Opinion

Digital skills: Not just about tweeting, it’s about enhancing your business

5 min read

18 February 2015

We’re in the middle of a technology revolution. It’s a huge opportunity, and we need to embrace it. Virgin Media Business director Mike Smith explains why.

With technology constantly changing it can be difficult for businesses of any size to keep up. This is especially true for growing businesses that may not have the time or resources to invest in tech or the digital skills needed to use it effectively. 

Big or small, there is a divide between those businesses doing tech right and those that need more support. This gap in digital skills is costing the UK economy £3.8bn a year in missed growth. We wanted to play a part in closing this gap. So we created a free, online learning portal that gives SMEs the tools and know-how to use digital to propel their businesses.

This skills hub was brought to life as a live, interactive event that toured four major cities across the UK. The Big Digital Skills Tour brought business owners together to discuss the technology challenges they face and explore how digital can help them achieve their ambitions faster.

We discovered many growing businesses are excited about the potential digital offers. But understanding how to use it effectively for their own business can be a real challenge. From one man start-ups to more established SMEs, everyone wants to know how to use tech to their advantage.  

Currently, those doing digital well are poles apart from those yet to adopt and adapt. A massive 49 per cent of the UK’s SMEs say they don’t attract business through their website. Some 28 per cent do not have a website at all. 

This is surprising in our “digital age” where the first port of call for information is the Internet. Arming SMEs with basic digital skills can take their business in new and exciting directions. 

That’s why our workshops were designed to encourage participants to find creative solutions to business challenges. 

The workshops demonstrated the grit and determination UK businesses have to learn, adapt and succeed. 

Read more about the UK skills gap:

One startup in Glasgow wanted to broaden its customer base. By discovering how to use a website commercially, this sunglasses company will now reach out to a whole new audience that lies beyond its previous geographical limitations. 

Businesses everywhere, no matter how large or small, can gain so much from embracing digital. They just need the right tools to do so.  

By the end of the sessions, even the most sceptical attendees were confident in using tech as a key component of their business. 

In Glasgow, an entrepreneur launched a new online fitness website. He hadn’t thought about using social media to spread the word about business efforts yet. After learning the basics, he decided that he will run a “Biggest Loser” style competition on Facebook where the winners will receive free fitness lessons.

Overcoming these barriers was often a simple matter of using existing assets (people, skills, equipment etc.) in different ways. Identifying the right digital platform then allows SMEs to leverage this even further.

It’s not just commercial businesses that benefit from strong digital skills though. A Cardiff charity looking after vulnerable young people is struggling to reach new supporters. Through our workshop sessions they discovered that social media is the solution to this problem. Using their following on social media to amplify their content, the charity is aiming to increase public awareness of their cause and raise more funds in the process.

The business community is clearly eager to invest in tech. One in five businesses see tech as a major investment priority in 2015. But it’s not just up to the industry alone to create change.

The government has a duty to help every SME in the UK to cross the skills divide. With the right tools, those SMEs that make up 99.9 per cent of our economy can truly drive the UK’s competitive digital advantage. 

The trend for digital empowerment in the SME community is growing by the day. May it grow even stronger in 2015.

Mike Smith is director of SMB at Virgin Media Business.