South Africa is a country brimming with opportunity even if many citizens don't see it. We like to think the grass is greener on the other side and compare ourselves to various first world countries and markets and focus on where we fall short as a nation. The media also keeps us pretty well informed about we're doing wrong and truth be told it can be disheartening at times.
We have been through tough times as a nation and South African's a people who are tough as nails as well and known for their ingenuity. No region in the world has the history we have, the diverse cultures we have and the landscape that we have and for these and many other reasons applying generic business models to this market isn't always a great fit.
After completing my studies, I was lucky enough to start my career in the digital space and learned from some amazing mentors during that time. Digital was always going to be the future, and I was excited to be part of championing this new frontier in South Africa. During the growth phase of digital and the proliferation of mobile devices, South Africa made a fundamental step by skipping the real adoption of desktop and scaling up internet access as a mobile-first country.
South Africa had reasonable large internet penetration of over 54% in 2017, and it's predicted to be as high as 70% in 2020 thanks to the adoption of mobile devices, which goes South Africans are embracing online. However small businesses have been slow to react.
Myth: Digital isn't for the disadvantaged
Growing up in the new South Africa and coming from the so-called "previously disadvantaged" background I've had first-hand experience in what these informal markets look like, how they perform and how much trade volume goes on in this sector. This informal economy or as my dad likes to refer to it as "Kasinomics" needs to be encouraged, as it is supported, it can then become formalised and with it bring new opportunities to all areas of South Africa, not just the CBD's in major cities.
As we've moved into a democratic society one of the most significant issues plaguing the country has been economic transformation and economic freedom for all South Africans.
BEE and affirmative action have been put in place to disrupt the so-called "white monopoly capital" and encourage the adoption of black businesses in the private and public sector. While the system has merit and we can see progress, it still does not do enough in providing opportunities to South African's and is still exclusionary in nature.
If South Africa is to improve as a nation and build a sustainable economy, it has to be done on the back of SME (Small and Medium Enterprises) growth. There are of course programs to help fund and support SME's but what these programs lack is the ability to bring feet through the door. Funding doesn't sustain SME's customers do. South African customers are online; they may not feel comfortable purchasing online, but they do their research and are looking for local goods and services.
The unfortunate fact is that, and SME's in South Africa are having a tough time getting online, they either have no online presence, or they do, but it is not optimised to achieve maximum visibility. Having a strong digital presence, unfortunately, costs money, time or a high level of expertise and most times all three of these are out of an SME's reach.
So if the game is rigged and SME's have to pay to play, that increases the barrier to entry and why local SME's are being marginalised online. This is one of the main motivations behind why we built the nichemarket platform.
Equal access to all
Realising the current plight of the South African SME, we decided to create a platform that attempts to level the playing field by allowing businesses to create a free online presence that focuses on the local market. By adding your business to the nichemarket platform you automatically get access to our user base and let them know that you are here and open for business.
Our platform allows users to browse or search for goods and service providers based on their exact location which means customers are given the most relevant results based on their immediate location. This helps connect local businesses to local customers faster than ever before and helps consumers find a range of options they probably had no idea even existed in their immediate area. Which improves a consumer's chance of using a local vendor eliminates the need for consumers to travel outside their immediate area or use large franchises with more advertising spend or a stronger digital presence.
Making digital easily digestible
The budding entrepreneur who has a valuable skill that can be monetised can't always utilise the internet and social media to gain new leads and with it naturally does his business a disservice. Investing time and money in building an online presence in today's age is crucial if you aim to succeed, but in South Africa, the majority of businesses both formal and informal have little to no online presence.
Creating a strong online presence requires plenty of effort and expertise and has become a trillion dollar industry which as I've mentioned earlier marginalised the little guy. By allowing a business owner to get their business online for free helps them leapfrog that first barrier to entry and as they grow they too can grow their online presence with additional mediums to attract users.
As for South African consumers, they are a no-nonsense type of searcher, they want information quickly and efficiently, it must be easily understood and not cost a lot of data. Which is why we've designed nichemarket business profile to provide any consumer with all the information they need about a business before making contact with them in a quick and easy manner that works on both desktop and mobile devices.
In both cases, our platform aims to simplify the process of marketing online and searching for services online so we can help connect local customers to local businesses as fast as possible.
Encouraging micro economies
By providing a community platform for users to interact with their local vendors, we aim to foster a culture of supporting local, because "local is lekker". As we continue to add new businesses, we will be able to help various regions of South Africa build micro-economies where consumers and service providers are free to interact and trade with one another and move money into hands of local entrepreneurs.
As a result, these micro-economies will then be able to develop a natural equilibrium for which goods and services are needed and the level at which it is needed, allowing entrepreneurs to improve their business based on the support they receive from their local community.
Helping SMEs succeeded in South Africa
nichemarket wants to be the go-to marketing tool for SME's to get online faster and use our service as their jumping off point in digital. As we continue to encourage adoption of our services by small businesses we provide more options for consumers and in turn, the effect will continue to snowball. Once we can provide consumers or as we like to call them nicheskeers with more options when it comes to buying local and supporting small business we will be able to see the money that would have otherwise gone to franchises and chains stores move into the hands of independent service providers and SME's.
Instead of centralising wealth through the perceived limited options we have available we aim to provide South Africans with the ability to choose from more service providers that may have been in or marginalised by the current South African digital landscape.
Can digital disrupt the South African status quo
Do you think South Africa is ready to embrace digital? Can it help bridge the economic divide we currently have in this country? Should we look at natural economic transformation instead of radical economic transformation? Let us know in the comments; we would love to hear you add to the debate.