More than 40% of small businesses in Europe do not have a website. That’s a staggering figure when you consider how important the internet revolution has been for society and the economy at large. It’s difficult to think of an area of life that hasn’t been transformed by the internet, mobile, and other digital technologies.
Is this inability to adapt holding back Europe’s economy? Small firms, including traditional family-owned businesses, form the backbone of the European economy. In fact, 99% of all businesses in Europe are Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs). Yet, perhaps because they represent a more traditional way of doing business, they are often slow to change and adapt to new trends; over 40% of SMEs in Europe say they still haven’t adopted any new digital technologies such as mobile internet, social media, cloud computing or big data.
New technologies offer enormous potential to small businesses in particular, because they can scale up quickly and massively increase their reach, allowing them to sell their products and services internationally. SMEs that fully embrace the web, for example, are almost 50% more likely to make sales outside their region. So why aren’t more small businesses in Europe using digital technologies?
So, what digital skills will be essential for small businesses if they still want to exist in a decade? To get a response, we spoke to Lenard Koschwitz, Director for European Affairs at Allied For Startups, a worldwide network of advocacy organizations focused on improving the policy environment for startups. Here’s what he had to say:
Ten years, to be quite frank, is a pretty long period when you’re talking about start-ups. Even if you want to exist in one, two, or three years time then digital technology is going to change significantly. So, I think it’s crucial that you should be able to adapt along the way. But not just changing for the sake of changing; you should be flexible enough to listen to your clients and customers, and understand what they really want, and adapt your product along the way.
So, instead of doing a long period of research before you release your product, you might want to consider releasing earlier and have a sort of ‘beta version’, where you can adapt the product as soon as you get feedback from your customers.
I think customers are key here, and whoever is able to listen to their customers and respond to what they want in a changing digital landscape will have success.
To get another perspective, we also put the same question to Patrice Chazerand, the Director of DIGITALEUROPE, an organisation that represents the digital technology industry in Europe. What digital skills did he think his members would need to make it to 2025?
We had a comment sent in by one of our readers, Pirjo, who argued that one of the biggest challenges facing small businesses is building up brand recognition. He argued that most small businesses know that many clients prefer to buy established brands.
So, we asked Patrice Chazerand what technologies he thought might help new businesses compete with existing brands for customer attention over the coming years. Here’s what he had to say:
Finally, we had a comment from Matteo, arguing that despite the Single Market, SMEs in Europe often have trouble expanding into different EU Member States. This might be largely because of language barriers, but there are also other obstacles. What skills and technologies might help SMEs expand across Europe over the coming decade?
To get a response, we spoke to Giorgio Isabella, founder of Lux Made In, a small business that sells handmade Italian jewelry both in Italy and abroad. Speaking of his own experience, how would he answer Matteo?
What digital skills are essential to businesses if they want to exist in 10 years? What technologies will help new businesses compete with existing brands for customer attention? What skills and technologies might help SMEs expand across Europe? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!