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How to optimally deliver in the last-mile when customers “need it now”

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Conquering the last-mile battle with smart locker delivery

We might all be clicking away, here, there and everywhere to purchase anything and everything from groceries, furniture, clothes to beauty products. After all, retail stores have made it easy for us to buy almost anything online and wait for it in the comfort of our own homes. This shopping alternative, which might have been considered a luxury in the recent past, is now very much a necessity during COVID-19. However, after that click comes the true test: waiting for your parcel to arrive, and scheduling of the delivery for a time when you’re at home.

 

How long will you wait? Will your parcel arrive on time and will you be there to receive it?

We might be aware and in awe of Amazon’s potential drone delivery technology, Prime Air, that will allow packages to safely get delivered to customers in 30 minutes or less using unmanned aerial vehicles, a.k.a. drones. Amazon’s next day – or even same day delivery – is currently sustaining the company as an e-commerce behemoth with over 100 million subscribers. If you need that blender delivered today to perfect your purée or you absolutely need the sequel book to the epic fantasy saga and can’t wait another minute, Amazon can usually make it happen.

 

However, in Africa, especially South Africa, last mile delivery – the process of parcel delivery from transportation hub to its final destination – is not that simple, and not that direct. That last mile can actually stretch several miles and stretch your budget too.

 

The e-commerce industry in South Africa has only been expanding in the last few years due to a growing middle class, a greater willingness to shop online and, recently, the global pandemic. However, the big impediments to this booming industry are the last mile delivery challenges. Where the estimated international cost to last-mile delivery for most manufacturers is 28% of product cost, in Africa this increases significantly to 35-55%, because of the unique challenges facing last-mile delivery in the continent.

 


[Photo by Mohamed Hassan on pxhere]

 

Why is this delivery fulfilment cost so high?

These are the factors that “trip up” businesses in their last-mile order fulfilment:

 

  • A missed delivery? Time to reschedule: All of the below last-mile issues can build up to this last delivery challenge of having to re-schedule and repeat a delivery. If the navigation guide is making your driver go around in circles and he/she can’t find your street or your home can’t be reached by the delivery van and they have to walk to get to you, it’s possible that you’ll have to book another time for your delivery to be fulfilled, or your order may be cancelled altogether. This is an additional cost that we all want to avoid.
  • Addresses? You are probably getting it wrong: Has Waze or Google Maps ever had you driving past your own home? Us too! Many Africans don’t have typical or traditional street addresses or their places of residence don’t have names or signs. This makes it notably difficult for companies when trying to get your parcel to you at the right place and the right time.
  • They can track your parcel, just not always: “You parcel will arrive in 2 days. Your parcel is at the warehouse near you. Your parcel be with you in 1 week.” Ever got the feeling that online stores don’t know where your stuff is? Sometimes, it’s not just a feeling. Online retailers often are not able to track your parcel and share its location with you. This is brought on by a lack of the necessary internet technology infrastructure and a poor supply chain visibility on their part.
  • Slow and steady, we’re growing, we’re ready: Currently 35,7% of South Africa is rural, meaning that locations that aren’t linked to any major road network can be isolated from delivery routes, making delivery to certain areas more difficult. However, it’s estimated that by 2030 almost 50% of the continent will be urbanised, resulting in further pressure on Africa’s already overwhelmed city infrastructure. Maybe the drones will reach us? Come now, Prime Air!

 


[Photo by Mohamed Hassan on pxhere]

 

How to overcome the delivery challenges?

A notable way to optimally win the last-mile delivery battle is to cater to customer expectations that demand faster and cheaper delivery with a controlled experience. This can be done through continuous delivery that offers customers real-time tracking of their packages and the ability to add parcel collections while reducing delivery cost.

  • Optimised delivery leverages real-time data by optimising and re-optimising delivery routes throughout the day to react promptly to changes in delivery throughout the network. This can help anticipate delivery schedules more efficiently and reduce the challenge of repeat deliveries. This means that the fear of having your delivery cancelled (and you really need that crisp shirt for your interview tomorrow) because you can’t be home to receive it, can be significantly reduced as drivers’ delivery routes are adapting to changes made by customers.
  • Alternative delivery methods: Alternate delivery options may help resolve the last mile delivery issues that technology might not be able to address. The issues of weak infrastructure and slow urbanisation can be answered with different delivery choices such as smart lockers. Smart lockers are safe compartments that allow you to receive a parcel from a business or send a parcel to someone. Online delivery orders can be fulfilled through smart lockers as a delivery method selected at checkout. These lockers also allow you to store valuables and other items for a set period of time. Want to know how others are using this game-changer for parcel delivery?
    Currently, Clemson University in the USA is using smart lockers as an alternative way for their students to receive packages. When a student’s package arrives at a campus mail centre, it gets scanned then delivered to the bank of smart lockers closest to the student’s campus residence. The student receives an email and a one-time pin to open the locker and can retrieve their parcel free of contact. Compared to South African students, who are currently returning to their residences to complete final exams or practicals, this may help them when needing to send or deliver packages safely and affordably.
  • Clear location sharing: as a customer, you want to know where your parcel is at any given time so you can adapt the delivery to your constantly changing life conditions and plans. With smart lockers, the business or individual sending you your parcel will always share the locker’s location with you and you’ll instantly have that information via the app or email. So say goodbye to wondering how you’ll restructure your day and say hello to a “ping” and drive away to being a happy parcel collector.
  • Reducing re-delivery fees: While some online stores are gracious enough to allow you to return items you bought for free, others aren’t (understandably, because it adds to their delivery costs). Well, you probably know that returning a package will hurt your wallet too. In South Africa, Pargo has parcel pick-up points all over the country, however, due to lockdown restrictions some locations were closed. This meant that if customer were not able to collect their parcels by a Thursday, it would return back to the supplier.

