Business growth opportunities through iLembe business directory

Local residents and businesses will soon have access to up-to-date and verified information on businesses within the district through the iLembe business directory. The directory is set to promote local business growth, contribute to networking opportunities and promote the district tourist offerings write Shannon Moffett, Key Expert for Vuthela’s Private Sector Development (PSD) and Building Inclusive Growth (BIG) Components, and Pradeep Lutchman, Director of Geo Afrika Technologies.

 

iLembe businesses have had to deal with multiple crises over the last few years, from floods to the pandemic and social unrest. In each one, iLembe municipalities wanted to reach out to these businesses to assess impacts and offer relief. The challenge was that none of these municipalities keep comprehensive business databases. Most, including the district’s development agency, Enterprise iLembe, do have SMME and in some cases, cooperative databases. These databases are however skewed towards micro and more informal businesses.

The iLembe Chamber of Commerce, Tourism and Industry has an extensive database of members and non-members that they successfully survey twice a year to gauge local business confidence. Invaluable information was found when survey questions about the impact of Covid-19 on businesses were asked through the business confidence survey.

In addition to there being limited current government-to-business communication avenues, the lack of a district business directory limits the opportunities for local business-to-business and business-to-consumer connections. Opportunities that can be found through creating a platform for business and consumer-to-business linkages are lost through such a directory not being in place. As an example, iLembe, one of the key tourist destinations in South Africa, does not have a directory for tourism accommodation, and an email requesting this list needs to be sent to Enterprise iLembe. A competitive advantage is potentially lost by information not being readily available to potential tourists.

To address this, the Vuthela Programme in support of Enterprise iLembe and the iLembe family of municipalities, approved a new project to build a verified business directory housed on the Enterprise iLembe website. GeoAfrika, a Durban based company, has been appointed to develop this directory which is expected to go ‘live’ in March 2023. This database will focus on formal companies in the first phase and will have a verification process to ensure that the businesses being advertised are credible. The directory will have information about the company, their contact details, and importantly, their location to enable residents and tourists to search for businesses within a specific area.

The development of a district business directory is expected to have the following benefits:

  • Enhance the ability of residents and visitors to find verified local businesses, thus potentially decreasing costs and building local economies.
  • Assist local businesses with marketing their products and services at no cost, thus assisting in business growth.
  • Enable municipalities to make use of the latest information and communication technology to enhance the delivery of government information to local businesses.
  • Assist in business-to-business networking through information sharing.

 

The business directory is being designed to be easily accessible from mobile devices, tablets and computers, making it convenient for potential customers to discover and connect with local businesses. Registering on the platform will be simple, requiring only minimal information to get started. Business owners will also be able to define their exact location on the platform via Google Maps and to upload photographs.

With 24-hour access to their profiles, business owners will be able to update and tweak their listing to keep it up-to-date and ensure it reflects their latest offerings. They will also be able to use the business directory to gain valuable insight into their target audience through detailed analytics such as the total and monthly views of their listing.

The platform will integrate with popular social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, providing an opportunity for businesses to expand their online presence and reach a larger audience. The listings will be search engine optimised to increase visibility in search results and attract more potential customers.

In addition to the searchable directory, the municipalities in iLembe will be provided with a database of the businesses within their municipality to enable them to have government-to-business communication. Great care will be taken when building this directory and the subsequent sharing of information to ensure that the requirements of the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI Act) are adhered to. The service provider has a legal expert on board to advise on whether existing databases can be used to build the directory and whether Enterprise iLembe will be permitted to share the directory with municipalities after the necessary approvals are obtained.

Critical to the success of a directory like this is the updating and maintenance thereof. The project has been designed so that it is user-friendly and can be managed by an administrator with limited ICT skills. The administrator will be based at Enterprise iLembe and will be involved with the project from its inception and be provided with the necessary tools and a user manual on how to maintain and update the database.

To register on the business directory, users will need to set up a profile which will be available through a link from the Enterprise iLembe website https://www.enterpriseilembe.co.za. They will then be able to enter information on their business which will be verified and displayed on the live business directory.

The development of the iLembe business directory will be a major step forward for iLembe and its local businesses and will present a great opportunity for businesses to grow and expand their customer base. With advanced features, such as detailed analytics, search engine optimisation, and integration with popular social networks, businesses will be able to leverage the business directory to expand their online presence and reach a larger audience. An awareness campaign will be undertaken prior to the launch of the business directory in March 2023 and business owners are urged to keep an eye out for this and to take advantage of this great initiative.