Firm helps SMEs create a digital presence, earning them more clients

Africa 118

From left, Africa 118 Managing Director, Ezana with colleagues Moses Luvonga, Christine Owino, Lizah Kinyua, Esther Ogara, and John Nderitu, at their office in Westlands, Nairobi.

Photo credit: Albert Mwazighe | Nation Media Group

Years ago, while alternating his time between Canada and Kenya, Ezana Raswork would often become frustrated by how difficult it was to find essential services that a frequent traveler like him required.

Due to the nature of his work, Ezana needed timely services such as dining, laundry and cleaning, and would search online for providers of these services, however most of the businesses that offered what he was looking for did not have an online presence, and those that did were either located in far off places that were not convenient, or were big companies that targeted niche customers.

“It was difficult to find local services, and for a lot of these businesses, I imagined that it must also have been a challenge for them to get new customers as well,” noted Ezana, during an interview with Powering SMEs.

And so, in the year 2010, he decided to launch Africa 118, a digital marketing agency seeking to create an online presence specifically for small and medium-sized enterprises. He began by investing part of his savings into setting up an office in Nairobi and recruiting a team of IT experts, as well as marketers to reach out to these businesses.

Small business

“With the advent of digital, we realised it does not take much for these businesses to be on the internet. I can be a small business, but as long as I am online and have a presence, and I’m doing a bit of marketing, I can get new clients and is even able to compete with larger companies,” notes Ezana.

His market entry strategy would be to target small businesses that may find it difficult to afford an internal marketing team and offer them a way of reaching clients digitally, at a low cost.

Ezana Raswork

Africa 118 Managing Director Ezana Raswork.

Photo credit: Albert Mwazighe | Nation Media Group

He worked on building strategic partnerships with like-minded organisations to offset some of the costs incurred in trying to reach out to the SMEs as well as train them on the importance of digital.

“Unlike larger firms, SMEs often do not have the big budgets or resources to put up marketing campaigns, but the good thing about digital is that you do not need big budgets, as long as the person who is doing your digital campaigns is savvy,” he notes.

Essentially, the firm would offer three digital products. The first one, a digital presence pack, would give clients a basic online presence. This would work well for companies that did not have complex structures.

The second one, a digital starter pack, would include a multi-page website, an e-commerce, or a mobile payment system, depending on the kind of business in question.

“If I am a tour operator, for instance, answering the question whether I should just be on Facebook, or whether I need an e-commerce website where people can do bookings would enable me to know what I need,” he notes. For businesses such as training institutes looking to recruit new students, say in the upcoming school year, they would offer a third product known as a booster pack, used to drive more traffic to a given site.

With these products, Ezana was optimistic that his business would quickly pick up. This was, however, not to be the case. In the beginning, he says it was quite difficult to create awareness about their work.

“Often, a lot of SMEs are not digital savvy, so running campaigns for someone that is not digital means there are still a lot of things that have to be offline, and we had to do a lot to educate them.”

Hospitality sector

He says he also had to invest in a field marketing team to spread the word. Based on the feedback that he would get, he noticed that uptake of the products mostly depended on the industry that the SME was operating in.

“For example, for those in the hospitality sector, those ones typically will know that if there is someone coming from Germany looking for a place to stay, then it is a good idea for them to be online, so in the hospitality sector there is a high level of awareness, while others such as retailers are still slow to adapt in terms of their readiness,” says Ezana.

Fast forward to the year 2022, the businessman observes that they have come a long way, having developed a presence in six countries, with Kenya being their largest market due to the digital penetration in the country.

As a measure of their success, they look at their renewal rate, that is, when a client comes onboard, do they stay, or do they leave. He, however, notes that staying is not enough, they have to proactively stay in contact with the SMEs, because at times they are so busy going about their business, that they forget some people have reached out to them online asking for their services.

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