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Monday, August 20, 2007

A new way for small businesses to build their online profiles

I consider blogging as one of my top ten strategies that can assist small businesses to grow without necessarily incurring huge marketing and advertising costs. The fact that most blogging platforms offer free services for as long as you adhere to the rules and regulations should be embraced to assist small businesses especially in Africa where the cost of such services are higher than what most small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) can afford.

For instance compared to conventional websites, blogging would cost you almost nothing except the time you take to publish. When we equate time to money, building a business blog would cost you roughly half or less the amount it would take to build an online product portfolio.

Businesses that can successfully embrace the power of blogging include the Jua kali (informal small scale merchants) that are based in Kenya who create a wide portfolio of products using recycled materials and yet outdo the big players. In a typical day, a Jua kali factory is capable of creating products worth millions of dollars. Unfortunately not all products are able to sell because of what I consider artificial market restrictions. Smart as they are, Jua kali vendors are not able to make significant sales as they lack proper marketing mechanisms.

In one business support session I met Mr.Mbai a Kenyan Jua kali entrepreneur who has never stepped into any school of carpentry but can work wood better than wood peckers.. In a month, Mr. Mbai’s workshop churns out products that he sometimes cannot sale. Most of the time his products fetch a break-even price therefore leaving no room for growth. Asked why, he explained that his business depended mostly on sales made by self-appointed agents who he reckons gave raw deals. Goodwill and customer referral also played a key role in determining his sales.

With advice from BT International a corporate branding company that is working with SMEs to improve their market penetration using affordable branding strategies, Mr. Mbai was able to single out lack of product information by potential clients as an important factor that lead to low sales. He also learnt that he could not make just any products hoping and wishing that they would sell. To be able to respond profitably to the specific needs, he needed solid facts about his target market.
Immediately after learning about this conventional business issues, Mr. Mbai was quick to point out that his business was not as big and therefore could not raise enough capital to meet the requirements that had been advised. This was not an issue as far as BT International was concerned. Firstly the easiest and most affordable way to let the world know about his products was to build a customised website that detailed his product with all the prices and how to access them. It is easier said than done because Mr. Mbai neither has the knowledge nor the time to work out a customised website. To make the matter worse, he cannot afford to procure such services, as they would significantly raise his operating costs.

For Mr. Mbai, what was wishful thinking is already bearing fruit and costs him as little as 10 US Dollars a month to access professionally managed online portfolio. He started small, but now his business blog is on its second phase before finally turning into a customised corporate website. The phased approach was used to make the service more as affordable to this kind of business. All sorts of comments that were posted on Mr. Mbai’s professional online product portfolio helped him re-engineer his business complete with a brand name and specific sub brand names for the different products that he churns out every month. Now the sky is the limit.

1 comment:

Gowrishankar said...

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