Government road show aims to boost regional firms’ web presence

The Federal Government has teamed up with the likes of PayPal, eBay and Optus to launch Driving Business Online, a nationwide road show designed to help small businesses achieve success online – and sell them on the benefits of the NBN.


Launched this morning by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and Small Business Minister Nick Sherry, the Driving Business Online bus will tour NSW as phase one of the campaign.


Visiting a total of 15 towns, the campaign bus will act as a meeting hub for SMEs to meet with eCommerce experts, including representatives from PayPal Australia, Australia Post, eBay, Optus and the Australian Retailers Association.


Other industry leaders include accounting software provider MYOB, content management system Powerfront, and online security company Norton by Symantec.


In each town, SMEs are invited to attend sessions in addition to one-on-one consultations onboard the bus.


PayPal Australia spokesperson Adrian Christie said in addition to eCommerce experts, the sessions will feature local chambers of commerce and successful online businesses local to each area.


The Driving Business Online bus will also stop in Sydney to attend a national small business summit hosted by the Council of Small Business of Australia, designed to complement the campaign.


COSBOA executive director Peter Strong says the summit, which is being held at Sydney’s Olympic Park, is designed to raise awareness of the plight of small businesses.


He says he welcomes any form of encouragement for small businesses to develop an online presence.


“One of the problems [small businesses face] is that they know big business is online, so they don’t see it as worthwhile,” Strong says.


“But this campaign highlights the different ways of doing it… It allows small businesses to put their toe in the water and work their way through it.”


According to the latest MYOB Business Monitor, 65% of Australian businesses don’t have an online presence, and 85% don’t offer online transactions.


Frerk-Malte Feller, managing director of PayPal Australia, said these figures are alarming given that more than eight million Australians use the internet to make purchases.


“Driving Business Online was launched to enable Australia’s SMEs to realise the major benefits of expanding their businesses online, including reducing overhead costs, being open for business 24/7, improving communication channels with customers, and increasing incremental sales,” Feller said in a statement.


Russell Zimmerman, executive director of the Australian Retailers Association, says operating online is no longer an option; it is an “absolute necessity”.


“Savvy retailers must bring their business online to increase productivity and expand across multiple markets,” Zimmerman says.


Scott Asbey-Palmer, founder of NSW-based hardware store Hardware2U, says he started selling stock on eBay after experiencing flat sales in his bricks-and-mortar store, which he eventually sold in order to focus his efforts online.


In addition to expanding his operations on an international scale, Asbey-Palmer has slashed his overheads as a result of his web-only approach.


“We used to pay $120,000 in rent each year, now we pay around $24,000,” he says.


“There’s nowhere we haven’t shipped our product… [But] you have to evolve quickly or you’ll get left behind.”


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