The test for internet-based business is not the size or infrastructure surrounding a business, but the ability of the business to deliver quality products, quickly and efficiently to the four corners of the world.
It is the perception that the internet can boost sales substantially that made many of the contestants on the recent 'Think Big - Building Business Champions' TV series consider launching an online store as one of their prime short-term business objectives.
There are several reasons entrepreneurs look to the internet to expand their businesses. It offers comparatively low-cost communication with existing customers, promotes the business to countless potential customers and extends business networks across geographical borders. Just as noteworthy is that smaller companies are positioned on an equal footing with larger companies.
Add these advantages to more tangible benefits and it makes the internet an even stronger case for small businesses.
Although the benefits to be derived from e-commerce seem to make the medium a must-have for small businesses, there are several challenges that must be overcome. These include:
Professional help needed for certain e-commerce aspects
In many cases, entrepreneurs will not have the technical skills to meet some of these challenges themselves. Getting professional help is a necessity. There is also no guarantee that having a professionally designed and developed site will translate into sales.
One major disadvantage of the internet is that it is faceless. It is difficult to develop personal relationships with clients, especially when you are in South Africa and clients may be from countries spread across the globe.
It is also advisable to note that there are products and services that do not lend themselves to internet business. Examples of this are businesses that rely on the human senses of smell or taste to drive sales. Also, the higher the costs of the product, the more likely it is that customers will want to see it before buying it.
These considerations aside, there is no doubt that a well-considered, professionally-designed website can be a major benefit to small businesses.
While the 'Think Big' series has concluded on TV screens, episodes can still be viewed online at www.standardbank.co.za/thinkbig. For an array of additional tips and tools on how to start, manage or grow a business, go to bizconnect.standardbank.co.za.
In its continued drive to support and enable the SME sector, Standard Bank is supporting a Lean Startup Machine workshop in Johannesburg from 31 October to 2 November 2014, aimed at promoting a problem-centric approach to tackling business challenges. To register go to www.leanstartupmachine.com/cities/johannesburg/event_registrations/new.