SMBs divided by the digital revolution

Lack of digital skills affects a third of SMBs in the UK as new ‘free-to-all’ learning hub is launched

New research has revealed a major skills gap among small and medium businesses in the UK, with almost half (48%) saying they don’t use their website to find new customers and 28% saying they have no website at all. Virgin Media Business, who commissioned the research, estimate this lack of skills represents £3.8bn of lost revenue to UK plc.

The figures show what experts described as an “alarming divide” between the power of digital technology and the way British businesses are using it.

The survey also found that a quarter (28%) of SMBs don’t currently have a website at all.

The statistics are revealed in a survey of over 1000 SMBs commissioned by Virgin Media Business which explores the current state of digital skills amongst small and medium sized businesses nationwide.

SMBs are worth an estimated £378bn to UK plc (European Commission’s SME Performance Review) meaning that by using digital tools to improve performance by just 1% would create an additional £3.8bn in revenue.

These findings have prompted Virgin Media Business to take action in the form of a new free online digital learning tool – The Big Digital Skills Hub. The fully mobile optimised website offers a mixture of written advice, animated video tutorials, interactive quizzes and downloadable resources.

Fronted by Sir Richard Branson, the hub brings together some of the top industry experts to offer SMBs 15 tutorials of digital knowhow. Topics range from setting up and maximising a website, to social media and content marketing. The whole experience has been designed to work around a busy schedule.

The research also found that 13% of the UK’s SMBs currently have no plans to build a website and a third (35%) of SMBs admitted that they do not have the social media skills needed to grow their business.

However, the results did highlight growing enthusiasm for the digital revolution with investment in hardware, web development and skills development all set to increase, giving a positive picture for the future of digital empowerment in the SMB community.

  • 35% of businesses reported that their investment in digital technology will increase by 20% over the next five years, with a quarter (25%) of SMBs saying it their investment will grow by more than 20%.
  • A quarter (28%) of SMBs consider developing their website a top priority for the business, with a further one in ten (10%) saying training in digital skills is a top priority.
  • In addition, the survey found that the use of social media amongst SMBs is significant, with 49% using LinkedIn to promote their business.

Mike Smith, Director of SMB Virgin Media Business, said:

“We’re in the midst of a technology revolution and digital has the potential to empower every SMB in the UK. Our research shows that the country’s small and medium businesses are excited by this revolution but there is an alarming skills divide between those doing it well and those who are struggling to seize all the opportunities that digital can bring them.

“That’s why we’ve launched The Big Digital Skills hub, but industry alone cannot drive the change that the UK needs. It’s the duty of government to help every SMB in the UK cross this divide. This launch is part of our commitment to helping small businesses succeed in the digitally enabled world we live in. With the right tools and skills, SMBs can continue to drive the UK’s competitive digital advantage.”

Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy Ed Vaizey said:

“Encouraging as many people as possible to get online and get the most out of the internet is vitally important in the digital world we live in. Research shows that companies that embrace technology will grow faster, export and create more jobs. That’s why Government has introduced funding for Broadband Connection Vouchers to improve internet access for small and medium sized businesses. We are also working in partnership with digital charity Go On UK to make it easy for small firms to find the right support to help them improve their digital skills and do more business online.

“Virgin Media Businsess’ commitment to improving the nation’s digital skills, alongside learning tools such as the Big Digital Skills Hub, will help businesses build their confidence in using the internet, and are a step in the right direction.”

Sir Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin Group, said: “

We are living in an increasingly connected world and wherever we go access to the internet is just a touch away through a smartphone or tablet. The way we do business has been transformed and trade online is growing at around 20% a year, so it’s now not just a case of making the most of an opportunity for your business, it is crucial for business survival.

“At Virgin we have embraced new digital technologies and it has transformed the way we do business and how we engage with customers. Social media has proved to be one of the most effective ways of reaching our customers and there is much more data available for us to find out what our customers want and how best we can create new products and services to meet those needs. Taking advantage of the power of the internet and digital technology has helped Virgin to create many of the great services we have today and put the needs of our customers at the heart of everything we do”

The launch of the Big Digital Skills Hub comes just days after the closing of a House of Lords consultation on Digital Skills on 5 September. Virgin Media, with Virgin Media Business, has submitted evidence around the importance of digital skills to drive economic growth.

The Hub also includes guidance and support from successful digitally savvy entrepreneurs from the Virgin Media Pioneers community.

The Big Digital Skills Hub continues the focus Virgin Media Business has taken during 2014 to support small, growing businesses in achieving their ambitions.

It builds on the success of 30:30 Vision, a unique event hosted by the telecoms company in July, to set out the challenges, opportunities and trends of the next 30 years of technology in business.

During October Virgin Media Business will be taking the Big Digital Skills Hub on tour around the UK, allowing businesses to get face-to-face advice on how to improve their digital skills.[signoff predefined=”Enjoy this?” icon=”icon-users”][/signoff]