“Half of all the small businesses in the UK don’t use the internet for their business” – Rachel Neaman, CEO of Go ON UK
The statistics given as part of the Do More Online government campaign (UK) completely caught me off guard, causing me to choke for a second on my bacon bap.
As someone who practically lives in the online world and has seen the successful results from digital marketing, it almost seems alien to me that people still aren’t using such an affordable and versatile tool for their business. But there must be a good reason for this? Right?
Go ON UK has identified that 1.58 million small businesses and charities in the UK don’t have the basic digital skills available to promote their services online. So is that it then?
Do small businesses have no choice but to miss out on marketing themselves online?
Well, in a world where ‘Google’ has become a verb in our everyday sentences, that prospect seems entirely unfair!
So when it comes to digital marketing, what are some of the issues facing small businesses today and what options are there to start breaking down these barriers?
Things move quickly in the online world. By the time you have finally mastered Twitter, another form of social media comes along leaving you confused and resorting to asking advice from your 9 year old nephew.
As daunting as it can be to pick up new skills online, it’s not impossible.
In fact, it’s considered a necessary skill in today’s business world. ONS figures show a huge 72% of adults buy goods or services online and 36 million adults access the internet every day – and that figure is growing.
So even if you’re not promoting, or conducting business online yet – you will soon realise, you’re going to need to! So what should small businesses consider?
Not only is learning digital skills useful in promoting your business and bringing in more customers, it’s also empowering for you as a consumer; because now you can make the most of the services online too.
There is a wealth of useful information available free of charge that can be accessed online. YouTube video tutorials, how-to-guides, online courses and webinars are just a few that provide guides on topics of your choice.
And if all that is still gobbledygook for you, then start from the basics by visiting one of the many free courses available; such as with Learndirect or even enquire at your local library or college for basic courses in computer and digital skills.
You’ll soon be surfing along with the best of them and creating interest in your business in the process.
Don’t feel guilty if you skimmed straight to option B. I’m sure you’re one of many for this simple reason: you just don’t have time at the moment to learn new skills.
So if you don’t have the resources to train a staff member to learn digital skills, then you may wish to pay someone that already holds the skills to promote your business online.
Try contacting a digital marketing agency with your budget and find out what can be achieved. You may be surprised how a little can go a long way.
However, that leads us on to the next big issue…
When speaking with small businesses, the ‘are you serious?’ face is a classic reaction I get to the question “which part of your budget is allocated to marketing?”
In today’s financial climate, the marketing budget tends to fall in the ‘whatever happens to be surplus’ line. So it’s understandable that small businesses are wary of losing precious allocations on marketing tactics that may not provide return on their investment. With non-profit organisations even more concerned.
So there must be some viable options out there?
If you’re starting out, or have very little budget to play with – you may have no choice but to opt for the ‘Do It Yourself’ option.
Building a website, posting on social media (Facebook, Twitter etc.) or sending marketing emails to your clients are all things you can do for free online.
Of course, there may be a steep learning curve with each of these if you’re not familiar with the process but if you (or a staff member) are happy to learn – there are some great tutorials, step-by-step guides and online tools to support you along the way.
To decide how you want your business represented online, it will help to visit competitor pages, read articles on the topic, learn from other websites and what information they put on; gather ideas and make a plan.
Granted, the end result may not be as professional as those produced by skilled web developers or marketers… but even a small online presence is better than NO online presence.
If you are looking to grow your business, you’re in luck! There are quite a few different options available at the moment to finance digital marketing.
A great way to find out what finance options are available is by visiting useful UK resources such as the Business Support Tool. There you can find access to growth vouchers and even super fast broadband.
But remember, digital marketing doesn’t have to be expensive. There are many affordable options out there, from website creation to content marketing (which is using blogs and helpful information to bring customers to your website).
A good professional digital marketing agency or website designer will be happy to speak to you about your budget and what they can do for that amount, including an idea of your return on investment!
Just make sure you do your background checks on them first by reading recommendations, reviews and case studies.
