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A number of reports have been compiled over the past 18 months to which all show the lack of digital skills in the SMB sector. 40% of SMB businesses are being encouraged to have a website to build their business. However, for business owners trying to get their business going, if they are not already tech savvy this is just one more headache.
The amount of time and new skills required not only to set up a website but, then to track how potential customers use the online presence, promote through social media channels, online payment systems the list is extensive as to the skills needed to exploit these online tools. However, the research shows that increasingly customer's first port of call is an online search for business or services. If the UK is mainly online with only at most 15% digitally disadvantaged this means that potentially a third of potential customers are being missed by SMB's by not having an online presence.
In 2015 the Department for business innovation and skills released an updated research report and the overview of the from startups.co.uk '98% of UK small firms use the internet for business purposes but many aren't capitalising on the opportunities open to them - only 64% have a website, almost all small firms (98%) use the internet for business purposes - predominantly to email customers and for online banking. Yet the use of e-commerce is much less apparent with only 20% of small business turnover derived from e-commerce sales in 2013.
When it comes to web presence, 64% of small businesses have their own website or are listed on online directories. Of those businesses with no websites, 77% said they believed a website was not necessary, 18% felt that a website was too expensive, 17% said they had no time to set a website up, and 8% said they do not know how to create a website.'
Smallbusiness.co.uk ran this article in March 2015 saying that a million small companies lack basic digital skills - digital skills being defined as having basic digital skills includes activities such as running a website, using e-commerce or maintaining a social media presence.
This was based on the UK Digital index from Lloyds bank in association with Accenture, and Go On UK research last year showed an improvement with SMB take up of digital, however, Miguel-Angel Rodriguez-Sola, group director for digital at Lloyds Banking Group said 'For example 25 percent of all organisations surveyed believe digital is 'irrelevant' to them. We cannot emphasise enough the benefits that digital adoption can offer - such as saving time, increasing revenue or funding or reaching wider audiences. Digital is the key to unlocking these benefits.'
Getting set up online
However, getting a website online is not a one-off process; it requires constant maintenance and updating, no business would rent premises set up the shop window display and products inside and then never change the layout, offers or stock. So, how is this digital divide being bridged? Google is offering free 'Digital garage' training sessions for SMB's and is beginning to roll out face to face sessions to support the online offer for those not as comfortable learning just online.
I have used Google online tools and resources for years. Their free resources are great and there is a whole community out there to support you as well if you have problems and I would highly recommend them. Like anything it takes time and effort to learn how to use the free tools, and with Google Analytics that I deal with daily there are constant updates and upgrades that need to be acted upon and understood; no mean feat if this is not part of what you do. So, getting set up and initially working with online guides is great, in my experience, you will need support from the wider community when you get stuck, as you will at some point. It takes time and effort to master, like learning anything new, particularly if you are doing it on your own in the margins of your time.
In the recent article in the IT ProPortal, it maintains that small business can be instrumental in closing the digital divide and their first recommendation is to build a website; 'small businesses, which, incidentally, make up 99% of private sector UK businesses. In fact, GoDaddy and Redshift research conducted last year, reveals that 60% of the UK's very small businesses (defined as those with 5 employees or less) don't even have a website.
This is an important statistic. If the digital chasm continues to widen, UK small businesses risk falling behind those that take the digital plunge. We have to work together to get small businesses, those that form the foundation of the country's business and economic landscape, on a level playing field.'
The difficulty with this is finding what's the best fit for your business. There are a plethora of website build offers, be it a DIY solution or through fixed price or specialist agencies - how does a non-tech savvy business owner decide what is the best route for them? What investment is required; either by themselves of their hard-pressed staff to set up or maintain (using a number of free or subscription tools) either with money or taking resource time of the business to keep their online presence up to date, and to make sure that all the investment provides a good ROI, if the business is not focused on an online business. If the business owner pays someone to set up and maintains their online presence how do they determine it is value for money initially, and as it is maintained and the inevitable updates, changes and new channels become more important for marketing/selling their products to customers.
I meet SMB's that have a website which is working, but they do not have the time or expertise to understand what is, and is not working for their customers; nor do they have the time to find out. So in the words of Donald Rumsfeld ', they don't know what they don't know'. I would maintain that not only do SMB's need to have an online presence, which may be a website but the channel is dependent not the business and its customer base, SMB owners need supporting to understand what their business could exploit in the online space, and, as this moves at such a pace that even full-time experts cannot know all changes and the impacts these updates/new products will have on different market customer bases.
Digitally Limited want to make digital an ally for SMB's. We specialise in analytics using the free Google Analytics products and making sure businesses understand more what their customers do on their websites. Granted, there are a number of tools that do this for larger businesses and corporations, but as the digital skills reports show 99% private employers in the UK and of this 60% are SMB's employing no more than 5 employees, and this investment exceeds SMB budgets and specialist resources to run them.
Can we help?
To help SMB's that have a website on the first step to understanding how well the site is working for their customers Digitally Limited is offering a complementary analytics audit to recommend what your business could do differently to help your website users. We believe that getting your web analytics working on your site will improve your business.
For businesses, without a web presence, we recommend you read our guide to getting started with an online presence.
The audits will normally show the following top five issues which can be fixed and give the SMB owner more control and understanding of what is happening on their site, to understand;
- Where do customers come from and leave your site
- Are the number of visitors true
- Is the data your website captures helping you understand customers needs
- Is our website converting your customers in the way you want
- How to compile regular reports to help see if improvements are working
Does this sound familiar?
I wanted to reach out and share my experience of SMB's and the issues I see them grappling with. I would welcome feedback and to hear from others in the digital space that is working with SMB's to see if their experience echoes mine.