Welcome to Jack’s world. Jack is a photographer based in Dar-es-Salaam who recently set up a sole proprietorship.
His dream is to grow into a visual interior design firm that furnishes affluent homes, office spaces, and restaurants with compelling imagery for their otherwise boring walls.
Every one of Jack’s hours is valuable to achieving his ambition.
Jack is not alone. East Africa is burgeoning with small businesses that are formalizing. With this formalization – setting up a company, relentless selling, and paying taxes – comes a heavy investment in time and a meticulous focus on prioritizing what matters most on any given day.
A popular misconception is that it’s easier today for small businesses to grow due to the plethora of digital marketing tools available.
From automatic logo generators and photo editors to website builders and social media schedulers, business owners are able to get things done faster. But this comes with a new definition of cost in terms of time and knowledge. This cost is challenging the Do It Yourself (DIY) culture against the resurgence of Do It For You (DIFY or D4U) acumen.
Jack has been able to generate initial business because of his strong presence in social media. As his business grew, he signed up for a basic accounting tool in the cloud. With this tool, he is able to create estimates, invoices and receipts for his client on go from his mobile phone. But as he meets more international clients, he has been asked about his website, which he has not set up yet because the options seem too expensive or demand too much of his time.
After soliciting a few quotes from web designers (D4U), Jack found that it cost approximately $500 to get a professional website going for one year. And when he did the research on website builders (DIY), he found that his first year investment would need to be $60 in addition to the time he would spend putting the site together. He figured it would take roughly 10 hours to do a good job himself, which would see him lose about $1,000 in revenue from working at a shoot. It would seem in this case that Jack’s better option is to hire a web designer to get the job done.
Jack’s example is, again, not new. As much as DIY tools in digital marketing empower business owners to learn new skills, they also come at a cost of valuable time otherwise spent earning.
Good marketing is never automatic. Great campaigns come with thorough research, tireless creativity, and extreme focus on detail. These skills are not mitigated by digital marketing tools, especially not by tools that make you do the work. In fact, you would need to be really good at these skills to manage a DIY tool in order to create something that works for your customers.
A key variable that will help business owners like Jack decide whether they want to do things themselves, or have the experts do it, is on the level of learning they are willing to engage in.
Whichever way he chooses, Jack can produce a site today but be at odds with its relevance next year. The methods of marketing are likely to continue changing; from social media to augmented reality. What will always remain the same in marketing is relevance; we simply have a shorter attention span when it comes to stuff that’s not relevant to our individual lives.
This demands care for audience research – not just along one industry but several complementary industries – that not all business owners can afford because they have outweighed responsibility within their own sectors.
Doing things yourself has benefits, but so does having those things done for you. At the right price, digital marketing service providers can take care of important pipeline elements for business owners. What will matter is how much time and learning they demand of their clients.
Al-Amin Kheraj owns and operates Lateral Labs in Tanzania, the company behind a fully-managed subscription website service for small and growing businesses (w.co.tz).