 


[Photo by Mohamed Hassan on pxhere]

 

Where can smart lockers in South Africa be accessed?

In South Africa, a new ECD smart locker service is be the solution to helping retail businesses facilitate faster deliveries to their customers.

 

ECD offers more predictable delivery times as they work on your schedule. You can select an ECD at a location of your choice and choose a preferred delivery time. If you’re like Dolly Parton and “working 9 to 5” and can’t be home during regular delivery hours, the solution to getting all your online orders may lie in using an ECD.

 

They’re also considerably affordable, starting from only R25. And as Dolly said: you’re trying to make a living so don’t break your bank or abandon your cart because of the delivery fee. Consider using an affordable ECD and buy yourself a calming scented candle with the change. The holiday season is coming so you need all your spare coins. And when you send gifts, think about sending with an ECD.

 

They can be built into or near residential areas, meaning that deliveries to congested apartment buildings will become faster and seamless, and as a user you’ll be selecting the delivery address meaning less missed deliveries. Additionally, while we are still facing COVID-19, contactless delivery is a huge bonus. Customers who are at a high risk of infection may find that ECD will help them minimise contact when they need to send or receive goods. So if you haven’t and still can’t see your gran while in lockdown, but want to send her cookies to remind her you’re thinking of her, ECD is a safe way to do that.

 

ECD are currently available at Dainfern Square and Pineslopes Boulevard.

 

Check out our previous post on our ECD smart lockers to learn how they work and how hurdle-less your next delivery can be!

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Networking 101| Your Small Business’s Guide To Human Capital

 

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Moe Magners from Pexels

“You don’t build a business, you build people, then people build the business.” These are the immortal words of the late Zig Ziglar; a successful salesman who was highly conscious of the great power of networking.

There are many grave misconceptions surrounding the idea of networking. Many believe that it is all about what they can get from it. Others believe that it is about exchanging handshakes with other networkers in hopes for sales. As a small business attempting to create a strong brand presence, it is crucial to accept that these fallacies could not be further from the truth.

To find success in networking, these limiting myths need to be overturned. This article aims to facilitate your understanding on the concept of networking to help your small business seize the opportunities that lie in connecting with other professionals or like-minded individuals.

Understanding Networking

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Pixabay from Pexels

One of the many definitions of what networking is, is that it is a process involving the exchanging of information whilst establishing social or professional contacts. It involves meeting new people to bounce ideas and inspirations off.

Part of the essence of networking is forming and nurturing lasting, mutually beneficial relationships with other people. The Harvard Business Review has stated that networking can lead to increased knowledge, status and advancement in one’s path.

Networking can be facilitated in professional or informal settings. Whilst the importance of networking cannot be downplayed, it also does not have to be thought of as an elite exercise that only rich and well-established businesses get to participate in. As a matter of fact, as a small business trying to make a name for yourself, you are encouraged to attend as many networking opportunities as possible.

Benefits of Networking

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Photo by Nappy

As alluded to earlier, networking offers a great number of benefits that small businesses should not miss out on. Getting noticed and being exposed to a plethora of growth opportunities are but a couple of benefits that come attached to networking.

Your small business gets noticed

As a small business trying to establish yourself in the market, there is no harm in getting yourself noticed and raising your business’ profile. Doing simple things like reaching out to fellow business owners through email or social media, can help remove you and your small business form an unwanted invisibility status.

Increased opportunities

The more you network, the more you will find increased opportunities lining up for you. These could come from referrals or leads that your networking partners may offer you. For instance, if you are a product-based business, you could be referred to suppliers who work well with small businesses who happen to be on a tight budget. This then serves as a good opportunity for your business to cut down on such costs. The opportunities are endless — if networking is seized accordingly.

Invaluable connections

A big advantage to networking, when done properly, is that you will expose yourself and your small business to people who possess great insight and knowledge with regards to your industry. Above and beyond this, you will connect with people who will keep you motivated to continue running your business to success instead of giving up when things get tough. Running any type of business is difficult enough on its own. Thus, a network of individuals who are ready to offer emotional support is to be cherished.

How to Go About Networking

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Samantha Gades from Unsplash

There is generally no one right way to network. Additionally, networking can happen anywhere. Many tips and tricks have been provided by industry experts on how to crack networking. From putting on a friendly face to simply just showing up, there exists a great number of ways to take advantage of the networking arena.

Use social media

Networking does not always mean attending lavish events where you will rub shoulders with the big names in the industry. Afterall, it is not everyone who has access to such events.

According to Hootsuite, Instagram has approximately 1.22 billion monthly users. Hootsuite predicted that Twitter’s user count will surpass 329 million by the time 2022 comes to an end. LinkedIn boasts a user count of 830 million members in more than 200 countries.

Social media is then undeniably a buffet for small business owners to establish mutually beneficial networks that span across borders. A simple DM can open doors for your small business in the market.

Attend networking events

In addition to using social media to your advantage, it is important to physically put yourself and the name of your small business out there. There are a number of platforms designed to make physical networking events more visible for you to find.

