To be “in the right place at the right time” is always seen as paramount to winning the lottery. Unfortunately most of us only realise later that we had been in the place and time doing nothing in particular.
I think that training and assisting SME’s in understanding and the wide range of computing, internet and social media options now open to them is huge. It’s huge because a real yet solvable problem exists and the statistics suggest those SME’s who don’t acquire and use the skills will not be around in 5 years.
In 1995 when the first Sensis e-Business Report was published 91% of SME’s surveyed had heard of the internet, but few were connected or had any intention of connecting, with two-thirds of those not intending to connect saying that they could not see a business benefit for it!
Only five percent were connected and just over a quarter of those surveyed did not have a computer. In fact the biggest technological talking point at the time was the fax machine.
The 2013 Sensis e-business report showed the enormity of the change in internet use. Not surprisingly, 98% of SMEs now have a computer, with a fast-rising 69% (up 10% since 2012) having a notebook computer and 41% owning tablets. Internet connectivity increased over the previous 12 months from 92% to 96%, and 26% of those with a connection intending to get a faster connection within the next year.
Sensis also found that 68% of small business owners have smartphones and, on average, they spend $6,200 annually on technology hardware and $4400 on software.
That’s some change in just less than two decades. However, the first thing SMEs need to realise is that while technology is enabling the change, it is actually the customers who are driving it.
While Sensis have been researching SMEs’ adoption and attitudes towards technology since 1995, they extended the research to include the general population in 2005.
The 2013 Sensis e-Business report showed that 91% of Australians have a computer and 96%t use the internet. And, when asked about their usage of the internet, the most popular activity was ‘looked for information on products and services’ (87% of all Australians), followed by ‘looked for suppliers of products and services’ (82 percent), with ‘paying for purchases or bills’ (78%) and ‘ordering goods/services’ (74%) also being prominent.
So the stats are telling us that people are using the internet to search for and purchase products. So if SMEs want to connect with potential customers they need to be easily found in the places people are looking.
Consequently, a digital presence will become essential for all successful SMEs. At present, 66% of SMEs have a website and 72% of those reported increased business effectiveness through the platform. We predict the number of SMEs with websites to increase as a result.
As with websites, it is inevitable that the use of social media will increase rapidly as SMEs better understand the benefits and imperatives of close customer interaction. The social media revolution makes the possibility of customer engagement almost an expectation: people increasingly want to comment on their experience – either through praise or pillory – and if the business does not have a social media outlet for that interaction then the customer may find another outlet where the business does not have the opportunity to directly engage.
Mobility is another reality that SMEs are slowly coming to terms with. With mobility, businesses are less connected to the physical location so business becomes an activity, rather than an address. SME’s are slow to adapt to technologies which could save or earn them more money.
As an example, in the days before Christmas we changed the flyscreens in our house. The contractor had been out some weeks earlier to take measurements and the price was agreed. After fitting the screens the contractor said that will be $x thank you, it was the agreed price and I reached for my debit card to pay. “Oh I only take cash” was his comment. It’s a long time since I carried that much cash and I realised that we have no cheque books at home.
I had assumed the contractor would have a mobile merchant terminal and that by the following day at the latest he would have my cash in his bank, all accounting completed except for the monthly bank reconciliation etc. Nah they cost too much he told me; oblivious to the savings and efficiency they offer.
Sensis 2013 research of SMEs found that the percentage taking orders online rose five percent to 56%, and of those taking orders 59% reported that they mainly sold to customers in the same city or town.
SME’s may now have the equipment and they have demonstrated that they will spend on technology, though few are yet fully mobile, they do not have the knowledge or skills to bring the “whole” together, to integrate and utilize the digital opportunities to build profits and cut costs.
Late in 2013 a client was looking to raise equity to take his “e-Consultancy” national we looked at the model which was excellent, looked at the market and then discussed the equity needed with clients. Investors are usually Savvy and the equity was raised on day one which has to tell you something!