IN a bid to enhance the online presence of small businesses, Mohan Beckford, chief visionary officer of Next Step Digital Solutions, is urging entrepreneurs across the Caribbean to establish professional websites. The call comes amid the growing trend among medium, small and micro enterprises (MSMEs) to heavily rely on Instagram for customer engagement and sales.
"Social media is called social media for a reason - you need to socialise. But businesses use it to conduct their stuff and you realise there is a lot of selling. What you want to do is use that account to socialise and communicate with your audience and potential audience and then bring them back to a place where all the businesses are organised," Beckford expressed in an interview with the Jamaica Observer.
He emphasises the significance of moving beyond social media platforms like Instagram, urging businesses to create a centralised online space. In previous years, setting up a website was often viewed as an expense by small businesses. However, Beckford pointed to the COVID-19 pandemic as the shift that has prompted more brick-and-mortar businesses to express a desire to digitise and establish an online presence. However, he says there's a disconnect in understanding what it takes to develop a website.
"In North America, having a website is seen as an investment. So once you're starting a business a website is a must, because if you travel, the only thing you need to do is say, 'Where can I find the closest whatever near me?' So if you're not there, you're not going to be part of the option," Beckford explained to the Caribbean Business Report.
According to Beckford, Next Step Digital Solutions aims to cultivate a mindset throughout the Caribbean that small businesses can no longer rely solely on social media as a means to an end.
"It is used as an avenue towards your website. If you can envision it, the website would be the nucleus and all those social media accounts are driving traffic to your website because your information and product offerings on your website are better organised," he said.
One challenge highlighted by Beckford is the lack of effective advertisement creation across the internet in the Caribbean. He advocates for leveraging Google Ads, using Amazon as an example of targeted product advertisements across various platforms. But with that comes the introduction of the concept of smart websites. While he is in support of it, Beckford cautioned that it will need to be carefully phased in.
"A smart website would know you by your IP address, and if you go on the website and primarily the page that you go on is the web design page, even if you re-enter that page a week later or so, it automatically routes you to the web design page because it knows that's where you spend most of your time," he explained.
Beckford suggests that MSMEs can benefit significantly from such websites, helping customers focus on their desired services. He recommends creating a "landing page" for websites, emphasising the importance of a focused customer experience.
"A landing page is a page that doesn't have a navigation bar. It takes you to that page and you focus there. So a smart website without a dedicated landing page will help you achieve that because you don't want your customers to be moving around unnecessarily; you want them to be focused," said Beckford.