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The COVID-19 pandemic is changing your customer’s behaviour.
Studies show more people are shopping online than before the pandemic.
And statistics reveal climbing internet traffic since the start of the COVID-19 lockdown in March.
But does this all what does this all mean for your SME?
If you’re doing business during COVID-19, you need a digital presence.
Now, this was true even before the pandemic.
But right now social distancing and changing lockdown levels keep us physically separated. You need to be able to reach your customers online at any time.
Let’s find out exactly how you can do that.
5 Tips for setting up your SME’s digital marketing strategy
Many business owners who added their SMEs to our Open for Business listing told us they had started operating online over the past few months.
But it can be overwhelming if you’re not sure how to get started.
In this post, Lulalend’s digital marketing experts share their tips to help you get your business in front of your customers online.
1. Develop your brand message
Before you go online, you need to define what makes your business stand out. If you have not done this already, then it should be the first step in building out your digital marketing strategy.
Michael Rampjapedi, digital marketing manager at Lulalend, said a competitor analysis could help create your brand’s unique messaging.
“Identify potential competitors and differentiate yourself. Based on your product, understand how you’re providing value and how you’re different.”
In this article for Hubspot, Kathryn Wheeler writes about the role of a memorable brand identity that becomes the face of your business and builds credibility and trust.
Keep two questions in mind when you’re developing your messaging, suggest Wheeler:
- What makes your business unique in your industry?
- What can you offer your customers that others can’t?
“And don’t forget that you already know your product and customers probably better than anyone. Start there and build out”, says Stacey Vermaaak, growth marketing consultant at Lulalend.
2. Don’t copy your competitors
Now, while it’s a good idea to understand what your competitors are offering, you should avoid copying other companies, said Rampjapedi.
“You don’t know the internal metrics your competitors are using. They might be appearing first in Google search ads, but they might be losing money. Their bidding strategy might be different.”
Your competitors may have a bigger advertising budget and different goals, said Rampjapedi.
“Their mission might be to dominate market share in search. As a new business who wants a profit, you can’t be that aggressive if you are not profitable on that sale or on lifetime value.”
Adopt a similar approach to content creation.
While a tool like Buzzsumo can show you the most popular content for each topic, you should remember that those sites might be established, so have an existing audience and strong credibility.
Instead, pay close attention to your own results.
Monitor your web traffic using Google Analytics and study engagement on social media.
Most platforms, like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, offer built-in analytics. Using this data you can discover the content that’s connecting with your audience.
3. Get professional help
Managing your online presence can be daunting.
- Which platforms should you choose?
- How much money should you invest?
Here’s where a little bit of professional help can make all the difference.
Vermaak, suggested hiring an expert or agency to set up your business’s Google Adwords and Facebook Ads account, even if you plan to run these yourself.
“An upfront investment in professional help can save you a lot of money in the short and long term.”
“Be upfront and explain that this is your plan. This allows you to get your Adwords account structure and all of your tracking set up correctly. The agency or provider will also educate you during calls and meetings so that when you do take over you waste less time and money.”
“This advice will leapfrog your knowledge and help you hone in on the information and campaigns that are important to your business” advised Vermaak.
Rampjapedi said some agencies offer free introductory consultations. Consider finding an agency that specialises in your niche, e.g., e-commerce or business to business.
4. Create quality content
There’s a lot of content out there.
According to Internet Live Stats, each day:
- Bloggers write two million posts
- People upload 35 million photos to Instagram
- Twitter users send 322 million tweets
Fortunately, you’ll set yourself apart if you create quality content that responds to your target audience’s questions.
Rampjapedi encouraged SMEs to use Google’s free Keyword Planner to discover the kinds of questions people were asking in their online search. Next, create content that responds to those questions.
Other free tools you can use, include:
Finally, when putting together the content plan for your digital marketing strategy listen to your own customers. Which questions do they frequently ask you? What are people talking about in industry forums
5. Run small tests, keep track and get better.
And once you’re ready to launch your campaign, you should start small, said Vermaak.
“Have a test goal in mind – think about how much you are willing to pay for a lead/ sale based on conversion rates and costs. Then take a small budget, look at your targeting options, see how one campaign does vs. another platform or other targeting. When you start with a small budget, you also give yourself space to iron out the kinks. What happens when an online order comes through? Call those people and learn about their experience, make it better. Focus on the path to conversion. Can it be simpler, faster, clearer? If it can you will save money on your acquisition costs.”
