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There’s no getting away from the fact that economic conditions remain challenging for small businesses across the UK. And as a result, it is vital that our country’s organisations use all the tools at their disposal to ensure they are able to take advantage of any growth opportunities.
At Lloyds Banking Group, we believe that one of the key avenues for business growth is embracing digital technology, and it’s clear there is much work to be done on this issue.
We carried out some research recently, which found that 36% of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the UK have no website. Of the 64% of SMEs that do have a website, 15% of those have no functionality beyond simply providing information.
This highlights a real need to provide SMEs with the support to improve their online presence.
For the last year or so, as part of our commitment to helping businesses across all industries, we have been leading the Business Finance Taskforce mentoring initiative, which is a vital resource for many organisations, and provides us with the ideal avenue to pass on best practice, particularly around digital capabilities.
We joined forces with the Small Firms Enterprise Development Initiative and Business Mentors South West to develop a new training module designed to improve the digital skills of our mentors – enabling them to provide a higher level of help and support to UK entrepreneurs and SMEs. We will be rolling this out to our 400 enterprise mentors and also to our wider networks via the Mentorsme portal.
We are also launching a network of digital advocates within the bank, which will help inspire businesses and advise them of the benefits of the internet to support business growth in communities.
There are a great many organisations, both commercial and not for profit, who are not making the most of the opportunities that going online brings
Eva Eisenschimmel, Lloyds Banking Group
According to Optimisa research, 46% of SMEs say they would have benefited from more support when starting up with issues such as web design and management, search engine optimisation, basic online skills and using social media, which is why we are investing in our teams to know how to inspire and signpost charities and SMEs to the support on offer.
In addition to this, and to further equip all of our business customers with digital know-how, we have developed a toolkit designed to help SMEs improve their digital skillset, which is available to anyone.
The kit will cover many aspects, right through from setting up email or an e-commerce site, to using online banking and digital marketing. The guide contains advice, case studies and links to further information, and we believe it is a great way of sharing best practice and the benefits of operating online and using digital technology.
Indeed, our research showed that 78% of SMEs saved time due to digital automation and communications, and 51% saw improved sales when adopting digital technology. This really exemplifies the benefits that can be gleaned.
With digital technologies having an impact on all businesses, from SMEs through to large corporates, there is no sector or size of organisation that can afford to ignore the opportunities the internet can offer. And it is for this reason that we are proud to be one of the founding partners of the Go On UK campaign, which aims to increase the digital skills of the UK’s SMEs.
But it’s not just commercial entities that can benefit from an online approach. Charities and other not-for-profit organisations should also consider how digital can work for them.
The internet allows an unparalleled opportunity for all charities to cut costs and to communicate with donors. The research found that digitally mature charities are more than twice as likely to have seen increased turnover. Yet only four in 10 small charities are taking donations online, so, unsurprisingly, this was one of the most frequently mentioned areas where support would be welcomed.
Read more on IT for SMEs and charities
One example of a charity which has really embraced digital technologies to maximise its success was Child’s i Foundation. Five years ago Lucy Buck was a TV producer but she gave it all up to rescue abandoned babies in Uganda believing that, instead of languishing in institutional care, loving families could be found for these children to give them hope for a brighter future.
Child’s i Foundation set up a pilot project to challenge the belief that institutional care is the only option, working with the government to change attitudes towards adoption nationwide. Their vision is to see every child in Uganda grow up in a loving family.
Child’s i Foundation is reliant on its community of supporters. They harnessed the global power of the internet from day one to create an online community, embracing interactive social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr. Reaching out to potential donors through the digital world helped the charity to raise over £10,000 in just 38 hours - something which was vital to save a child’s life.
As the statistics show, there are a great many organisations, both commercial and not for profit, who are not making the most of the opportunities that going online brings and, at Lloyds Banking Group, we recognise that we have a responsibility to encourage and support them to learn the skills that will give them the confidence to take advantage of the possibilities.
Eva Eisenschimmel (pictured) is group marketing and brands director for Lloyds Banking Group. To view Lloyds’ digital toolkit, and for more information on how the bank can work with businesses and help maximise the opportunities offered through digital technologies, visit http://businesshelp.lloydstsbbusiness.com.
This was first published in June 2013