Small businesses must overcome the digital divide


Small businesses are often lauded as the backbone of the economy, accounting for three fifths of employment in the UK and more than half of private sector turnover. Yet while they are subjected to the same regulations as large companies and, during the coronavirus pandemic, the same restrictions, they are often more vulnerable. Many work on smaller, more precarious margins, with less access to finance. Therefore, though many are very resilient, generally speaking they are less stable than their larger counterparts.

To survive during the pandemic, businesses have effectively been told to migrate online, embracing remote working and opportunities like e-shops. Though this may seem an obvious solution, it is also an overly simplistic one because it completely overlooks the reality that a huge number of particularly localised small businesses rely on a physical presence. It’s impossible to get a virtual haircut or sports massage and, even companies that could operate online, require drastically different business models and skillsets.

A personal trainer at the local gym and online coach Joe Wicks can both get you in shape, but they monetise their service very differently, as do a corner shop owner and an Amazon seller. A lot of small business owners are out there in the big wide world on their own, without the training budgets of large corporates and so lack the understanding and skills to adapt to a digital environment. However, there are still opportunities available to them.

“The most basic digital skills are actually very common,” says Adi Engel, chief business development officer at vcita, a business management app that allows small businesses to manage their day-to-day operational needs and processes. “We all have smartphones, we all know how to use an app and we already manage so much of our lives in this environment, such as contacts, emails, Facebook and WhatsApp conversations.

“The digital divide lies in the ability to assess how technology can be applied to your own business. If you are going to use social media as a promotional tool, how do you reach your target audience with social media-friendly content? Business owners need guidance and education, as well as platforms that support their transition to digital.”

“The digital divide lies in the ability to assess how technology can be applied to your own business”

Ultimately, small businesses require more than just technology to adapt to the new normal; they need to learn the rules of this new medium, through dedicated educational and upskilling opportunities that will help them survive and thrive in the digital age. Already, vcita has 1.5 million small business users and works with strategic partners to extend its reach even further.

Partners include traditional service providers to small businesses, such as financial services firms, telcos and marketing agencies, which share vcita’s eagerness to support small and medium-sized enterprises through the COVID-19 crisis and beyond. Earlier this year, vcita and Mastercard launched Business Unusual, a customer relationship management and learning platform enabling small companies to run their business more digitally. And vcita also runs a series of webinars to help businesses assess their current situation, working with strategic partners to expand their opportunities.

Business management platforms and upskilling opportunities are vital to ensuring small businesses can adapt to a much more digital world. If companies fail to adapt, in an increasingly unforgiving and uncertain business landscape, their customers will move to those that do. The threat of being displaced by more formidable competitors has always existed, but the difference now is the pace of change is rapidly accelerating.

“The core of managing a business is never going to change; you need to provide a great customer experience and a great service to survive,” says Engel. “That has always been hard work and will remain so. But technology will be there to extend the business owner’s reach and automate some of the work, allowing them to spend more time engaging with their clients. A lot will change, but nothing will change at the same time.”

For more information on how we can support small businesses operate more digitally, please visit: