Sharing his thoughts on how small businesses can achieve ever-evolving resiliency, Sage’s VP Small Segment, Michael Office outlines the importance of ultra-modern e-commerce for the sake of the UK’s economic stability.
Small businesses may provide the backbone to our economy, but many have suffered throughout the pandemic. In the UK, government statistics show that SMEs make up more than 99% of registered businesses and provide 52% of private sector turnover. As a result, when shops were forced to close and customers encouraged to stay at home, it was essential for small businesses to quickly evolve with changing customer expectations, whilst continuing to support employees and balance operating costs.
The return of busier high streets and growing customer footfall has meant the resurgence of something that looks like normality for small businesses. However, moving forward it will be critical to remember the lessons from such defining events – when disruption hits, it hits hard and fast. More than ever, a small business must be resilient, which means going online and being digital-first. It’s vital they don’t see this sort of change as a burden – for businesses, this is an excellent opportunity to grow.
Grow alongside your customers
This momentous shift of small businesses to online platforms is as one of the most crucial pandemic-induced changes. While many shoppers are excited to return to their favourite restaurants and establishments after a long period indoors, digital will be difficult to beat in the long run. Briz Feel’s survey says that over half (57%) of consumers now prefer shopping online compared to 31% who still enjoy the experience of shopping in a physical store. Consumers who were not already a dab hand at online technology soon found its possibilities hugely convenient, with its wider choice and diverse delivery options.
The physical storefront will always have a role to play, but small businesses are moving into an economy that is digital-first and, when black swan events like COVID-19 hit, often digital-only. It is safe to say that in the not too distant future, the bulk of their business will be carried out online. This is something to be embraced – an opportunity in the waiting. A business built to be digital-first is more resilient to unforeseen disruption and flexible to changing customer needs. Its digital ‘door’ is always open, allowing customers to place orders at any time of day – including when the physical shops are closed.
A digital storefront also opens many possibilities when it comes to customer care and the customer experience. Small businesses thrive on their customer relationships, but it’s easy to worry that these will suffer if you can’t meet customers face-to-face. However, an online storefront gives businesses unprecedented insight into customer preferences.
From what customers most enjoy browsing to their dwell time on specific pages – a small business owner has an abundance of valuable data at their fingertips. Armed with the means to understand what customers like, and analyse where they experience problems online, small businesses can drive better decision-making. Despite the physical distance, a small business is empowered to constantly improve the online experience for its shoppers.
Crafting a company in the cloud
Going online presents a multitude of new opportunities for small business. However, some preparation is essential before the transition can be fully made. To embrace a truly robust online model, small businesses need to be supported by easy payment technology and support systems. Usually, e-commerce transactions need to go through an online merchant or payment provider, so small businesses must ensure this relationship is in place first before they invest heavily in their online presence.
A larger challenge is visibility. When all your customers and staff are in-store, it’s relatively easy to keep an eye on operations. Organisations traditionally check the books when they need to know how business is ticking over. But this isn’t as easy when everyone is working remotely. Without the right tools and technology, staying on top of things can be tough.
However, when all the information needed is digitised and available online, things become far easier than before. The cloud provides a comprehensive, secure environment to monitor and improve your business. Key business information, like customer orders, transactions and payroll, can be digitised and moved to the cloud, making information available no matter when or where one is working. A small business owner maintains the same level of control and oversight whether they’re working remotely or in the office.
The cloud also provides access to accounting tools that can quickly streamline manual work that typically goes into closing the books. This is why Gartner’s research notes that investment in the public cloud has been growing for years – driven greatly by small businesses.
Meet your customers where they are
It has always been imperative for businesses to move with the times to ensure success. While the physical storefront isn’t going anywhere soon, it is wise to prepare for the unexpected. Customers are inevitably moving online, so small business must meet them there.
Fortunately, e-commerce isn’t solely the domain of large enterprises or multinational corporations. With the support of cloud-enabled tools and capabilities that facilitate unmatched connectivity, visibility and control of the customer experience, any business can create a strong online presence.
Change can often appear frightening but moving to a digital-first business model is one huge step in the right direction. Those who take the leap won’t regret their decision.
Michael Office leads Sage’s product teams in the UK and Ireland, where he stays connected to the needs of businesses to design, build and launch technology and services that solve their needs.Click below to share this article