What did we learn from Local Business Week?
As Local Business Week has now drawn to an end, it seems appropriate to take a look back at what the campaign has taught us about the state of local business and SMEs in the UK today. Running from the 13th – 19th May, the campaign aimed to promote local businesses in the community with the aim of both increasing the number of customers coming through their doors and providing additional help in areas that smaller businesses traditionally struggle with. The week also gave analysts an opportunity to try and establish exactly how well local businesses are doing in the current economic situation and how they may improve.
Currently, local businesses (or small to medium sized enterprises) make up the vast majority of companies operating in the UK. Yet, as the economic situation continues to shift and remains difficult to predict, smaller businesses are struggling with fundamental changes in the way consumers act, making it even harder to achieve success and maintain it. Whereas previously the high street could be viewed as the dominant shopping arena, there is now a much larger emphasis on supermarkets and an even bigger move towards the virtual realm and online shopping. To many local businesses it appears that the days of high street success are over and changes need to be made. So, what exactly are these changes and what has Local Business Week taught us?
One important piece of information that has emerged from studies of Local Business Week is the role of technology within SMEs. Figures show that 1 in 4 local businesses still don’t have a website and that, amongst those that do, only a third use their site for sales purposes. Such statistics highlight an enormous gulf in the use of technology between smaller businesses and larger companies that have come to dominate the modern British economy. However, simply creating websites for every small, local business is not the answer to their problems. This needs to be integrated within a full restructuring of the business and how it utilises technology of all kinds.
The question of relevance
If Local Business Week revealed the lack of technological integration in small businesses, it also raised questions as to why this is important to modern consumers. Are customers now doing most of their shopping online or is the internet just their main source of information? Does an online presence increase the number of customers walking through the door? While questions like these can only really be answered with a little further research and a concerted effort to help local businesses implement changes, it is clear that the virtual realm will play an increasingly important role in determining whether local businesses survive on the high street. Turning to legitimate business recovery companies may allow you to turn around a struggling business as you commit to learning more about technology and how it could help you.
Interestingly, Local Business Week also revealed that smaller businesses, understandably, struggle with certain important aspects of business, in particular marketing. Considering the fact that large organisations usually employ entire departments dedicated to marketing their brand and products in the right way, it comes as no surprise that smaller operations lack the time or resources necessary for the implementation of an effective marketing strategy. With this in mind, the organisers of Local Business Week gave advice to many small business owners on the subject of marketing. To a large extent, this advice revolved around the idea of knowing what audience you’re aiming for and the best ways of reaching it. After all, there’s no point in advertising to a demographic that’s not interested in your product, nor is it a good idea to utilise outdated or inefficient means of delivering a message.
The value of keeping it local
Fortunately, Local Business Week also revealed to a great number of business owners that consumers definitely like the idea of ‘staying local’ and trying to purchase local goods whenever possible. However, it’s important that support for the idea of buying local becomes a reality and consumers begin to follow through with the stated belief in supporting local businesses and act with their purchasing power. How local businesses can maintain such support and transform it into continued greater sales is a difficult question and one that will vary from one organisation to another. However, it seems clear that a continued campaign of awareness in favour of local companies will be important.
SMEs need to take advantage of both the support raised by this week-long campaign and the advice generated by research into how successful it was. While it seems clear that local businesses need to work hard at moving with the times and striving for greater technological integration, it is also important that they make the most of their position as a local business and the support that this can generate. The British public has shown that they are willing to support smaller businesses, but that this would be made much easier if local businesses began to make changes.