Kudzai M. Mubaiwa
There was a time when the only skills that mattered as a business person was astuteness with money and people. Soft skills training and a business administration qualification would suffice. Not so in 2019.
Anyone, in any sector really, must begin to consider the digital age and the opportunity of the internet.
The world has become big market and barriers are continually being broken as more and more people get access to the internet.
More and more applications are coming in that allow someone with a basic phone to both consume and create text, audio and video content and share them with anyone anywhere in the world, at any time.
The profile of the small business owner in the digital age will change.
Technology is now used everywhere, for everything, including business. The small business owner needs it and can leverage it for news, industry information, learning, marketing, sales, payment, and even accounting. On each of these — one must position themselves to maximise it for profit.
Gone is the time when news was heard only from the main traditional media — television and radio on the hour. Applications like Twitter make it easy for news from around the world to be shared in real time.
Citizen journalists have emerged as information sharing has been democratised. Facebook and Youtube applications are now viable video options and are run as channels.
Email and WhatsApp are leveraged to summarise news from around the world and shared directly with users. This is an opportunity for those who both create and consume content.
The creator can monetise, the consumer can benefit by knowledge of what is going on around them. Successful business people must stay in touch with the macro-economic activities in their land and around the world. One must be aware of economic policy, incomes, inflation and currency issues as they impact business.
Looking into the microeconomic angle, specific industry information can now more easily be obtained in the digital age.
For any sector really, in the digital age it is easier to find historical statistics on production, pricing, markets, other players. Such information helps any business position itself appropriately and develop strategy for profit.
There are many aggregator websites that can be viewed, as there are also social media accounts for various important organisations that relate to specific industries.
The business owner must thus be deliberate in visiting such sites for research on past and present sector trends, and engaging with industry experts, like-minded people and relevant organisations on applications like Twitter.
This will also be the first line of learning, practically for free as all one needs is the investment of their data and time.
Mentors and coaches are not easy to find or inexpensive, but a growing business can benefit from the free wisdom they share in the public domain.
The beauty of the internet is that there are also proper online courses one can take on any topic, and for those besotted with certificates, they can receive them. Not all of us will get the opportunity to study for a MBA but there is no reason any business owner should be ignorant of the important business administration skills and tools.
Short courses will do wonders in improving one’s acumen and ability to converse at the formal level and these can be taken on the many MOOCs — massive open online courses.
Coming to the business itself, the contribution of the internet is obvious in marketing — with digital marketing you can reach more people than any other method and at a much lesser cost.
You can be able to accurately measure your reach and thereafter your conversion rate — a comparison of what business you made or sales generated in relation to a specific digital campaign. You can be able to get direct customer feedback through engagement on your channels and platforms — your website comments section and social media like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter that allow conversations.
To be in any kind of business and not use even WhatsApp to share your wares is to do yourself a disservice.
There are fans of every kind of product and service and they will not mind being in a space where they can celebrate it. Also interesting is the rise of the Facebook selling platforms known generally as bidding groups.
Here, you can sell your product and raise awareness of your enterprise if you so desire while allowing the market to price your goods for you — a classic pay what you want pricing model.
To be offline really, is to choose to be dead. It is said the best way of selling or marketing is by word of mouth, digital platforms allow you to harvest and leverage such references and product ambassadors for no cost.
They also allow you to gather valuable feedback from customers as dictated by lean start-up principles, you can only improve!
Online sales are supported by online payments. We have had some breakthrough in this regard in Zimbabwe with local companies developing payment solutions that allow one to pay online using either mobile money or bank transfers.
A forward looking business owner cannot insist on hard cash only and/or traditional bank transfers, in an environment where over 90 percent of transactions are done on phones. It is time to embrace the fact that everything is converging online, and the smallest item can be sold and paid for in cyberspace.
It is good to note that even fruit and vegetable vendors have embraced this, perhaps led by newspaper vendors that have payment mechanisms for one dollar transactions.
One forward looking commuter omnibus company is already offering mobile/card tap solutions for its fares. Indeed today will be the slowest we ever are in the digital world, things are moving fast.
Perhaps one day we will appreciate that our economic issues positively impacted us in allowing us to move faster with technology on the payments side.
Innovative local developers have gone on to build applications that allow one to track their usage of money by harvesting all the mobile money payment notifications and collating them nicely into a statement.
As such, no small business should struggle to keep financial records and accounts — just getting a SIM card for the business and transacting through it is enough — you can download monthly statements and export them to Microsoft Excel in need.
Certainly, disruption is on-going in how we do business, in every respect. As owners of emerging and growing businesses, we have the opportunity to embrace and adapt to the digital age, and probably become a proper challenge to established enterprises – or die. Choose life!