Bridging the digital skills gap in Britain’s SMEs

The second annual UK Business Digital Index by Lloyds Bank showed that over a million small businesses lack basic digital skills. 

23/06/2015, latest thinking

Why should SMEs be concerned? Lack of engagement with digital technology and social media is affecting their bottom line. The Tinder Foundation worked with SMEs in the North East to improve their digital skills, and among participating businesses 91% realised cost savings, 63% reported time savings and 12% saw increased turnover.

If there’s a business case for enhancing digital skills among SMEs, what are some of the barriers and how could SMEs overcome them?

1. Digital natives

In a poll of 600 senior decision makers at SMEs, just one in five believed SMEs are giving enough opportunities to apprentices and graduates. By not investing in millennial talent, SMEs could be missing out on the digital expertise their business needs. That’s not to say that other generations cannot fill this gap, but as “digital natives” generation Y recruits are well versed in digital and social media platforms. Their innate digital “know how” means that they require less training, while their enthusiasm can change the mind-set of those who are reluctant to embrace digital.    

2. Encouraging a digital mind-set

As SME owner-managers get caught up in the day-to-day running of their business, digital and social media can drop off their priority list. 25% of organisations surveyed in the Lloyds Business Digital Index believe digital is irrelevant to them, and while other SMEs recognise its importance, too few are investing in it. Even if SMEs aren’t online, many of their customers will be, so it’s essential that digital and social media expertise is seen as a key strategic tool rather than a nice-to-have.   

3. Building confidence

Entering the digital age shouldn’t be scary, and there’s a wealth of advice out there for SMEs that haven’t taken the plunge. A good place to start is with free guides on using social media to grow your business available on the web. Exemplas also provides services which are designed to help SMEs become digitally aware through its Growth Hubs, Inspire2Enterprise and Building Enterprising Communities. Learning through experience is fundamental, and SMEs that lack confidence should start small, for example, by focusing on one or two social media platforms of strategic importance to their business. The more they use them, the easier it will become and the more natural it will feel.

4. Measuring ROI

The perception among some SME owner-managers that digital and social media doesn’t impact the bottom line can make it slip down their priority list. There’s no magic bullet to measuring ROI on social and digital activities, but that’s not a reason to discard them. Social and digital media are essentially additional tools for achieving an SME’s marketing and business objectives, and should be treated in the same way as others – email marketing, advertising and networking. Once it’s clear what an SME is using its social and digital media activities for, it can identify relevant metrics for measuring ROI.