Growing Your Small Business Online

Growing Your Small Business Online

Are you a digital newbie? Here's a base to grow your business online.

By Daniel Kidd

The use of digital channels for sales, marketing and even distribution can be vital in helping your business to grow. The key to attaining this growth is innovation, rather than simply shifting your existing customers to digital.

Digital channels can be utilised to gain new customers you might otherwise have missed, increasing your sales potential. These include customers whose preferred way of shopping is online, and in particular younger groups who are less likely to be exposed to your press and broadcast marketing. Digital can also provide a relatively easy way to expand into new, untapped markets in other regions and countries.

You can increase your range by developing new products or service models to take advantage of digital channels. Digital tools can also boost the efficiency of your business processes, helping to drive down costs and boost customer satisfaction.

One of the fastest growing online sectors right now is education, both paid for and non-profit, thanks to the online expansion of universities and colleges. Online healthcare, and particularly generic pharmaceuticals, are also continuing to grow.

One sector causing excitement and controversy is big data, including the sale and analysis of the vast swathes of information that online technologies can now offer. Estimates put the growth of this sector at nearly 30% over the coming years.

In entertainment, while traditional broadcast channels still dominate, there’s online growth in digital subscription packages, streaming, downloads and an increasing amount of online-only content. Online retail also continues to grow much faster than the high street, thanks to increasing consumer confidence and a better online experience being provided by both small and large retailers.

Where is there growth online?

One of the biggest sources of online growth worldwide is emerging markets, where internet penetration is still accelerating. Africa, for example, has experienced an increase in internet users of over 5,000% this century, but still less than a quarter of people are online so this represents growth from a very small base. There’s similar growth in Asia and the Middle East, with increasing incomes and lower technology costs boosting the potential for online sales.

Internet growth in western countries has slowed. However, online sales growth is still strong as businesses are diversifying their internet business models with innovations like in-app purchases, entertainment subscriptions and same-day delivery. In the UK, online retail is growing at around 20% per year, while traditional retail is virtually stagnant.

To identify the best channels in which to expand your business, first consider the whole range of business channels that your company might potentially utilise, such as: retail, online, mobile, telesales, social media, affiliates, wholesale, franchising, and any other channels you can think of.

For any channel that you’re already using, consider whether you’ve maximised its potential. Where there’s an ability to push existing sales and marketing channels further and make them work harder, this can be more cost effective than branching out into new areas.

For any channel that doesn’t already form part of your operations, you need to consider how suited it is to your business model, and the return on investment you could expect from the channel.