25 years on: Where would businesses be without the World Wide Web?

In 1989 promoting a new SME profile was all about meetings, networking and press coverage, not to mention “who you knew”. Easy and immediate access to prospects and the wider network was a thing of wishes and dreams.

Today though many a business is born and raised to childhood, sometimes event to adulthood, digitally. Take for example online clothing boutiques run out of people’s bedrooms, for these businesses a physical presence has become the thing of hopes and wishes, even if appropriate and desirable.

A fine example of a business born from the web, or more specifically social media, is sb.tv. Jamal Edwards was a teenager in London making amateur films of rap freestyles on a hand held camera and uploading them to YouTube. Now sb.tv is valued at £8m and Jamal himself is number 39 on the annual list of Britain’s young wealthy (2013).

This is clearly a business that wouldn’t have succeeded before 1989, in a world without the World Wide Web, but then Jamal himself was nothing more than a twinkle in his mother’s eye back when I was starting out on my own…the less said about that the better!

However it’s not just the internet that has helped these young entrepreneurs, yes without it their dreams and aspirations might have taken a bit longer to bear fruit, but drive and commitment are traits all entrepreneurs and business owners need in abundance.

In 1989 I made sure my new business venture was covered in every avenue of local and national press possible, paper press mind you not digital. I put my name out there using any means available to me and made use of some very key contacts.

I got my first website in 2007 some 18 years after the web itself came into being, that website was extremely basic and was very quickly replaced by my social media minded then PA (now Director of Marketing) started working for me the following year. Since then we have undergone a complete brand re-vamp and the newest iteration of our website is just six months old.

I’ll admit I was slow to the online and social media game but, after some convincing, I now have a fully functioning, aesthetically pleasing, mobile friendly, social media ready website that, going forward, will hopefully become another avenue for attracting new business. As a services company e-commerce is not something I have had to invest in but I know having a presence in the digital world is essential.

Now we have three twitter accounts (one for each aspect of the business) everyone in the office is on LinkedIn and our gallery has its own Facebook page.

Personally the internet and social media allows my family, currently spread across the globe, feels closer than ever before. I am just a click away from pictures and videos that leave me smiling for the rest of the day.

Working solely with SME’s I still come across businesses whose online presence is woeful and it is one of the first things I try to rectify if I can.

Admittedly there are still potential client pools out there that prefer a good old fashioned letter and a face to face meeting, but those pools are drying up. I am not diminishing the importance of a personal approach to business, in fact I am a keen advocate of this approach in my own company, but at least nine clients out of ten will make their decision based on your website and online presence.

Starting a business is hard regardless of the avenues available to you but today’s entrepreneurs have access to much more than ever before. The need to promote a new business venture in order to attract clients and raise your profile has not gone away but, as will always be the case, advances in technology will provide greater opportunities for exposure, and these are ones that cannot be ignored.

Jo Haigh is head of FDS corporate finance and the author of The Keys to the Boardroom – How to Get There and How to Stay There.

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