Online tools keeping SMEs open through COVID-19 disruptions

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New research reveals that many Australian businesses are using online tools to help them stay open through lockdowns brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, but that a “skills gap” is hindering their effectiveness.

The survey by research agency Pollinate for Google Australia of more than 400 Australian SME owners found that almost 64 per cent of SMEs have increased the use of digital tools within their business as a result of COVID-19. In addition, 56 per cent of SMEs that use digital tools say they’ve been “instrumental” or “considerably helpful” for keeping their business open and operational through disruptions caused by COVID-19 including lockdowns. And of the nine in 10 SMEs that use digital tools, more than 85 per cent reported that digital tools have positively impacted their business at this time, with such benefits include operational tasks (26 per cent), streamlined processes (26 per cent), more online sales (23 per cent), and more targeted communications to customers (19 per cent).

Despite this positive trend, many businesses also admitted to being unsure about how to effectively use digital tools such as websites, online business profiles, video conferencing, online ads, and e-commerce platforms, with 67 per cent experiencing an issue when using digital tools for their business. These issues include a lack of awareness of the digital tools available (25 per cent), understanding how to implement a digital strategy (22 per cent), and hiring staff with the necessary digital skills (21 per cent).

To help close the digital skills gap, Google Australia recently hosted an online Grow with Google digital skills session for small businesses in Sydney, launched by Federal Communications Minister and Member for Bradfield, Paul Fletcher. The sessions covered topics including how to establish and build a strong online presence, use website analytics to make data-driven decisions, and attract new customers. 

“Australian businesses have continued to face tough challenges due to COVID-19, and we know the internet and digital tools have been a lifeline for many of these,” Lucinda Longcroft, Director of Public Policy for Google Australia, said. “While the research shows a very real gap with many businesses unsure how to use digital tools, it also points to a considerable opportunity with those businesses using digital tools seeing significant benefits.”

And Federal Communications Minister Paul Fletcher, said, “Now, more than ever, businesses of all sizes and types need a good online strategy to be successful. Grow with Google can help local businesses as they develop and execute such a strategy. In 2021-22, this is certainly something that the Morrison Government is focusing on, with almost $1.2 billion being invested in Australia’s digital future through the Digital Economy Strategy.”