For instance, Meetup helps connect South Africans to a number of networking events in different areas of the country. It is fairly easy to navigate and allows you to filter the types of events you want based on your preferred location. Of course, it is also equally important to do extra research on the listed events to ensure your safety. The platform also allows you to create your own networking event that people can sign up for.

NSBC is a reputable organization that hosts multiple networking events for small businesses in South Africa. They regularly host a breakfast networking session to allow business owners like yourself to get acquainted with each other and to form long lasting relationships.

Do not be a leech

Before you embark on the quest of networking, it is important to understand that it is not all about you and what your business can gain out of the connections you establish. If you go into networking with such a mindset, you run the risk of losing out on mutually beneficial connections that can help catapult your small business into new levels of success.

Consider what you are bringing to the table and how you could be of value to your networking circle. This way, you ensure the establishment of a genuine circle that has the potential to be long-lasting. Therefore, in essence, do not just take; feed back into your network as well.

Check up on your network

Networking is about creating relationships that will survive the test of time. Communicating with your network only when you need something is as poor networking.

A phone call, an email or a coffee date here and there, with the purpose of conducting a wellness check sends the message that you genuinely care about your network. Additionally, letting those you connect with know that they can reach out to you should they need your help, is another way to keep such relationships going.

How Networking Saved Danny Jefferson’s Small Business

We wrote this article with one goal in mind: encouraging you as a small/medium business owner to realize the power of — in simple words — talking to people. Danny Jefferson, owner of Pierce-Jefferson Funeral & Cremation Service, is a perfect example of this.

When Jefferson founded his then small business, a funeral home, he expected to receive sale after sale. Initially, this was true for him as he saw his business thriving. However, in 2004, the heavy realities of operating a small business soon kicked in: sales don’t come always. The business went from thriving to struggling in the blink of an eye.

After time spent strategizing on how to fuel growth back into his business, he decided that the best thing to do was to go out and talk to as many people as he could. He made sure not to make the connections he made about himself.

Eventually, “Each new interaction led to more interactions and these relationships are the cornerstone of the success of Pierce-Jefferson Funeral Home.” Jefferson’s business managed to rake in a 35% yearly growth rate over the past years — a clear display of the power of networking.

This is Your Sign to Put Your Business Out There!

Networking is essential when it comes to building long-lasting professional relationships that will lead your business to a multitude of opportunities. In simple terms: networking plays a crucial role to the success of your business.

Putting your business out there by talking to people, both online and offline, brings your small business one step closer to fortune. It is thus important to accept that your business needs human capital for long-term survival.

As the popular saying goes, two minds are better than one. Therefore, as a small business owner, it is never a bad idea to learn about effective networking to ensure that your small business does not fall into oblivion.

 

 

 

Small Business Optimization | A Guide to Surviving the Economic Crisis

Free Blue Car Parked on Gas Station Stock Photo
Deane Bayas from Pexels

The economic instabilities striking the South African economy seem to rise on a daily basis. In July, motorists have been warned to brace themselves for a hike in the already increased petrol prices. Electricity tariffs have also been approved to increase by 7.47%

Hard-working individuals are putting in hours of labour to keep up with the sweat-breaking demands of the strenuous economy. Many well-established businesses have risen and fallen due to the never-ending economic pitfalls. Small businesses do not fall short of the looming potential downfalls catapulted by these instabilities, more so in their first year of business. The rising fuel and electricity prices are but a massive tip of the iceberg.

The big question is: how can your small business stay afloat amidst the looming economic crisis? This article will explore this question by providing easy, practical guides to optimizing your business practices to stand a chance in the rough economic seas. You can find a few answers to  surviving the economic crisis as a small business.

Budget Like a Pro

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Rodnae Productions from Pexels

Budgeting is critical to the financial wellness of any business, and not only to during times when you must be surviving the economic crisis as a small business. Pouring money into empty wells is a sure way down the slope to business closure. Budgeting is not easy but there are many ways to ensure that your business does not burn through money faster than it can generate it.

Simple tips that your business can implement:

Tip one: create a list of your income and expenses. From this, identify those expenses that are unnecessary and eliminate them.

Tip two: Gage any amount of spending capital you may have and from it, set a monthly spending limit. At this point, you should ensure that you prioritize your expenditures.

Tip three: Budgeting is not an easy task that can be perfected overnight. Unexpected circumstances may cause a deviation from your budget. This is not the end of the world. Adjust your budget accordingly, keeping in mind that the goal is to limit unnecessary expenditure.

Using Freelancers

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Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Freelancers are independent workers who companies hire on a short-term basis to perform specific tasks. Freelancers are part of the growing gig economy. Some companies opt for these independent contractors as opposed to full-time employees.

For instance, if your business is in need of accounting services, a freelancer with the relevant skills and qualifications can offer them to you. You would then only pay for services rendered for the period that you used the freelancer’s services. You could use freelancers for any work you might need help on; professional data backup services, website building services and even photography services to add to the attractiveness of your businesses’ online presence. It is all up to you and your businesses’ needs.

This calls for the elaboration on the benefits that the use of freelancers poses. For small businesses, freelancers come with a number of benefits with the most obvious being, saving on costs. Most small businesses do not have the financial capacity to house fulltime employees. Using freelancers cuts training and development costs. It means paying for work done for the contracted period instead of paying for all the costs that are involved in maintaining full time employees.

Local companies such as Safrea, Upwork and Mintor all provide South African freelancers and businesses the opportunity to find each other to establish affordable working relationships. Freelancers — for small business owners — are a smart, cost-effective move.

