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Top Ten Reasons Why SMEs should have a strong online presence

By , 13 April, 2016

According to Centre for Retail Research, E-commerce or online retail is expanding in Europe and North America in a rate that exceeded any other channels of retail trading. In the UK market, online retail spending showed 16.2 percent growth in 2015 totalling £52.25 billion. In terms of website access device, the same study has shown that 70 to 80 percent of users used mobile devices. These trends show that not only Small and Medium Enterprises(SMEs) have to have online presence, but also those already online have to take into account the shift in the means of accessing websites and e-shops so that to remain effective in their online marketing endeavours.  

It is what common sense dictates that SMEs that have operated businesses offline would be interested in getting new business opportunities, customers and expanding their scale of operation and, consequently, make more profit at the very least.  However, not all SMEs are readily making the transitions to supplementing offline channels of trading with with online ones.  Small and Medium Enterprises(SMEs) and Sole Traders are still lagging behind when it comes to capitalizing on opportunities the increasing adoption of digital technology among the consumer public has created.  

In light of the above points, a curious mind would ask why the lag happens and why SMEs are not capturing the ever expanding business opportunities?


What are the stumbling blocks?

Owners of small businesses and Sole traders do not have online presence for a number of reasons including, among others, the following:

  1. Lack of technical knowledge
  2. Lack of awareness about the opportunities advance in technology have created
  3. Concerns over affordability and ongoing/recurrent cost


Why exactly should the SMEs bother anyway?

  1. Establish Business Identity - websites serve as full fledged business delivery channels as much as being a mechanism to complementing the offline business identity or reach. Website address, logo, business name, motto, memorable brand elements(signs, color palettes, etc), testimony from existing customers, sample products or services, etc can be used to create brand identity and awareness.

  1. Acquire New Customers  - With the increasing online market, consumers are searching for products and services using generic terms. Hence, meeting potential customers halfway by creating strong digital and online presence is crucially important to help consumers discovery of your brands.

  1. Engage Existing Customers - SMEs business websites are also a convenient means of communication with consumers and potential customers. Websites can be used to engage customers, get product/service idea and reviews, nurture business image, get feedback and as a combined result of all these efforts favourably influence their purchase decisions by offering them solutions to their problem.

  1. Create New or Expand Geographic Market Reaches - Websites enable SMEs to expand their business horizons and customer reach thereby creating more likelihood of purchase and revenue. 

  1. Networking - Online presence should not be confined to one's own website. It pays dividend to join business forums, selectively read on quality blogs and engage and/or network with potential collaborators. The benefits can be in the forms of skills exchange, learning new skills, business recommendation, word of mouth promotion, partnerships, etc

  1. Improve Business Efficiency and Effectiveness - Technological advances in IT has also created tools and techniques of improving efficiency and productivity. Saving money and time in combination help to reduce cost and indirectly expand profit margins. Given sound business management, the enabling effect of technology for SMEs is huge. 

  1. User Behaviour Analytics  - Online presence together with user analytic tools(often available freely) create an online medium of marketing that lends itself to analysis and quantifiable observations. This ability to observe and measure user activity on your business website is important for a number of reasons. Firstly, the analysis outcomes provide much needed feedback highlighting problem areas and successful marketing/sales efforts.  THe insights from the analysis is an input that guides our assessment of issues of interest such as product/service quality, customer satisfaction, and website user behaviour. Corrective measures and new initiatives can be guided with such insights. 

  1. Content Marketing - Online presence of SMEs enable them to use the power of content marketing to create brand awareness, establish strategic partnerships and as a combined result garner and sustain demand for their products/services. 

  1. Online Payment - Even if online payment a sub-topic in the general issue of online presences, it is particularly beneficial for sales and business revenue. Customers who seek online payment options are more likely at an advanced level of exploration and with stronger purchase interest and creating better customer service and convenience can only increase the chance of a positive sales closure. Online payment can create concern with security and complexity of business model as well as cost. However, if it is done with due consideration of volume of trade, number of potential customers and so forth, it can be rewarding by increasing sales. 

  2. Outsmart Competitors - Online presences can give SMEs a competitive edge and improve their market standing. It can also enable them ward off adverse impact and threats from competitors.


What can be done?

Going forth, if you are wondering what can be done, there are a number of things you can do as a start and that can be extended as it unfolds. Some of the potential ideas for action include the following:

  1. Explore and understand your customers and your business value proposal. The sensible start point is revisiting your existing business or your proposed business and trying to be aware of the customers you are targeting. Asking basic questions  already get you started on your great journey to success: What do your customers want? What you can offer them and what makes competitive to do it or what your should be doing to get there? Answers to such question will guide you in the process of consolidating your busines process as well as identify new ideas for action.
  2. Start your online presence with a small scale and learn as you progress.  To start with create brochure website that presents your services, address, opening hours, contact details and samples of work if it applies. If you like to keep cost to a minimum, at expense of not having full control on your website, both present and future, you can consider using freely available platforms.  For example, to host a simple business website you can use  starting free website on Google known as Google Sites. Even if there is a 100MB limit per website, this is a reasonable and free starting place and you follow this step by step guide to create Google Sites. It is also worth mentioning that Google offers free blogging platform under your google account.
  3. Secure your place on Google My Business. Get your business listed on Google My Business for free - It includes ability to update content from Google Search, Google Map and Google+. 
  4. Create business/company page on Social Media SitesAlso create business pages on social media like Facebook ta the very least as this help to improve your profile and is a means of engaging existing customers and spreading the word about your services as well as share updates and news items. 
  5. Add your profile to free local business listingsFree local business listings are your friends. The likes of Google Local Business, Bing, FreeIndex, Yelp, and Yahoo listings are forerunners. 
  6. Make use of Google Analytics for free. Google Analytics is an indispensable tool for tracking website traffics and user behaviour on your website and  analyze the data to get business insights. Based on the insight you initiate action and observe the impact. This is not a one-off activity. Instead just like your other business activity cycles, this has to be undertaken on regular basis, the frequency of which will be dictated by your budget.   
  7. What else can you add?

Related Resources Links

  1. Go On Local - Check locally available services to improve your digital skills

  2. Do More Online - Support, advice and inspiration for growing your business

  3. Go On Local Help on Basic Digital Skills - Small businesses and organisations helps like Google Digital Garage, Cyber Streetwise, etc

  4. Google+ The ultimate Guide for SMEs - Insights and Tips on website promotion on Google+ by Zazzle Media

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