Experts from the free Digital Boost online learning program share what to consider when considering going digital in the regions.
With Covid-19 alert fluctuating throughout the regions, digital capability has become increasingly important. Businesses can be forced to operate online at a moment’s notice, and savvy businesses will be ready to do so.
We canvassed advice on the issue with contributors from Digital Boost, the government-funded initiative encouraging small businesses to become more digitally capable. Since the program launched earlier this year, more than 10,000 small business owners have signed up.
Planning your website
Taking the time to plan, secure your domain name and build your site for mobile devices first are essential when launching a website, according to Shopify Community Manager Julian Bartram.
“It’s tempting to dive right into execution when you’re excited about adding a new channel for your business. However, taking the time to write a business plan and get your thoughts on paper allows you to avoid multiple mistakes down the line.”
Bartram recommends that regional businesses integrate with high-quality freight aggregators and deliver their products faster than expected to pleasantly surprise online customers. Go Sweet Spot and eShip are some of the best.
“Underpromise and overdeliver.”
He says that if e-commerce is a priority, Shopify is an easy to use platform for a modest price.
While many local businesses attend weekly in-person networking groups, Stanley Henry, Managing Director of digital marketing agency The Attention Seeker, says when it comes to online networking, there is no better way to connect and engage with customers than LinkedIn.
He helps clients use the platform to target potential customers through strategically tailored content.
“I often tell clients to think of LinkedIn as a digital networking event, accessible from home or the office, and with a greater reach than a physical event.”
With over 2.2 million Kiwi’s on Linkedin, the platform is an easy way for local businesses to engage with customers from afar.
Reputation is everything in a small market, so small businesses in the regions should prioritise using digital tools that support relationship building and the delivery of a superb customer experience, says Fergus Founder Dan Pollard.
Fergus is a job management software for trade and service businesses.
“Online tools facilitate fast and accurate customer communication, information sharing and team management from anywhere.”
He points out that while in less populated areas, it’s not always possible to find the talent you need locally, the digital age affords access to a labour force far beyond any physical boundary.
“Small businesses that recognise and embrace this and remote working options to get the right people with the right skills will really thrive.”
Owen Scott, Managing Director of digital sales and marketing agency Concentrate, says that with customers using the internet to research products and services, it is important that companies serving a local market are still meeting their customers online.
”Avoiding invisibility means working out where their target customers are likely to be online and providing them with useful information, rather than just selling to them.”
He adds that digital channels can work for businesses anywhere in New Zealand.
“Channels like Facebook can be localised through targeting your town or even a specific neighbourhood, and tools such as Google My Business can help you be found easily in your region.”
To turn prospective customers into sales, Scott recommends businesses have a systemised approach with multiple steps.
Right now Kiwi small businesses have a massive opportunity to rebuild better by leveraging technology, according to Xero Director of Business Growth David Bell.
Xero is a cloud accounting software for small and medium-sized businesses.
“There are so many tools out there that can help you get to know your numbers and make smart decisions based on that data. Being able to see and track different parts of your business will transform the way you operate.”
Research commissioned by Xero and conducted by NZIER found that a 20 per cent uptake in cloud-based technology would add up to $6.2 billion in annual GDP growth for New Zealand’s economy.
“If more small businesses around the country start using cloud technology, the benefits don’t just stop with them. It has the potential to boost their local community, and ultimately the entire economy.”
Using future technologies
For the local business who are already using digital skill and looking to extend their toolkit, Aliesha Staples, Managing Director of Staples VR, recommends understanding the ‘how’ and ‘why’ before delving into a future technologies project.
“It is important to stay on top of technological trends, but also not to fall into the trap of doing something just because it’s new.”
She encourages businesses to be bold and educate themselves on how technology can make workplaces safer, more efficient and digitally savvy.
In partnership with the private sector, MBIE has set up the Digital Boost program, which is designed to encourage small businesses to upskill their digital capability including modules presented by these digital experts.
Participants are taken through six categories – digital marketing, digital tools, small business accounting, business insights and future technologies. The group behind Digital Boost are aiming to train 50,000 participants across New Zealand this year.
Digital Boost is free for any registered business to sign up www.digitalboost.co.nz. It is a self-paced learning journey, with no assessments, daily Q&A sessions, regular fireside chats and access to support people.