A week ago today, a small business in my community called ‘Costume Capers’ closed its doors after 30 years of continuous operation in the coastal hamlet of San Luis Obispo. When the local Tribune asked partner-proprietors Debi and Keith why they were throwing in the towel, their answer came without equivocation: enterprise business moved into their market and internet shopping made them feel like it was impossible to compete. Their customers slowly drifted away and their revenue stream simply dried up.

Costume Capers was in the category of VSB or “Very Small Business,” that massive crosscut of ventures with fewer than five employees that constitute 85% of all businesses in the Western world.  Like 61% of all VSBs, they were well established in their community (3- years-old is the typical success marker) and were women-led, like more than half of all business around the world.  And like most small businesses who wear multiple hats, they struggled to keep up with technology adoption.

The unhappy fate of Costume Capers is not unique, but the real tragedy is that they felt like the tools they needed to compete—starting with an effective online presence—were still out of reach for them in 2015. They were far from alone in their predicament. In fact, 59% of very small businesses around the world still don’t have a website according to a new landmark study by RedShift Research that GoDaddy commissioned earlier this summer.

For those of us who work in tech, it’s hard to fathom that nearly six out of 10 small businesses are still not online after more than two decades of the Internet’s mainstream popularity. While a few utilize social media or listing sites to gain some semblance of Web presence, many very small businesses in the study said they felt too small, too non-technical and too limited in their budgets to have a site of their own. Those would have been valid concerns 10 (or even five) years ago, but today there’s simply no excuse.

Enterprise businesses learned long ago that the Internet was by far the most effective way to reach customers—globally or locally.  With the meteoric rise of the mobile Web, that lesson has only become more important.  In years past, the cost for a VSB to build a website that clearly drove sales was often more costly than the revenue gained by the effort. But as the cost of computing has radically dropped and as consumers have adopted the Internet as a primary means for making purchasing decisions, the true cost of not being online can be catastrophic.

According to a study done by Search Engine Land, 91% of consumers now use the Web to research their purchases and 85% now use the Web to find local businesses. Without an online presence, eight or nine out of every 10 potential customers will never even know a small business existed. They are effectively invisible.

59% of very small businesses around the world still don’t have a website. Today they are effectively invisible.

Today, all very small businesses need an effective, mobile friendly website, a solid social and listing presence and a clear plan for communicating with their customers online. With DIY site builders from companies like GoDaddy’s (and many others from our competition), anyone can build a compelling website for just a few dollars.  And with the rise of cloud computing, small businesses can get a professional email, marketing tools and even bookkeeping tools for very little money.

The good news for micro-businesses around the world is that their fears about getting online are quickly eroding. According to RedShift, over half of the businesses that took part in their study said they intend to get their business online within the next two years. They also expect that having their own online presence will significantly speed growth by making their businesses visible to local, national and international audiences.  Nearly half believe that their business will grow 25% or more over the next 3-5 years with the help of Internet and mobile devices.  That figure is consistent with what VSBs who are already online have reported about the Web’s impact on their business, with 59% saying their business grew noticeably once they had built their website.

Given that there are roughly 200 million VSBs globally, their getting online effectively could have a major impact on small business growth as a percentage of the economy. However, there are still some notable distinctions about who is ready to take the plunge. Newer small businesses were nearly twice as likely to want a website compared to their older counterparts and firms with at least one employee (vs sole-proprietors) were farther along in their plans. Getting all 200 million VSBs online will definitely take some time, but it’s a worthy goal.

For anyone keeping a close eye on the very small business market as it relates to the global economy, the RedShift study (the full report can be found here) provides some unique insights and is definitely worth a read.

Though it’s unfortunately too late for Costume Capers, it’s not too late for Debi and Keith in their next venture—and I’m sure there will be a next one.  The Internet has given enterprise business a big head start, but it is also a strong force in leveling playing fields.  Small, local business have a powerful advantage over enterprise: their ability to provide personalized (and highly personal) service.  If they can just be found online, communicate their unique value to an on-the-go audience and maintain relationships in a way modern consumers want, the world can be theirs.

Though VSBs clearly have a long way to go, the RedShift study give me a lot of hope for the future of the small, the unique, and the highly-personal over the big box experiences of past decades.

Of course GoDaddy is here to help as you’d expect, but we’re increasingly not alone in our quest — there are a ton of others who can fuel this tipping point. Very small businesses out there, pick up your laptops and let’s change the world for the better. Your time has come.

Photo by: C’Est Demode

15 thoughts on “The Days of Invisible Small Business May Soon Be Over

  1. It pays to be online. We sell to customers living in the neighbourhood where our store is located in Vancouver, Canada, as well as selling to customers across Canada, the U.S., Europe, Australia and New Zealand, thanks to our online presence.
    We just got a call from a customer in San Diego who had been searching online for a Desigual shirt but couldn’t find it anywhere else but our online store. We shipped it off to him yesterday. He should have it in a couple of days. Another happy customer!

  2. Hi Blake, good insight on how the VSB community is slow to adopt to the internet. I also think you should factor in the inertia that some of these old school owners have when it comes to adopting technology.

