By: Gavin Moffat
The World Wide Web is vast, made up of billions of pages of information, some of them useful and relevant to your interests and many of them simply not fit for anyone’s consumption. So how do you find your way around the Web and get to the info that you need quickly and efficiently?
It’s simple – you just need to master your Google-Fu. There is a range of commands and modifiers built into search engines such Google, Yahoo and Bing that will help you to track down the information you need without trawling through a lot of stuff that you’re not interested in.
By putting double quotes around a set of words, you will instruct the search engine to find all web pages that contain the exact phrase contained between the quotes. For example, typing in “Graeme Smith” will bring up pages that reference the cricketer. That can help you to search with a great deal of precision for the info you need.
Search within a site
Not every Web site has an accurate, user-friendly search engine, but most Web sites are indexed by Google. If you’re looking for the contact details for the Rosebank, branch of FNB for example, you could ask Google to search your bank’s Web site for the information. Simply type out the text enclosed in the square brackets: [contact details Rosebank Johannesburg site:
By putting a minus sign immediately before a word, you can ask the search engine to exclude pages that do not include the term from your search. For example, if you want to find out about ‘world’ and keep getting results that reference world maps, world music, and the World Series, you can enter your search as follows: [world -music -maps -series] (NOTE: no space between the minus and the word it refers to).
Fill in the blanks (*)
The * wildcard tells the search engine to treat the star as a placeholder for any unknown term and then find the best matches. Type in: [Jacob Zuma * speech], for example, and you’ll get results for ‘Jacob Zuma State of the Nation speech’ and ‘Jacob Zuma inauguration speech’, among others.
If you want to find out about retail trade shows in 2010 and 2011, you could search for: [retail trade shows 2009 OR 2011]. The OR modifier must be in capital letters). That will give results for both years.
Have you come across a piece of jargon you don’t understand? If you want a definition of a word, you can use the define: modifier. For example, if you want to know what a firewall is, you would simply type in the phrase in square brackets: [define: firewall].
To get the best search results, be as simple, precise and descriptive as you can when you’re inputting information into the search engine. Focused searches that use the modifiers above can be real time savers and help you to make the very best of what the Internet has to offer you.
by Gavin Moffat
Keeping tabs of all your customers and prospects is a tough task – it’s hard enough simply to identity them all and build up an accurate database of their contact details. But talking to customers in a personalised manner using the right communication channels and mechanisms is critical to the success of any business that wants to grow and retain its customer base.
So how do you go about it? To put it simply, you need to be out there in the real and virtual worlds talking to your customers wherever they are. I highlighted one example of this in my column last month – setting up a Web site. But there are other basics to cover – setting up a Google Maps listing, ensuring that your business is listed in all relevant online and local directories, perhaps even advertising online.
The right place to start, perhaps, is to figure out where your customers are and what communications tools and media they’re using every day. Before throwing your time at setting up and maintaining a Facebook page, ask your customers if they use Facebook and whether they’d value your presence there. For example, set up a poll on your Web site, ask customers in-store or send an email survey out.
This being South Africa, just about everyone has a cellphone, and that will probably apply to your customers. Why not ask them for permission to interact with them using SMS messaging? They would probably be happy to hear from you from time to time, provided that you don’t abuse the privilege – only send your messages to people who have given you permission to do so.
Perhaps most importantly, make sure that your messages of your value to the customer – for example, SMS is a perfect way to let customers know that a long-awaited item is in stock again or that you’re having a clearance sale with some great bargains on offer.
Keeping in touch with your customers via SMS is both easy and relatively inexpensive. There are a number of platforms to use and companies that offer services. I have used www.bulksms.co.za for a while now and find their application to be very useful for sending reminders to customers and media before events.
These communications are still fairly one-sided – you are pushing information to your customers in the hope that they will get it, consume it, and take an action that benefits your business. But SMS does offer you a flexible, immediate and reliable way of talking to many people.So my big tip for the day is ‘use SMS’? Well, yes and no. SMS is great communications tool for South African businesses, but like Facebook, email and all the other channels at your disposal, it is just a tool.
The message matters as much as the medium. You need to look at your customers, understand them, and then talk to them in their language in the right place and at the right time. Then you’ll find that talking to your customers will help you forge closer relationships with them that result in better business results for you.
Practically everyone in a bricks and mortar business has considered the move to an online shop front. If you haven’t made the move, here are a couple of the items you need to take into consideration?
Strategic fit: Look at your business and decide whether the time, effort, focus and expense is justified in the returns that you will make.
Competitor analysis: Look around. Make a list of the business that you compete with. Have a look and see what they are doing.
Go. No go: You should have sufficient information to decide whether going online is right for you and remember, there is no single right answer. Each business segment, type, size and segment may have a different answer.
Ecommerce solution provider: You’ve decided that it’s the right path and now you have to look around for a reputable service provider who has a track record of proven online success. Don’t accept second best, it is your brand reputation at stake.
Focus: on marketing a niche product. Define a set of boundaries in which to focus and keep within them. Focus on the needs of your customers and they will return.
Plan and go live: Plan the development and implementation of your web site. Define and implement strategies for your web site. Be realistic about your expectation, include a testing phase and then when the ducks are in a row, go live. Fix your site on the fly.
Automation rules: Automate as many features as you can. Things should happen and you should earn revenue 24X7 with as little human intervention (at least from your side) as possible.
Accept money: ensure that you have all the correct banking relationships in place and you can accept practically every form of payment that a customer wants to use.
