The COVID-19 crisis has been difficult for individuals and businesses alike. Stories of doom and gloom continue to dominate our news. However, there are a few positive developments that have emanated from the deadly outbreak. Amid the slowing economic activity, the COVID-19 crisis has led to a surge in e-commerce and accelerated innovation and adoption of digital solutions.
The enforced Health protocols have made us rethink how we do business, socialize, travel, and learn. Businesses that require physical contact have been hit the hardest since the closure of a company or limited working hours meant losing revenue, job cuts, and a risk of permanent closure.
The same could not be said for businesses with a digital model of doing business. Such companies were able to take part or whole of their businesses online. This worked well for them because most consumers opted to use automated channels to obtain goods and services.
With no or limited access to their physical shops or market stalls, traders needed an outlet to continue with the business. Those who had or who were able to move their businesses online were at an advantage.
Unfortunately, most SMEs don’t have the financial muscle to adapt as fast as more established businesses. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the ability of SMEs to develop internal digital infrastructures that can capitalize on the benefits of digitalization is limited by a lack of financial resources and/or skills.
Beyond the COVID-19 crisis, the business case of taking a business online is immense. Online platforms are diverse ranging from company website to having a dedicated social media presence.
It is important for a business whether small, medium or large to have an active strong online presence. For starters, the Internet opens you and your business to a world of opportunities, unlike a brick-and-mortar business that is restrictive in terms of the number of people you can reach and the time you open and close.
It is commonly said that the Internet never forgets. While let me put it to you that the Internet never sleeps. If your small business has an online presence, you allow it a virtual 24-hour showroom accessible to people from all corners of the world. This 24-7 access enables potential customers to interact with your product or service at their convenience. If yours is a physical store, then customers can only access your products and services when they walk into your store when you are open.
As of January 2021, there were 4.66 billion active internet users worldwide, representing about 60 per cent of the global population. Of this total, 4.32 billion (92.6 per cent) accessed the Internet via mobile devices.
To date, I am still amazed whenever I meet entrepreneurs who still rely solely on social media to run their small businesses. They have virtual shops on either Instagram, Facebook or Twitter and yes, their businesses are very successful. What with the latest statistics showing that Twitter has 350 million users, Facebook two billion users, and another one billion users on Instagram.
With this kind of reach, it pays for a small business to be present online.
Being online not only allows you to sell your products and services, but it also allows your consumers and potential clients to know more about your brand. If you have an active and dedicated website, people can learn more about who you are, your management, what you offer, and even allow for timely feedback.
Other than the wider range of target, other benefits that SMEs can accrue from having a virtual business are increased publicity, increased brand awareness and economical marketing. By economical marketing, I mean that while other forms of marketing have been known to bear fruit, online marketing is the only way to earn huge profits with little investment in digital marketing.
Governments should develop policies to strengthen SMEs’ digital prowess by organizing seminars or giving incentives and concessions to allow small business owners to take their businesses online.