    It could also be an issue of capability, and not just inertia. A lot of the time when you are in the trenches, you simply forget to lookup and see the bigger picture.

  3. I am a sole-trader running a small reliable cleaning business, offering services to Wirral, Liverpool areas. I would recommend any small business to purchase a Godaddy Domain/Website builder as they affordable packages.

  4. You know Blake, I have been pondering a lot about how to reach the last of the small business owners in my local area so I can try to convince them to build a website. There is actually a majority that I have seen in rural areas of small business that don’t even bother with a website, or online marketing.

    It’s not that they don’t have the technical know how, or they haven’t looked into getting discovered online. It’s that there is still a stigma about the “bad” that can happen when you put yourself online.

    So my question to you is. How do you break the stigma to get the business owners that are naturally weary of the internet to break their bonds and be freed into the world of online sales and marketing?

    Cheers!
    Dan

  5. Remarkably, the buy in for a small business to gain a web presence is tiny and the ROI is huge. GoDaddy makes it immensely easy for my clients to get started. Your phone support is exceptional and your hosting is 100% dependable. I wish all companies operated like GoDaddy!

  6. So many small businesses still without an effective web presence! It`s strange how they don`t see the potential that a virtual store can do for their business, it`s a real shame too as like you said alot of them are disappearing.

  7. Great post! As a small business owner with a Go-Daddy website for the last seven years I can attest to its power. Now, however, my site is looking a bit antique, and, as I can’t access it without help, I’m in the process of learning about WordPress and blogging, and taking over the management of my own site so that I can use it more effectively. It’s an exciting time for business owners who embrace the technology – even for those of us who are technophobic. Thankfully, most of the hard work has been done and it’s easier than ever to get on line. Thanks, again!

  8. Blake,

    Thanks for the information. It will benefit my business and many others I’m sure.

    Neal Martin

  9. Hello dear Blake,

    I am writing to tell you how much I really love your blog even with my poor vision I can see you are extremely knowledgeable about tech and digital resources.

    Please keep up your blogging it is truly inspiring for me and others.

    ~Esma

  10. Hey Blake,

    Great post:

    I found it quite shocking when reading and you put in

    “59% of very small businesses around the world still don’t have a website. Today they are effectively invisible.”

    yes this was written in 2015, but this is a shocking number actually. On top of that, how many more don’t utilize them properly.

    Great post Blake:

    Good to see the CEO out and about 🙂

    Thanks,

    Chris Pontine

  11. hi blake

    i got some good service from Matt Weiss today. Like every one else at go daddy he tried to help me upgrade to off 360 but it isnt necessary for some businesses or people =p But excellent explaining and a true desire to help someone. awesome

    regarding your above article its pretty hard to understand why some businesses dont have an online presence, and your figure that 91 % of people search online for goods and services was incorrect because the last three articles I read it was 90%.
    However why does a hardware store in the middle of nowhere need a optimised planned and highly organised approach to having an internet presence. If they had one they would have to learn some pretty mind boggling skill sets and they are what… 60?
    Business constantly has to adapt thats nothing new. adapt or die.
    anyway, again impressed with the support of the techmical knowledge seems it is across the board and everyone knows what they are talking about so i just wanted to say to you that the above guy in support for email was very knowledgable and well helpful so promote him but dont let him do any sales he may get over excited and explode
    ok
    ty have a lovely day

    Luke
    Dir Precision Int Removs

  12. Hi Blake,
    great article! I totally agree with the statement “Given that there are roughly 200 million VSBs globally, their getting online effectively could have a major impact on small business growth as a percentage of the economy”. This is a big hidden market, that should grow over the next 2-5 years.
    Thanks,
    Natalie

  13. The problem with businesses (IMO) for not having a web presence is not that they can’t afford it or are technically challenged (get a friend worst case to create a quick free one with Wix, Weebly etc… yuck. Even kids and technically challenged grandmothers make websites! no excuse), its their ability or drive to create their business content from a basic level.

    These business owners don’t want to have to think of their online image, they are too busy working daily operations or simply afraid (or don’t have a business plan). They don’t consider the advantages of creating ad copy, photos, bios, company backgrounder, contact forms etc. This is their real road block to not having a website.

    Web designers are unable to gather their initial content so we can’t help move them forward to a digital presence. Having a company website is something they wish to have but for whatever reason are unable to commit and produce content to get their website started. It’s not enough to want, you have to create action. Those people are business causalities waiting to happen. They have bigger issues to worry about than if they did have a website.

    It’s like someone wearing an expensive suit with shoes that are in need of repair and polish their attention to detail always shows, it’s who they are. Just because it’s easy to start a business doesn’t mean everyone should.

    We need convincers, motivators and decent project people as front end web producers to help customers realize their potential and champion their cause, not just sales people and technical producers in static roles. When the industry adapts to the challenges and understands their customers road blocks better, we all move forward. You can’t be passive and wait for them to catch up. Evolution moves much faster technically than people’s habits and perceptions.

  14. yes, a small business investment is really a cool Idea. Even I started a car cleaning business localities here in India and grooming well

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