The challenges long-running businesses face in the digital era

Here, Parrs gives us his advice on how small businesses can find their feet in the digital era.

Modern business has little in common with the way it was done one hundred years ago, fifty years ago or even as recently as twenty years ago. Consumer habits and behaviours have changed so dramatically with the rise of ecommerce and the digital era that the traditional way of conducting business has almost completely disappeared.

Some long-running small businesses may find themselves in a tough situation because of this. They have to adapt to a world that, for many of them, is unfamiliar. But what are the most important ways in which long-running small businesses need to evolve in the digital age?

What is most important for customers in the digital era?

Traditionally, consumers would value authority and reputation among their main reasons for shopping with a particular business. However, today, because of the ease with which someone can set up an online business, and the competitiveness that ensues from a more saturated market, these are not the most important things for consumers any longer.

According to Ian Golding, the most important things are now value for money, price and cost. It suggests that online shoppers are content to put their faith in any relatively trustworthy source as long as it provides the most affordable deal. This presents a challenge for small companies that have historically been successful because of their brand name.

The value of digital marketing

As well as putting an emphasis on cheaper prices, long-running small businesses must also make sure their deals are visible to customers online. Businesses should master social media, pay-per-click advertising, responsive web design and other digital marketing practices that will ensure potential consumers are seeing them.

This is especially important since according to a survey by Session M 90 per cent of shoppers, even when they are in retail stores, will use a smartphone to search for product information, reviews and, crucially, better offers. One business, Quench, saw a 100 per cent growth in revenue since utilising things like PPC to make their items visible in search engines.

Now, two-thirds of its custom is generated online. One cannot adapt to the business of the digital age without a thorough understanding of how to benefit from the technology your customers use.

Diversifying your products to appeal to a broader market

Many small businesses, however, have been around for so long that their products are no longer relevant to a digital world. They might not be marketable online, if they even have a commercial popularity at all.

Parrs, for example, began in the late 1800s specialising in carriages and carts, rebranding as a business-to-business catalogue of workplace products for in the 1970s. However, in order to compete online, their stock has diversified to include more semi-commercial items. This has helped them remain popular and relevant in a more competitive era.

Hiring the best young workers

The challenges long-running businesses face in the modern world are not just about how you sell products. It extends to the way you manage your staff behind the scenes. There has been a lot of debate in the business community over the last few months about retaining millennials at your workplace.

Attracting the brightest and best from a younger generation is, after all, essential to navigating the challenges of the digital age. They understand how this world works better than anyone because they grew up in it.

As Mike Kappel, the founder of Patriot Software, says in an article for Forbes, ‘I have to work extra hard to understand new technology. However, today’s young people are digital natives. They grew up using computers, portable devices, the internet, and social media. Often they pick up and implement technology faster than many legacy employees who may have been at the company when the technology was first adopted.’

However, as Simon Sinchek’s talk about the topic illustrated, a discussion that went viral on social media a few months ago, small businesses need to make some big changes to their workplace culture to attract young talent because young people approach work in a completely different way to any generation before them.

Millennials do not want the nine-to-five week; they want a healthy work-life balance. They do not want a formal office; they want to work somewhere relaxed. Most importantly, they do not just want to clock in and out; they want to be doing meaningful work that makes a real contribution.

Small businesses that have operated successfully for decades may feel themselves struggling in the digital age. Business has evolved so radically so quickly that it can be easy to get left behind as new, tech-savvy competitors enter the marketplace.

However, by adapting your products or services, understanding the technologies that can help sell them, and by attracting young talent that can help you reach the forefront of your industry, any small business can remain successful in the digital age.

This article was provided by Parrs.

Further reading on the digital era

Owen Gough, SmallBusiness UK

Owen Gough

Owen was a reporter for Bonhill Group plc writing across the and titles before moving on to be a Digital Technology reporter for the

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