Okay, so we know we need to take our businesses online, get connected and move with the times. Right? But, what does that mean and, more importantly, how do you do it? Ballito couple Paul and Sarah Swainson share some advice.
Considered somewhat of a North Coast ‘power couple’, Sarah and Paul (who have been married for eight years) are both highly ambitious and goal-oriented. They are successful in their respective businesses, avid runners and doting parents to their ‘fur-children’.
Paul, who currently works in outsourcing, has over 20 years’ retail experience managing an estate of up to 700 stores and 5000 people both in the UK and South Africa. Sarah is the owner of SA’s largest online lingerie retailer, Sarah Elizabeth, as well as an online pet retail store called Pawfect.
Now the couple have combined their years of expertise and experience and created a ‘one-stop-shop’ called Uploaded4U to help SA businesses, specifically in the SME segment, navigate their way through the digital realm.
Although Uploaded4U had been in the pipeline for a while, Sarah says the Covid-19 pandemic forced many businesses to go the digital route and there was a sudden need for this type of service.
“It is more than just ‘taking a business online’,” says Sarah. “It is about walking the journey with business owners. We pride ourselves on not ‘speaking geek’ but rather speaking business and applying sense to any problem.”
Sarah says taking your business online can be intimidating and confusing for many people. Where do you start and who can you trust to give you the right advice? “I speak from experience. When I started Sarah Elizabeth I didn’t know anything about running an online business. I sat comparing quotes from developers and designers, not being able to decipher the online jargon or understand the complexities. It was so confusing and overwhelming. Ultimately, I learnt through much trial and many errors.”
Paul says he is proud to have been on a journey with his wife in the online world over the last five years. “We’ve built successful online businesses and harnessed the power of an awesome team. We have also had the privilege of helping a number of businesses to take this step through sharing our experiences and lessons learnt.”
The most important thing, he says, is that they both understand return on investment and the ‘bottom line’. “This is a scary time for many small business owners and we can help them through the minefield of terminology and figuring out what’s needed and what’s not.”
Paul says there is no perfect time to take your business online. Regardless of whether you are a service or product-based business, having an online presence is crucial. “Now more than ever you need to be engaging and communicating with your existing customers and new customers to ultimately grow your business.”
PAUL AND SARAH’S TOP ‘GOING ONLINE’ TIPS:
1. Go online as quickly as you can. Go, go, go!
I always thought that our first website needed to be perfect and envisioned that as soon as we went live, we would be swamped with web traffic. The reality for a small business owner, however, is that you turn your website on, and nothing happens. You then need to work hard to drive traffic to your website. Our advice is to make sure you have the basics in place, but go live as quickly as you can. It’s called imperfect action. The online world is always changing, and your website will too. The great thing about online is the ability to adapt and change. It is not like a physical store where the cost of changing a store front is massive.
2. Consider functionality vs budget.
Realise that very elaborate functionality costs money. Keep things simple. Start small, get to market and then upgrade as you go along. In the beginning try and imagine how your customer would navigate your website. Look at it objectively and make sure it’s easy for them to find what they are looking for. You know your business, your customer doesn’t. Keep it really simple and easy to navigate.
3. Shop online but deal with real people
Make sure your customer knows that there are humans on the other side of the transaction. Make it clear that if they have a problem or question there will be someone to help them. Clearly outline the ways that people can get in touch with you.
4. Clearly think through your Delivery, Returns and Exchanges policies
We have made some enormous, costly mistakes in the past. Know your costings! I cannot stress this enough. If you offer free delivery, then make sure you have costed this in across your products. This is one of the quickest ways to lose money. There are formulas that can help you think through this process.