According to the Department of Statistics Malaysia, small and medium-sized enterprises or SME comprises approximately 99% of the total businesses in Malaysia. This is one of the reasons for SME development programs to be introduced to grow local SMEs, focusing on various areas. The most notable program focusing on ICT is the Get Malaysian Business Online (GMBO) scheme whereby grants worth RM1000 were provided for up to 50,000 SMEs. However, at the end of the program, less than half of the targeted figure was reached.
In a 2011 SME census, there are around 40,884 SMEs in Sabah which is ranked sixth among the 13 states in Malaysia. Based on a survey by the Associated Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Malaysia (ACCCIM), out of this figure, a majority do not own a website and even less were found to be using social network. This figure includes businesses that have yet to participate in E-commerce. Some of the notable reasons provided are such as lack of bandwidth and technical help, high costs and security concerns. However that is another topic of discussion.
Hence, this begs the question of why the lukewarm interest in owning a website by businesses, especially in Sabah? A familiar and often used respond from businesses is that they have reached where they are today without owning websites or having online presences. While this is true, without an online presence they have also missed out on a lot of opportunities locally and internationally, as told by the success stories of many. For example, Sabah’s first GMBO success story comes from Mario Ryner Laban of Living Quarters Laundry who recorded an increase of sales by at least 50% when his website went live. Unfortunately, with every success story there are also many business owners who have encountered negative experiences and failed ventures. So, what contributes to successful website implementations in Sabah SME?
One of the main factors that contribute to the success of a website implementation is the maintenance of the website. This includes updating the website information and generating new content. Some SME companies might have employees that will be able to produce content for their company websites but most of them do not have the technical knowledge that is required to update the content into the websites. This is true especially in Sabah whereby a lot of SMEs do not have an Information Technology (IT) department or even an IT personnel to handle such tasks. As a result, a lot of SME company websites tend to contain outdated information and/or expire after 1 to 2 years. This is because, since the websites are not updated, the SME owners would feel that the websites are doing more harm than good and would decide to remove them or let them expire. In the end, this has led to a negative perception from the business owners in regards to owning a website.
Many SME businesses have faced this issue as content writing is not a straightforward task. The created content has to be interesting enough to catch the attention of the visitors as well as engaging to the readers. This can include company description, news and events, product descriptions and taglines. Aside from that, a website will also require attractive and appropriate images that will make a huge difference in the quality of a website. Depending on the type of business, some companies are also compelled to include videos to demonstrate their points to the visitors. The creation and customization of such content will require human resources that are skilled in specific areas. Ultimately, SME businesses will find themselves having to seek help from professional companies that provide such services.
This brings us to our next issue – costs. So, what is the estimated cost for a website? As mentioned earlier, a successful website implementation is not only in the designing and creation process but also in terms of maintenance. Creating and maintaining the website incur just a portion of the overall cost. To successfully utilize their websites, SMEs must participate in online marketing such as search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM) and email marketing in order to increase their online visibility, ensuring that their businesses can be found online. At this point, SME business owners start to realise that the website implementations intertwine closely with their marketing functions. This, in turn, will incur various hidden costs for many unprepared business owners, cutting into their already low marketing budgets.
Besides that, SMEs must also take advantage of another important form of online marketing that is social media marketing (SMM). SMM is considered by many to be an inexpensive and effective method to communicate with the online crowd and build a community. However, to achieve this, SMEs must have the suitable human resources to manage the social media tools and effectively engage the crowd. When using social media, two-way communication must be highlighted. Be it Twitter, Facebook or online enquiries and feedbacks, SMEs must have the resources to be able to manage and monitor these online tools. This includes providing responses to online reviews or even showing appreciation to positive online testimonials. Therefore, SMEs will have to allocate suitable candidates and, the person placed in charge must have the skills to be able to handle and respond appropriately. This is important as the person in-charge will be representing the SME’s brand online and is responsible for the business’s online impression. Any incidents of misinformation or slip-ups online will spread rapidly to a much wider audience. There are far too many examples of social media disasters whereby the brand and reputation of businesses have been tarnished. To minimize the negative impact on the business, swift damage control actions must also be taken i.e. posting a sincere and credible apology followed up by messages of gratitude and reassurance.
At this point, the possible cost of a website for an SME business can seem endless. Depending on the focus and objectives of the SME website, features such as E-commerce, newsletter subscriptions and company blog have yet to be factored in. These features are also required to be keep track of and maintained. Based on all the possible website related functions mentioned thus far, the necessary investment from an SME business can add up rapidly. At the end of the day, SMEs faces the daunting task of trying to quantify their investments on the website implementations. Business owners will demand for a concrete measurement of results for their online marketing programs. The existing marketing department of an SME might not have the knowledge and expertise to produce such results.
Now, knowing all the possible factors that influence the success of a website implementation, what possible steps can an SME take to become one of the success stories? First of all, do not be taken in by offers to put your business online at a cheap solution. Every day, SEM businesses are influenced with offers to put their businesses online for a couple of hundred. However, these offers should be considered with caution. This is because having an online presence without ever being found is of little worth and in some cases might even contribute negative value to the company.
Instead, SME business owners should look for companies that besides building websites, also offer consultancy services. These companies will show signs that they are not there just for the quick buck by trying to understand your business thoroughly as well as your needs. Trust will be a major factor as these companies will attempt to recommend tons of options to the business owners. Therefore, SMEs must work closely with the consultants in order for them to understand their business problems. Then, by understanding an SME’s business model, the consultants will be able to provide possible long term solutions that are critical to the business needs. However, the recommended solutions will also need to fall within the available budget. In the end, it will depend on the judgement of the business owners on whether to trust the recommended solutions provided.
In addition, SMEs must also be prepared to set aside a portion of their marketing budget on getting content that are engaging and whereby readers can relate to. A substandard written piece might not only be worthless but can also be harmful to the business. Moreover, SMEs must also be willing to spend on getting attractive graphics for their website. This sometimes might include hiring professional photographers or even videographers.
Nevertheless, instead of just relying on 3rd party services and outsourcing, SMEs can look into the training of their current human resources to handle their online marketing efforts such as content building and social media. Nowadays, most websites are built on easy to use content management system (CMS) softwares. With training from qualified personnel, managing the major percentage of a website will not be a huge issue. Depending on the software, free training courses can also be found online. Then, SMEs will not have to rely on webmasters or employees with extended IT knowledge. This can also help to reduce the yearly/monthly contractual commitments to companies that provide website maintenance services. Furthermore, SMEs are also encouraged to sign up for online marketing courses, training programs or workshops. Investments will be required in order to upgrade the functions of the marketing department. Similarly, a lot of options can also be found online with competitive prices offering various packages.
As a conclusion, it is certainly important for business professionals to be equipped with a set of IT knowledge. With IT becoming an important part in driving growth and progress, SMEs must understand the importance of having IT knowledge. While having deep technical skills will not be required, SMEs will be able to understand a technology’s potential in delivering the desired results that can support the company’s goals. As a result, SMEs will then be able to use the available tools e.g. website implementations, to create real value for their companies.
At TSB Web Consulting, we are interested in having a long-term relationship with our customers. TSB Web Consulting provides consultancy services to truly understand your business needs and requirements before recommending suitable solutions, thus ensuring successful website implementations. Contact us today to get your business online!