THE BLOG

2017 Is The Year To Be Making A Step Change - Small Businesses Need To Do It Digital

25/01/2017 13:00 GMT | Updated 25/01/2017 13:00 GMT

It is 2017. With the unrelenting bombardment of tweets, both in the news and on our phones, one would think that the world is at peak digital and we have no further roads left to travel. Well it turns out that this isn't the case.

Research out this week from eBay UK highlights the huge number of small businesses that are not engaging with digital - and missing out to the tune of over £20 billion in lost revenue. This equates to £20,000 on average per business. How is this possible when it seems our every thought and action is reflected somewhere online? Yet it seems that in the melee of digital noise, small businesses are being lost in the crowd.

Small businesses are a key part of both our economy and our culture. When we talk about the 5.5 million small businesses in the UK we are not talking in the abstract - we mean the one man bands who run everything from manufacturing, to marketing, from comms to finance; we mean the micro businesses with less than ten staff who are multi-taskers at their core; and we mean small family businesses, growing businesses, manufacturing, retail, services and trades.

Small businesses make up a sector with many faces, from cake makers to engineers, and they are critical to the fabric of our society. We all have a personal stake in their success. With 5.5 million small businesses employing 16 million people, small businesses are a part of our lives - our brothers, cousins, wives, neighbours - small businesses are personal to us all.

What is increasingly clear is that these small businesses have a huge opportunity ahead of them - the tangible financial opportunity offered by greater digital skills and engagement is phenomenal. To realise this potential, small businesses need our help.

In 2017, Do It Digital, an independent, not for profit campaign, along with many businesses and organisations across the UK is going to work with these small businesses to achieve more - not just for themselves, but also for their communities and the economy as a whole. Whether it is a website, trading on a platform or beefing up their social media, small businesses can benefit significantly on their bottom line if we get them all fully on board.

When small businesses are successful, they employ more people, give more back to their local communities, drive innovation in the economy and encourage this in others.

This is not just about trading at home. The best way to get small businesses exporting is by getting them to excel online. Most small businesses are not going to get on a plane to meet customers - they need a cheaper and more accessible way to do that. Digital is surely the silver bullet in driving this huge export opportunity.

To reach Do It Digital's target for helping one million small businesses in 2017, every part of the economy needs to work together. Stepping up to this challenge are big businesses with huge reach, membership organisations, charities and not for profits; and the Small Business Taskforce led by GDS and Lloyds who are already committed to this challenge.

We need to turn up the volume on what is available for small businesses, and we need to drive small businesses to take up that help. Small businesses are time poor, often on a tight budget and not without fears around the risks of digital, whether that be cyber security, data sharing or brand exposure. We need to reassure and encourage small businesses to overcome these barriers.

This week, Do It Digital is asking the UK to make a pledge to up its game in helping small business digital engagement in 2017. If we all make a step change, in whatever way is relevant to each of us, we can make a significant overall difference to the small business community. This commitment can be training in digital tools or skills, increasing access via new website or trading platforms, or on-going mentoring to help small businesses maximise the potential of digital.

Many organisations have already got behind this. eBay UK is among the first to make a commitment launching eBay for Business this week. But it is not just big businesses that can play a role here. The British Library and its national network of Business and IP Centres are committed to helping 10,000 small businesses in digital engagement this year.

Enterprise Nation has committed to train 20,000 small businesses this year with its Go and Grow Online campaign.

Google is also committed to making a step change - Google will expand its digital skills training programme to make five hours of free digital help available to everyone in the UK, with specialist training for small businesses. The Google Digital Garage will expand to 100 cities and towns adding on online courses for those who wish to train at home

The Federation of Small Businesses is also committed to supporting its 200,000 small business members in a number of ways, including partnering with Facebook to deliver the #shemeansbusiness campaign and providing free cyber security insurance are two ways in which the FSB is increasing its support for digital engagement this year.

And finally The Good Things Foundation has pledged to support 10,000 small businesses through its community digital skills programme with Google.

Together we can make a real step change in small business fortunes - and where small businesses succeed, we all succeed.