Hundreds of small business owners and entrepreneurs descended upon the Sydney Exhibition Centre for Koshies Business Builders Boot Camp. They went to learn, network, and be inspired by speakers, the elite in their respective fields. One of the panels that caught techAU’s eye was “Get online and social media savvy”, moderated by Gadget Guys Pete Blisina, where burgeoning entrepreneur Kogan Ruslan gave counsel about online presence.
Advantages of being online
“What I will talk about is the community aspect of online. One of the greatest advantages that businesses have, when they get online, is the ability to create a community,” Kogan said. “And that means when someone walks into the store, they buy something and walk out, that store has no way of contacting that person again.”
“As an online business you’ve got that persons contact details. You can engage them with blogs on your website, and you can build your online community, which has constant value. And you can keep sending them special offers and all different sort of things that might want to engage that consumer. That I see is one of the main advantages of online.”
He pointed out that a lot of businesses are stunted in the social media space, a lot of businesses setup a Twitter and Facebook account but don’t try to understand or engage their customers through their social media presence.
“Having a Facebook page for your business isn’t all about pumping out special offers,” he said.
“Its all about getting to understand your customers. What do they feel? What do they want? What do they fear? And based off this you can keep optimising your business better and better and better. This is communication channel which never use to exist,” he drilled. “It used to be very hard to understand your customers, and now its easier than ever. That’s what people wanting to look into break into the online space see as a huge advantage to their business, and understand their customers and build a better product offering.”
Protect your IP
“That said, its also important to be clever about that and protect your IP.”
Kogan reminisced about an imitator company who went on to his company’s Facebook page and messaged all of its fans with their own special offer.
“You just gotta be very clever of what information you want to put into the public sphere and do you want your customer base available to anyone else,” Kogan advised.
“The Internet is very competitive, its all about innovation and what we said before, its a level playing field. So its very easy to find who are your competitors and the different prices, and stuff like that,” he said. “So its very important to be innovative, to not just follow trends but create trends. What can I do better to create a better experience for my customers?”
Communication with customers
Kogan said that email shouldn’t’ be the only facet of communication with customers, other channels should be implemented, and cultivated. Keeping the conversation going and engagement with customers is pinnacle to learning more about them, to ultimately cater better to them.
“With us, there is that, there is the blog, there’s twitter, there’s Facebook. And the important thing is that’s its conversation, its not one way – its two way. You got to keep the conversation going and make sure the message about what you are doing, what you are working on what you are developing is added to that.”
“Its not “here is a product we have created” – full stop. ‘What do you guys think? Is there any other feature you want in it? Are there any features you want us to take out?’ Respond to customers as well, its not just an empty conversation,” Kogan admonished. “Respond to all the comments, engage with the customer. Its a very valuable insight to any business because it is great market insight it to to give your customers exactly what they want.”
The future of the Internet
Ruslan spoke that the advantage of the Internet is its low barrier of entry. People can shop from home and prices are better because online businesses don’t have the same kind of overheads of bricks and mortar business. He expanded on what he saw as what the future of online business to be, and used boutiques.com and hunch.com as examples.
Boutiques.com, recently acquired by Google, is a fashion shopping website. To build a customers profile, it displays two outfits for the consumer to choose from, and repeats the cycle several times over with different outfits, the website then displays items based on the results.
“Essentially these are sites that start to improve when they learn who you are. For instance on hunch.com, you can go on there and answer a few questions, random questions… and then based on that they can profile you against the database.”
He said that the same technology can be applied to retail and online.
“When you walk through a bricks and mortor store they have a fixed layout. With knowing more about your customers, you can customise what your Internet store looks like based on that individual consumer. Are they budget focused? Or do they like premium stuff? What do I promote to them? Would they like a pink theme on my website or a blue theme? The more you know about a customer the better.”
“That is the future of the Internet and customising for that individual person.”
Creating your website
Kogan gave a few tips about websites and stressed that there isn’t a formula that makes a great website its “got to be specific for your exact needs and your customers”.
“Only you know if your website is good. Whatever specific purpose it serves that’s the purpose it is there for. Every website is different. there is no formula for here is a great website. You have to look at the stats in the background. What are you trying to achieve? Are you trying to convert sales? Are you trying to encourage people to enter into a conversation?”
“One way to find out what your perfect website is, is to try out one variation versus another variation. Once people have interacted with each one, you can move forward with the next changes,” Kogan finished.
At the conclusion of the panel Pete Blasina summed up the major points gleamed from the speakers.
- It is important of small business to be careful of tokenism. If suddenly everyone in your contact group is talking about going on to Facebook with their small business, do you really need to do it?
- You really need to think about the customer and the communication. Internet provides access to a community and having a conversation with that community is critical.
- A website isn’t ever finished. You should always consider it a work in progress. ‘I’ve done it and they’ll come’ and often that isn’t the case. Its important to continue that conversation with the customer.
- Know your customer. It was really important to understand who you are talking to, and keeping in touch with them is key to doing that. And not shouting [your product at potential customers].
- Your online brand is extremely important and you have to protect it.