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Online tools for small businesses

Content provided by MWEB - South Africa’s leading Internet Service Provider (ISP)

Online.jpgThe Internet has evolved to become more than just a tool for surfing and e-mail - it's now essential for the day-to-day running and growth of any business. Besides enabling business owners to communicate with staff, clients and suppliers faster than ever before, small businesses are using the World Wide Web to improve productivity, efficiency and ultimately, profitability. 

According to Nathier Kasu, MWEB's Head of Products, many small business owners are intimidated by the World Wide Web. "Anything new and unknown can be daunting," he says. "But once you've established your business online by registering your company's domain for a website and business mail, then harnessing the Internet's latest resources could be the answer to establishing your company as a forerunner in the small businesses sector."

With more than eleven years experience as South Africa's leading Internet Service Provider, MWEB aims to guide small and medium enterprises (SME) and small-office-home-office (SOHO) business owners through the online world with this guide to some of its features and how they can be used to achieve professional success.

E-Commerce

Electronic commerce refers to the buying and selling of products or services over the Internet and involves the exchange of data to facilitate a business transaction. While some e-commerce entails transactions around the sale of data, most of it comprises the sale of physical items. By expanding your business' online presence to include electronic commerce capabilities, you can increase your reach and therefore your potential client base.

E-commerce also extends your business' operating hours to 24 hours a day, and your potential market is worldwide.  MWEB's SafeShop solution offers businesses a full range of e-commerce capabilities, from conducting secure transactions and fulfilling orders, to keeping track of sales - all via an easy-to-use web interface.

 Professional networking tools

Online networking services such as LinkedIn, Plaxo and Xing allow registered professionals to build up a network of business contacts and in doing so, form new business relationships. Used by people looking for jobs, suppliers, staff and business opportunities, these services offer personal profiles, groups, discussion forums, event coordination and other social community features.

Aimed at growing trust amongst their members, the services are based on the concept of ‘gated-access' - in order to invite another professional to your network, you need to already have a relationship with one of their contacts.

LinkedIn boasts more than 24 million users, spanning 150 industries, and Xing operates in several languages and is used by people from over 190 countries. Plaxo currently hosts the address books of 40 million people and allows users to update their contacts using most of the social networking facilities available on the Internet (such as Twitter).

Collaborative Messaging

Thanks to software such as Microsoft Exchange Server, companies can harness the full functionality found in Microsoft Outlook, which includes shared calendaring and public folders, basic workflow through task management, advanced e-mail functions, anti-virus and spam control.

Small businesses that don't want the overhead costs of a physical server can make use of MWEB's Hosted Exchange offering, which delivers all the features and benefits of Microsoft Exchange 2007 at a low monthly subscription.

Exchange is the powerful platform that transforms the familiar Microsoft Outlook from a simple e-mail tool to a company wide collaboration solution from any location through a computer or mobile phone.

Blogs

Blogs function to provide commentary or news on a particular subject or as personal online diaries. Content can include regular entries of text, graphics, photos or video. For companies, blogs can be used internally to enhance communication and culture, or externally for marketing, branding or public relations.

The ability for readers to leave comments is a vital customer feedback tool. Blogs have been added to company websites to allow readers to interact with the business at a new level. If regularly updated, blogs also encourage readers to return to your website over and over again.  Popular blogging software includes Wordpress (available for free from wordpress.org) or you can set one up for free, in minutes, on blogspot.com or blogs.24.com.

Wikis

A wiki is a page or collection of Web pages designed to give multiple people access to certain information and enable them to contribute or modify the content thereof. The benefit for SMEs is that multiple users can access a company's information at any time - even when away from the office - which enhances productivity and efficiency.

RSS Feeds

This is a tool to aggregate updates (or "feeds") - news headlines, blog entries, audio and video - into one place, usually your inbox or a "feed reader". They can be used for research by following issues or trends in your industry.

For more information on online tools for your business, visit MWEB's website or call 08600 32000.

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