Low-Cost Advertising

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Adem AY from Unsplash

Targeted markets cannot be penetrated or reached if no one knows about the existence of your business. Marketing, if done well, saves your business from invisibility. As a small business, chances are that your operations, marketing included, need to be executed on a shoestring budget. Social media, word-of-mouth tactics and email marketing are but a few pocket-friendly marketing strategies worth considering

Social Media is going nowhere

There are over 4.2 billion active social media users all across the globe. Growing platforms such as Instagram and TikTok offer real-time analytics on each post and each visitor who views users’ pages. Utilizing such platforms not only means reaching the multitude of social media users who are your potential consumers, it also means having demographic information handed through the provided analytics. This means that you can determine who is showing interest in your small business and thus prompt them to opening their wallets to your offerings.

Seeing that social media platforms are mostly free to use, your business has the opportunity to reach millions of potential customers at essentially no cost.

Refer-a-friend Scheme

Happy customers are a great way to advertise your business. Offer your customers some form of incentive for bringing in new customers. You could offer them discounts, loyalty points or coupons to encourage them to spread the word. Word-of-mouth is free advertising that your small business needs to trigger to maintain visibility.

Email Marketing

Businesses have the potential to both gain and lose customers at an alarming rate. Studies have previously indicated that it takes the average customer 8.25 seconds before they lose interest.

Email marketing serves as a sound reminder to your existing customers that you exist. Prompt them to subscribe to receiving sale notifications and any relevant updates from your business. Programs like MailChimp and Stripo offer free options for businesses and individuals to send customized group emails to customers. Essentially, your tight-budgeted small business has nothing to lose but customers to gain.

Email marketing is an effective way to retain customer interest. It also saves you ample time as it eliminates the need to send many emails individually. However, take caution not to spam your subscribers with endless emails as this will inevitably annoy them.

Optimize Your Delivery Strategy

man riding motorcycle on road during daytime
Photo by Rowan Freeman on Unsplash

With the seemingly uncontrollable predicted petrol hikes, businesses will do well to revisit their current delivery strategies to ensure that they do not drown in all the increases.

The last mile small business faces both economic challenges and the challenges that come with attempting to exceed customer satisfaction to continue competing in the market. South Africa may not have a variety of well packaged solutions for such challenges, however, all hope is not lost.

Taking great advantage of available services offered by last mile companies who possess researched methods to combat the many challenges your business may face in terms of logistics, can save you from a lot of excess stress. For instance, Easy Collect & Drop — a local solution — eases the pressure for businesses by providing affordable smart locker use as points of delivery. These are just as quick and efficient as the more traditional delivery options, with the upside being that they are cheaper in the long run. Thus, if the costly door-to-door delivery does not accommodate your business financially, ECD is sure to take care of your business need either way.

Conclusion: Survive the economic crisis as a small business

Small businesses can never learn enough about optimizing their business practices to give themselves a fighting chance in the rising economic waters.

SMEs are key role players in the building of the economy. The National Treasury views it best: They contribute to the efficiency of the local markets. They also contribute to the alleviation of poor economic activity in rural areas.

Economic instability has the ability to wipe out the existence of any brittle business. Surviving the economic crisis as a small business is a big question, but it should be your priority to ensure that you continuously revisit your current business practices to withstand such forces.

 

Outsourced Shipping – A Way To Streamline Your Growing Business

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Photo by Yan Krukov

Shipping is one of the most important aspects of running any product-based business. In the early stages of operation, many startups and small businesses can possibly handle their own shipping needs. However, along with the growth of customer orders comes the inevitable need to outsource the business’s shipping to ensure customer satisfaction. With expansion, self-shipping may soon become much too unsustainable and financially strenuous on your business’ wallet.

Outsourced shipping can be associated with a number of overlooked benefits. Many business owners do not know that this delegation can mean optimizing your customers’ experience, lowering shipping costs, flexibility and saved time in terms of not having to learn the back-end of the shipping industry.

To get more comfortable with outsourcing your startup or growing business’ shipping needs, it is important to know and understand what this operation entails. This article aims to simplify this aspect of conducting business to help you optimize and streamline your small business.

Understanding Outsourced Shipping And How It Works

Outsourced shipping, simply put, entails delegating the distribution of your business’s products to another company — usually a shipping company. The need for outsourced shipping usually arises when the demand for your business’s product offering grows, thus posing a challenge to timeously fulfill your customers’ demands.

Outsourced shipping begins with you taking the decision to allow an external shipping or logistics company to basically lead your supply chain. Depending on the services that your chosen company offers, it will handle your warehousing, packaging, and shipping needs. In addition, your chosen company can ensure that you receive detailed reports on all your inventory and thus keeping you in the loop on this part of your business.

Benefits of Outsourced Shipping

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Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko

No startup or small business aspires to stay in such a state forever. Outsourcing your business’ shipping duties is one strategy to consider when trying to scale. As a growing small business, outsourcing your shipping poses a number of benefits that you might not want to pass on.

Outsourced shipping optimizes customer service

We are living in a world where on-demand culture and that of instant gratification is rife. This is part of the reason why customers demand and expect speedy delivery. If it is logistically challenging for your business to meet and supersede customer expectations in this area, outsourced shipping can help ease this. Working with a third-party shipping company that ensures speedy delivery is a great way to optimize your customer service in that you could potentially avoid having to unnecessarily keep them waiting. You then give your business the opportunity to secure repeat purchases from your existing customer base and to lock in new customers.

