I recently had the honor to interview a global citizen and small business expert, with experience in both Amercian and African markets, Danielle Ciribassi, Relationship Manager & Small Business Consultant. For more than 10 years, Danielle has been a catalyst for culturally-aware, results-driven strategy for African development, with a focus on business. She improved micro finance initiatives in Senegal, led proposal strategy to incentivize sustainable agricultural markets in Rwanda, encouraged investment in Nigeria, the DRC, and Senegal. In Washington, D.C. she managed economic development projects in Africa, and founded the U.S.-Africa Chamber of Commerce which focused on promoting small business and providing resources.
Measurence: What’s your involvement with small businesses? What drove you to this path? In Africa?
Danielle: “My parents and family are all small business owners, (veterinarians), and were very active with the small business community in our city. Sometimes my sister and I would go with them to chamber of commerce and Rotary events. We were exposed, therefore, at an early age how business works. Not so much an operational perspective, (although we were exposed to that side as well from their business), but more so the value of getting businesses together, from a variety of different industries. This way business owners who would normally not talk to each other or know about each other, can form valuable relationships and foster potential growth. The networking component is so critical, because it encourages collaboration and thus increased sales and support.
The Africa component was very much by chance. I took French from middle school to college, where I was introduced to a community of Francophone Africans from Congo who lived in our small town of Champaign-Urbana Illinois. They needed help getting acclimated to our culture, finding jobs, learning English. They came through the US Green Card lottery program, and needed guidance overcoming social and cultural challenges. Therefore, I founded a student organization while in college, where students interested in practicing their French would be mentors to the Congolese. We became very close. However, it became much more than just French practice. It actually opened the door of curiosity for the continent - what was happening in Africa and what was driving people away?
During college, I took courses on economic development, and during my last semester I lived in Senegal and worked with a microfinance institution, and living with a host family. That solidified my professional and personal trajectory toward Africa, with all its possibilities.”
Measurence: 2018 is around the corner, what are the top trends small business owners should consider?
Danielle: “Telecommunications is huge, but more specifically, utilizing the tools out there is critical to help businesses stay relevant and visible, interact with their target audience in real time, and understand their constantly-evolving market. Being technologically literate is already the dividing point between who has a chance at success and who doesn’t.”
Measurence: How can small businesses extend the holiday traffic to after January?
Danielle: “Being able to communicate with your target audience year-round can make a huge difference in your traffic and thus sales throughout the year. The days of commercials and flyers are over, even in emerging economies. In the modern day, businesses have a consistent relationship with their customers, in real-time. Those who don’t, fall off the map. There is a huge opportunity in knowing your target audience ─ what they are thinking and doing during the day, what’s important to them, what’s next on the horizon and how can your business can meet those needs. Communicating with them consistently, offering suggestions and incentives through landing pages, Facebook ads, and other social media channels, etc., makes a difference. Social media is an amazing tool if used throughout the year, and used correctly.”
Measurence: What are some ways small businesses can cater to returning customers?
Danielle: “Consistent service and incentives. It’s important that people have a good first experience with you, but maintaining that experience for the second and third time is more so. First impressions are great, but every consumer is aware that companies put a lot of effort for the first interaction, to convert them into a paying customer. However, if you can show you are someone they can trust, then that’s when you don’t only get repeat business but also referrals through word of mouth.”
Measurence: A recent survey says that 80% of small businesses are using facebook for marketing, why is this?
Danielle: “In the context of African markets that I’m familiar with, especially in Senegal, there’s a huge push toward having a Facebook page, a lot of them don’t have a traditional website. I wouldn’t say that’s the future of internet presence for small businesses. I personally think that having a website is beneficial, at least for the next few years. It gives a bit more legitimacy and can offer some components that a facebook page cannot. Nevertheless, the advantage of having a facebook page definitely has the opportunity to integrate marketing and to reach out directly to your target audience in real-time. With just having a website, unless you have a paid service, you aren’t able to reach out to customers as they browse your site. There is also limited data on who your site visitors are, which makes it harder to convert them into customers. However on Facebook, you have analytics on leads at your fingertips, and the possibility to reach out and interact with them -- and to do so for free. You also have the option of very affordable marketing, which is automatically adapted to your target audience based on their analytics. It’s an advantage for everyone, and especially for emerging markets in Africa who have difficulty finding leads and converting sales otherwise.
Another thing is that most people in African markets are not necessarily spending a lot of time browsing websites. They are spending more time on Facebook, going through their feeds, their friend’s pages, looking at what events are coming up. There are so many valuable analytics that are being compiled in different markets by Facebook that can be capitalized by local businesses.”
- 330 Million Used Messenger to Contact a Small Business for the First Time This Year, what are some ways small business owners can use this to their advantage?
Danielle: “I needed to buy a mattress once I arrived in Dakar. All I did was post on a local Facebook group for expats in Dakar, and - boom! - right away, I had three to four furniture stores reply to me and sent private messages, with a discount, free delivery, and more information. From there, I was redirected to their facebook page and found their location, reviews from previous customers, and basically all the information I needed within a few minutes. Because of this, I strongly believe small business owners in Africa -- and everywhere! - should follow Facebook groups with their target audience, so they can receive notifications everytime someone posts something relevant. This way they can be among the first to respond to their needs. It’s very interesting how quickly interactions can happen and how easy it can be for them to get potential clients.
Being active on social media and knowing your target audience’s interests and behaviors can help you engage with them more effectively and thus create meaningful relationships.”
Do you know your target audience's interest and behaviors? Need help identifying them? Check out how Measurence can make it so easy: