Posted: Thu 8th Oct 2015
Dan Martin examines how many small businesses are missing on valuable opportunities by not exploiting to the full the opportunities offered by the internet.
When I first became a journalist in 2001 it was common for entrepreneurs who I interviewed to not have a website. But nowadays it's almost unthinkable yet many small business owners are still not online or are not fully embracing what the web has to offer.
That fact was highlighted to me recently during the week I spent at our business support pop-up hub in Bristol. As we opened on the Monday morning the first entrepreneur to arrive was looking to do business with major retailers. I listened in to the conversation he had with an adviser.
The entrepreneur's biggest problem was tracking down the right person to speak to in the likes of John Lewis. "Have you tried LinkedIn?", the adviser asked. "What's LinkedIn?", the entrepreneur replied. "Have you got a website or any form of online presence for your business?". "No", said the entrepreneur.
Now I'm not saying that joining LinkedIn and setting up a quick website will automatically bring this entrepreneur loads of order from major retailers. but it will certainly help. Being online is validation that you exist; that your business is an actual thing. When meeting someone for the first time most will turn to the web to find out more. Services like LinkedIn and your own company website give you the credibility that you need.
Later that day in the Bristol pop-up another entrepreneur providing training courses arrived. She had already run some sessions and got great feedback. "Have you got testimonials and put them on your website I asked?". "They have said good things to me but I haven't got them written down and I don't have a website," she admitted.
It turned out she had been agonising over which domain name to register for a long time which had held her back from creating a website. That should be one of the first tasks you do when setting up a new company. Pick a name that's easy to spell, isn't too long and is memorable and then register it! Even if you use your web address in the early days to redirect to a Facebook page, at least you've got an online presence. And when you do get a website, get real life testimonials from customers and clients and post them online. People do really take note of them.
Research shows that the entrepreneurs I described are definitely not alone.
A study by Lloyds Bank and Go ON UK earlier this year showed 1.2m small business owners lack basic digital skills and are missing out on potential revenue and customer interaction.
According to the report, 25% of organisations polled thought digital was irrelevant to them, and only 13% were using their website for e-commerce. But as the study said: "Even if an organisation does not believe they need to be online, many of their customers already are."
It is a bit of a cliche but millions of your potential customers are using social media and searching the internet for a company just like yours. It would be a real shame if you missed out.
Go and Grow Online is our campaign to help small businesses get better at using the internet. Now in its second year, we've already helped thousands of businesses, published lots of content and held some great online and offline events. But don't worry, there's plenty more to come! Access all the content, find out about future events and get special offers from our supporters here.
Go and Grow Online is supported by .COM, Microsoft, BT and Dell.
Dan Martin is head of content at Enterprise Nation.