Surely, everyone has embraced the internet and social media by now, and recognised what they can do for their business? Well, not exactly. On the upside, more than three-quarters of SMEs in the UK now have basic digital skills, an increase on a year ago. But that means roughly one in four has no idea how to use technology to run, promote, and grow their organisation – that’s more than a million firms still in the dark about digital marketing.
So says the latest UK Business Digital Index, a report that also states so-called digitally mature companies – those that understand digital marketing and business techniques – are more successful than their old-fashioned peers.
- Digitally mature small and medium companies are a third more likely to have seen turnover increase in the last two years than the least digitally savvy.
- Businesses that embrace technology are also more likely to think they’re more successful as a result, see digital methods as helping them achieve their objectives, and think innovation plays a part in increasing their revenues.
Those that have yet to get up to speed with the modern age should act fast to do so, or risk being left behind. But where can they get started?
Mastering the basics
For the truly technologically challenged, it’s back to basics – getting your IT hardware, getting online, and, at the very least, getting a website. A company operating in the early 21st century without an online presence may as well not exist for much of the population. Many firms blame their budget – three out of four companies and charitable organisations put no investment into their digital infrastructure. But it’s also possible business owners are uncertain where to look for advice.
The Index shows that most enterprises turn to a paid-for IT specialist when they decide it’s time to update their digital systems and processes. In fact, one of the best places small firms can go at present is the Government-run Growth Vouchers Scheme, which offers many businesses £2,000 towards their digital set-up costs or IT guidance, as we’ve explained on this blog before. Alternatively, a boss could try another Government initiative, the Broadband Vouchers Scheme, which offers smaller companies grants of up to £3,000 to get a fast, reliable internet connection, as we’ve also discussed in the past.
Then, there’s the website itself. Business owners looking to build their first web platform could turn to a professional web designer, but always shop around, make sure it’s someone reputable, and know exactly what you want the site to achieve before commissioning. If you opt for a more hands on approach, you might use a hosting and content management platform such as WordPress. This allows even the most inexperienced soul to construct a good-looking, fully functioning website either for free or for a small annual charge to include extra functions. If you’re still uncertain about what to do, the Simply Business website has a useful tool to guide first-timers through the process of using WordPress for your small business.
Social media matters
Almost 1.85 million organisations don’t have any web or social media presence, the Index says. This includes charities as well as SMEs, but it’s still a shocking figure. We’ve said a website is elementary, but isn’t it all about social media these days? In many respects, yes. Social media is a phenomenal tool for a business and can greatly facilitate digital marketing efforts. It can enable a one-man band to reach potential customers all over the world, lets small companies provide immediate and stellar customer service, and allows minnow businesses to punch well above their weight.
We’ve talked before about how SMEs can get started on Twitter, the merits of visual social media platforms such as Instagram, Pinterest, and Flickr, and how businesses can grow using technology. But there are some basic questions to ask yourself before you start on your social media journey:
- Which social media platform is best for your business? If yours is a visual enterprise, such as a retailer or hairdresser, then you may be best served by a photo or video-based platform, such as Pinterest, Instagram or YouTube. Others will better suit a text-based medium. Consider where your potential customers are. If they’re on Twitter, that’s probably where you should be. But don’t spread yourself too thin across a number of platforms. Make your choice, and concentrate your efforts there.
- What do you want to achieve? Are you looking to increase sales or do you want more traffic to your website? Is this a general exercise in marketing and raising the business’s profile? Once you know what you’re aiming for, you can set achievable goals to determine how successful your efforts are proving.
- Do you understand the risks of social media? We’ve talked about the risks of social media for businesses in detail before, but you should be aware of what can go wrong once you start to communicate in this open manner. Write a social media policy for the business, and cover what to do in case of disaster. Also, make sure that you have someone trustworthy in charge of posting content.
- What content do people want, and what can you provide? You should have a strategy for producing and posting relevant pictures, messages, and information to be sure that you don’t run out of steam. Social media is very hungry and demands a lot of ongoing effort, so give it the proper amount of time and planning before getting started.
Boosting traffic and sales
If you’re doing things right then you should see more business coming to you through your digital conduits. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is one way to achieve this, as it will boost your site through search engine rankings, and draw more customers to your platforms. Identify and focus on the keywords that internet searchers are likely to use when looking for a business of your type. The Government Digital Service gives a helpful, basic explanation of how SEO works. Leaders in the SEO industry even offer free SEO guides for beginners and advanced guides to SEO.
An essential element of working online is tracking your progress, and Google Analytics is the obvious way to go about this. Once you’ve set up this very useful tool, you’ll be able to see how many visits you’ve had, from where, the origin of enquiries about the firm – essentially it’s a way to measure your digital marketing efforts. Again, Simply Business has a handy breakdown on how inexperienced business owners can get to grips with Google Analytics.
The fundamental message is simple: if you want to grow your business, then you need to be digitally aware, and up-to-date with the latest technological trends. Digital marketing is not just fad and fashion – these ways of communicating are here to stay, and have the power to transform your business. So, haul your business out of the dark ages, and get onboard with the tech revolution. We predict you’ll wonder why it took you so long.
Image courtesy of Kromkrathog / FreeDigitalPhotos.net