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Being in a position whereby people come to us for help to grow their business, I personally hear a lot of stories from companies of varying sizes, all with one thing in common – they are ambitious companies looking to grow. Wanting to increase sales and revenue for their business. Businesses come to us to support these ambitions with strategic digital marketing support that they can rely on.

With big ambitions from many companies, we often hear many of the same problems related to digital opportunities. The first being the lack of understanding in this area. The second being the lack of funding available for projects which are often a reasonable sum of money for many companies. This is not related to small businesses of less than 5 employees, this applies throughout the whole range of the traditional SME bracket (<249 full time employees). Companies with over 150 employees, still come to us asking us “So what is this Twitter thing?”, using the wrong limiting technology and worried about spending any money due to the possibility of this being the wrong decision. In summary, this all comes down to a lack of understanding about technologies and the opportunities it brings along with lack of grant money available for investing in digital assets.

Looking at the range of funded projects available, many of which are European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) backed, one has to ask the question if they are suitable for the modern digital world we live in? To date, of the many funded projects that I am aware of both locally and nationally, none support serious investment into digital for ambitious companies. I believe this is a huge failing area that needs serious attention. Funded projects/schemes generally fall into a few categories; strategic business support; coaching; workshops; capital grants. None of which help companies with ambitions to invest seriously in digital. Digital is not a sector to invest in, digital in an enabler for businesses to increase sales, grow and become more profitable. It’s time to shift thinking away from the usual funded categories and start to fund valuable areas that help companies grow.

Living in a digital world allows companies to sell products and services globally in a much more efficient way than ever before. We trade internationally and it is easier than ever to trade internationally through the internet. Speaking with one company only yesterday, a fabrication company specialising in manufacturing a wide range of large metal container type products, managing to accidentally generate enquiries through their website (which quite honestly, is a website that belongs in 1996). If a company in this situation can manage to accidentally generate enquiries from overseas, imagine what they could achieve with the right help, support, guidance and serious investment into digital. This is not a lone example, I hear many similar stories from a lot of companies.

When I talk about digital, the things that I am talking about is; cloud technologies, websites, ecommerce, international growth through online enquiries/sales, email marketing, strategic social media (not simply playing around on social media which many businesses are doing), search engine optimisation, pay per click advertising and more. Digital technologies are advancing at a faster pace than ever before, yet we are still in a situation whereby many large companies aren’t getting the basics in place when it comes to their online presence.

So what is the solution? We have seen fantastic projects recently throughout the country as part of the rollout of fibre broadband, yet these have unfortunately come/coming to an end. This is a real shame that this has happened and one that needs to continue in one way, shape or form. Businesses not only want support in this area, but they need support in this area. Digital technologies, marketing opportunities and online social interactions are what is going to drive business growth in the years to come. Yet we are still in a position whereby these types of activities aren’t funded for ambitious companies.

The solution here is for funding support programmes to look beyond the typical capital grants and strategic support areas. Businesses sometimes need some hands on work that will take them to the next step related to their digital presence. Think about this, what is the difference between a capital grant to purchase a new piece of equipment to increase turnover, or, a website grant to purchase a new piece of technology to increase turnover? There isn’t one. They are aiming to achieve the same thing. Unless of course, capital grants aren’t actually designed to increase turnover and create jobs, but they are designed to increase balance sheet assets. Let’s not touch on that topic any further though.

Personally, I believe funded projects, funded support and grants are failing ambitious companies looking to grow and utilise the opportunities digital provides. It will be interesting to see how/if this changes over the coming months. I do hope that we see a serious uptake in investment into projects that can deliver real value within a business beyond the typical capital grants that are handed out.

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Michael Cropper

Founder & Managing Director at Contrado Digital Ltd
Michael founded Contrado Digital in 2013. He has experience working with national and multi-national brands in a wide range of industries, helping them achieve awesome results. Michael regularly speaks at local universities and industry events while keeping up with the latest trends in the digital industry.