SMEs’ online shame

The headline of the news release was positively ecstatic. “Google research: Half of Australia’s SMBs now online,” the release trumpeted.

According to new data from Google and MYOB, the number of small and medium-sized businesses has grown from 35% to 52% in the last year, a period during which the two companies ran a promotion whereby Australian businesses could get their hands on a free website (free for a year at least) using products from both companies.

Kudos to both groups for the promotion – some 30,000 new websites have been created, which is a great thing.

But I do find it hard to get excited about the idea that just 52% of Australian SMEs are online. Indeed, I think this figure should spark red faces in vast tracts of the small business community. Governments around the country should also be ashamed – think of the economic boost of a “get online” program from the federal or state governments.

This is not 2001. The internet is not some new beast, too complex and too expensive for the average small business person to tame.

For a minimal cost – free, if you’re prepared to put in a bit of time or get someone to help – a small business owner can have a website up. They can get a Twitter account. They can sign up for Facebook and YouTube. They can start a blog.

This is not radical stuff. This is the bare minimum you need to do to ensure your business survives and thrives.

Here at SmartCompany we know we are largely talking to a community of web-savvy business owners, but believe me I have heard all the excuses.

“My business works on word of mouth.”

“I’ve got all the work I can handle.”

“None of my customers care about my website.”

The SMEs who have not moved online yet are being shortsighted. Didn’t they see the research from Boston Consulting Group that says SMEs with a highly-evolved web strategy produce higher growth?

Perhaps you have got by without a website up until this point, but you won’t for long.

As the internet becomes further ingrained in everything we do thanks to the proliferation of mobile devices, businesses that cannot be found quickly and easily will be next to invisible.

The ads in the local paper and the Yellow Pages will work less and less. The pipeline of new customers will start to dry up.

Of course, if you don’t care about operating a website, you’re probably not reading this.

In that case, let me say this to the smart people who are trying to grow their business by growing online: Keep going.

There’s a good chance at least some of your competitors are lagging way behind. You should continue to invest time and resources into improving your web strategy to ensure that it’s you who gets found and gets the sale.

Will the laggards catch up soon? Who knows? But you must press home your advantage.

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