The Blog

You Really Have to Be in It, To Win It

Or do you?

Several start-up businesses recently told me that they have enough 'traditional interest' to grow their companies satisfactorily over the next couple of years without the web. In the same breath, they also complained that they get frustrated by the amount of media attention heaped on tech start-ups and that they have as much to bring to the economy as the latest app or online 'fad'.

There's no doubting the value of traditional interests, but the flip side is that every day entrepreneurs and 'have-a-go businesses' working from their kitchen table or bedrooms have exclaimed the marvels of internet sales and the opportunities to reach new markets as a result. Although the technology may be new to them, they embrace it, learn from it, and ultimately use it to make a sizeable profit.

It's not my place to tell anyone how to run their business, but the truth as I see it is that the web economy is the way forward for the vast majority of small businesses.

It allows for growth, not just for tech companies but for all start-ups and small businesses. Additionally, with an increasing number of companies going online, businesses have to do more to stand out.

The latest Lloyds Bank UK Business Digital Index makes for fascinating reading: "Only half of SMEs and charities had a website and for those who do, nearly all provided company information and over three quarters provided product or service information." It then goes on to say that even "after that, more sophisticated functionality is limited with only 1 in 5 allowing payments/ donations from customers or donors from their site."

It's interesting to see how, for all we hear about the web economy, SMEs are still not able to take advantage. Over a third (37%) of those surveyed in the report said that they believed being online gave them wider geographic coverage and that it also had "time saving" and "effective marketing" adding to the benefits.

Being online used to be a nice to have but it's now necessity. For those early start-ups particularly it's even easier to trial out a business idea without having to purchase property space or worry about overheads such as transport or electricity costs. They can get online, perform beta testing, and within a few weeks have done enough market research to build a quality site offering their products and services.

A lack of digital prowess or perceived resource really shouldn't deter people from going online either.

And it goes further than that too. I was recently at an event at Downing Street with the Prime Minister's Enterprise Adviser, Daniel Korski and Emma Jones, the founder of Enterprise Nation. Everyone there recognised the importance of being online but also that simply having a website wasn't enough anymore. All of the digital entrepreneurs at the event had noticed a shift in what they were being asked by SMEs, towards questions about how to get traffic to a website, how to tweak it and how to make sure that customers are having the best experience possible. Interestingly, most small businesses using the Government's Growth Voucher programme are using the funding to get online and start driving traffic to their websites.

What's more, the website businesses create has to look good across many devices; on tablet, mobile and desktop. Potential customers aren't thinking about what device they're using to browse the web and expect a consistent experience whether they use their PC at work or their iPhone on the bus. It's only when that experience is broken that a user really notices, and once they've had a couple of bad experiences on your site, it's difficult to lure them back in. Businesses need to recognise this and ensure their sites are up to scratch or risk losing customers.

So it's clear that website development is an area in which SMEs are looking for more support; the Lloyds report stated that "a third of SMEs and charities don't have the basic online skills as defined by Go ON UK" but even for those that really don't have the knowledge or time, there are simple tools available to help guide established and budding entrepreneurs get up and running.

A good example of this is our recently launched product called KickStart, which is designed to address exactly this problem. With KickStart, people who are lacking the time or design inspiration, can have a professional looking website built for them by our team of expert designers and copywriters. Once they're happy with the result, we'll "hand the keys" over to them, which means they can make tweaks and amends to their site along the way. Essentially, we want new website owners to learn new skills so that they don't have to rely on us to continue evolving their site that is bespoke to them and their business.

Lastly, and just as importantly, I've written before about the significance of the support network (or tech ecosystem) to help SMEs grow. Being online provides a platform for both large and small companies to improve efficiency and productivity. Take our own acquisition by hibu; a larger company that is learning from the efficiency, energy and innovation of a small business, whilst we learn from them about different ways to reach new audiences and become equipped with the tools to help us grow quickly and efficiently.

Being online is not as hard as it seems and the benefits are limitless. The best way is to give it a go, use the advice and tools to hand, and see if you can make a success of it.