If you’re still looking for marketing help, check out these resources:
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Are you unsure about how to run your business during COVID-19?
You aren’t alone.
Business owners tell us they’re feeling uncertain about the future.
That’s why we partnered with the National Small Business Chamber (NSBC) to create this Back to Business guide for South African SMEs.
You’ll find a collection of resources that will help you:
- Develop a COVID-19 workplace plan
- Boost your cashflow
- Communicate with staff and customers
- Market your SME during COVID-19
This guide is part of our Open for Business campaign, an initiative to help get your business again thriving during COVID-19.
For the full guide, click here.
Open for Business will be supporting your business growth with:
- Tools to help you assess and forecast your business trajectory
- Content and guides to upskill and empower you
- Extra marketing support from our in house team
- Fast and flexible access to business funding
For more on the Open for Business campaign, read this blog post
Want to increase your marketing? Submit your SME to our Open for Business listing. It’s free and takes only a few minutes. Add your business here.
Still need help getting back to business?
Here are a few Open for Business articles that might help you:
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Back in primary school, as her classmates jostled all around her on the playground, Boitumelo Moroe was getting ready to start her first business.
“From a young age, I fully understood the value of money and profit. I was that school girl always finding something to sell, from cupcakes, lemonade to beads.”
But, after matriculating, Moroe stepped away from entrepreneurship and followed a more traditional path: enrolling in university and earning her degree.
Once she graduated, Moroe started working a corporate job.
Up until that moment, Moroe’s career embodied modern, professional success: she had a great position in a big corporate and all the benefits it provided.
But it wasn’t long before she realised she could no longer ignore the yearning to go out on her own.
She was ready to take the leap.
“The desire to set my own limits and to get out of the comfort zone propelled me to be an entrepreneur. Armed with a vision and belief in thyself, I left the glamorous corporate world, and in a flash, I was back at it.”
That’s when Moroe founded ECU Express, an automotive electro-software company.
And she’s never looked back.
ECU Express specialises in the diagnostics, repairs, replacements, and programming of electronic control modules, the on-board computers in cars.
The company solves that universal problem shared by frustrated vehicle owners: finding quality parts at reasonable prices.
“We regard ourselves as the ‘vehicle gurus’—solving complex vehicle problems daily. Our aim is to offer affordable yet quality automotive solutions to our clientele by bridging the gap between expensive brand new products and parts bought from scrapyards, mostly with no guarantee. Our customer base ranges from dealers, workshops, bush mechanics to individuals.”
For Moroe, ECU Express is far more than just a business.
Her work is challenging, rewarding, and unpredictable, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“The thrill and challenges that come with being in the automotive software industry are second to none. I enjoy waking up and not knowing what direction my day is going to take. I enjoy being able to get my hands dirty (in a sophisticated way, of course), whilst wearing heels. I enjoy hearing an old lady saying that her car has started after it wasn’t running for eight months. I enjoy keeping abreast of the new developments made in automotive electro-software engineering and breaking new ground.”
Her advice for aspiring young entrepreneurs is simple:
Don’t delay your business dream.
“You are better off initially running with an idea than waiting for the perfect idea. That’s something I sometimes struggle with because of my perfectionist personality.”
She encourages young people to pursue their entrepreneurial ambitions confidently.
Moroe admits this isn’t always easy in a world that frowns upon failure.
“With time and effort, the idea will turn into a good idea; and with continued passion, the good idea will turn into the perfect idea. It is OK to fail and make mistakes because through failure we are simply ‘failing forward’ one step at a time. As an entrepreneur, you need to continuously bulldoze your way in – be loud, be unashamed and grab what’s yours.”
Giving young people the tools they need to become successful entrepreneurs starts at school, said Moroe.
“I am a firm believer that quality education can alleviate poverty in our country and reduce the staggering youth unemployment rate of about 53%. Let’s start with the basics – our educational system should be equipping children with entrepreneurial skills while they’re still at school.”
She thinks of entrepreneurship as a safety net; a set of skills a person can draw on at any time to generate an income for themselves and their families.
