The digital penny continues to drop for SMEs

SmartCompany, Wednesday, June 29 2016

About 18 months ago, our 11-year old digital communications business started to get more enquiries about a new trend in SME websites and web marketing.

This trend was pretty much unheard of in our lifetime to that point and one that we had to adjust quickly to.

Its name? Deadlines.

That’s right. All of a sudden, despite our agreements always stating a ‘complete by’ date, our SME clients were bucking the previous ‘as soon as we can get around to it’ approach in favour of something larger business lived and breathed by.

You want it when?

Finally the date on our agreement absolutely and utterly was firm and not to be breached.

Finally SMEs actually wanted our work completed by a given date so as they could move onto the next business task they had to action or indeed, because that’s when they wanted to start promoting, or getting queries from it.

So what happened? Why did SME web projects move from a loose and rubbery deadline to one that was set in stone?

I think there were two key reasons.

A thudding penny

The first is SME operators have become so overwhelmed with stories of digital disruption from the likes of Uber, iTunes, AirBnB, eBay, Google that the realisation finally came that the digital world was having a real and irreversible impact on all kinds of business, including theirs.

Who knows which specific business provided the catalyst for this change of thinking. Perhaps it was the fact that small business mainstays like taxi rides and bed and breakfast bookings were being turned on their respective heads by upstart cyberspace invaders like Uber and AirBnB that suddenly made them sit up and really take notice.

Local, deep impact

Perhaps the fact that it was local, small taxi operators, bookstores and B&Bs that were being affected by the internet rather than the bigger and less personal Kodak’s, Yellow Pages and Borders of the world that made SMEs pay attention to what hitherto had been a pesky parade of cold callers flogging them everything from websites to social media advertising.

Whatever it was, the past couple of years have seen a noticeable shift in thinking of our SME operators from the internet being a grudge purchase (to shut up spouses, kids and those same cold callers) to more of an informed strategic measure.

A new breed of business operator

The second reason for the shift is that the SME operators who were teenagers when the web hit critical mass some two decades back are now opening up their own businesses.

Unlike generations before them that had to be led kicking and screaming to invest in this truly revolutionary technology, to them the web is simply part of the business furniture.

To these Gen Ys, nobody has to take the considerable effort to persuade them of the power of the internet and your presence within it, they already know.

Given they have virtually grown up Googling, social networking, tweeting and eBaying the majority of their purchases, a digital presence for their new business is probably the very first thing they invest in.

Digital de rigeur

To them, the internet is what television was to those of us of an older vintage. It was the ‘go to’ medium for information, entertainment and communication.

Both of these shifts mean that the internet is now rightfully front and centre when it comes to SME marketing and business strategy. ‘Rightfully’ not because its in the digital industry’s interests for it to be that way, but rightfully because digital permeates so much of the business world including SMEs; it’s in their interests to promote its prominence.

Now instead of being one of many tactics a business uses to promote itself, ‘digital’ is an inherent component of business and marketing plans.

In many ways, digital IS the business for the foreseeable future.

And to some of us who have been banging on about it for so long, it’s about time!

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.