Lowered Overall Fulfillment Costs

From the outside looking in, outsourced shipping may appear as an extra expense that your small business would rather shy away from. This is not necessarily accurate as it may actually reduce your fulfillment costs. Yes, outsourced shipping comes at a cost but so does self-shipping.

Through the magic of outsourced shipping, your business need not be concerned with securing a fleet of delivery vehicles when it is not in the financial position to do so. You will be saved from having to fork out funds on designing, automating and maintaining the shipping process because all of these areas will already be taken care of by your shipping partner.

Flexibility

Taking on a flexible approach when fulfilling your customer orders offers your business the golden opportunity to extend your market reach when working with a suitable shipment company. Why limit your business to having only a local presence when you can have a national and even a global presence through simply allowing a reliable shipping company to make this possible for you.

The formalities of the shipping industry are taken care of

The logistics industry is a rather complicated field. Outsourced entails your chosen outsourcing partner taking all the stress of having to navigate through all the field’s intricacies by yourself away. They will know how to handle delicate shipment, hazardous products all the way to beverages and food. Your partner will bring to the table their experience and expertise in the logistics industry. There is thus no need for you to spend hours learning the back-end and the formalities presented by the field. While educating yourself is never a bad idea, your shipping partner will have you covered in this regard as they will know the legalities surrounding customs, appropriate delivery routes and what constitutes as lawful and unlawful when executing deliveries.

Outsourced Shipping From Easy Collect & Drop’s Perspective

Employee looking at parcel
Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko

To serve as an example, Easy Collect & Drop (ECD) is always looking for ways to give the last mile customer satisfactory services that make the executing of business operations easier and more efficient. Through the added warehouse management service, customers are provided with reliable warehouse space and stock management services.

Customers and businesses are able to rent the warehouse space that they need. The ECD team conducts regular stocktaking checks to provide customers with regular, updated reports of their inventory. This way customers are always informed and can rest assured knowing that their stock information is up to date.

ECD knows that entrusting someone with one’s shipping needs comes with a lot of uncertainty and angst. To give customers peace of mind, any missing or damaged items caused by the ECD warehousing service are reimbursed. Through a one stop solution approach that is sure to successfully tender to customers’ business’ warehousing and delivery needs, ECD ensures that they receive safe, secure and efficient service delivery from a reliable and flexible team.

Outsourced Shipping Really Does Take the Weight Off

As provided in this article, outsourcing your business’ shipping poses a number of benefits. Not only does it help your small business in meeting your customers’ order demands in a timeous manner, it also acts as a business strategy that can help you reach those customers who are positioned in distant markets. In the fast-paced world we live in where instant gratification is of high value makes it an ever-important goal to achieve to ensure that your customers are never kept waiting. Make it a point to fully understand your business’ shipping needs in order to ensure a shipping company that you will have the perfect chemistry with.

Your Small Business’ Guide To Sales Optimisation

Turning a profit and optimising sales as a small business or a startup is not easy.  The unfavourable economic conditions do not help at all. At the end of 2021, South Africa’s consumer price reached an inflated point of 5.9%. As if this is not limiting enough, we expect an increase in the already pocket-breaking petrol prices in April 2022. Even with all the barriers working against small businesses who have very little resistance power, there is still light at the end of the very long tunnel. Business analysts and experts have written manual after manual on how to survive and grow as a small business. Optimising your business’s sales is one such strategy.

This article seeks to delve into the concept of optimisating sales. Whilst there are many practical guides to optimising sales, this article will look into 3 strategies to achieving this goal:

  • Rolling Out the Red Carpet for Your Customers
  • Revisiting Your Current Sales Practices
  • Automation: The Time Saver Your Small Business Needs

Explaining sales optimisation

Optimising sales entails working smarter and not harder. It is about enhancing customer experience to keep them hooked to your offerings. This would then mean finding effective ways to keep your customers coming back to your small business. Offering customers convenience, speed, efficiency are but a few ways to achieve sales optimisation. Ultimately, optimising sales refers to the practices behind the scenes that you do to lead your business to more sales.

Sales can be considered the ‘last mile’ for businesses. As a business owner,  you know that when a sale is made it is the result of all the tears, work, trials, errors and spreading of the word of the business that led to that moment.

Rolling Out the Red Carpet For Your Customers

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Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

“Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that says: Make me feel important.” These are the words uttered by Mary Kay Ash, the founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics. It is an indisputable fact that customers want to be treated as king. If they are unhappy, they do not mind taking their business — their much needed money — elsewhere. Giving your customers what they want is a great sales optimisation strategy.

If your customers recommend that your business get a functional and easy-to-navigate website, it is in your business’ best interest to heed their call. It clearly shows that they use your website as a way to connect with your business. Understanding what your customers want and giving it to them makes them feel heard. It also works in favour of your business in that it can help you in eliminating all that is unnecessary.

African Flavour Books, a small South African book retailer, saw a huge gap in their industry: there were no bookstores in South Africa that focused on serving the African community and those passionate about African literature. The owners, a young couple, opened their store with this in mind. They subsequently expanded their reach by adding African-centered movies and music — all this upon customer recommendation. In addition to this, they aimed to sell their books for under R200 upon noticing and appreciating the economic stance of their target audience. This is the sales optimisation strategy that African Flavour Books seized and it saw them generating a steady flow of sales revenue. They made their target market feel like they and their preferences matter.