“This would mean that should such children, at any point in their lives, find themselves unemployed, they don’t play the pity game but instead know how to use the opportunities around them and turn them into a business idea. The government has done well with the number of youth incubation programs and funding in place but more can always be done.”
Though society celebrates the lifestyles of entrepreneurs, it’s not always easy. But the rewards make it worth it, said Moroe.
“Whenever the going gets tough, I always remind myself how far I have come – from trying to prove my worth in a male-dominated industry and standing out whilst at it, to the sacrifices I’ve had to make – and how much further I am yet to go.”
There might be challenges along the way, but Moroe simply rejected failure as an option a long time ago.
“Once you make a decision to jump into the ocean, you can only stop swimming when you get to the shore—quitting is never an option. You need to soldier on and keep focused on the dream. It is vital for one to continuously reconnect with the vision, which is something I do daily with my morning chants.”
Trevor Gosling, Lulalend CEO and co-founder, said young people had an important role to play in growing the economy and adding jobs.
“Every day we see young people who are going out and changing the world. It’s up to us to give them the support they need to do that. That’s why we’re so proud to back young business owners like Boitumelo.”
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PR is an ideal way to spread the word about your small business.
That’s why we’re giving a R10 000 PR package to the winner of this year’s SANTAM Women of the Future Awards.
We’ve partnered with CN&CO to offer the prize.
Below, CN&CO’s Colin Ford writes about how you can generate PR for your SME.
How to Generate PR for Your Small Business
Public relations is a form of information management that gets public exposure for your brand or product line and/or for yourself as a business owner. PR can help to shape the credibility of your brand and the way people perceive you and your business.
The main purpose of PR is to share your message with the appropriate audience without having to pay for placement. Once you pay, it’s called advertising, and that’s an entirely different topic.
The effective use of PR can benefit your brand enormously and help you to grow relationships with the media and, ultimately, with your customers.
Here are a few tips for doing good PR:
1.Tell good stories
This might seem obvious – but remember the word “good” is extremely subjective. What you think is interesting or important might not be everybody’s cup of tea. You need to find angles that are newsworthy and tell stories that your consumers want to hear. And remember to keep it simple. The more streamlined and snappy your message is, the more likely it is to be remembered.
2. Choose the right media for your brand
Find out what media your customers consume and focus your energies there. Many business owners want to be seen on the front page of the Sunday newspaper, or be interviewed on talk radio by the financial guru simply because those are the media they themselves consume. Remember, your customers might not have access to the newspaper, or even listen to talk radio. The right medium could be a local knock-and-drop newspaper or a popular blog. It all depends on what you’re selling, who you’re selling it to and what your message is.
3. Build relationships
PR is a process; you need to work on building relationships both with the media and with your customers. Ultimately you want to become the person journalists call when they need information in your particular field of expertise. These relationships can take years to build. Be patient, be honest, be dependable and always be available.
4. Integrate with your marketing strategy
There’s no point saying one thing in your PR and another on, for example, your social media. Make sure your message is consistent across your advertising and communication platforms so as not to confuse your audience – or yourself!
5. Call in the experts
If you don’t feel comfortable or confident dealing with the media, speak to an experienced PR agency and see what they can do for you. A well-placed article or quote in a respected newspaper, magazine, radio station or blog can do wonders for both your business’s brand and your own.
For more on the Women of the Future awards, read Lulalend’s blog about the competition.
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On 1 June, the COVID-19 national lockdown shifts to level 3. This means more sectors can get back to work.
If your SME will start trading again, you’ll need to follow rules to keep your staff safe.
In this guide, we’ve collected everything you need to know about trading during Level 3.
This guide covers:
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- Who can trade
- What you need to trade
- Useful COVID-19 resources
How do you even begin to rebuild your SME during COVID-19?
Some business owners have had weeks without turnover. Others are not sure when they can start trading again.
And even if you’re operating right now, you don’t know whether or not level 5 will force you to shut your doors in a few weeks.
Your fears are shared by thousands of SMEs.
Statistics South Africa asked business owner about the impact of COVID-19:
- 85,4% reported turnover below normal
- 46,4% reported temporary closure or paused trading
- 30,6% said they can survive less than a month without any turnover
- 54,0% can survive between one and three months
Covid-19 has changed everything about how we do business, and it’s not going away anytime soon.