Remember too, when you use professional services there is a higher chance that your customer base will increase, bringing in more profit, which in a way – pays for the service itself. Great stuff!
So you have the website, you have the social media pages – but where is everybody? Shouldn’t there be work bursting through your email inbox?
An online presence is only the start of the concerns for a small business. The next step is to promote it. To get noticed.
So what are the options?
The main key to getting noticed online is contained in two words: Search Engines.
91% of online adults use search engines to find information on the web, so you can see why it is useful to make sure your website gets noticed on search engine results.
Those in the biz call it Search Engine Optimisation. For more details about that you can view our friendly (and helpful guide) to SEO.
Search engine optimisation or SEO again requires time to learn and can be a complex topic. If you had your website designed by a professional, they will have already met the requirements for optimising it for search engines.
If you haven’t – it’s not the end of the world. You can still make an impact without spending money. However this will require a lot of time and patience on your part.
SEO is a time consuming process. This is mainly due to the need of creating regular, interesting content and developing relationships with other sites in order to get them to link to you.
But with a little hard work – anything is possible! Why not start at learning how a search engine works.
Some say that search engine optimisation is a dark art; a complex web of tasks and processes that ultimately lead to your site gaining a top spot on the search results.
No wonder that search engine optimisation is one of the top predicted marketing techniques for 2015.
So paying for a professional, someone that has the experience, skills and digital tools to deliver on their promises isn’t going to be cheap. But these days, most SEO experts can deliver bespoke packages based on your budget.
So it can’t hurt to contact a digital marketer with a good reputation and find out what the cost is for your business to climb to the top of the search results, and how many customers you can expect to receive from this investment.
As SEO experts ourselves, we know there are a lot of dodgy practices out there. So make sure you select the right professionals for the job – there’s a great checklist provided by Google itself to help.
Of course, we haven’t even touched the topic of paid search marketing yet.
This is another form of search engine marketing where you can pay for an ad to appear in search results. The most popular way to do this is using Google Adwords where a fee is charged for every click of the ad.
This is a speedy way to generate some interest in your business online – but be warned, it can get expensive and once your campaign ends, the advert disappears – where as SEO sites naturally appear in search results.
This finally brings us to one of the most common barriers: time and motivation.
When you’re a small business owner, you don’t always get to send your invoices to the finance department, your ideas to marketing or your admin tasks to your PA. No, for many – they ARE those departments.
So when your time is so precious, learning new skills or promoting your business online often gets left at the bottom of your to-do list.
So what can businesses consider when it comes to time and motivation?
Possibly not the most viable method? Let’s move on…
Go ON UK use a downloadable diagram that shows how motivation is integral for overcoming each barrier to digital marketing.
And it’s true. I’ve spoken to micro-businesses who have claimed that people don’t really need a website to access their services or it’s just a waste of time for their business.
But when you consider the statistics used at the beginning of this blog, you’ll see that the UK is conducting most of its information gathering on the internet.
So I hate to say it, but each day a person doesn’t see your service on the internet, is another possible loss to your income and a gain to your competitor.
So ask around! Speak to people who have benefited from going online. Or visit some inspiring stories on DigitalSkills.com
Then get organised. Make a checklist of what you want to accomplish, how you will do it and by when.
It’s true, most small businesses don’t have the time or a marketing team to create websites, campaigns, respond to tweets or write great blogs.
But if they are willing to outsource the work; they can.
Seeing the results from generating work online is a motivation in itself. So if you are in a position to afford some digital marketing support then you won’t regret it.
There are even agencies out there that can provide the whole marketing package, taking care of everything from creating websites, implementing campaigns to monitoring and statistics – all for a set monthly fee.
So here’s the bottom line (almost literally), marketing your business effectively online isn’t just going to magically appear one day. It’s up to you to make it happen.
So whether you are going DIY, going pro or just going for a cuppa; I hope you can consider some of the options available to your business so that you get a fair chance at marketing your services on the World Wide Web.