Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Setting up an Internet Cafe in Nigeria.

As the popularity of using computers for everything continues to increase, people without their own computers, business travelers and those on vacations need to use computers more. An Internet café may be a great solution for you to combine your passions and turn your skills into earning money in an enjoyable and profitable way.

From experience setting up and running a cybercafé is a daunting task. There are so many things that need ironing out first before proceeding. It's also somehow capital intensive depending on your taste.

The business is divided into the financial and technical genre. The technical takes precedence over the financial. First you need to make sure you are technically sound with computers and technology, you must also like working with computers. Most people/cybercafés run into difficulties because they the owners/managers don't have the technical know how.

For your connectivity I will recommend you get a VSAT of your own. Radio links are not stable due to shoddy networks from the providers/operators that are available in Nigeria.

Then you get the systems, the processing speed of the systems must be anything that can run Windows 2000 or other versions. Also from experience new systems are not too good since most of them can't withstand the constant stress they are placed under, top range fairly used (Tokunbo) PCs makes economic and technical sense here. But your servers must be new with high processing capabilities.

Then you need to make sure your office/cybercafé is cool and the environment very conducive for people. Good customer relationship is very crucial too. Your staffs must be courteous and very technical/network savvy too.

Another thing is that you must not sell cheap since you won't be getting your bandwidth/connectivity for free/cheap. Most operators sell cheap and they go bust; you must not sell at a cut throat price though, do a survey of what's obtainable and available in your intended location.

Also look way you can beat the competition around your intended market, you must try and create a niche market for yourself.

The major problem in the business is the issue of power that is not adequately supplied by the government-owned power utility, Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN). Cybercafé operators often find it difficult running their business on fuel to complement the power outage from public supply. Running on fuel or other alternative power sources which may include inverters usually account for more than 90% of a café's daily consumption.

However, below are tips on how to go about it.

Formulate an idea of how you want to run your Internet café and write it down, the different amenities and services you want to offer and the audience you wish to cater to.

Research the feasibility of your plan in the area you wish to open your Internet café. Look specifically at the demand for an Internet café and competitors in the area and estimate how much money you will require as an initial investment.

Create a comprehensive business plan. Enumerate every detail for your Internet café from computers that you will need to purchase to the type of atmosphere you want to create to long-term operational costs. Incorporate the results from your previous market research and explain how your café will stay afloat over time. Make sure to make it clear and understandable and be able to explain it to anyone, especially those who do not know the technical jargon.

Look for investment money whether it be from your own savings, an investment partner, or a bank.

Find a suitable location for your venture which are likely to attract stable as well as casual customers. Locating near a school may attract younger customers or locate near other cafés or small shops to catch pedestrians in the area.

Obtain permits. Check with your local municipality for the types of permits required. Get a legal adviser if you don't know how to fill out the forms - better to pay small costs up front and have peace of mind than to have expensive complications down the track.

Choose an Internet service provider (ISP) for your café's Internet connection which will most likely need a higher grade, more robust connection than a normal household set up. Negotiate with the ISP as they may offer special deals for businesses, especially Internet cafés.

Design the layout to fit the space, and if possible, use a professional designer. Work with the designer so that they understand the special requirements of an Internet café such as keeping food and beverage preparation and consumption from damaging computer equipment. Include an electrician in the design process to ensure that the infrastructure will be able to handle the load of all the electronic devices in your café.

Purchase all the necessary equipment according to your plan such as computers, network cable, routers, printers, crimping tools and RJ-45 jacks. Purchase any food and beverage preparation items if you are including amenities such as plates, cups, microwaves and ovens.

Set up your Internet café which includes all the construction and renovations, electrical work, network set up, computer and software installation, and security system set up as well as any other specialty services such as food and drinks preparation.

Hire and train any employees you will need. Not only should they be technically savvy, but also friendly and easy to work with.

Promote your Internet café in the neighborhood through fliers, advertisements in newspapers, word of mouth and any other marketing strategies to target your audience.

Manage your software effectively. Use free software alternatives such as Linux as an alternative to Microsoft Windows or the Mac OS and the Open Office.org suite as an alternative to the Microsoft Office suite. Consider using live CD's without hard disk drives (dumb terminals) in the computers to reduce maintenance.

Listen to and incorporate feedback from your customers. If they clamor for more bandwidth, inquire with your ISP, or if they complain about the amount of performance-degrading spy ware, hire an expert to solve the problem. This is also an opportunity to expand your business into other areas such as color printing and copying or hosting computer game competitions depending on the demand in your area.

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