When mentioning small businesses, this is not about those who have a visible shop front, but tradesmen and businesses providing services that do not have the benefit of this visibility. How has the internet affected these business owners?
Years ago before the existence of the internet how did the small business owner raise awareness and promote their business? Word of mouth played a big part in the promotion of the small business owner. Communities around the UK were close knit, neighbours actually spoke to each other and would share a coffee at each other’s houses’ or have a chat over the garden fence and it was during these conversations they would share experiences and contacts. People were more personable and consumers tended to use only local tradesman and services.
The small business owner would also advertise their services via leaflet drops, in local publications or cold calling at people’s doors. Let’s not forget one of the major players in small business promotion – The Big Yellow Book, formally The Yellow Pages now known as Yell which was practically every household’s bible. This sparks nostalgic memories of their tagline ‘let your fingers do the walking’ and their fantastic ‘Fly Fishing by JR Hartley’ ad campaign! In some people’s minds those were the ‘good old days’!
Now in 2014 and the new Yell, although still prevalent is slightly lost, swamped in the midst of many classified ad websites, it can be difficult for the consumer to make an informed decision…. and for the small tradesman and business owner to stand out amongst their competitors.
It is obvious that the world has been revolutionised by the Internet which is a truly wonderful innovation, but has it helped the small businessman?
Business promotion has been forced to change with the raise in consumer’s habits to find consumables, products and services on the internet, most people now joined to the hip with their mobile devices. We are all now receiving junk email rather than junk mail and our fingers are still doing the walking of a different kind.. on the keyboard. However, the way in which small businesses make their mark is relatively the same. Facebook and Twitter now replace that chat over the garden fence, the leaflet drops are now email drops and the face to face interaction has been replaced by chatting on mobile devices and computer screens.
One big advantage the internet has given small businesses is the opportunity a wider reach to many more potential new clients, it has given the small business owner access to a wealth of knowledge and advice literally at their fingertips and has empowered people to create new companies and support themselves.
Looking at research over the recent years, the Bolton Report identified around 820,000 small businesses in the UK in 1971. By the turn of the century according to official government estimates of the business population, this figure had increased to 3.5 million. Although part of a long term trend, the rise in businesses has grown significantly from 4.26 million in 2008 to 4.8 in 2012, which is a rise of around half a million which is remarkable growth from the onset of a recession.
Although a number of factors have contributed to this growth, one key driver is the contribution of the micro business (0-9 employees). The contribution of micro businesses has been increasing in recent years and the growth in the business population has been driven by micro firms which have increased by 40% since 2000, a direct correlation with the growth of the internet. The growth of micro businesses would not have not been possible to this extent without the internet.
There is rising consumer demand for high speed mobile internet which will only increase commercial opportunities for businesses. The internet may not be helping the high streets but is proving to establish thousands of successful new small businesses in the UK. Small firms who were around before the internet have to realise that technology is no longer an optional extra but a key driver to growth. Marketing budgets need to include allocation for social media, this should be a part of any small business marketing strategy. The internet enables small businesses greater access and reach to different markets and locations, it can be a source of a great advice and idea sharing and there are fantastic marketing opportunities through social media. If you are a new business there are huge savings on overheads and startup costs.
So a clear message to all small businesses and tradesman, stay in touch with the latest internet trends and consumer shopping habits, EMBRACE CHANGE, TAKE ADVANTAGE, USE SOCIAL MEDIA AND CHANGE WITH THE TIMES!