On 28th November the government launched an initiative as part of its ‘Business is Great’ drive to improve and grow business in the UK. This initiative is aimed at getting businesses to do more online (Great Business Websites),  but it is a little puzzling as to why it needs to exist at all. Surely everyone ‘gets’ the internet by now?

As successful UK business is essential for pretty much everything else in the country (security, health, welfare, etc.) it is difficult not support anything that has business success as its aim.

This new campaign is called ‘Do More Online’ which is aimed at the 2 million business in the UK who do not have an effective web presence. Fair enough, we are a web development business we must support this stuff, but how did we get to 2015 and still find 2 million businesses without an effective web presence?

shopping cart moneyWell a part of the problem is that when discussing business in general on-line the figures trotted can be a bit loose and none specific, so it is worth shining a little bit of informed light on them to begin with. Firstly theh ‘Do More Online’ publicity states that ‘Total website sales in the UK are worth £164 billion’. There is no reason to dispute this in fact the UK is a genuine world leader in the amount of business we do online – even ahead of the US in terms of sales value per person.  What is problematic is the statement that businesses with a just a few employees, or sole traders could grab a slice of this. This is exactly the sort of thing that makes people cynical about the web design industry.

Not every business model can transact online – we need to be clear about that. However, just about every business can market, or sell on line. Marketing brings people to your website where they can view the sales arguments and get a clear view of the advantages of trading with you. This makes the final sales pitch / transaction so much easy – even if that sale is not made using the conventional shopping cart type of approach.

In these terms the government is in fact being a bit conservative as a substantial portion of business not directly carried out online in fact is owed to an effective online presence. The real figure when this idea is added in is a great deal more than £164 billion cited. This is true whether the business be a one man band, or a corporation.

But hang on – I am getting a bit ahead of myself here. Let’s pick up again that cynical point I mentioned earlier. We are not in the early stages on the internet any more. This year Christmas sales on the internet are up 22% – a year-on-year rise that is part of a continual trend that has existed for at least the last 15 years. This really should be no suprsie to anyone these days. So why are there still 2 million businesses that need to be sold on the idea that having a good web presence is a good business strategy?

Well, from experience there are three main reasons.

  1. we haven’t needed to do this in the past, why start now?
  2. it doesn’t apply to our business
  3. we haven’t got round to it / it’s on the too difficult pile

Let’s look at each one in turn, first: ‘we haven’t needed to do this in the past’. This is an easy one to debunk as we are not in the past anymore. The fact that a particular business model has been good to date does not mean it will be good in the future. Even if the website is not directly needed to generate sufficient business today, it can be an investment to generate the sort of interest that will be useful tomorrow. Over the years I have seen businesses that have had their trade gently erroded by this attitude until they exist no more. Often the business just closes with the reason being cited as owner retirement when it could in fact have been sold – netting the owner a tidy retirement sum. A crying shame.

Second: “it doesn’t apply to our business”. Actually this argument can stand up very well. Many business acquire trade throught tender responses only, or have long term contracts with only a small amount (or even just one) customers that make all time and money spent on additional marketing a waste.  The missing dimension is of course when you want to diversify, or a major customer closes, or brings all of the services, historically contracted to you, in-house. Without the background marketing presence to fall back on, you may have to start from scratch when the business may be under alot of financial stress – a less than ideal scenario.

Thirdly: “we haven’t got around to it”. Often this is qualified with, “but we know something must be done”. At first glance this looks like sloth, but it is in fact often caused by fear – the fear of getting it wrong, or the fear of not having enough technical knowledge in order to make a good decision. Much like the we “haven’t needed this in the past argument” this can also lead to an erosion of business over time to a point where funds to invest in a website become scarce and getting it wrong becomes critical rather than inconvenient – making the fear factor even worse. Paraphrasing a quote from the Chinese philosopher Confucious over 2500 years ago – “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. The improtant thing is to make a start, keep it small and grow as you learn. But the important thing is to not put it off and get started while you can.

No matter what the argument, the businesses without an effective web presence are missing a trick. Even if enough business is coming through the door, it is impossible to know how much more business could be coming through the door with a good web presence to market the business and support sales.

This government initiative has to be applauded, even if it is baffling as to why it is need at all.