than social media—nearly 40 times that of Facebook and Twitter combined (exhibit)”. Your email marketing campaign strategy should be optimized by segmenting your customers based on existing customers, new customers, age and sex with personalized messages. You should also analyse and review the success of your campaign to determine with strategy is working and replicate it. You can have email newsletters built into your site or have third party tool integrated into your site. Examples of third party tools are Mailchimp, Campaign Monitor, iContact among others.
Blogging and Beyond
On your website, you can publish or post articles relating to products, services, industry or corporate white papers that will be helpful for your customers, third parties or target audiences ranging from industry best practices to fashion trends. Creating helpful articles or information on your website can increase brand loyalty and builds trust. You can post new articles at least once a week thus keeping your website updated with new content and attracting audiences on your website. A regularly updated website will indicate that the company is active and it also increases the search index on search engines. You also need to go beyond just blogging by posting videos, organizing online courses, workshops and webinars, conducting and publishing case studies, white papers, and eBooks.
Advertise on other websites
Place advertisements on other websites that have related information about your products and services. This will target potential customers looking at information that is related to any of your products and services as such create new leads. Make sure you have a way of tracking these kind ads so that you can analyse its effectiveness and the trends.
Get Connected through Social Media Online
Billions of people connect to social media sites daily for information. You can also use this medium to target your customers and prospective customers to send out information about your company, your products and services. You can use several social media networks to achieve this. The most common ones are Facebook and Twitter among others. You need to create an official corporate or business account.
You can actively use this media platform to engage with your customers and projecting your company brand and image to the public. You can use this platform for announcements, press releases and answer customers’ questions. You can assign an employee to manage the corporate or business social media accounts. However, make sure this employee clearly understands your policies, goals and brand as this employee is the direct face of the company on social media networks.