Small is beautiful for SMEs taking first steps online

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Jae Ashton, owner of Devo-Tea, in Lichfield

By Eleanor Bradley

With over five million small businesses across the country, independent businesses are often the highlight of local high streets, adding individuality and a break from the larger chains.

Over a quarter of small businesses in the UK don’t have a website, despite the fact that 67% of consumers say they look online before they visit a local business. There are many reasons for this: money, time, expertise and the belief that “I just don’t need a website” all play a part. But with shoppers getting increasingly web-savvy, all SMEs benefit from a basic online presence; without one chances are that search engines will do the job for you, often inaccurately and putting off would-be customers.

When you consider the 1,001 things that small business owners have on their plates any day of the week, it’s not surprising that getting online doesn’t always make it to the top of the list. The younger generation might be growing up digitally literate but creating a website is still a new experience for many experienced traders. So, when we discovered in recent research that nearly a third of offline SMEs would be interested in a getting a website if someone helped them through the process, we thought we’d lend a hand.

We swung into action by trying out a skills swap in Lichfield. A group of computing students from Walsall College was paired up with local, offline businesses. The students were thrilled to put their skills into practice and gain some valuable real-world experience by creating one-page websites, and local business owners got the online footprint they wanted, opening them up to customers searching online.

“It was something we kept putting off because we didn’t know where to start,” admitted Paul Bailey, owner of local café Platters Tapas . Courtesy of Thomas Ali, a student from the College, Paul is now the proud owner of a new site that “really shows off our business and will be a great asset in helping to attract new customers.” Thomas enjoyed a couple of meals for free in return; a win-win for all involved!

Skills swaps were exchanged from tea shops to beauty bars and clothing stores across Lichfield, for some like Jae Ashton, owner of Devo-Tea, it was the next logical step to enhance her marketing efforts.

You’d never open a new high street shop without putting up a sign first to advertise your business and a website works in the same way as a digital signpost, telling potential customers about your goods and services. Web browsing has become today’s window shopping and what’s often overlooked is that business websites don’t all have to be complex, multi-page, e-commerce trading posts from the outset – small is beautiful and your site can and should be as unique and individual as you are. In Lichfield, our student team helped local SMEs to create succinct sites that showcase the businesses, locations, opening hours and how to get in touch.

The real giant leap for some independent businesses is getting a website, once there, expanding their online footprint can be done in small steps. Our skills swap in Lichfield  has shown SMEs how straightforward it can be to keep up with the way today’s consumers look for them.

Eleanor Bradley, pictured above, is COO of Nominet which runs the UK Domain