This article is sponsored by BT and written by BT’s digital marketing experts
2020 saw a small business digital revolution; hundreds of thousands of small businesses embraced digital tools and channels to stay afloat as the UK was told to ‘stay at home’.
That simple instruction called for an overnight adoption of new technology for everyday tasks, such as communicating with customers and suppliers as well as new working habits. Many of the changes were made quickly, with no knowledge of how long lockdown would last. But that experience brought about change for the long term; an estimated 800 thousand SMEs (Small-Medium Enterprises) took their business online for the first time.
Michelle Ovens CBE, the founder of Small Business Britain, says that the alacrity of UK SMEs was astonishing. She says: “Having overcome a significant fear of the unknown and investing in tech that may provide no return, and of spending time on things that are new and terrifying, many entrepreneurs broke through to find they could save significant time, costs and enable actual growth opportunities during the biggest economic downturn since the Second World War.”
The use of new technology also had a notable impact on business success. 54% of SMEs say that new technologies fueled an increase in sales. 32% said that the uplift represented at least 20% growth. Of the new channels adopted, 55% say they tried social channels such as Instagram and Facebook for the first time.
Online marketing is still an SME opportunity
But, on examining the post-pandemic landscape, research by BT and Small Business Britain in 2021 made some surprising findings, suggesting that many businesses are yet to fully embrace a digital future.
The research discovered that 2.4 million SMEs still don’t run paid advertising – that’s 40% of total UK SMEs with 0 to 100 employees. And only 30% of SMEs increased their use of paid social media advertising since 2020. Marketing experts claim this lack of adoption poses a worrying risk to many of the UK’s smallest firms, and will potentially hold them back from recovery and growth. That risk could be exacerbated as the cost-of-living crisis escalates.
Understanding the barriers to entry
The good news is that SMEs understand the opportunity that digital marketing offers, and are confident enough to approach it. The vast majority – nearly 80% – are ready for the challenge. 41% say they are somewhat confident about using digital technology. 25% are very confident and 12% class themselves as extremely confident. Only 5% are not confident at all.
The research revealed that most SMEs need is a little help and guidance when implementing a digital marketing strategy. 43% say they have some support but would welcome more. But a huge 40% feel that they do not have access to expertise and skills at all.
“I don’t feel like I always have support with digital when I need it. It is not necessarily designed for me,” says Amanda Alexander of Giddy Goats Toys. “Everybody is different in terms of their ability or confidence. Some of my staff would really struggle with sorting problems out. I would like to see more access to advisors and customer support. It should be supplied by government, councils, business organisations, banks and digital services providers.”
Developing the BT Digital Hub
The research and its findings have been the impetus behind the new Digital Marketing Hub from BT. It’s a new platform to help UK SMEs easily harness online channels to promote their business. The all-in-one service empowers firms to create and optimise multi-channel campaigns on Facebook, Instagram and Google, with tailored guidance along the way. This takes a huge amount of stress out of marketing for time-pressed SMEs.
For Mike Southern, Director and Co-Founder of Stage-Ed, the Digital Marketing Hub transformed his ability to reach new customers: “We partner with schools to introduce drama as part of the learning process,” says Southern “We’ve traditionally worked with schools across London, but we’re reaching totally new audiences across the UK. It’s easy to use, it’s flexible and it’s opened my eyes to new areas we can advertise in. Our campaign has turned enquiries into conversions and that, for us, is gold dust.”
To find out more about BT’s Digital Marketing Hub you can sign up here. You can also speak with BT’s dedicated team of experts to help get your digital advertising up and running in no time.