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Traditional businesses on the Internet
Have you ever thought of putting your business on the Internet, but simply not known where to start or you’re not sure whether the Internet is really meant for your business?
Most of the time we see the big Internet businesses like Google, Amazon and Yahoo or the big corporations like Microsoft, Airlines companies and banks being successful on the Net. On the other hand you find someone with a brilliant idea who slaps a website together and makes a huge success with very little effort simply because they had the right idea and acted on that idea. Of course, there are also those who recognizes a good idea, jumps on the bandwagon and shares in that success.
Bu what if your company does not fall into any of those categories? What if you have a traditional business where you manufacture a product or offer a service to your local community?
Does your business still belong on the Internet? Most definitely!! Other than a place to share information, the Internet is intended to be a marketplace where we can find things that add value to our lives. If your local community finds value in your service or product, then the rest of the world should also. And even if your product or service cannot be made available to the rest of the world, which is hard to believe, the Internet could be used simply to make your product more attractive to your local community.
Can your business still be successful on the Internet? Again, the answer is most definitely!! It simply depends on how you choose to use the Internet.
Let me give you two examples of local, South African businesses that successfully use the Internet to advance their business.
The first is Sizanani.com, an Internet logistics company that is tremendously successful in South Africa. They do not rely on their website to bring in new customers and yet the website is the core of their business. To my knowledge, Sizanani is the largest logistics trading zone in the Southern hemisphere. They have more than 200 customers and more than 400 transporters (who are actually also customers of Sizanani) doing huge amounts of business on the Sizanani.com website every day. Yet, when you look at their homepage, you would not believe that there are hundreds or probably thousands of transactions processed on that site every day. In my opinion, the secret of Sizanani’s success is not in their brilliant Internet marketing skills, but rather lies in a concept often forgotten on the Internet – Human Interaction. Every customer, including the transporters, has physically met a representative of Sizanani. When a customer needs help with the Sizanani system, they do not send an email to some faceless email address or fill in a meaningless form on the website. Instead, they pick up the phone and talk directly to someone they know at the company. In other words, this is a real-life, old fashioned company doing traditional business as we knew it before the Internet. The only difference is that they are using the Internet as a viable and convenient medium for delivering their service to their customers. The second example is Qushum.co.za. This is a fairly new website and is not nearly in the same category as Sizanani. However, it is again an example of a business successfully using the Internet to deliver their service to their customers. Qushum is a consulting company that helps their customers to obtain ISO 9000 accreditation and maintain that status. By placing their service on the Internet, they are not offering some incredible solution to their customers which has never been possible before, but the Internet is simply making the service more accessible to their customers and therefore making the customer’s day-to-day life more convenient. Also, by putting their business on the Internet, they have taken a lot of mundane tasks out of their own hands, which allows them to spend their time more effectively on growing their business.
These are only two examples of traditional business being conducted successfully over the Internet. I am sure there are millions of other such examples, but I simply wanted to show you that the Internet can be used as an effective medium for traditional business. In both cases they are not putting their faith in specialized Internet marketing techniques or employing search engine optimization specialists or any of those concepts that generally scare old-fashioned business owners away from the Internet. They are simply using the Internet in a fashion that adds value to their businesses. Isn’t that the whole idea?
So how do you get started? There are millions of articles on “Getting your business on the Internet” and I won’t repeat that here. If you approach a web design company and ask them to “put your business on the Internet”, they will most probably sell you a complete restructure of your business with online payment and product catalogues and whatever else goes with an online business. Not because they are necessarily trying to make a quick dollar out of you, but simply because this is what most people think they want from the Internet. My advice to you is this: Before you approach anybody about designing a website for you, decide what it is you want. How can the Internet add value to my existing customers? Think of the two examples above and try to use that approach in your own business. If you can find a solution to that question, then, by default, you will have a solution that will add value to new customers as well and your business will sell itself on the Internet.