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Taking your business online

Don’t ‘get’ how online can help your business in the new financial year ahead? The new board members of the Australian Interactive Media Industry Association (AIMIA), the country’s peak internet body, share their thoughts on the digital landscape and the SME.

1. Guy Gadney
President, AIMIA National Committee

Advertising dollars traditionally go where the audience goes. At the top end of town, most multinational companies still spend the majority of their marketing dollars with offline media outlets. Yet while the commentators are focused on this behavior, the real revolution is coming from the small business spend.

The internet is a very powerful information and transactional medium. Punters can find what they want and buy it more efficiently than from any print publication or directory. As a result, small and medium-sized businesses are transferring their marketing spends to digital wholesale. As well as the much lauded accountability (the results of a Google Ad Words campaign can be seen on a daily basis, and can show exactly the resulting number of visitors and revenue), for many businesses, online is simply more effective.

On a local scale, a homemade food delivery service near me spends all of its $40,000 marketing budget online as the return on investment is better than advertising in the local paper. On a global scale, newspaper classified ad revenue in the US has plummeted from almost $20billion in 2000 to just under $10billion in 2008. In the UK, revenue from online advertising surpassed TV revenue last year (it had surpassed radio and print a few years previously). The bulk of this revenue is generated by Google through businesses using it as a marketing platform. It is not difficult to step in at the shallow end of online marketing. AIMIA members benefit from frequent events around online marketing, but a first step could be as simple as setting up a Google AdWords account.

2. Jennifer Wilson
Secretary, AIMIA National Committee

As a guide, it would be good to cover creativity, business models, revenue streams, project funding, traditional versus digital companies, education… whatever takes your fancy.

Over the next 18 months, the digital industry will start to think about expanding its frontier (and hopefully, language!) beyond ‘the internet’ to think of all the places and all the screens that we’re looking at for content, messages and information. While mobile is slowly being talked about as more than just a small internet screen (and about time, too), we need to think of screens and worlds such as social media, games, virtual worlds and even augmented reality. We take a big brand identity, build it, and hope they’ll come. Or one can start to think about inserting relevance into everyday life by meeting people where they are, hanging out with them in lots of different places (often at the same time) and being relevant, not just noisy.

Over the next year, we need to encourage our clients to take risks; we need to make mistakes, and make them quickly; and we need to be willing to learn and learn from experts. The digital industry is likely to be in for a year of huge growth, from outsourcing to a recognition that digital delivers more bang for buck. Let’s all step up to the challenge and really start pushing the creative envelopes.

3. Lauren McLaughlin
Member, AIMIA National Committee

Are social media networks the answer to growing your SME? We have witnessed the exponential growth of social media networks in the last 12 months. Facebook has grown 93.4 percent, and now has over 5.6m registered users in Australia (26 percent of the population), and Twitter has increased its unique audience by almost 700,000 users over the same period. LinkedIn, a professional social network, has more than 40million members worldwide.

There is an incredible, low-cost opportunity for SMEs to leverage this phenomenon to increase their sales and brand awareness. The customers are already there, with large networks of friends and colleagues to tap into. These sites offer small businesses the chance to interact with potential clients without the constraints of location or exorbitant costs. The entry cost is low, there is no need to create complicated websites and their own online community can be up and running in minutes. SMEs can utilise this avenue to issue announcements and updates to clients, offering discounts and introducing new products. There is also greater customer engagement, as it facilitates an open dialogue with consumers, which allows SMEs to better service their needs and to gauge client sentiment through voting polls. SMEs can build their businesses through LinkedIn, which facilitates connections to an extended network of people, helping them to stay informed about industry developments and to exchange information.

To avoid being swept up in the hype surrounding social media networks, it is important to remain focussed on strategy and desired outcomes. Online seminars are available to help SMEs harness the power of Web 2.0 marketing, and there is an abundance of resources focussing on how to best make this media work for your business.

4. Molly Reynolds
Member, AIMIA National Committee

Everyone wants the next big thing to be as cosmological as the internet itself. Transforming technologies are few and far between. Only a small percentage of all that is designed, invented or created is revolutionary. Although many of the remaining new technologies may make a contribution to the revolution, they are not, in and of themselves, revolutionary.

So beware the lure of shiny things. It got the financial industry, and the rest of us, into a lot of trouble. Work the internet so it works for you. Embrace technologies, trends and tools because they suit your very precise, informed needs. For example Twitter would be the undoing of a drug-dealer and his crew but is the making of Ashton Kutcher. Second Life is primed for play and so does not a good virtual meeting room make. Cloud computing makes sense for an architectural firm but is overkill for most landscape gardeners. Facebook is excellent for investigating prospective employees but somewhat wanting as a client database. YouTube has its application for disgruntled employees and advertising agencies but is of limited value to tax accountants. Wireless connectivity is essential for those in IT Support but not so critical for cosmetic surgeons.

The internet should and can serve your business in meaningful, productive ways, to create greater efficiencies, higher profits and better workplaces. Ideally it will also allow for more leisure time in which to indulge much else the internet has to offer.

5. Karson Stimson
Member, AIMIA National Committee

Like it or not, with only a very small percentage of consumers not having access to the internet or a mobile phone, an SME’s customer is seriously connected and as time moves on is only becoming more so. With this and the continued evolution of the digital media space and social technologies, businesses are no longer in control of their brands. This is a scary thought for most businesses but provides a very powerful proposition if managed correctly. Today’s connected customer will and already is sharing their experiences (good and bad), they voice their opinions and absorb the experiences of others as verbatim. SMEs need to be aware of this, embrace it and concentrate on some basic principles of openness, honesty and transparency.

Looking forward to next financial year and beyond (regardless of the economic climate) the internet and more broadly the digital space cannot be ignored and must be integrated into an SME’s business model, if not become core to the model.

Whether it’s the SME’s product, the service, communications (internal and external), distribution, visibility, customer relationships or even a process, the digital media space is creating a plethora of challenges and opportunities for business big and small to become more efficient, reduce costs, create deeper more meaningful relationships, move into new markets and scale faster—all before someone else does.

Jen Bishop
Jen was the publisher at Loyalty Media and editor of Dynamic Business, Australia's largest circulating small business magazine, from 2008 until 2012. She is now a full-time blogger at The Interiors Addict.