A few weeks ago this blog expressed its dismay at the number of smaller Australian businesses which had abandoned their websites in the past few years, as one source reported that website uptake stood at a paltry 38% of smaller businesses.
But while many are demonstrating that the online world is either too hard or (oddly) too expensive for them to play in, many others are going the other way and becoming more and more committed to this now entrenched medium.
My own little digital business has seen some noticeable changes in the way our small business clients are managing their online presence.
Get business news first
Sign up to SmartCompany’s daily newsletter
The two key indicators of this change in attitude are the increase in ongoing service accounts and the introduction of deadlines for new online projects.
Beyond set and forget
Our digital services business was originally designed to provide ongoing service for our smaller business clients so as to ensure their online presence was constantly maintained, measured and improved, whether that be updating their website, managing their search engine optimisation and marketing, creating email marketing campaigns or managing their social networking presence.
However, despite encouraging our clients to move to an ongoing maintenance and service plan, few took up the offer, preferring to ‘call you when we need you’.
As a result, less than 20% of our business was ‘repeat’ or ongoing account business.
We want it often
But since the start of the year, we’ve noticed more and more of our clients move to an ongoing service arrangement. In fact, our ‘account’ style business has more than tripled this year.
Despite the fact that we provide all the website and online management tools and support to run their own online presence, many just can’t seem to work it into their routines, and hence want us to do or manage it for them.
Others have simply realised that a set and forget approach just doesn’t cut the mustard in a medium which demands regular and consistent content, whether that be ‘pushed’ via email marketing, search engine marketing and social networking or ‘pulled’ via their website.
We want it now
The other noticeable trend has been with fixed deadlines for the work we do for smaller business operators.
Surprising at it may seem to larger business managers or their agencies, in the past, projects were very much on an ‘as soon as you can’ basis, partially because managers themselves were afraid to commit to a timeline in an already packed business life.
But again, this year there’s been a marked increase in setting strict deadlines for digital projects, from everything from websites to AdWords campaigns.
The digital penny drops
It appears business operators are more sensitive than ever before to the threat of a competitor pinching business due to an either non-existent or slow online component.
That, in turn, is linked to the poorer performance of more traditional promotional tactics or a better understanding of how the online world works and how critical it’s become to its customers.
Either way, it indicates that the digital penny is dropping for at least some business operators while their competitors may well be finding out the same lessons a much harder way.
Let’s hope the trend continues before it’s too late for the reluctant ones to reverse their online fortunes.
Craig Reardon is a writer, educator and operator of independent web services firm for SMEs, The E Team.