As the digital market becomes increasingly important to the UK economy, a fundamental element of the government’s vision for a competitive British information economy is for all UK businesses, especially SMEs, to be able to confidently use technology, trade online and increase revenues in domestic and international markets. However, there are still many SMEs who are not making the most of the many and varied opportunities that the internet has opened up to them.
Overall, 98% of SMEs use the internet for business purposes. Whether for emailing customers, paying bills, ordering supplies or paying taxes, a large majority are using the web. But are they using it in the right way? The profitable area of e-commerce is still widely underused with only a third of small businesses selling online, and a meagre 20% turnover derived from this source in 2013. But the figure is gradually increasing. Between 2003 and 2012 internet retail volumes grew by more than 6 times from £4.8 billion to £31.1 billion, and this sum continues to grow year on year.
Due to this increased profitability, business investment in technology is to be significantly augmented over the next two years. A monumental £53bn is expected to be spent by UK SMEs, mainly on improving their websites. It’s becoming more and more evident that a convincing digital presence is no longer a choice, but a necessity.
Sixty-four per cent of SMEs have their own websites, but almost 29% of all SMEs have no website at all, and have no plans to get one, citing high-costs, lack of time and lack of knowledge as reasons for their reserve. Research has shown that there are more than 1m SMEs in the UK who still lack basic digital skills, with a staggering 45,000 still using dial-up connections to run their company website. This ignorance could be costing the UK economy (and small business owners) millions, or even billions, of pounds each year as a positive link has been found between digital skill levels and turnover growth.
The main barriers for many SMEs seem to be mostly attitudinal and include a lack of digital understanding, and a naivety concerning online security threats. There is also a lack of awareness of the considerable benefits of being online. Benefits which include faster growth, the creation of more jobs and the ability to export more.
A long-term solution to the problem of digital confusion would be to embed digital learning throughout the education system, but it’s also clear that more immediate action is required. If you’re a small business owner looking to top-up on your computing skills, why not take advantage of one of the many digital courses and awareness-raising initiatives through existing local private and third sector networks? There are also a number of online resources that you can access for free. To get started, take a look at the following articles we offer:
- Improve your online content
- Social media for small businesses
- IT support guide for SMEs
- Getting started with Google for business
- Understanding Cyber Security
- Networking in the digital age
With more opportunities than ever before, there’s no excuse for your business to be losing out on money through lack of digital awareness. A predicted £53bn lined up for investment, and new technological advances every day, means the digital world is a prospect your enterprise just can’t afford to miss out on.