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2013 Action Plan for Jobs & Business On-line Voucher

The timing of the 2013 Action Plan for Jobs may be just perfect for SMEs who want to sell online.

Today the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Jobs & Enterprise Minister  launched the government’s Action Plan for Jobs 2013, the next step in the Government’s plan to rebuild the economy and accelerate the transition to a sustainable, jobs-rich economy based on enterprise, innovation and exports. The Plan contains 333 actions to be implemented in 2013 by 16 Government Departments and 46 agencies.  It has a significant technology element to it – ICT Skills and Big Data get specific focus having consideration for how they can impact the Irish economy in a positive way.

The 2013 Action Plan has an added element over the 2012 initiative however;  seven Disruptive Reform measures, designed to be high-impact with agressive timelines,  these will be implemented in partnership with senior industry figures and selected because of their potential to have a significant effect on job-creation. Of the seven, one really caught my eye and builds on the very solid technology message I got listening to Minister Richard Bruton today:

“Trading Online – get 2,000 more small businesses trading online in 2013 and 2014, with the creation of 3,200 jobs.”

— Action Plan for Jobs, 2013

The last time I saw an initiative that promised as much for SMEs  was the Getting Irish Business Online in May, 2011. Today’s announcement, which will work via a Business On-line  Voucher could ignite online activity by SMEs in Ireland.  WIth only around a quarter of Irish SMEs selling online the timing for this announcement is perfect. Here’s why:

  • Irish online spend last year was c. €4 billion – 70% went to over-seas retailers
  • Smart-phone adoption is now over 40% – with two thirds of those users accessing the web every day from their smart-phone – and eight out of ten people researching products or services online.
  • Three-quarters of Irish SMEs are NOT selling online
So consumers are spending online and technology is available to connect sellers with buyers. Even a small one-woman business can be open all hours. So why are so few businesses doing it? Twenty-five percent or less is a dismal figure for a nation where there are more mobile phones than people!  It is difficult to explain. I don’t think there’s a single reason, but there is a sense of business owners being cautious about investment.

Like many sectors of the internet business (remember that SEO-slash-web-marketing expert a couple of years ago who charged you by the micro-second and wore silly trainers with a suit when he met you?), business owners became jaded from the quotes they received for average websites and when you went to add online selling to your website it was gong to cost you thousands of Euros.

Four years ago, I needed a banner-ad for a web advertising campaign – usually I’d have a go at doing this myself but I needed it in a hurry so I asked a local web-company that I did business with to produce the animated banner ad. Cool as a web-cucumber they quoted me 2,000 Euros, and they didn’t even sound embarassed. Once I got over the hyper-ventilation I Googled ‘banner-ad creation’, found a young guy in North Carolina, exchanged 3 emails and he did the ad. He emailed me the finished version the next day. I paid him $125 – via PayPal, which was his ‘rush fee’, his regular rate was $100. If an SME owner came up against this type of barrier these days when they looked at getting their business online, they may well just leave it at that.

One thing austerity has given us is a more balanced market – but we need continued temperance. And the ‘investment matching’ idea of the Business On-line voucher is a good one, but it needs to be monitored with specific parameters set around cost per feature, or some sort of scalability matrix. It’s important to prevent the state funding being swallowed up as a matter of course.

WIth trusted payment providers like Realex and Sage Pay offering SME specific packages the cost of getting paid online is low. Realex’s new product CaraPay for SMEs (in Beta right now) could create even an even greater opportunity for SMEs.

CaraPay allows bank-account payments from consumers, not just credit card payments, potentially increasing the market of consumers who can buy easily online, across a pan-European payment zone, called SEPA – many people in European markets don’t have credit-cards. but are regular debit-card users, and these pan-European consumers will be able to pay, with instant fund transfer, using their Sort Code and Bank Account number.

Then there’s PayPal, the first port of call for many SME owners. PayPal should be tried by all SME owners going online. I’d legislate for that if I could, because using Paypal is like a lesson in e-commerce. You’ll learn about how selling online works, checkouts and baskets, and does multi-currency matter to you? And their inventory tools teach you about the discipline of managing real world stock versus what you sell online – selling what you don’t have is bad practice from day one.

I also think we’re addressing a cultural issue at SMEs – “the website needs updating…”. Too often used as an excuse that pushed the maintenance element off websites off to a specific person in a small business. Everyone in an SME knows how the real-world sale works – the same needs to apply to the online part of the business. Cultural change, ditching the attitude, whichever affects you, needs to happen. The WebActivate program will help  this with e-friendly jobseekers re-entering employment as we see new hires increasing at SMEs, but business owners need to ensure that everyone knows how the web sale works. In fact, it isn’t a web sale. It’s a sale. The idea of one-price, retail or online, is upon us. Multi-channel selling is here. Successful retailers are now successful online and in real-world.

The Business On-line Voucher system requires some administration. The business assessment task needs to be scientific but flexible enough to admit the left-field ideas that come along with potential. Also, over-subscription by a specific region or sector needs to be avoided, so that SMEs have time and space to succeed. Two thousand SMEs who want to sell could benefit,  then there’s the web developers and trainers who can work with  SMEs to  get them online, and most of these technical companies are generally small businesses also.  Initially the scheme focusses on sectors where online adoption has has been low – great idea. This could genuinely transform thousands of SMEs in Ireland at a time when we really need them, more than ever.

External Link & Reference

  1. Action Plan for Jobs: 2013 [PDF]
  2. Think Insights with Google : Our Mobile Planet : Ireland – Understanding the mobile consumer
  3. Department of Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation : 2013 Action Plan for Job
  4. Single European Payments Area & ireland
  5. Getting Irish Business Online : Register a doman and get started

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Andy O'Donoghue talks about technology, some say, too much.

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