Online pennies start to drop for Australian SMEs

Recently there’s been a noticeable and important shift in the kind of work my web services business is performing for our smaller business customers.

Up until recently, the vast bulk of our business was ‘project’ oriented, that is, shorter term projects with a distinct start and finish date, usually websites. Occasionally there might be a website renovation, but few customers tended to require our services for at least a few years following our initial work.

Whilst there has been no let-up in small businesses needing websites and now mobile sites, we have seen a marked increase in customers wanting to make ongoing adjustments to their websites and online marketing tactics like email marketing, search engine marketing and social networking.

We’re ready now

This has resulted in very irregular project work making way for more of a monthly account style of billing.

In other words, they have moved from the ‘set and forget’ approach often referred to in this blog to the approach of regular content and marketing modification usually practised by much larger organisations.

Such a trend represents a growing understanding of how the content-hungry web works and, in turn, how to harness it.

They are also getting insights into how cost-effective, flexible, measurable and convenient websites and online marketing are compared to their comparatively pricey and cumbersome traditional counterparts.

Better still, the costs of experimenting with these new online techniques is miniscule compared to similar experimentation with traditional media.

Applying home experiences to business

Ironically, one of the catalysts to this change has been the rapid installation of social networking as a means of engaging people with the traditional media of television, radio and print.

Nowadays there are few mass media programs or publications that don’t invite participation into their conversations via Facebook, Twitter or chat rooms hanging off their websites.

And whilst smaller business have been very slow to be represented in social networking channels in their own brand name, their operators are getting their social networking sea legs by establishing and maintaining a personal social networking presence, making comments on the articles of others or reviewing a product and service they have used.

So their experience as online marketing consumers is slowly starting to impact their online business practices as they start to apply the way they are communicating on a daily basis into their business.

The ‘aha’ moment

As a result we are also seeing an increase in demand for tools and services which enable customers to manage and maintain their online presence. Tools like easy to use content management systems, news feeds, email marketing systems and social networking tools, accounts and strategies.

What is gratifying for me is the number of our customers who are now starting to grow into some of the web communication tools that we planned for when establishing their websites.

So they are now appreciating why, instead of providing ‘just a nice looking website’, for much the same price and a bit more effort we dragged them (often kicking and screaming) to purchasing a website platform which could cheaply scale up to include all the content management, email marketing, eCommerce, form building, etc, capabilities they were going to want in future.

Though, admittedly, it’s taken much longer for some than it has others.

The other reason for the trend toward dynamic content is that the Generation Ys who grew up on this stuff are now in a position to start their own businesses. They understand the concept of an ‘always on’ business because that’s all they know – in much the same way we older folk never knew of a world without television.

It’s really the revolution we had to have.

In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team, which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.

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