Revisiting Your Current Sales Practices

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Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Who says that optimising sales needs to be complicated? Starting with a task as simple as revisiting and reviewing your business’ s current sales practices can go a long way.

How To Revisit Your Current Sales Practices

The first question to ask yourself when you begin this reviewing process is: “What am I doing right?” Provided that your business has already raked in some sales, consider the process that your business underwent to reach those moments of sales.

Perhaps your business spent months in producing or availing those sold products or services. Maybe you physically knocked on people’s doors to tell them about your business and its offerings. Whatever it is that helped your business land those sales, note them down.

The next question to consider is: “Which sales practices are not working towards the good of my business?” It may not always be easy to point out the mistakes you are making in your business especially if you are a one-person team. To make this process easier, ask for customer feedback on how your customers felt when your business served them. Perhaps your response time to your customers is not the fastest or your products from your suppliers are not arriving fast enough. If you produce your own products, it could be that you are not spending enough time sampling your products to test them.

In addition to this business examining, taking note of the amount of money your business managed to make from sales is a good practice to optimising your future sales. Asking questions such ask “Did the business make more sales this quarter than the last?” can aid you in identifying more ways to achieve the last mile — the sales.

Spending time on business introspection, should help you find the good and the not-so-good aspects of your sales practices. You can then begin the process of improving where you lack. This is your opportunity to identify holes in your practices to patch up to prevent any further sales from falling through them.

Automation: The Time Saver Your Small Business Needs

ECD app
Photo by Easy Collect & Drop

Capturing and maintaining customer records, keeping stock records, recording cashflow and keeping a clean business image are but a few tasks that need the attention of your business. What this all means is work after work. Sales automation refers to the much-needed task of using digital tools and software to automate as much of the time-consuming, manual tasks that need to be done. This is done to allow businesses to designate more time to more important tasks, such as building great customer relations and drawing in more sales.

Benefits of Automation:

Automation helps your business save time. Using technology in your daily dealings allows for the fast completion of tasks with increased accuracy. For example, using a spreadsheet can help you add up all your business’ finances at a much faster and more accurate rate than most manual methods.

Efficiency when capturing customer data is yet another benefit. Imagine having to write down each and every sale in a sales book instead of having a point-of- sale system that captures all sales in your computer. This leaves too much room for error. Automating this part of your business, thus reduces such potential errors.

Business automation helps lowers operational costs. The central goal of any business is to generate profits. For instance, a small business with limited financial capacity may not always have the pleasure of employing staff. Therefore, using automation procedures — such as email management tools — eliminates payroll costs.

Ways to Automate Your Small Business:

  • Automate your email processes to avoid, for example, having to send the same marketing email to your long list of customers and potential customers. An automated email system will allow you to send such an email to hundreds of recipients in just one go. MailChimp and Hubspot are some the many available platforms that help with email automation. These allow you to create and schedule your emails and even provide you with feedback reports your activities.
  • If your small business has a website — and hopefully it does — the use of chatbots is recommended. It is a good way to provide your visitors with ‘immediate’ responses whenever they need it.
  • Easy Collect & Drop serves as a prime example for business automation. As a logistics enterprise, ECD offers convenient delivery solutions that allow customers to book their delivers online. Customers are provided with easy methods to track their orders, access and download their invoices. Through ECD’s automation efforts, customers are always kept in the loop.

Automating your business’ processes will help you focus more on the sales and the moments of sales with your customers, as opposed to the administrative side business. Automation saves you time while simultaneously keeping your data consistent.

Sales Optimisation In A Nutshell

Giving your customers a great experience is beneficial for customer retention. For as small business with limited resources, optimising sales does not have to include intricate procedures that are rather difficult to execute. You do not have to spend unnecessary monies to achieve this strategy. This is more so if your business does not house the financial capabilities to do so.

Sales optimisation will set your small business on a path that moves away from the sporadic sales that you might have been experiencing. It can aid in setting your small business on an upward sales trajectory altogether.

As a small business owner, you should never cease to place your business’ focus on increasing the effectiveness of your sales. Sales optimisation is rather a strategy you will have to revisit as often as possible. That’s how you keep up with customer needs and increase the number of sales that your business generates.

Seizing Growth Opportunities to Expand Your Small Business

Holding growing plants
Photo by Daniel Öberg on Unsplash

Growing a business is not something that happens overnight. It is a process that can take months and even years to accomplish. There are many strategies that detail how you can take your small business to new heights. Defining growth differs from business to business. Generally, it means getting your business from where it currently is to where you want it be in the future. Growing your small business could mean an increase in brand awareness, brand loyalty and a healthy spike in revenue.

A lot can be done – physically and mentally – to aid in the growth of your business. However, it is important to understand the following pointers, which will be further expanded on, in order to help you take charge of growth opportunities to sustainably grow your small business:

  • There is more than one right move when attempting to take your small business to your desired level of growth.
  • Rome was not built in a day! The efforts you dedicate to your business today may only pay off months and even years later. Patience is a key element when growing a small business.
  • No business can survive without customers. Knowing and understanding who they are and what they need is a useful growth strategy with ample growth opportunities waiting to be seized.
  • As a small business owner, it is imperative to tap into ways that will be advantageous to your business when it comes to competing with competitors of all sizes in the market you aim to successfully establish your business in.

