20 January 2012
Internet giant Google has teamed up with the Department of Industry and other partners to launch Woza Online, an initiative that aims to transform tens of thousands of South African small and medium enterprises (SMEs) by giving them an online presence.
The announcement, made at the Innovation Hub in Tshwane this week, was followed by demonstrations during which small business owners – ranging from a Johannesburg cake business to a Soweto bird-watching company – created their own websites from scratch.
Other partners to the initiative include the Human Resources Development Council (HDRC), Vodacom and Lead SA, a Primedia Broadcasting and Independent Group initiative that aims to mobilise change among South Africans for the benefit of the country.
Businesses participating in the initiative will get a free, easy-to-build professional website; a matching mobile site; a free sub-domain name and hosting; an automatic listing on Google Places, which shows on Google Maps; access to training material and workshops; and free online support via Google Chat and e-mail.
The first 10 000 applicants will also get top-level .co.za domain name for free for one year.
Link between online presence and profitability
According to the interim results of the latest SME survey conducted by World Wide Worx in January 2012, there is a strong link between being online and being competitive, profitable and sustainable. 79% of SMEs with a website reported profitability, whereas only 59% of SMEs without a website reported the same.
“The more small businesses are online, the more customers they will be able to reach,” said Deputy Trade and Industry Minister Elizabeth Thabethe at the launch. “We often hear entrepreneurs or business owners describing the challenges of building an online presence.
“With Woza Online removing those obstacles, SMEs are empowered to take that first bold step towards getting online.”
Website as important as telephone
The HRDC is a platform where social partners can jointly seek solutions to identified blockages and the provision of websites to entrepreneurs will provide them with a head start by making it quick and easy for them to have an online presence.
“Today having a website is as important as having a telephone, yet over a third of SMEs are not online, and businesses with a website are four times more profitable than those without one,” said Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande. “Many businesses think that having a website is expensive or complicated.
“The HRDC has partnered with Google to provide entrepreneurs with free websites.”
Vodacom MD Sipho Maseko added that being connected was essential to business growth, and possibly the most cost-effective means of marketing for most SMEs. “This is a step towards economic freedom and growth for many who previously were denied due to cost, technology know-how and access,” he said.
Joining the digital revolution
World Wide Worx MD Arthur Goldstuck said Woza Online presented a “fantastic opportunity” for SMEs across the country to join in the digital revolution, at no expense.
He said that research showed that company websites, as well as the use of cloud computing, were closely correlated with being highly competitive and strongly visible. It also showed that many SMEs only survived though conditions thanks to their online presence.
“We believe that the power of the internet will help small businesses in South Africa to grow, and will help entrepreneurs thrive, by bringing more local information online and making it accessible, said Google South Africa country manager Luke Mckend.
“The Woza Online process is simple and business owners can be online in less than an hour – whether you sell transport services, cakes, crafts or electronics, locally or internationally.”
Google has launched similar initiatives in 23 other countries around the world, from the UK, Canada, and Australia to Brazil, Indonesia, France, and Poland, bringing 400 000 businesses online over two years.
In Africa, the programme was launched in Kenya and Nigeria last year, with these countries seeing over 20 000 businesses going online within the first two months.
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