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Digital technology has transformed the way businesses communicate and connect with customers; however, a new CNBC/Survey Monkey Small Business Survey shows that nearly half of small business owners aren’t taking advantage of this valuable resource. Forty-five percent of the business owners surveyed said they don’t have a website. Instead, they’re relying on word of mouth as the number one marketing source. Only 36 percent of the respondents currently use a business website.
“People are just afraid of technology and don’t realize how simple or easy it could be,” said Antara Dutta, a digital marketing expert and mentor for the nonprofit SCORE program. “There are people who don’t wake up, and then they lose their business as a result. Having a website is like having a business card.”
While it’s fairly inexpensive these days to purchase a domain name and utilize DIY website-building resources such as Wix, Weebly and Squarespace, generational and legacy business issues are holding back some business owners from having a digital strategy. Relying solely on word of mouth, blaming cost concerns or lack of tech skills for not going digital “isn’t a smart strategy,” said Dutta. “There is no business that shouldn’t have a website.”
Many business owners who do have a website report that the majority of customers visit the site before heading to the brick-and-mortar retail location to purchase. According to Neil Blumenthal, CEO and co-founder of the Warby Parker Optical Lab in Sloatsburg, New York, over 75 percent of its customers who have purchased products in its stores have visited the company’s website first.
The survey shows that in addition to not having a business website, the majority of business owners are neglecting other digital marketing tools. Less than half (40 percent) of small business owners are using social media to communicate news to customers and leads. About one in four use customer newsletters or email. When it comes to paid advertising, business owners are making the switch to digital, albeit slowly: 21 percent of business owners are using social media ads while just 6 percent advertise on the radio and 5 percent on TV.
Experts say word-of-mouth marketing can still be an arrow in the quiver of small business owners, but leaning into digital marketing will be the difference between being a local market leader and just getting the next order. According to Bill Nagel, co-founder and chief marketing strategist at Netsertive, a digital marketing firm, the top 10 percent of businesses in any market use digital marketing tools like social media ads and search engine optimization.
“As a market matures, you can tie this activity to business growth,” said Nagel.