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Small Business on the Web: Held Back from Success by Digital Immaturity?

Why SMEs need to embrace the internet if they are to truly compete

Digital immaturity costs our SMEs thousands every year. Looking at small business on the web, how can they change their IT outlook to compete with tech-savvy competitors?

UK businesses are increasingly relying on the internet. In fact, a world without the convenience of email and office suites seems a long and distant memory. But according to recent statistics, many small or medium-sized businesses (SMEs) are failing to advance as they should because they are reluctant use the web to its full potential.

Now more than ever, it seems SMEs need to develop from their current state of digital immaturity if they are to benefit themselves and the UK economy.

What is ‘digital immaturity’?

Companies that are in a state of digital immaturity will fail (or in some cases refuse) to use up to date computer and online systems to their full extent in order to improve their internal processes and, ultimately, ‘do business better’. For example, they may not be using their website to its full potential. They may refuse to bring their books online and instead continue to use outdated Excel spreadsheets to keep track of their finances; they may not have hooked their staff up to an internal network to improve communication and increase productivity.

Failing to use technology to enhance their output is dangerous ground for small businesses, particularly those who are directly competing with bigger, more established organisations that have the money and the know-how to implement the latest concepts and applications.

It could be argued that the move into digital business has exploded of late, so we should expect a brief transition period as businesses edge towards a more robust IT education. But, as shown in this article from over two years ago, this reluctance to embrace change and wise up to the latest tech trends was costing businesses a substantial amount of money back then too – up to as much as £63 billion, in fact.

What could businesses be doing better?

In a recent study of over 960,000 SMEs in Britain by Buzzboard for Johnston Press, startling figures showed us just how some businesses are failing to meet consumers changing needs.

Just some of the ‘digital readiness’ figures indicated that 71% of UK SMEs do not meet the needs of mobile shoppers, 69% had no Twitter account, only 15% use email marketing, and many had low search engine visibility. On top of this 44% still don’t have a website, despite knowing full well that 75% of British customers now shop online.

The many downsides of not having an online presence are outlined in government research from November of last year, where it was suggested that 52% of consumers go straight to search engines when looking to buy from local businesses. And with website sales in the UK worth £164 billion, these SMEs are missing out on considerable revenue.

As Chris Brake of Johnston Press states in the report, ‘SMEs are in a prime position to drive the UK economy’, but they are far away from reaching their true potential. Businesses instead need to be braver and learn to at least understand the technology that’s available to them, else they risk being left behind. As demonstrated by the plethora of companies that are hesitant to use cloud technology, some businesses are simply wary of the security issues surrounding the use of the internet, but with a little research, they’ll often find that their worries are unfounded.

As Mark Zuckerberg, one of our generation’s biggest success stories, once said: “in a world that is changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks”. If decision makers don’t soon realise that the way in which we do business has evolved irrevocably, and accept that their company’s future is very heavily invested in technology, today’s SMEs will unfortunately continue to lag behind in an increasingly cut-throat and tech-heavy economy.



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