Are micro-businesses too small to be relevant to the tech industry?

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The biggest business sector in the UK has been completely ignored by the tech industry.

They number in the millions, yet despite the fact that they are desperate for help, no government initiative, or big tech promise, has proved useful.

They are drowning in the digital environment. They need us. And we need them.

 

It’s an audience of millions and its growing every day

The micro-business population in the UK, those employing 0-9 people, is colossal.

According to government statistics, of the 5.9 million private businesses registered in the UK in 2019, 76%, or 4.5 million, have no employees apart from the owner. [source]

How those figures will shape up for 2020, after the COVID lockdowns and resulting employment bloodbath, is as yet unknown. Certainly many businesses will have closed, but with the rise in unemployment, we can also expect to see a mass increase of people starting new ventures in an effort to claw back lost income.

On the surface, in a tech-savvy society, you might expect that this coming period of uncertainty would be a boom time for the tech industry. More small businesses starting means an even larger market for companies offering hosting, site and app development, SaaS products and writing services, including SEO. However, sadly, that may not be the case.

Why?

Because despite it being nearly 30 years since the world suddenly went digital, the truth is, the micro-business sector is not tech-savvy. In fact, beyond personal use of social media and email, most of the 4.5 million people running businesses in the UK in 2020, feel completely disconnected from the technologies available to them.

Technology has left micro-businesses adrift

In a survey highlighted in the Peak b Small Report of small businesses, published in February 2020, only 25% of small businesses employed a specific digital expert, and 49% stated that they struggle with technology.

Note, these statistics are for small businesses, those which employ up to 49 people. An organisation of that size is huge compared to the individuals running their own one-person enterprises from their spare rooms and kitchen tables.

Unfortunately, it is not just the technology industry that has turned a blind eye to this significant group; finding any up-to-date, relevant data on this sector is incredibly difficult. All data suggests they add a huge amount to the UK economy, yet no one is interested in even asking them basic questions about how they are coping, and the only advice they get from government initiatives focuses on building lifeless, static websites and shallow social media use.

However, judging from my personal experience of working with hundreds of micro-businesses over the course of 30 years, my observation has been that they are adrift.

In the early days they had a fear of technology … it all seemed too alien for them. They could see a hint of potential, but most of it was confusing, surrounded by jargon. So they tuned out.

Now, as the industry has progressed, they have been left behind.

Their tiny budgets make them unattractive to target by companies offering services that could help them evolve and develop, and their lack of knowledge means they don’t even know what questions to ask when looking for help.

Yet they are out there. 4.5 million of them, and the numbers are growing.

Technology does, of course, offer them huge potential for growth, and offers you, as a provider, a vast untapped market. But, before you can do that, you’re going to need to recognise their value, and start talking their language.

This vast untapped market does not speak jargon

One of the biggest problems we have with connecting with micro-business owners is the tone of our communications.

We assume that everyone understands exactly what we are saying. But micro-business owners generally don’t speak jargon. Any type of jargon.

Not just technical, they don’t speak sales and marketing jargon either.

And that’s our problem.

By using language that is specific to an industry, be it sales, marketing or technology, we are putting up barriers. Not necessarily barriers to understanding, but ones that make it look as though the content that follows is going to require too much work to read.

Acronyms like; SEO, ROI, KPI, CTR and CRM, are all, not meaningless, but an absolute bore to a busy business owner who needs to find information fast.

Instead, making statements and asking questions that are easily understood would be more helpful;

  • Get found in search engines (SEO)
  • Increase your profit (ROI)
  • Did that strategy work? (KPI)
  • How many people clicked your ad.? (CTR)
  • How to you keep track of your customers? (CRM)

I’m not talking about ‘dumbing down’ your communications, but rather, just talking straight.

By using confusing language, not only are you likely to scare potential clients off, but you’re also going to reduce the likelihood that they’ll contact you with questions. Nobody wants to feel like an idiot, and if they don’t understand what you are trying to say right from the outset, they will click away.

"The customer is not a moron. She's your wife", David Ogilvy

That brilliant David Ogilvy quote is an excellent statement of where we are now.

Micro-business owners are not idiots! Far from it. They are your family, friends and neighbours. And, they are really busy trying to build something, from nothing.

Don’t look down on them for not speaking your jargon, just find ways of explaining it in a language that is easily understood.

Or, better still, become a trusted source of support and education.

Grow your market through education

First and foremost, micro-business owners need education. Most of us have not been taught how to use technology. However, through work or a necessity of handling daily life chores, we have stumbled our way through understanding the bits that are important to the specific tasks we have to handle.

Micro-business owners working alone, however, have not had the benefit of working with others as they figure things out. They are stumbling in the dark, alone.

They need information. Not information about your particular product or service, but background information on the state of play in your field and how it fits in to the business environment in 2020.

Think ‘white paper’ with the facts rather than a sales brochure with the benefits.

They need sales, marketing and technology 101.

Only then will they be in a position to consider your offering a viable option.

