We have evolved! ...or have we?!
Evolution is the key theme here, we have progressed a long way over time with the different sources of information that have now become available for consumers to find businesses and services. Technology, internet access and social media providing an environment and opportunity for us to potentially have full and perfect information of services available in our local community. The problem is, are we making most the most out of these channels? If you think about it, it seems we are applying a traditional mindset to getting jobs done and finding quotes and needless spending time to search and call around.
Jobs, jobs and more jobs...
Take a scenario in that you are soon moving home and have a whole list of various jobs and tasks to be done as part of your move. You may well need decorators, movers, contractors for electrical work, plumbers etc the list could be endless. The general problem we all face in such as scenario is finding the right people who are available at the right time and at the right price to help you get these jobs done with as little stress as possible. Unfortunately, half the time you cannot even get any recommended Service Providers to respond to your request and settle for whomever responds! It doesn't just have to be domestic issues that we consider either, in Singapore, there is much subcontracting, project work and commercial activities where Service Providers are required.
Core challenges still remain but in a different format...
Over the years you will have managed to find these services and recommended businesses or contractors through either word of mouth and from contacts and family or through using a traditional business directory service. It wasn't so long ago that every household had a two to three inch thick business directory next to their telephone which was the annual update for all local business contacts and ads.
Typically with the new channels and media now available, this hard copy directory has been phased out for the most part (saving several million trees every year!) and replaced by online business listings, social media sites, forums, lifestyle websites etc. The online information now to finding a service is endless.. to the point we now have too much information and lack of transparency or ability to really filter out what is shown or published or local to where you live. Google and the other search engines are amazing and continually improve to try and make the information displayed more relevant to what you specifically need, most recently Google local reviews, the integration with maps and user profiles. However, two problems still remain once you've got your search results:
•There is no clear way of knowing the quality of work and professionalism of a Service Provider until you start working with them
•Managing and controlling the relationship you have with the Service Provider after the initial contact.
These two issues can be addressed by the amount of effort you are willing to invest in background checking prior to awarding work to be done but also the resources you can have access to, in reality this is time consuming and not always possible.
Controlling quality of service...
When we started creating the SGconnect website, we were asked why services and local service 'review' sites are significantly behind travel portals like TripAdvisor and the product review and shopping sites like Amazon. This is primarily because those particular types of service are standardised in a global marketplace. I.e. everyone will generally get the same experience staying at a specific hotel, there will be always be difference in opinions and some bad days impacting guests but on the whole a reasonable number of reviews should give another reader the overall picture they can expect. Same with product review sites, aside from regional variations, most products will be manufactured as common as possible for global exports and market reach and the reviews will be similar.
For large corporations and bigger businesses, they have impressive websites, marketing campaigns and already massive investment into showing potential customers their standard of work. Obviously, its not always possible to maintain a standard when you have a global business and you will always have varying levels of quality from country to country etc as the people, management etc changes. Smaller businesses, freelancers and self employed Service Providers however have a great amount of control to manage their standard of work and quality of service. This smaller business and start-up sector combined with local geographic parameter is exactly what we focus our attention to.
At SGconnect, we are fortunate to have a wealth of knowledge and experience with project work, every day small business management and applying technical solutions to now help other small businesses, freelancers and start-ups. Such as advising how to best create your profile to reach potential customers that would otherwise not know of your services or not trust without seeing some credentials from your previous work.
Choosing the best media or advertising channels for services promotion..
The majority of small businesses, freelancers and start-ups in Singapore will have very limited budget to spend on advertising or able to pay consultant and SEO fees. Even if they do have some funds for marketing and advertising, how best to spend it?
Google is great but expensive and doesn't necessarily always provide results for the costs especially if you are in a mainstream service such as plumbing or electrician. Currently the estimated AdWords cost for something like 'Find a plumber in Singapore' is roughly $15-$20 per click through! Traditional media formats of papers, magazines, radio and TV are often good if you can get a reasonable price and relevant audience but again expensive for the small to medium business. From our experience, the most common practice seems to be use business listings, classifieds and simple websites.
The trouble with this approach, classifieds and listings such as Gumtree and STclassified are good because they are free and gives some openings for leads for browsing users but are fairly passive. Also, generally they do not provide the users with much independent or reliable source for reviews and ratings of your services. Creating a simple website is good but it is fairly isolated without any spending on marketing and SEO work.
Services we offer...
This is where SGconnect.sg solves a common problem for both consumer and Service Provider. We provide a platform for small business, freelancers and start-ups in Singapore to build a profile of their business services and allows for comprehensive ratings and reviews to be left by users. The key thing is, the reviews can only be left by registered users, that need to provide a reasonable level of user detail and specific detail regarding the job, so that its a trusted source for reference. Our basic services for this platform access is completely free, our aim is to build an online community portal for Singapore that is easily accessible but not just open for guest access or easy manipulation of the reviews. Our team also track and audit the reviews that are left on a regular basis. This allows the job posters to quickly ascertain the 5 star contractors, plumbers, tutors, caterers, IT specialists, web designers, any local service provider from the other ones that do not even turn up to start the job! It rewards the good from the bad, the skilled and not the cowboys!
Again, as our site goes through the evolution of being a new portal with growing traffic, we aim to become the main service portal in Singapore across a broad range of services. Our website is now live and we plan a large update of it in August 2014 to improve the user registration, profiles and ratings and review sections. Towards the end of the year, we will release mobile apps on both iOS and Android platforms that will complement the site and really improve the ease of interaction between consumers and Service Providers.