SME's need to build digital DNA

Article by: Blob | Posted: 14th Dec 2018

14th Dec 2018

Digital and online tools connect businesses to customers

Today’s consumers expect to be able to interact with businesses through online channels. But according to our recent small business study commissioned by Google, 80 percent of the small businesses are not taking full advantage of digital tools. Find out what is holding small businesses back from digital adoption and what steps they can take to successfully enter the digital age.

Small business technology trends

Digital technology is driving many changes in consumer behaviour and the business environment. With online tools, businesses have greater insight into customer preferences, and build lasting relationships with them. In today’s digitally-driven economy, many consumers now expect to be able to engage with businesses through online channels.

It’s no secret that using digital tools such as online and e-commerce marketing methods can benefit small business. Small businesses with less than 50 employees can access new markets and target new customers at a relatively affordable cost using digital tools. Globally renowned research companies have found that, relative to businesses that have low levels of digital engagement, digitally advanced small businesses realized significant benefits. They:

  • Earned two times as much revenue per employee
  • Experienced revenue growth over the previous year that was nearly four times as high
  • Were almost three times as likely to be creating jobs over the previous year
  • Had an average employment growth rate that was more than six times as high
  • Were also three times as likely to have exported over the previous year

Despite these potential gains, more than 70% percent of small businesses aren’t taking full advantage of digital tools such as digital transformation, cloud based SAAS platforms, Easier Web based customer connection tools. Key drivers of digital engagement among small businesses

Greater market reach and brand promotion are among the top priorities for small businesses. 38% of small businesses cited increased sales and revenue as a benefit associated with using digital tools. Women-owned small businesses, which were found to be more digitally engaged than their male-owned counterparts, were more likely to identify increased sales as the top benefit resulting from the utilization of digital tools.

Organizational benefits such as improved communications, flexibility, and lower business costs are less likely to be identified by small businesses as drivers of technology adoption. Digitally advanced small businesses were twice as likely to have employees that collaborate regularly, as compared to businesses at a basic level of digital engagement. Collaborative employees are better able to generate value, innovate, and improve productivity. Many small businesses also believe that digital engagement is associated with happier employees: 69 percent of digitally advanced businesses stated that digital tools improve employee productivity and satisfaction.

One indicator of whether a business is digitally engaged is the tech savviness of its leaders. That’s because personal use of technology helps small business owners develop digital skills and improves their understanding of how to use digital channels effectively for customer engagement. 77 % of small business owners are regular users of technology for personal reasons, such as social media, messaging applications, online shopping or consuming digital media

What’s holding small businesses back in the digital age?

With so many small businesses not fully embracing the digital age, one might expect to find a broad range of barriers that are tough to overcome such as inadequate broadband, a lack of technical skills, or huge financial barriers to investing in technology. However, the issues are actually much simpler: Many small businesses need to be made aware of the benefits of the digital transformation.

Amongst the least digitally engaged small business, 40 % believe that digital tools are "not relevant for my business," and 38 % that "they are not effective for my business." That is a surprising finding, and indicates that less digitally engaged businesses may be unaware of the benefits associated with digital tools. This suggests that efforts to improve digital use across the Benelux region should focus on exploring and increasing awareness of the benefits that can be realized through digital technologies. In addition, 34% identified ‘privacy and security concerns’ as amongst their top three digital barriers.

How can we help the 70% to become more digitally engaged?

A combined effort between small businesses, policymakers, and other stakeholders in the small business ecosystem is required to improve the digital engagement of European small businesses, particularly in cohorts that are currently less digitally engaged. Potential actions towards more digitally engaged Belgian based small businesses include:

  • Increasing awareness of digital opportunities
  • Improving digital skills training programs
  • Recognize which digital journeys would enable disruptive scale
  • Preparing to address the challenges
  • Deeper understanding of business processes and making them efficient through digital transformation
  • Reaching out to boutique advisory organizations to help the entrepreneurs understand the various means to achieve digital transformation 

Improving the digital engagement of 70 percent of Belgian small businesses is not a task that can be completed overnight; however, taking these steps will enable less digitally engaged small businesses to seize new digital opportunities over time. This will be critical in achieving future small business growth as the consumer and business landscape become increasingly digital.

2017: The first findings

There are around 600.000 businesses with fewer than 250 employees in Belgium, representing 69.3% of working population in Belgium. The use of digital tools can help small businesses to improve their performance and respond to changes in the business and consumer landscape in an agile manner.