So, we’ve gathered advice from experts to help you forge a path in a new world.
1. Assess your situation
No business is untouched by the impact of COVID-19.
On an episode of CNBC Africa’s Business Tomorrow, Xolisa Nqodi, managing director of Shesha Tuks, said:
“It’s been really difficult for a small business like myself. We started seeing a negative impact on our operations since the last week of February. The last five weeks have not been easy for us…now that we are starting our operations again it’s forced us to look at our business with a slightly different outlook.”
How has your business changed? Have a look at your SME right now, from profits to marketing budgets to staff.
2. Develop a two-year COVID-19 SME plan
Once you’ve completed an honest assessment of your SME, it’s time to get to the next step: preparing to run a business during the age of COVID-19.
On an episode of Business Day TV, Pavlo Phitides, CEO of Aurik Business Accelerator, said SMEs needed to have a longer term view.
“The only thing we can be sure of is that Covid-19 is here to stay forever, and forever in a business life is two years. We’re going to be governed on the access of the economy based on the capacity of our health services to deal with the crisis as it unfolds and emerges…We will open the economy and close parts of it.”
Phitides said this was the only certainty.
“Hold onto that, it’s all that counts and forget everything else.”
To respond to these constant changes, business owners should come up with red, amber, and green strategies.
A red stage is a full lockdown.
“In the red stage, make sure you have staff who are able and capable to work remotely. If you can’t, the anxiety then rises. As the business owner, you are carrying the cost of that personnel, you are carrying the cost of the business.”
Another fact was that successful business practices before COVID-19 might no longer be effective.
“What led to your success coming into COVID-19…will have to be very different from the way you will find success coming out of COVID-19.”
Phitides said this included practices, business leadership, and customer behaviour.
“The environment has changed, customers have experienced fundamentally different changes ..If you don’t adopt what you did and you do well in that new reality, you could find yourself isolated from the opportunities that are going to emerge as we move out of lockdown into the new economy.”
3. Think about your next pivot carefully
When you’re coming up with ideas, it’s tempting to move into high-demand sectors.
But Nic Haralambous, serial entrepreneur, advises against this.
“If you weren’t already making masks, you’re probably not going to own the market for masks for the next 18 months. Stick to what you’re good at but try and evolve it.”
Haralambous was speaking with Business Day’s Michael Avery.
Study your industry. What are your competitors offering? What are the trends? What gaps can your business fill?
Maybe this means bringing a project forward, said Haralambous.
“What is the next thing you were going to do? What was on your development roadmap that you can bring forward to help accelerate the progress of your business because it is going on and off for the next two years.”
Haralambous suggested examining your existing skills.
“What tools do you have in your business that you can retool in different kinds of opportunities that can generate revenue for you in the medium term?
“You need to be brutal with yourself. Be honest about your business survival opportunity…start retooling as quickly as you can.”
4. Determine your funding need
SMEs need billions of rands to keep their doors open.
More than 30% of businesses told Stats SA they had applied for government funding.
This week, the Minister of Small Business Development Khumbudzo Ntshavheni , told Parliament the department’s relief scheme was running out of the money, reports Fin24.
A good place to start is to determine your funding needs.
- What does your cash flow look like over the next three to six months?
- Do you need working capital to meet a backlog of orders?
- Perhaps you need funding to fulfil a surge in demand?
5. Look after yourself
There’s a lot of uncertainty right now.
If you’re feeling worried and stressed, you’re not alone.
Personal development and business coach Charmaine Soobramoney has been helping SME owners navigate COVID-19.
“We all need to acknowledge that this is real, and it’s normal to go through the phase of anxiety. Lives have been impacted, the economy has been impacted, people are losing their jobs…People have reasons to feel anxious,” said Soobramoney in this video interview with Lulalend.
Soobramoney called on business owners to move towards accepting the new reality.
“This is the situation. Being anxious is not going to help me move forward in the way that I need to.”
She shared the mindset used by business owners who were finding traction:
“I’m in this situation. I have no control over it but I have control over how I choose to view my business , view the future, and grab opportunities that present itself.
“When you’re in this fearful state, you feel like the world is closing in. Yes, it is but you have control over how you open it.”
If you’re looking for fast access to funding, learn more about how Lulalend can help you grow. Click here for more information on how we work with business owners like you.