What we are talking about here is background tutorials. They need information not just showing them how a product or service works, but a beginner’s guide to why it is needed to start with.

And, they need it delivered in a format they can digest. So, here’s a few things to keep in mind;

  1. They’re really short of time – get to the point, make it clear and keep it moving.
  2. They don’t speak jargon - keep it in plain everyday language
  3. They need tangibles – PDF is not dead! Give people something they can printout and read at their leisure
  4. Images – use illustrations, diagrams, infographics, anyway you can to teach visually as well as through words.

However, before you get to the point where you strike up a conversation with the knowledge-hungry business owner, you have to find them, and that’s not going to be easy!

You’re unlikely to find them seeking you out on search engines, for several reasons, including;

  1. Without understanding the options, they don’t know what they’re looking for, and
  2. If your site is optimised with sales, marketing or technical keywords, they’re not going to know how to ask for what they’re looking for!

So, how are you going to find them?

If they’re not on search engines looking for you, where are they?

Here are a few suggestions on connecting;

1. Attend small business networking groups

As soon as lockdowns are finished, small business networking meetings, in the real world, will begin again. Find those in your area and attend.

From personal experience of such events I can tell you that being able to explain something in person, and answer any questions, is rewarding for both parties.

For the person you’re chatting with, there’s a greater chance of being able to understand the topic, and for you as the service provider, it’s great to get feedback and the opportunity to answer new and unexpected questions. It’s always a learning experiencing.

If you’re concerned that this may seem like a poor use of your valuable time, don’t underestimate the power of sharing! Be it in-person, or online, one of the best ways to get your message out is to help one person understand it first.

2. Guest blog on small business sector websites

There are many websites focused on small businesses. Find those that accept content and provide tutorials, preferably visual ones.

Again, think white paper not promotional brochure.

Produce something that teaches, not sells.

3. Build your own educational resource

On your own business website, present educational content. Again, visual content is better.

Build a library of background information and make it your mission to be the company that explains your field in the greatest detail.

Don’t make any assumptions about the readers starting level of understanding. Make it for absolute beginners and make it comprehensive.

Promote this content through social media using everyday language. Remember, at all cost, steer clear of sales, marketing and technical jargon.

Speak to the problem as you would in an everyday conversation, with everyday people.

4. Find their web-savvy friends and family

Some months ago, I found a survey that stated that 42% of business owners get their technology advice from friends and family. I’m actually surprised the figure is so low.

If people are stuck and they don’t know where to get advice from, naturally they’re going to turn to friends and family they trust. If we want to educate people who are not tech-savvy enough to find us online, then do the next best thing, communicate with the important people in their lives. And let the referral to your website come from someone they trust.

These people are usually the business owner’s biggest fans and if they find something that they think will help, they will share it.

Develop messages that people will see and say, ‘Bob will find this useful, I’ll send him an email!’.

5. Go low-tech, old-school, hard-copy ads.

This may seem a little backward, but don’t be fooled. Instead of spending thousands on a social media campaign, how about trying a small ad in the classified section of your parish magazine or local paper?

Take for example the Essex company Local Ad. The magazine run is several thousand copies and it’s distributed free to five areas. Many of their readers will have their own micro businesses.

The smallest ad is 1/8 page for £50, or £30 each if you sign up for 12.

The reason these types of magazines are still so popular is because people read them. This may be a great way to get in front of a new audience who are just not going to look for you online.

Make sure that the copy for your ad is nothing to do with technology, sales or marketing, but rather a business educational opportunity. Invite the reader to learn something, free, that is going to help their business.

Our communities will be stronger if micro-businesses thrive

Micro-businesses have been needing our help to understand the digital landscape since it first materialised. But now, with lockdowns and Brexit, more than ever, they are desperate for advice and education.

And, frankly, with all the changes going on, we could all do with more business too.

It’s always been the case that to get the most out of Web technology, you have to give more than any form of marketing before. Content and communication drive the digital world, and those that recognise that, and invest accordingly, have far more chance of succeeding.

There is a vast 4.5 million business market out there wanting your product or service to help them survive in these unprecedented times. But they don’t know how to find you or how best to use what you’re offering.

Please, reach out to them. Find a way to connect with them and help them understand how to use your products and services to get more out of their own business endeavours.

This really is a national call-to-action!

Despite efforts by government and the big players like Google and Amazon, our micro businesses are failing to come close to their digital potential.

They are our friends, our families and our neighbours. And far from being too small to be relevant, if they can thrive, we, as individuals and communities, will come through this difficult period, stronger.

So, how do we begin?

By looking at what we are doing to support them and by starting conversations on what more can be done.

Please leave a comment below. Let’s brainstorm and see what steps we can take.

Josette Dehaney

Josette Dehaney is a freelance writer with a focus on business and technology and a passion for nature. As the founder of WorkingTheWeb.co.uk and having worked on all aspects of Web technology over the past 30 years, she has a knack for helping people less tech-savvy understand the options available.

Experienced in SEO, and an avid researcher, she writes long-form blog posts, tutorials, white papers and visual content.