5th September, London: Research has shown that 85% of micro-businesses in the UK lack basic digital skills, reporting that time, money and confidence are the biggest barriers to getting online. This has led to only around a third (38%) of them having a website; the lack of visibility rising for one-man-band businesses, only half of whom have a website.
The study into micro-businesses, which make up a fifth of the UK economy, highlights the desperate need for more digital training tailored precisely for those in businesses of up to nine employees in order that they can compete with bigger enterprises online.
Nick Leech, Digital Director at 123 Reg, said:
“Micro-businesses are time-poor and resource light, juggling multiple hats on a daily basis. Lengthy digital guides that may work for larger companies are not right for them. What micro-businesses need is a more direct steer on the one or two things they should implement to help their businesses grow and thrive. It’s about learning the little things that can take you a long way.
We have built an Online Business Training platform tailored for micro businesses to learn key skills in bite sized chunks. On top of this we have built a Digital Skills Assessment tool as an information-sharing community platform for micro-business, which will provide them with insights on how others within their professions have used digital to help them grow. For example, if a plumber wants to know how best to attract more customers, we’ll be able to show what has worked for other plumbers, and outline how to replicate this in a few simple steps.”
The research, commissioned by 123 Reg, discovered that almost three quarters (73%) of micro-businesses don’t advertise online and nearly half (42%) don’t have any form of digital presence.
Digital media is now regarded just as important as traditional word of mouth in finding new customers amongst micro-businesses, and Facebook is viewed as the third most successful digital marketing tool after Search Engines and websites.
However, basic knowledge is missing, such as how to rank higher in Google for free through ‘Search Engine Optimisation’ – nearly half (48%) of the micro-businesses surveyed unsure of the terminology, or had not used any such tools before.
And it’s not just traditional web skills that micro-businesses are missing – many are not taking advantage of the growing use of mobile for e-retail. Only half (53%) said their websites were easily read on a mobile device.
This is despite the fact that over 70% of them know that having strong digital skills is critical for success, and that is cheaper and easier than ever to get online.
Nick Leech said: “Costs for the latest mobile optimised website builder products are typically around £5 a month enabling access to digital technology that would have costs tens of thousands of pounds just a few years ago”,
This lack of digital expertise could be jeopardising the success of a crucial fifth of the UK economy –micro-businesses are worth £763bn to the UK economy – and getting online has been shown to boost performance by14%.
While there are numerous e-learning platforms available, they cater to larger business with dedicated staff to run the website and do not offer a tailored service for those business owners who are running the company alongside all other functions such as setting up the website. To combat this problem, 123 Reg, the UK’s largest domain provider, has launched a new free Online Business Training tool, designed specifically for micro-businesses. Its Digital Skills Assessment provides a tailored online health check for each individual participant highlighting the few simple steps they can do to get in shape online, and links to online training videos and blogs from micro-business experts.
One such micro-business that has seen the advantages of knowing what works best for them digitally is Klements, a printed fashion and accessories label founded by textiles designer Charlotte Allen.
“I initially put all my efforts into designing my website, but I soon realised this alone was not going to cut it,” Charlotte recalls. “As a design business, website appearance is super important, but it’s irrelevant if no one is finding it. I discovered that for my brand, engaging customers on social media, and building a relationship leading them to my website was what achieved sales.
“It’s clear to me now that the whole of your online business needs to link and feed into one another… And then things start getting interesting. When I started I was inexperienced in the online world, and it slowed my brand down in the early years. Having the right guidance, tailored to my specific needs, has really helped, and when you start seeing results from your online efforts it really motivates you to improve.”
Tom Thackray, Director of Innovation at CBI, said:
“This research emphasises the importance of closing the digital divide in the UK. Breaking down the barriers for micro-firms to adopt digital technologies is essential for unlocking productivity and growth in the economy.
“The know-how exists in the business community and for micro-businesses getting started on their digital journey, building these connections and access to tangible resources is crucial.”
The #SBS (Small Business Sunday) network, run by entrepreneur Theo Paphitis, commented on the importance of digital skills in small business:
“The #SBS businesses have the added advantage of sharing their expertise and experiences with each other, and digital training is so important for small business as it can give them the edge over competitors who are less savvy. A tailored service for micro-businesses could be make or break for some companies and be a huge help in building their businesses.”
Enterprise Nation founder Emma Jones commented:
“At the start of 2016, Enterprise Nation set out three key objectives, of which one was to help small businesses make the most of the digital opportunity. We meet small businesses every single day who have amazing ideas and a strong commitment to becoming their own boss but they’re desperately in need of digital training to put those ideas in motion – and online.
The 123 Reg platform is a welcome addition to the national scene of support and we look forward to working with the 123 Reg team throughout 2016 and into next year, to ensure start-ups and growing businesses across the UK get access to the information they’re after, both via accessing this online platform, and meeting experts at events. There’s much more to be done but the UK economy will benefit if we get the right advice to small businesses at the right time.”
To test your digital knowledge, visit the Online Business Training pages.