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08 May 2019

'Footfall is not where it's at anymore': Small businesses urged to boost digital skills

The social media surge of the past few years has left many time-pressed small businesses struggling to keep up with the pace of change. So (next month/week) the FSB will be helping members to update their digital skills, by hosting a seminar series with Facebook, focused on social media for small businesses. 

Here FSB member Rowena Howie, who says her Revival Retro Boutique is very much a "bricks and clicks" business, explains how her vintage-inspired shop grew its social media presence and offers some tips for small business owners.  

Rowena opened her boutique in 2011 but her digital "turning point" didn't come until 2016, when she invited a handful of her favourite Instagrammers to London to try on Revival Retro's 1930s,40s and 50s-inspired clothing - in a bid to promote the business and build relationships.  

She says the move paid off, as those relationships continue and have helped her build her Instagram following to more than 31,000 people.  

Now social media takes up a lot of Rowena's time - she posts daily at 7pm, after the shop has closed. She does it herself, rather than using an agency, to allow her passion for the business to shine through. 

"As a small business owner, it's a big decision. It takes every single moment that you previously thought you didn't have," she says.  

"That's because I do a lot of it and I don't outsource any of it. You can control how much you do. If you can't manage a post a day, don't do a post a day - just be consistent with a post a week." 

According to Facebook, 45% of small businesses on the social media platform in the UK say they have increased sales because of it and 78% say it has helped attract customers. 

Instagram says that, worldwide, 80% of its accounts follow a business - from major brands to family-run shops. 

Rowena says it is hard to measure exactly how much business her social media accounts generate but they are a crucial part of building the brand and relationships with her customers - and she has found some new suppliers that way as well. 

Shops can no longer rely just on footfall or old-fashioned marketing, she says, and websites and social media accounts are key to let customers find you. 

"You have to keep exposing them to you and social is where it's at. That's crucial to being seen or being discovered. Footfall is not where it is all at any more." 

A preference for more traditional ways of doing business - like word-of-mouth promotion - was one of the key reasons cited for not being more digital, in a survey for FSB's report on skills and training.

It suggested that, in 2017, 41% of small businesses lacked basic digital skills.   

Sole traders and self-employed people were the most likely to say they were not confident, with one motor repair business owner summing it up like this: "There is only me and I have been too busy earning a living to learn new stuff and suddenly, I have become a dinosaur." 

But the government says that digital transformation can make every business more productive - with small businesses with a strong web presence estimated, on average, to grow more than twice as quickly, as those with little or no presence.

Rowena's advice to other small businesses looking to build their digital presence is to be committed, to post content consistently, to work collaboratively with other small businesses and to make sure websites and Facebook pages are kept up to date.  

She says to get about 100, well-lit and properly edited, photos in the bag before even setting up their accounts - so they have a ready supply to choose from. 

And don't be afraid to ask happy customers to write testimonials and reviews online and talk to other small businesses about training options and workshops.

FSB is teaming up with Facebook to deliver training sessions to small businesses so you can develop the skills and confidence you need to take your business to the next level. Find an event near you and book your place!

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