The Great Digital Divide: How small businesses can close it

Recent research by CBI and IBM found there’s a digital divide opening up across the British economy. With just 55 per cent of firms adopting digital technologies and processes, the rest are falling behind. Essentially, those who are slow to keep up digitally are becoming the ones to stand out. Inability to innovate, or keep up with the times, can be an invitation for competitors to close in.

This includes small businesses, which, incidentally, make up 99 per cent of private sector UK businesses. In fact, GoDaddy and Redshift research conducted last year, reveals that 60 per cent of the UK’s very small businesses (defined as those with five employees or less) don’t even have a website.

This is an important statistic. If the digital chasm continues to widen, UK small businesses risk falling behind those that take the digital plunge. We have to work together to get small businesses, those that form the foundation of the country’s business and economic landscape, on a level playing field.

It starts with a website

Our research tells us that 54 per cent of those without a website fear their business will fail to grow within the next three to five years. Meanwhile, 60 per cent of businesses with a website believe they could grow by anything up to 50 per cent in the same timeframe.

These are wide-ranging growth percentages for something that’s based on the relatively simple job of building and managing a website.

So why do businesses without a web presence fail to build one? Beyond those feeling too small to require one, one in five (19 per cent) cited a lack of time was preventing them from creating a website.

I understand how important time is to the owner of a small business. They’re constantly pulled in every direction, and playing many different roles, all at the same time. Yet if you look at the benefits, you can see how vital it is to dedicate some time to digitising your business – even in the most basic way.

The website of a small business should be a clear and concise representation of what their business offers, who runs the business and how to contact the business, along with other information that might be important for potential customers to know. This is especially important for small businesses, which are likely less well-known than bigger competitors.

Be agile

The digital world is one that’s continuously changing, and based on the research I cite above, this seems to be intimidating to small businesses. But it doesn’t require a massive amount of time to get right. In fact, smaller businesses have an advantage when it comes to this, due to how agile they are.

Just think: you don’t have to go through five layers of approval, or spend hours in a boardroom deliberating whether Instagram is right for the business. As a small business owner, you can just do it. The time is now to get started creating your online presence – choose your domain name and get it registered. This way, you can take control of your business name and the reputation of your brand online.

Getting others involved

Ultimately, embracing digital is about engagement. And that includes those who work for you. If you do employ people, help them get up to speed with the digital presence of your business. It can be tough to suddenly get everyone actively on board with a new digital strategy, but persevere. If your team is engaged with the content included on your website, it’s more likely your customers will be too.

Allocating time for the team to get up to speed, in the beginning will help save time in the long term. Once your employees see the benefits of working with new tools, updating the website with fresh content and monitoring social media channels, they’ll be on board.

Incremental steps

The signs are clear. If a business fails to get online, it’s less likely to grow. This should be enough to encourage small business owners to get the ball rolling by reading, exploring and discovering the right fit for them. It doesn’t have to be a daunting experience, and it doesn’t have to all happen all at once. Creating and managing the digital strategy for your small business is an ongoing journey, which means you can take your time and learn about new solutions that may be a better fit for your business.

Small businesses have the opportunity to help close the Great Digital Divide by getting started with creating a digital presence for their small business, and engaging with employees and current and potential customers, through the increased use of technology. Now is the perfect time to get started.

Stefano Maruzzi, VP EMEA, GoDaddy

Image Credit: Shutterstock/Nomad_Soul