There Is More Than One Right Move

There is a whole sea of growth strategies available detailing how you can grow your small business. It is a mistake to think that there is only one right path to growing your business as there are many proven ways to achieve this. This way of thinking can lead to you missing out on many growth opportunities around you. For instance, it may happen that at the start your business you are a one-person show. It may be that you wear the designer, the marketer and accountant hats. Breaking your bigger tasks into smaller tasks may help you feel a little less overwhelmed with all the work you have to get done. Working with a schedule, managing your time well and learning about your field of business may all seem irrelevant to growing your business. However, these are strategies that can aid in the growth of your small business in the long run.

Your Efforts Today Might Only Bear Fruits Years Later

As mentioned earlier, growing your small business will not happen overnight. What seems like over-night success on the outside for most businesses, is actually years of hard work finally paying off.

In 2019, Amazon was listed as one of the fasted growing companies in the world. It ranked at number 11 on Fortune’s 100 Fastest-Growing Companies list. Jeff Bezos, the founder, stated that when the company experiences a good financial quarter, it is the result of work done three years prior. He advices businesses to think and plan for the long-term. This way, you know where to invest your energy. This is advice coming from one of the richest men in the world who managed to turn his business into the biggest ecommerce platform that we have today.

Modern Centric Holdings, an SME in South Africa that focuses on successfully integrating those with disabilities into the workplace, was established in 2013. It only became fully operational in 2018, after years of hard work. It was only in 2021 that its owner, Zakhele Mgobhozi, received an award for all the years of his hard work at the 20th Annual Top Empowerment Awards. Modern Centric Holdings’ ‘over-night success’ is more than 8 years of work in the pipeline. This proves that your works at the start of your business may only bear fruits years later.

Understand Your Customer

We hear you
Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Knowing and understanding your customer base is crucial to the long-term success of your business. There could be many growth opportunities coming out of knowing who it is you are catering to. Knowing your customers goes beyond simply knowing their names and ages. Being informed about their hobbies and how they would like to be treated can help you in enhancing how you serve each and every one of your businesses’ supporters. There are many ways of getting to know your customers.

Use Social Media

You can get to know your customers through communication channels such as Facebook, Instagram and even Twitter. You can utilize these platforms to directly communicate with your customers and audience to create more personal relationships with them. Ask them questions and actively use their answers and feedback to cater to them. Pride yourself on responding to both the positive and the negative reviews that your business may pull in. This will show your customers how committed you are to serving them correctly. It will humanize the name of your business thus creating brand loyalty for your business. It will also provide you with more information about who your customers are.

Create a Customer Profile

Having a customer profile that lays out who exactly you are trying to serve not only aids in knowing who your customer is but also serves as a guide to knowing their needs. To create the ideal customer profile, take your best and worst customers and note down what made you choose them as the best and worst. Note what it is these customers have in common. From here, find ways to upgrade your offering to them.

Through your communicating with your customers, you can learn how to meet and even exceed their expectations which gives you a great chance at retaining your already existing customer base and gaining new ones through referrals from your happy clients. Just like growing your business, knowing your customers is a process that could take years to master. However, leveraging this information will help you broaden your customer reach, thus elevating your small business. Your customers are the lifeline of your business. It is thus crucial to keep yourself informed about them.

Market Penetration: Take Up Space

Chess pieces
Randy Fath from Unsplash

Market penetration has two faces depending on how you look at it. On the one hand it refers to how much a product or service is sold in comparison to the total size of the market for that particular product or service. On the other hand, as an activity, it refers to entering an already existing market with an already existing product and competing in this already existing space. The only difference is that your product or service takes up space, meaning that you seize your competitors market share. The challenge would be to find ways to thrive in an already competitive market. As difficult as this might seem, it is completely achievable. It could be done through strategic pricing, enhanced customer care and a presence in community outreach.

MTN: The big games

Take the big mobile network companies in South Africa as an example. Vodacom, MTN, CellC and Telkom are in the same market space. However, in 2019 Business Tech reported that MTN generates more money per paying customer despite having a lower subscriber base than Vodacom, it’s primary competitor.

There are many cited reasons to MTN’s success. MTN claims that part of its success come from their corporate social responsibility strategy. The company says that it “can only flourish when the communities and ecosystems in which it operates are healthy.”

You can penetrate your market through strategic pricing. Slightly lowering your prices – where possible – when entering the market gives your small business a competitive edge. This strategy is most likely to work in markets where the consumers are price sensitive. To avoid consumers doubting your products or services due to your lowered prices, ensure that you provide top tier service to keep their concerns over quality at ease.

Bathu: a one-of-a-kind African sneaker brand strategy

Bathu, the South African sneaker company, penetrated the already existing sneaker market through its identity of being a one-of-a-kind African sneaker brand. With that being said, it is possible to penetrate existing markets with new products or services. Scout the markets and identify that which is missing. Find ways to fill these gaps, thus making your small business eligible to competing with even the biggest businesses in the market you are entering, just like Bathu did when it was still a startup in 2015.

Final Thoughts

As a business owner, the process of growing your business may be one of the biggest challenges you go through. In the same breath, it is a process that comes with many crucial learning opportunities that will guide you along the path to achieving your desired growth. Understanding the importance of seeking growth opportunities in more corners than one, exploring ways to impress your customers and finding strategic ways to compete in the business landscape are strategies that carry opportunities that small businesses can grab to successfully climb the growth scale.

