Google, a friend to SMEs?Spalding begins our discussion by stating a fact about Google that people might not know, “we’ve always been serving small businesses with our ads products, our first advertiser was a small lobster company in Maine.” Idyllic New England imagery aside, what are things like for small businesses on the ground, here in the UK? “A third of UK businesses don’t have a website while 90% of shoppers now go online to check businesses out before they go into a store,” she says. A disconnect indeed. But Spalding says all is not lost, “I see this as a big opportunity for businesses to be active online and take advantage of all the customers that are looking for them.”
A lack of time and confidenceGoogle has done some research into this issue, and the findings suggest both a lack of time and confidence when it comes to small businesses getting online: “70% of SME owners say they need to save time at work,” says Spalding. “While 65% are looking for easy to use tools to help them with their businesses.” On top of that, Spalding says there’s some 44% of small businesses whose primary challenge is finding new customers and retaining them. They are also less than confident with their digital marketing, including 60% who say they aren’t managing their online opportunities well enough.
From ‘personal experience’But Spalding herself has felt these same emotions – because she’s been there. “I exactly felt like that,” says Spalding who once owned a small winery business with her husband. “I kept changing function, from doing the accounts and tackling government regulations to talking to my distributor. I wasn’t a natural digital marketer either.” The experience, she says, influenced her decision to join Google and lead the charge with its SME outreach, “if I can help small businesses grow then I’ve done something good,” she says.
Think like a consumerDespite the ‘high on pressure’ and ‘short on time’ nature of small business ownership, Spalding wants them to engage with and “actively manage” their “online presence” as much as possible: “Update your photos and holiday hours, it doesn’t take long,” she says. “If you offer special products at certain times of the year, make sure customers can find out about it.” “At the end of the day, we’re all consumers, right? We all look stuff up, so when it comes to how a business is viewed online, small business owners should think, ‘what would I want to tell me!? People forget that.”
Google training and toolsIf business owners are still feeling stuck on the online issue, they can head to Grow with Google, says Spalding, “it’s a good place to start for business owners wanting to grow their digital skills with free hands-on support and training,” she says. After that, what other tools should they be using? “Google My Business lets you update the things you need to improve your online presence. You can respond to the reviews you get online.” “Even if you just say, ‘thank you for the strong review’, or even if it’s responding to a bad one, it’s still constructive,” she says.
For startups…What tool would Spalding recommend early-stage startups use to increase their online presence? “As looking to reach new customers is the main pain point for small businesses, Smart campaigns can help,” says Spalding. “It’s simple to use and you can discover what locations you’re interested in reaching customers in, you can then establish your budget and goal, and it can help you set up your first ad creative.”
For the more established…And for businesses on the medium side? “Grow My Store works for bigger businesses that might already have an e-commerce site, it gives them a personalised checklist on how the website is doing versus best practices,” she says. “It provides a list of things to do next, including localised tips for medium businesses that might be exporting, it can tell you things like, ‘how is my website doing in Germany or France?” “We know that export is so important to businesses in the UK, and it’s complex. So having a guided set of resources to help manage all elements of export helps,” she says. As our meeting comes to a close, Spalding leaves me with a few words of inspiration for our community, “when small businesses grow our local economies grow, our high streets– everything!” “We have an opportunity here to get the word out, time doesn’t have to be a barrier to success.”
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