Featured photo above: Patrice Thomas presenting at the Seattle Digital Ready Summit (photo by Kavya Parthasarathy)
By Kavya Parthasarathy
As Mobilegeddon descends upon us, companies are scrambling to ensure that they don’t get buried in the latest Google algorithm update, which boosts mobile-friendly pages in search results. This update, combined with National Small Business Week, set the perfect stage for the Seattle Digital Ready Summit, an initiative from SouthEast Effective Development (SEED) and Ignite Washington to support small businesses in ramping up their technical skills to become more competitive.
At the summit, which took place on May 6 at the Rainier Community Center, small businesses ranging from hair salon owners to insurance agents gathered for a hands-on session. During the session, they received a digital scorecard of their current business, access to experts in the field and a personalized game plan to get started.
Gearing Up to “Get Modern”
SEED aims to improve the quality of life in southeast Seattle by creating jobs and increasing investments in small businesses. Ignite Washington is a city-by-city digital readiness initiative that focuses on local brands and businesses. Together, they hope to help small and medium businesses make the leap into technology, e-commerce and digital marketing with customized solutions.
Lance Matteson and Steve Johnson from SEED kicked off the event by stressing the value of a web presence as a crucial first impression for customers. When done right, a web presence can be a business’s top sales tool.
Matteson and Johnson then drove home the reality of digital readiness with compelling numbers. Despite the fact that two-thirds of the jobs in the United States are generated by small businesses and online buying is increasing 10% year over year, 67% of small businesses today are not transacting online. To capitalize on the growing shop local movement, small businesses need to embrace digital, to provide customers with local community alternatives bundled with the shopping conveniences they demand.
Alex Fong, Sr. Director of Strategic Alliances and Business Influencer Programs at Microsoft, made a strong argument for the adoption of technology by small businesses. Boston Consulting Group conducted research with 4,000 small businesses and classified the businesses into laggards, followers and leaders. While laggards increased profitability by 3%, leaders increased profitability by 14%. Despite the significant difference in profitability, the difference in IT spend between the laggards and leaders was only $400 dollars a year.
Cloud, mobile, social and big data–these mega trends are going to transform businesses big and small over the next decade. Acting on these changes early on and in a nimble way will enable companies to attract and retain customers with richer experiences, anticipate and act with better insights from data, grow their talent base by motivating the next generations of workers and most importantly, drive innovation.
On the one hand, digital is an equalizer that allows small businesses to compete with the larger corporations in a very real way. On the other hand, many small businesses are struggling even to set up basic technical infrastructure to support their businesses. Keeping that in mind, Fong mentioned Microsoft Community Connections as one way for small businesses to learn how technology solutions can help them operate more efficiently and grow their business.
Co-Op Marketing for Local Businesses and Visualizing the Future
Ram Dutt, CEO of Meylah and Patrice Thomas from SEED, introduced the newly launched Shop206, an online marketplace where small businesses can share products and services with shoppers who want to buy local. Dutt sees this a powerful economic development tool that would allow local Seattle businesses to leverage a co-op marketing structure. Each smaller business could benefit by the improved SEO rankings that result from a mobile-ready website, share resources and have a collective, potentially stronger brand.
Participants then worked with visual goal setter Patti Dobrowolksi, author of Drawing Solutions, to visualize the current realities of their businesses and their desired future. Participants received a personalized status report based on assessment forms that they completed, and a digital starter kit. The reports analyzed their businesses based on parameters ranging from infrastructure, productivity and communications to ease of online discovery, e-commerce and digital marketing. Finally, participants interacted with experts in each area to determine next steps, and they wrapped up the day with a concrete digital action plan.
In all, the Seattle Digital Ready Summit was a true community-based event. Lunch was provided by a local business and local businesses were provided with valuable resources to help them navigate tricky digital waters.