Getting online on shoestrings
There is no better time to get your business online than now. Nigeria is rapidly embracing the internet for business and if you have read the previous article on why you need get your business online, you would have known about the multitude of inherent benefits. Despite the opportunities, it still makes sense to proceed with measured steps. Nothing sours up an internet initiative faster than spending so much and getting little in return.
There are two major reasons to launch a business website on shoes strings. One, it makes sense to experiment with a little as possible and if things go fine, it should not be a problem to devote a larger budget for a website that does a lot more. Two, if you are running a small business there might not be enough to shell out to an IT company to string out a website. Either way, your business could go online without asking for a bank loan.
Someone asked me the other day about the difference between getting online and having a business website. It could be confusing but I will explain: Going online is more than having a website. You have to register your domain name, have an email system and probably have a website. Having a website is part of going online.
Good results come after good plans and going online is no exception.
Deciding on what domain name could be a blood pressure inducing exercise especially when your business name is slightly generic. Most often than not, the solution would be to add qualifiers to get a passable name. For example if your business is Viva Consulting Limited, obviously viva.com, vivaconsult.com, vivaconsulting.com have all been taken but vivaconsultingnigeria.com and viva.com.ng are still available.
The business must decide on the budget. Even though a shoestring is a low budget affair you still need to estimate the maximum to be spent on this experiment because the budget would have limiting effect on how elaborate the online adventure could be. However we would assume the lowest possible budget of N1,600. As low as it seems, a business could go online with full complements of email and hosting on an amount that small.
Lastly a decision would be made on what content to put online and how much interactions customers are expected to have via the website. A business could go online starting with emails alone and no content or it could go online with acres of product and service information. The best option is usually somewhere in-between.
Let us assume some facts to make going ahead easy. One the user doing this is savvy enough with a browser to use the internet and two, there is an internet connection. Furthermore, the following steps cannot be done on a mobile phone but on a proper PC or laptop (or tablet).
The first task is to decide on the domain name. Naming a domain after its business name is important, for the simple reason that when people think of your website, they will think of it by your business name and if it is your business name is also your domain name, they’ll inevitably know where to go. You can use any domain registration service, such as mydomain.com, to check the availability of the desired domain name but it is most likely that the coveted domain has been taken. Using variation of the business name, a passable name could be secured. However great domain names are still available under the Nigeria’s Top Level Domain (TLD) and one could easily register one on sites such as web4africa.net.
Once a suitable domain name has been decided on, the next thing is to buy the domain name. The choice of the domain name TLD would determine how we proceed from here. If you are able to get a good domain name on the .com TLD then head over to Google Apps for Business website and select the Google Apps (free) edition.
The Google Apps for Business is a full suite of enterprise grade online applications that are designed as an integrated package for any business. It offers most Google services integrated into a coherent platform. The Google Apps (free) edition is free but with a limitation of just 10 users. This is suitable and perfect for a small business with small budget.
The Google Apps allows you to buy a domain name for just $10 a year which translates to about N1,600 when you use your Nigerian Visa or MasterCard. The advantage of using Google Apps to pay for your domain name is that all the technical settings required are automatically preconfigured.
If your business name would be flying the Nigerian .com.ng TLD then the process would be a bit longer, slightly complicated and marginally more expensive. The first step would be to register with a Nigerian registrar and the process is now as easy as registering any domain name on the internet. For example, you can register domain names with any type of Nigerian TLD on web4africa.net for about N2,400 a year. The registration is done 100% online using a standard ATM debit card issued by Nigerian banks. However some TLDs such as .edu.ng, .gov.ng, .sch.ng, etc. require documentary processes.
Once your domain is bought you will need to create a Google Apps (free) account and configure your domain to work with it. The process is a bit complicated and could take up to 24 hours to get it to work properly. However this is not a function of the shoestrings but the method of setup.
If your business wants to have more than 10 users then the free Google Apps is not for you. The paid for editions are very expensive and does not in any way look like shoe strings. For example, it cost $50/N8,000 per user for the yearly plan which is even 5 times the cost of the domain name.
The alternative is to buy a no-frill basic hosting service. There are thousands of these on the internet that offer unlimited emails, unlimited hosting space and unlimited bandwidth for as low as $30/N4,800 a year. A note of caution though – what you pay for is what you get. You can start with them for your website but when your business is matured enough for serious online endeavors you will have to migrate to something reliable but more expensive. By then your business would have had the experience and justifications for such move.
Once your domain is registered and other settings configured. The next step is to create the content for your website. Putting content together could be hard but it is a rewarding experience, especially when your website starts to get hits and referrals on the internet. Content from brochures and proposals for customers can be reused and spruced up. Google does not support upload of web pages but has great tools to create and publish web pages. It is not as flexible as having your own hosting system but then it is free and does not cost anything to try out. Running your own hosting provides greater control but is also more complex. If you are up to it, you could use loads of available tutorials or get someone to do it for you.
Your email provider (Google or no-frills option) should also provide settings for configuring your email with your Blackberry service (if you use one) which allows dealing with business issues while on the move.
If properly done, going online will provide more upsides for your business than you can imagine. Starting small is also good. It allows you to evaluate what works and what does not. And as you get more comfortable you can start adding features that would make your business stand out.