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Overcoming the digital skills gap: An interview with Michelle Ovens

By Thomas Costello - March 29, 2017

Michelle Ovens is director of the national campaign ‘Do It Digital‘ which is aimed at celebrating all of the great things that small businesses can get out of an enhanced digital presence. The campaign is designed to help small business better understand the types of digital services that can enhance their business, as well as sign-post owners to the providers and tools that can help them.

The campaign is necessity, not least, because the digital divide in the UK is stark. According to research from ‘Do It Digital’, small businesses in Britain without a digital foundation (website, social media or online marketplace) are potentially missing out on a total of £20.2 billion in revenue each year. This equates to £20,000 in increased revenues or efficiency savings per business.

To better understand why and how small businesses can enhance their digital performance, 123 Reg sat down with Michelle to answer the questions that are keeping small businesses up at night.

Hello, I am Michelle Ovens and I run a number of small business campaigns including Do It Digital which is geared to help small businesses learn more about digital. We have been running small business campaigns for a number of years now, and one of the things that comes up again and again is the lack of digital skills with small businesses in digital skills. Half of small businesses don’t have a website at all, an awful lot more don’t have professional email and 75% don’t have any intention in investing in digital this year. In 2017, this is quite gobsmacking.How much are digital skills hindering female entrepreneurs in particular?

They are hindering all entrepreneurs generally. But there is a noticeable skills gap when people come out of the workplace, having kids for example, and not keeping up with skills in the workplace. Then those people who go to set up their business, we do notice a significant gap. One of the things we notice time and time again is that there is not a shortage of supply in the market – there is a lot of help out there. The challenge that we find is getting small businesses to take up the help because they don’t know how to access it or don’t know that it is even there, or they don’t see that it is relevant to them. So, one of the big goals for us is to bring it to the surface and make it more visible for those looking to set up a business or those that have an existing business and thought that it was not relevant to them.

What more can be done to support the work of female entrepreneurs in the UK?

We talk to a lot of women who would like to start up their own business and maybe don’t have the confidence or are not seeing the role models out there. From our perspective we know all of these amazing female role models so we are putting them forward, highlight and show their stories – showcasing them to small businesses as something that they could do. I think this is really important. International Women’s Day is amazing for that and has a huge amount to offer in terms of inspirational stories. Our job is to make sure that it isn’t just the one day and making sure that those stories are relevant and accessible all year round.

How did Do It Digital come about and what is the aim?

The campaign started very organically from a passion of wanting to talk to small businesses. We are a very small team so it made perfect sense to try and talk to small businesses in a digital environment, either on social media or sending them an email. But with so many small businesses not engaging with digital it was challenging. So we have spent a lot of time going around the country and talking to business face to face and telling them of the huge benefits of being online. We did some research at the start of the year to kick the campaign off demonstrating the value to small business. On average small businesses can increase their revenue by £20,000 by being digitally engaged. Whether that is marketing yourself online, adding a new sales channel or even saving costs, which could benefit UK Plc to the tune of 8.5bn.

What’s stopping them getting online?

Busy is a really important thing. Small business owners are everything; they are finance, sales, stock control, marketing, they are making the tea. They are everything. To add an additional thing in is challenging. Business think that they are already working every day of the week, up all night doing accounts so adding an additional thing in sounds impossible, they just can’t do it. We need to tackle that by demonstrating the benefits and that show that it doesn’t have to be a massive time sync. I think that money is also one as well. SMEs are working to tight budgets and have the impression that digital is more cost and that puts people off. One of the things we stress is that there is so much available online that don’t cost much. There is lots of advice out there that is free and pretty quick. If we can get over the time and cost issue, we are then fighting things like we have never done it, we don’t need to. It’s about articulating that things have changed and customers have changes. If you are not online and a competitor is, you are going to lose your existing customers.

Should small businesses be focusing on social media or a website?

I wouldn’t say one rather than the other. There are easy ways of making sure you cover your bases and there is evidence saying that if you don’t have a website, consumers think you are not real. So make sure you get a one page website, contact details and get your listing on search engines.

How would they do that?

It’s pretty easy. When you search for a business on Google, you often see on the right hand side the business name, a picture and opening times. That is free, and all businesses can claim that!

And how do they claim that?

On Google Business the details are there and it is an amazing way of getting more visibility for your business. If you are a physical business with a specific location it’s absolutely perfect. It is definitely worth investigating!

I think we will leave it there. Thank you very much, Michelle and I hope everybody enjoyed today’s session.