Juliet Ehimuan, Country Manager, Google Nigeria, is serious about taking Nigerian small businesses online and creating electronic commercial environment where made-in-Nigerian products and services can be easily accessed. In this interview with CHIMA AKWAJA, she looks at the challenges and opportunities before Nigerian businesses.

What are the barriers for small businesses in getting online?
Many people feel that using the Internet as a business channel is expensive, intimidating or difficult to understand. They believe they have to pay an expert to create a site for them and depend on experts to keep it updated but we want to demonstrate that there are plenty of free, easy-to-use tools available to companies of all sizes. We will hopefully help them get a foot on the digital ladder.

How does a small business owner manage a website?
When you create your website, you have several options for how to manage the site. For example, you can have as many people set up as administrators, which means they can go to the site and update information when you’re not available.

Also, you can set your website up in a way that customer enquiries are sent to you via short message service (SMS).  So, if someone is interested in your products or services, they can provide their information online, and you get it on your mobile. Your website can of course also be accessed on internet-enabled mobile phones.

How can Nigerian businesses take advantage of the internet to thrive?
We believe that the power of the internet will help small businesses in Nigeria to thrive, by bringing more local information online, and making that information more accessible and useful to Nigerians. The internet enables economic opportunity and has already fostered significant growth for economies around the world.  

The internet will create jobs and foster economic growth in Nigeria. Small and medium businesses (SMBs) have been identified as a key vehicle for growth in the government’s Vision 20:2020, as well as by the new Ministry for Information, Communications Technology.

Get Nigerian Businesses Online (GNBO) is an initiative which will transform the Nigerian small and medium business  landscape and have a real impact on the economy by bringing thousands of businesses online.

It helps to remove the barriers that stop small businesses from getting online - lack of time, cost, and lack of knowledge, by making it quick, easy and free to set up a website. Nigerian customers are already online, and they’re looking for local businesses.

Having a website means that customers can find local businesses easily and quickly online. Having a website is as important for a business today as having a phone, because customers are looking online for local business information.

Has the initiative really had an impact on small businesses?
Absolutely!  Since we launched the program in September of 2011, we have seen more than 20,000 Nigerian businesses get online through Get Nigerian Businesses Online.  We have so many success stories, some of which can be seen on the website www.gnbo.com.ng.

We also have so many businesses that have creatively used the platform to change the way they do business; for example, we had a small business that sold rams online.

Customers could look at pictures of different rams from the comfort of their living rooms and request that they be delivered to them.  This is a benefit both for the business and the customer.  The internet is helping businesses access a wider range of customers from more places at cheaper cost!

What has Google been doing in Nigeria since opening its office here?
Google is serious about Nigeria, and we want to get more Nigerian users online by developing an accessible, relevant and sustainable internet environment. Nigerian internet users make up 28.9 per cent or 44 million of the population according to WorldInternetStats and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).  This is up from 6.7 per cent in 2008, a four-fold increase.

A recent World Bank study based on analysis of 120 countries found that a 10 per cent change in broadband adoption is associated with a 1.38 per cent increase in gross domestic product (GDP) per capita growth in developing countries.

We are helping to reduce access barriers facing potential internet users. We are doing Google Universities Access Programme, which will impact over 100,000 students at six Nigerian universities, with more universities to follow.

On the infrastructure investments, Google recently gave $500,000 to Nigeria ICT Forum to support efforts in improving access to Internet infrastructure in tertiary education institutions in Nigeria. We are helping to make the Internet relevant and useful to Nigerians by localizing Google products in Nigeria such as Google Search in local languages (Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba), Google Maps, Gmail SMS, iGoogle, Google News, Baraza and Google Trader.

We also provided information on the Nigerian elections through our Nigerian Elections Portal. We are helping to strengthen an Internet ecosystem in Nigeria and across Africa that is viable and sustainable in the long-term. We are helping to strengthen the developer community in Nigeria and empowering the next generation of developers.

There is G-Nigeria event which took place last April for a second year running and was unprecedented in scale and numbers.

We have held multiple developer events and education reaching approximately 3000 people in the last year. We are working with universities raising the level of curriculum, raising awareness about Google, and encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship.

We have Google Ambassadors Programme with 27 Nigerian students from eight universities who act as internet and Google ambassadors in their communities.

What type of businesses are you looking to help and what of the costs of domain registration?
We are looking to help any type of business get online from scratch, and those that have a website that is nott really working for them or has been neglected.  Any business from a barber’s shop to an accounting firm who wants to reach a broader base of customers even in their own neighbourhood, those are the businesses we want to help.

For domains, if a user decides they want a totally free site, then they can own a sub-domain under gnbo.com.ng for example, theshoeshoppe.gnbo.com.ng.

However, if a business wishes to establish its own unique identity online, then the business can purchase a domain name (e.g., theshoeshoppe.com or the shoeshoppe.com.ng).  We have engaged a domain registrar, Upperlink, to support businesses coming online who wish to purchase a .com.ng domain name. These cost N1500 per domain per year and must be renewed annually.

The ability to purchase a .com domain will likely become available shortly and the cost of .com domains varies. The cost for the second year of owning your website is really only the annual domain registration fee of N1500 (for .com.ng domains).  That is the only cost a business will incur from getting online.

There are accusations that you put web developer companies out of business?
Any launch that helps small businesses get online can only help web developers and agencies, because the more small businesses there are online, the more small businesses will be looking for web developers and agencies to give them advice on improving their web experience in the short to medium term for example, optimising their site.

What is your web fair about?
The GNBO web fair is a two-day event dedicated to helping Nigerian businesses create their very own websites. Web fair participants will be able to create their own customised websites with support from trainers, in as little as 1 hour, at no charge.  This is being done in partnership with MTN Business and Ecobank.

In addition to the simple tool that uses Google Business Sitebuilder to allow businesses to easily produce & populate a new site, we will also automatically add their business to search listings for Google Search & Google Maps. We have developed a simple tool that uses Google Business Sitebuilder to allow businesses to easily produce and populate a new site.

We will automatically add their business to search listings for Google Search and Google Maps. These tools are available at www.gnbo.com.ng

The initiative has thus far helped over 20,000 businesses create professional websites and maximize their business reach. It is expected to transform the Nigerian SME landscape and contribute to the country’s fast-paced economic growth by making it quick, easy and free for businesses to register an online presence, at a time when more and more Nigerians are interacting on the Internet.

By putting their businesses online, local businesses can reach new customers nationally and globally. The success of the programme so far shows that Nigerian consumers are interested in accessing local business information through the Internet. At Google, we seek not merely to get Nigerian businesses online, but also to help them get ahead.

The initiative is one of many complementary services offered by Google, such as Google+ and Google Trader, both of which are also available online via computer and mobile.

All of these services aim to improve the reach of Nigerian businesses, and also improve access to locally relevant content for Nigerian Internet users.  The services will also reacquaint Nigerians with the power and potential that the Internet has for bolstering economic growth for these businesses.
 

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