A few months back, Strive Masiyiwa once blogged, “Whether your business is selling tomatoes, used clothes or a budding tech startup, you need to have a website.”
Let’s take a much closer look at this, applying it to a Zimbabwean context and also factoring in the costs to set-up and maintain each. Website, mobile app or WhatsApp bot?
There is no denying it, your business should be using technology in some form to make its daily tasks easier, faster, cheaper and to also reach a wider customer base. Within the Zimbabwean ecosystem, we will look at three of the top options and try to align each with a type of business, also using some real-world examples. We will only be considering how each option can help your customers to reach you easily and also give you an opportunity to grow your customer base. These options will be:
This is perhaps the cheapest option to set up and maintain. I will go on a limb and say a social media page is a must-have for any and all types of businesses. It is quite simple to set up and you may not even need to hire a full-blown technical person. Your regular secretary already possesses the skills to maintain a social media page although they will need a bit of training and guidance. You will also need to very carefully review each social media post; else you end up with an Elon Musk situation on your hands. Every time the man tweets, the value of Tesla Motors seems to take a dive. If you do end up designating this to your secretary, please give them a pay hike, we demand you do it!
A social media page is like a marketing website, but it is created on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Those are your best three options if you are a Zimbabwean business as they guarantee the most exposure. The social media page will have the name of the business, your physical address, contact details and you can also create a catalogue of your top products. The most important bit is that you must post daily, sometimes even twice a day or more if you can afford it, constantly reminding people that you are out there, ready to serve them.
The expensive part is creating the content that you share on your social media page. The phrase, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” rings true. Try to make sure that every social media post you create contains an image or graphic of very good quality (experts also say a post containing an image means people will notice it, as people tend to read less). We have seen entities like USAID run social media posts using stock photos with watermarks. This is actually illegal as those images are copyright material, and also makes you look cheap.
What you should do, is get a graphic designer to throw together some visually appealing images (cough cough, looking at you ZBC and that appalling culture week graphic that we saw recently). If you sell products like custom made pots or branded groceries, then you will also need a good photographer to take images of your products and then the graphic designer can put adverts together. If you sell common pots and non-branded groceries, then you can skip the photographer, your graphic designer can find images of generic products to use in the designs. If your business is more service-oriented, then you need loads of pictures showing your happy employees at work and your even happier, satisfied customers smiling. (Note to Editor, do your job, this paragraph contains too many ifs).(Editors response: It would actually be better if there was just one more if. Chaos is always necessary)
The last part is deciding where to focus your energy. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram host three different types of audiences. If your company is a hairdressing franchise, or sells beauty products then Instagram should be your major focus. Instagram is all about sharing pictures. If you can rope in a few local celebrities to try your products, it will go a long way.
Facebook is more of an open platform and anything goes. This means your customers-to-be may have to sift through a lot of non-interesting stuff to notice your page and posts.
Twitter on the other hand is best used in a way that aligns with what is trending in your area. Recently, a young girl refused to be married off using local bond notes, insisting on the bride price being in forex. This led to her trending and several financial institutions leveraged the hash-tag for marketing.
Lastest (for real this time) is running paid adverts on each social media platform. An important point to note is that often, people tend to like paid ads on social media but do not perform further action such as interacting with the business behind the ad. As a rough estimate, if your post reaches 10,000 people, you may get 1,000 likes but of those, only 100 will interact with you meaningfully. But then this is how advertising works right?
Before we go on, we have to make a clear distinction between a website and a web-app. A website is non-interactive like Techzim. You as a business can create content and publish it to your website, and your customers can read and view it. A web-app is fully interactive and is meant to be used by your clients or customers to purchase products and make payment all without ever interacting with a human being. An example is the Zimra e-filling platform.
Whether your business needs a full-blown web-app is up to you deciding if you can get a profit and reach more people. This important to consider as it is also the most expensive option we have here.
A website, on the other hand, is a bit cheaper and can be used as the face of your company online and it makes you look more professional having one. If you can spare the money to set up one and maintain it, then your business should have a website.
Now, to present the argument that will have people carrying their pitchforks and marching in the streets baying for blood, your business probably does not need a website or web-app.
We will use the example of a large supermarket chain like OK, TM or Spar. With the current level of technological adoption in Zimbabwe [insert link to Techzim’s Potraz reports here], a website or web-app benefits for them would not justify them hiring a web developer, paying lifetime web-hosting fees and also paying for the maintenance of the web platforms. Depending on the type of business, it may be best to have social media pages and a WhatsApp Bot.
A WhatsApp bot can be your online secretary and salesperson all in one. It is simple and cheap to create, easy to interact with for customers and a significant number of Zimbabweans have a WhatsApp account.
Imagine this, a would-be customer grabs your number from your social media page, says Hi to your WhatsApp bot and they are asked what they wish to buy. The customer responds to a series of messages with numbered options (think of how you use Eco Cash) and after that, they review their selection, make payment using mobile money and your job is to deliver their products to them. Supermarkets pushing such a model will have very good success.
The WhatsApp bot is always online, serving your customers while you sleep, putting money in the bank while you are home with the family.
I have given you the options, the advice on which to use and it is time for you to pick one, or you are just here to crucify me in the comments.
Van Lee Chigwada is a software developer at Age-X. You can find him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/agexdev
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