One thing I earnestly hope to see in 2009 is a more honest and helpful approach from internet industry folk to small businesses (SMEs, SMBs, whatever term you fancy). Who’s been doing it well? I can’t think of any impeccable shining beacons although Microsoft and BT seem to have their fingers on the pulse. eBay hasn’t done too badly and is the de facto home of retailing SMEs. Google, certainly judging by the conversations I’ve been having, remains a bewildering mystery to most: Matt Howard on PPC Advertising and how 70% of SMBs Would Rather Have a Root Canal.
It’s time for internet pros to realise that the majority of businesses in the UK are sole traders/partnerships and rarely have more than one other person (probably part-time) on the books. Nearly half aren’t VAT registered. There’s no techie to hand, let alone an IT department. My impression, not least from Small Business 2.0, is that there is a willingness to experiment and spend some money (even in these bleak economic times) but there is also wariness. And this wariness isn’t related to more advanced aspects of operating online (PPC/CPC, SEO, blogging, social media) but as much about the basics. How can my small business get a website up and running? Is my website working hard enough? How can I ensure it’s generating leads or sales?
None of these are unreasonable questions or absurd requirements and whilst it’s massively disappointing that more small businesses aren’t more advanced, it’s where we are. And I think the web industry is partly to blame for having failed to embrace small businesses properly hitherto.
Why should internet folk take the time and energy to engage small businesses? Because the numbers make sense. It’s a huge constituency that have some money to spend (admittedly not lavish budgets but these are straitened times) and they’re ready to make the advances. In the downturn, I suspect that net folk are going to have to work harder than ever before to attract customers (which won’t do us any harm). And it’s time to start reaching out to small businesses on their own terms, rather than our own.