Why the UK needs a Go and Grow Online campaign

Guest Post from Emma Jones, founder of UK-based Enterprise Nation

With almost 50% of small businesses said to be without a website and, of those that are online, only a few taking the opportunity to trade, Emma Jones of London-based small business network, Enterprise Nation, outlines the need for a campaign to help British businesses make the most of the web.

When I founded Enterprise Nation in 2005 it was to help people turn their good ideas into great businesses. Now, by offering expert advice, events, networking and inspiring books, we have more than 60,000 members in the UK who are all looking to create thriving small businesses.

When Enterprise Nation first started, Facebook was still in its infancy and Twitter hadn’t even been founded, which shows just how quickly the online world has changed! With over 2 billion people now online across the globe, the digital world represents a big opportunity for small businesses. Having a website to showcase your products and services is like having a shop window that the world can see into, at any time of the day (or night!). It’s never been so easy to launch online with template website providers, blogging platforms and social media. So why is it that so many businesses are yet to embrace the web and reap the rewards?

In April, Lloyds Bank released their UK Business Digital Index which revealed:

  • 29% of small businesses and charities believe being online isn’t relevant to their business
  • Only 50% have a website and, on the whole, those that do are only providing basic functionality
  • One-third of businesses are without basic online skills and 75% don’t invest any money in improving digital skills

This was closely followed by the launch of a Digital Inclusion Charter by the UK’s Cabinet Office to close the gap between those making the most of e-commerce, and those who are not.

Surprised by these findings and in the midst of hosting five sell-out events aimed at arming small businesses with the information they need to get online, we approached the Cabinet Office to say we wanted to act. The result is a 12-month Go and Grow Online campaign that has two simple aims:

  1. Encourage more small business to get online, and
  2. Support existing online traders to grow

The campaign is sponsored by Verisign, alongside fellow sponsors BT and Microsoft. These are the companies that have the tools and infrastructure to enable greater business digital adoption across the UK.

With .com being the ‘gold standard’ and one of the most recognized top-level domains on the planet, it represents an ideal way for small businesses to take their first steps online. Additionally, Verisign’s platform provides infrastructure is powerful and resilient enough to have operated .com for more than 17 years with 100% operational accuracy and stability, a priority for every business with an online presence.

On our campaign launch night in London on July 31, 150 small business guests heard from other successful e-commerce entrepreneurs who are operating in the fields of travel, fashion and fast moving consumer goods. They spoke about how they got started, how they’re going global, and plans for the future. None of their businesses would be what they are today if they hadn’t taken that first step and gone online.

Emma Blake, once the youngest female to be appointed as FD of a FTSE 100 company, told the audience that her fashion brand for time-poor city women would not be selling 50 per cent of its stock to the US, had it not been for her company .com URL.

Pinstripe and Pearls is now sold in 170 countries worldwide.

She said: “It’s critical that we run Pinstripe and Pearls on .com as it enables our brand to be found cross borders, particularly in the US.”

Emma also said one of the first things she did was to invest in SEO and target bloggers which made for what she described as a ‘more elegant’ marketing campaign.

Other speakers at the event included Secret Escapes co-founder Tom Valentine, who told the audience that being in a fashionable online space had helped his discerning travel brand find the funding it needed to get to the next level.

Meanwhile, Lake District-based ingenious online bag brand Millican’s founder Jorrit Jorristma, gave up the corporate life for a lifestyle business he could run from home. The brand’s success has meant he has now had to take an office in a nearby farm building.

Leeds-based mum-of-two Fiona Wood told the audience she had built her British-made skincare brand Naturally Cool Kids from scratch.  She now sells online from her own e-commerce site and on Amazon, as well as Tesco Nutri Centres and dozens of independent stores.

While the campaign kicked off with the launch night, our activity doesn’t stop there. Starting in August and continuing for the next 12 months, there will be a dedicated micro-site filled with free and useful guides, monthly events in London and key cities, webinars with e-commerce guests, and a digital tracker to report on progress.

As the campaign progresses, I hope to share a few stories and key learnings from the hundreds of small businesses in the UK that we’re aiming to reach.

It is with support from Verisign that this has been made possible and we look forward to helping thousands of British businesses Go and Grow Online as a result.

Emma Jones is founder of Enterprise Nation. For more information, visit www.enterprisenation.com.