Small Business in 2009: Let’s speak their language.

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.

4 thoughts on “Small Business in 2009: Let’s speak their language.”

  1. Pingback: Sunday Papers 28 December 2008 -

  2. I couldn’t agree more. I’ve had many a briefing from large corporations who ‘want to target the SME market’. This makes small businesses sound like a homogeneous masss.

    Often people forget how distinct, idiosyncratic and personal startups, small and growing businesses are. It’s what marks them out.

    Fewer numbers, more names is what we need. It’s time to recognise and respond to the diversity of businesses in Britain and the extraordinary value they create.

  3. Alex,

    Thanks for your comment. I know that in 2009 I’ll be keeping a close eye on what you and your interviewees are saying. It’s great stuff.

    I’ll also be looking for net industry folk who aren’t self-obsessed with our ‘web bubble’.

    Best. dw.

  4. Probably a bit pointless posting this now but I will, at SB2.0 I spent 30 minutes or so with a very nice chap from Microsoft, after blagging 2 lots of £50 adword vouchers I can safely say it was a very worthwhile meeting, although small in comparision to google adwords, Microsoft (msn) has proved itself to me and has become an integral part of my business for the future, the fancy 5* hotel and 1st class flights not to mention my wifes insatiable appetite for handbags has paid off and christ knows something had to before that intolerable wench bankrupted me (again).

    Whoever supports me in the future be it eBay,Microsoft,Google, whoever, SB is the future, and you need to look after me.

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