Australian small businesses need to overcome their fears of being washed out by big companies and create a culture where they use technology to bring about change, Ita Buttrose said on Thursday night.
The 2013 Australian of the Year, who has seen a massive transition in the publishing industry from print to digital, told an audience of IT professionals at the Internet Industry Association's (IIA) 16th Annual Gala Dinner in Sydney that small businesses are falling behind in their uptake of technology.
Buttrose urged the IT industry to help small businesses realise the benefits that technology can provide.
“Your industry is keen to work with and encourage small businesses, indeed all businesses, to embrace technology and what it can bring to a business. But the fact is not all small businesses have a website – around 50 per cent of them don’t – and many of them don’t transact business online either,” Buttrose said.
Buttrose said this was because many small businesses don't have the same amount of capital that larger businesses do to invest in the technology and skills needed to successfully run a business online.
“Cost has a role to play here – $5000 [to] $10,000 to develop a website is a big ask for a small business. And often when they do have a website it’s difficult for many of them to keep up with what they have to do,” she said.
“They also have to compete in a world where price plays a significant role. Customers, as we know, demand prices that are comparable. If as a business you have to compete against say China or the United States where cheaper manufacturing costs and volumes are significant, then it’s almost impossible to match what they have to offer.”
However, that doesn’t mean small businesses are out of the game. Buttrose said small businesses can have the advantage in being more agile than larger businesses in terms of implementing technology to deliver better customer service.
Buttrose gave an example of how a small Australian retailer, Shoes of Prey, was able to offer a more personalised service to its customers by deploying iPads in its store for customers to design their own shoes and have them delivered within four to six weeks. She said the success of this led to the small retailer earning its own boutique store in David Jones in Sydney.
Another example of a small Australian company that used technology to grow its business is Paperbark Camp, which offers luxury tent accommodation at Jervis Bay, New South Wales. Buttrose said Tourism Australia linked to Paperbark Camp’s website and Facebook page, listing the small company as a travel destination. By simply having an online presence, Buttrose said this led to a spike in Facebook likes and ultimately more bookings came, she said.
“It went from having 423 to 7000 likes almost overnight and they are now taking bookings from people around the world.”
Even though the upfront costs of technology investments may seem more real and challenging for small businesses, Buttrose said it needs to be seen as part of a company’s long-term strategy and sustainable business plan.
“In today’s world, anyone in a business leadership role must be ready for change… When you think of change as something that offers opportunity then I think it becomes something that needs to no longer be feared. If you are not looking around for opportunities, you won’t find them.
“Having a website, social media presence and an app are 21st century business fundamentals and no-one serious about business success in this country can afford to be without them.”
Follow Rebecca Merrett on Twitter: @Rebecca_Merrett