You are probably well aware that Australian consumers are one of the world’s fastest adopters of new technology, ranking in the top handful of fast adopters of everything from colour television to smartphones.
Alas the same can’t be said of our smaller business sector. Whilst consumers take to new technology like ducks to water, the majority of smaller businesses take very much a ‘wait and see’ approach to the new – even when its benefits are abundantly clear.
Take social media for instance. Whilst its use is rife among the population at large, only 16-18% of businesses use it for business or promotional purposes, according to recent eBusiness adoption reports.
Who needs a website?
And many are still flummoxed when hearing that, again depending on whose research you are reading, up to two-thirds of Australian businesses don’t have a website – some 17 years after the web reached ‘critical mass’.
Seventeen years for most Australian businesses to invest in a website – that’s some waiting and seeing!
According to the most recent Sensis eBusiness report, one of the leading obstacles to adopting websites (at 21% of respondents) was the cost of hardware and software.
But I wonder how many of these laggards have recently sought a quote for the kind of website they really want?
Because what was once the most expensive part of your website – the development or ‘coding’ bit, now costs a fraction of what it once did and is, in some (albeit conditional) cases, free.
Technology prices continue their plummet
The best example of this is ecommerce technology, or “secure shopping carts”.
It wasn’t that long ago that you’d have to fork out several thousand dollars to be able to participate in the cart technology that fuelled the online selling phenomenon.
Nowadays that cart bit of the puzzle is now available from nothing at all (in the case of some Open Source solutions) to what amounts to petty cash.
For those on the lowest of budgets, just hundreds of dollars can get you started selling online, depending on how much DIY you want to provide.
Obviously, more professional results cost more, but you get my drift.
It’s not only technology costs that have come down from unthinkable to negligible in the past few years.
Down, down, tech prices are down
This trend occurs right across the gamut of technology as a result of cost recoupment, competition and, in the case of software, ‘duplicability’.
And it will be occurring with pretty much any website feature you care to name.
Better still, these features are becoming more and more integrated with core business systems like financials and customer records, providing a much sought-after one-stop-shop for every customer interaction.
It wasn’t that long ago that a website platform that integrated all of your:
- content management system;
- email broadcast;
- customer relationship management (customer and stakeholder records);
- eCommerce system;
- extranet (password protected area);
- form and survey builder;
- online booking system;
would cost well into five figures. Now you can get a fully supported and hosted system, complete with free upgrades for less than $50 a month.
This means that the website features that the big companies have can now be quite affordably offered by the smallest of business operators.
Again, this doesn’t include aspects like design (costs of which are also plummeting), content development, search engine optimisation and so on, but are certainly low enough to be negligible given the returns on investment to be gained.
Free Open Source?
Open Source (community owned software) enthusiasts would argue that software they use might cost nothing at all. But how reliable or future-proof these systems are is highly debatable. Whilst these free tools might be worth exploring within the confines of your own organisations, putting such experimentation in front of a demanding public (i.e. via your website) is a risk not worth taking.
In fact, the loudest voices in support of many Open Source systems come from those who stand to benefit most – the developers you need to be able to assemble it in the way you need it.
My advice is to pay the negligible amounts the accountable proprietary providers are asking to fully secure, support and improve your technology platform. Just make sure it is one that will grow with the needs of your organisation.
But getting back to the topic, if you haven’t had that online technology you’ve dreamed of quoted on recently, it might well be high time that you did.
You may well be pleasantly surprised.
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. www.theeteam.com.au