Growing your small business may be difficult and at times uncomfortable, however as the popular saying goes; growth and comfort cannot exist in the same space. Keep your eyes open for growth opportunities and do not give up on your small business that could potentially grow to become a successful enterprise in years to come.

The ins and outs of Payment Gateways for E-commerce in South Africa

The increase in digitalisation across South Africa has witnessed exponential growth in the past couple of years and has consequently boosted the e-commerce and online platform industries. Our previous blogs explored issues of the most popular e-commerce platforms, as well as social media tips, but what else do e-commerce owners and online retailer need to know before launching their online platforms? This is where the importance of payment gateways comes into play to ensure that your online business can operate both efficiently and safely.


[Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels]

What does the buzz term of ‘payment gateway’ mean?

To put it simply, a payment gateway is the technology that captures and transfers payment data from the customer to the acquirer (with the latter, for example, being an online business). Payment gateways ensure the efficient functioning of the payments ecosystem and act as the middle man to enable online payments to occur between businesses and consumers. One of the main purposes of a payment gateway is thus to facilitate the authorisation and fulfilment of payments made for e-businesses and online retailers.

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[Photo by Pickawood on Unsplash]

 

Choosing the most appropriate payment gateway option

Now that we know what a payment gateway is, how would you, as a business owner, decide on the best one?

The importance of deciding which payment gateway should be utilised was evident in a recent study conducted by PPRO which showed that 44% of online shoppers abandon a purchase if their favourite payment method is not available. Therefore, a determining factor of a customer’s overall experience includes which payment method options are available.

There are many factors that your business should consider when choosing the most appropriate payment gateway and some of these are listed below:

  • Identify the functionalities of the payment gateway system;
  • Identify what mechanisms are put in place to prevent fraud;
  • Identify what data security mechanisms are in place to eliminate risks;
  • Determine whether the option allows for shopping card integration;
  • Examine whether the service offers multi-currency capabilities; and
  • Determine the costs involved including fees for transactions, statements, chargebacks and merchant account fees.

Once these above-mentioned factors have been considered, you as the business owner need to decide South African payment gateway will optimise the payment processes of your online retail shop.

An overview of the most popular payment gateways in South Africa

1. PayGate

PayGate is a leading African payment service provider that enables businesses and individuals across the continent to accept payments online. The service offering utilises a wide range of currencies, payment methods and payment solutions (including PayGate and PayFast) to businesses of various sizes and industries. Although their services were originally more focused on larger e-commerce retailers, the introduction of Paycollect, which does not require a bank internet merchant account, has diversified its target customers.  A once-off activation fee of up to R200, and a monthly fee, may be charged.

2. Yoco

Yoco has become an ideal platform to process eCommerce sales. A unique feature of Yoco is that it allows users to integrate their WordPress store with their Business Portal in order to track in-store and online sales from a single interface. This payment gateway has no upfront costs and caps all transaction fees at a certain percentage. Additionally, it can be fully integrated with all Yoco payment solutions.

3. PayPal

PayPal is a platform that is used worldwide to process daily payments for businesses. This makes this option ideal for international payments, further supported by the fact that it is available for over 200 markets and countries. Another benefit it that it allows customers to make payments through many platforms including computers, mobile phones or tablets. In terms of integration, Paypal offers many e-commerce integration options including Shopify, WooCommerce, Magento, Xero and many more.


[Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash]

4. MoneyMatrix

The platform known as MoneyMatrix supports payment processing in South Africa for all credit and debit card types, as well as a range of e-wallets, vouchers, instant bank transfer, and mobile solutions.  It does not only operate within South Africa, but has a presence in over 100 countries. An advantage of MoneyMatrix is that it aims to keep the payment process simple, user-friendly and easily accessible. It offers over 180 payment options through a simple integration.

Although there are a wide range of payment gateways from which business can choose, this does not come without its challenges.

Obstacles facing payment gateways in South Africa

Although the world, and South Africa, is moving towards digitalised payments methods, many people within South Africa do not have access to the technologies to utilise these digitalised payments methods. This could lead to a lack of accessibility to payment methods, as can be seen by only approximately 20 to 22 million people in South Africa use a smartphone.

Secondly, another challenge posed is that of the cyber and data security risks posed by online platforms, both generally and with regards to online payments. In recent months, we have observed an increase in cyber attacks on banking networks and payment gateway networks. An effective payment gateway needs to be chosen by the company to minimise the risks of malware attacks and/or cyber hacking. A cyber attack would not only result in financial loss for the business but also has the potential to cause reputational harm. This is evident by the statistic that nearly 1 in every 5 consumers say that they would stop shopping at a business that was infiltrated by cyber hackers, even in instances where the problem was addressed and remedied. From the customer’s side, a lack of strong security measures could also result in them losing money. Furthermore, data breaches cause a further risk, where the potential exists for customers’ data and other personal information may be unduly exposed to third parties.


[Photo by FLY:D on Unsplash ]

Thirdly, it is important that the payment gateway is fully integrated with your company website. There is a possibility that your e-commerce website is not compatible with your chosen payment gateway. Therefore, research should be done to ensure that you are able to fulfil the integration requirements which may include creating an internet merchant account which links an e-commerce website to the company’s bank.

There is no doubt that new innovations are going to be evident in terms of payment gateways in the near future due to the increased online shopping throughout South Africa. This blog has explored the concept of a payment gateways, considerations when choosing one, some of the most popular payment gateways across the nations, as well as potential challenges that may be faced. It is now time for your business to start looking into how payment gateways can be used to optimise your online platform.

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