Credibility: Too often people believe that online = anonymous. Ooze credibility by providing your physical address, your telephone number and any third party accreditations from bodies that are relevant to your industry.
Privacy: Customers are concerned about what you are going to do with their data. Explain how you will keep the data private and then stick to that.
Eye candy: make you website fit into the 21st century. Use the tools that are available to make your site attractive and up to date, but don’t go wild with bells and whistles. Remember that the functionality of your site will win a customer over 9 times out of 10.
Mine that data: A well-designed web site should produce plenty of data including customer feedback, web site usage and transaction and purchase patterns. Analyse that data to improve sales.
Promotion: Use all avenues to promote the store and specials. Buy Google Ad Words. Use Search engine optimisation (SEO). Tell your mother.
Please come back: Give your customer a reason to come back, exactly as you would in the real world. A good special. Great service. Excellent product selection. To their door delivery.
Not every shop belongs online as well as in the shopping mall. If yours does, shouldn’t you be thinking about making the move.
Marketing is all about finding your customers and reaching them with a message about how your business can address their needs and solve their problems. For your marketing to be effective, you need to be talking to your customers using the right media and channels.
Take a step back and look at your business and marketing plans. If your business objective is to reach as many customers as possible, the marketing plan should outline a number of channels that you’ll use to reach them.
Perhaps you’ll use print and regional radio advertisements, the telephone book, and directories (for example Shop SA) to reach your clients. In today’s world, most businesses talking to middle-class consumers also need to put at least some of their
focus on the online world.
And as these consumers become increasingly Web-savvy, a simple Web site is just the entry-level requirement. As a small business, you might have treated your Web site as an online brochure in the past. Depending on the profile of your customers, you can probably no longer afford to do so.
You need to treat it as a dynamic channel where you talk (and listen!) to your customers and possibly transact with them. So where do you start? You could talk to any number of Internet service providers that offer Web design, hosting and consulting services to smaller businesses. It’s also a good idea to investigate what similar businesses to yours are doing online and think about how you could do it better.
Costs of online services have fallen dramatically over the past few years, and there is a good chance that you’ll be able to find someone to help you get up-and-running with a basic presence at a price you can afford. If you’re planning on selling goods online, you’ll probably need some help from an outside service provider, given the complexities of online security and payments.
If you’d like to handle your online presence yourself, there are a number of excellent free tools that you can use to get going. For example, you can set up a blog very quickly using blogging platforms like Blogger (www.blogger.com) and WordPress (www.wordpress.com).
With a blog, you can keep customers up-to-date with specials or new products at your shop. Other options include setting up a Twitter stream (www.twitter.com) or a Facebook fan-page (www.facebook.com). Setting accounts up on these social media channels is both free and simple.
The next two points sound obvious, but does everyone do it? Dedicate some resources to answering emails and other online messages and to keeping it up-to-date. Nothing looks sadder – or more amateurish – than a Web presence that is months or even years out of date.
A Web site is an effective gateway to your business for your customers. If your customers can’t find a Web presence for your company when they do a search on Google, they’ll assume that you’re not open for business. That’s not the message you want to send to them.
By Gavin Moffat
As a small to medium sized business, your technology budget is precious. You can’t afford to squander money on solutions that don’t deliver real business benefit – and in the middle of protracted downturn, you’re probably more careful than ever about how you spend your money.
Yet there is a wealth of solutions that could enhance your business. So how does one go about choosing them? By remembering that technology is only truly useful to your business if it allows you to increase your revenues or decrease your costs. The worth of any technology to your business should be benchmarked against those goals.
No longer should you be seduced into buying a solution just because it’s new or to keep up with the Joneses – any solution you acquire must be measured against a clear business objective. Smaller businesses should probably take care not to buy into technologies too early in the hype cycle, but wait for them to offer tangible benefit. At the same time, you shouldn’t be left behind by technologies that could make a difference for your business. Keeping that in mind, what are the trends to watch for in 2010?
One element of your business that you should certainly be looking at is your online presence. According to the latest statistics from respected research firm World Wide Worx, more than 10% of South Africans are now online (some 5 million) and the number of connected people can be expected to double over the next five years.
Falling data costs (a gigabyte of ADSL data costs far less than it did just a year ago) means that your customers will do more online in the year to come and that you can do more online as well.
You don’t necessarily need to be setting up a major electronic commerce portal – that depends on the business you’re in – but you should be looking at what people are saying about your business using social networking tools like Twitter and Facebook and on customer service sites like HelloPeter. It’s an easy way to keep tabs on what your customers are saying and to respond to them, and the only cost is a little time.
In addition, you should also try to set up a web site if you don’t already have one and ensure that it’s up to date if you do. Thanks to innovations like Google AdWords, the online world also offers you some economical options for advertising.
Another important technology for the year ahead is mobile communications. Smartphones are finally at a point where they are easy to use and offer decent battery life; what’s more, data costs have fallen to a point where they are affordable. There is no reason for your managers and salespeople not to have email and calendar access wherever they go – this is a big potential money-saver since your employees can all use your time more efficiently.
They don’t need to come to the office to check email between appointments, for example. Receiving an email in a timely manner while you’re away from the office could sometimes spell the difference between closing a deal or not. It’s the sort of technology that is ideal for an SME – cheap and practical.
The world of technology is constantly changing and evolving, but the basic business principles remain the same. Choose technologies that are simple, affordable and have provable business benefits and you’ll reap a real return on investment from them without breaking the bank.