By Chris Sims, BT's MD for its SoHo (Single/Small Office, Home Office) unit
We should all feel proud of the UK's notoriety as a nation of shopkeepers, and much more so over the last 18 months, with small businesses proving their mettle by rapidly adapting their operating models and moving online. We've also seen the rise of kitchen table entrepreneurs, with 800,000 new businesses set up during the pandemic, all enabled by an increasingly 'digital first' world.
The UK's start-ups and smallest firms have learnt quickly that engaging with customers online is no longer a nice-to-have, with the average person in the UK spending 109 minutes a day on social media, according to Uswitch. Our recent research with Small Business Britain foundthat 74 per cent of small firmspolled have increased their use of social media to promote their business online. 43 per cent of those said they were using e-commerce more, whilealmost a third had increased their use of paid social media advertising.
That's encouraging progress, but there's so much more we can do to help small businesses thrive, by helping them build stronger, digital foundations. That's what I'm focused on as MD for BT's SoHo (Small Office, Home Office) unitand I'm really excited to share some new innovations we're launching for the UK's smallest and fledgling firms.
Introducing the Digital Marketing Hub from BT
While businesses recognise the importance of using social media to reach more customers online, 40 per cent of the 5.9 million (2.4 million) aren't investing in paid advertising campaigns.
Our customer insight tells us that common barriers they face in adopting digital advertising strategies include: lack of time, scarce resource, and a shortfall in digital skills. So, I'm thrilled to announce that, in response, we've launched theDigital Marketing Hub. The new platformgives businesses the tools and support to create, publish and track their digital advertising across Google, Facebook, and Instagram - all from a single platform.
From sole traders and micro-businesses looking to take their first steps into paid social media advertising, to larger companies looking to optimise big-budget display or search campaigns, the platform gives them the confidence to build their own digital advertising strategies
We've also created a new team of digital marketingspecialists togive customersexpert support, when and if they need it. This is available as part of a fully managed pay-as-you go service with 'Essential' or 'Premium' options on offer. Customers can choose the service level that works for them. Over the coming months, BT's Digital Marketing Hub will also include a self-serve, pay-as-you-go option.
With artificial intelligence (AI) working in the background, customers get automatic recommendations around the best keywords, ad copy and media spend to include in their campaigns, to ensure maximum return on their investment. And with the single analytics dashboard customers have a full understanding of their marketing performance.
We've had some great feedback from customers already and the flexibility of the platform means there's something for everyone, regardless of the size of their business or their marketing budget.I'm really looking forward to seeing how our customers use the platform to harness the power of digital advertising to boost their business over the coming months.
Get mentored, get growing
In the coming months, small businesses will also be able to access a wider range of tutorials, guides and expert insights to further develop their digital skills through BT's Digital Marketing Hub.
We've also recently launched our'Get mentored, Get growing' campaignin partnership with Google, which offers free one-to-one mentoring sessions for UK small businesses and charities, covering a range of topics including digital marketing, e-commerce and business strategy. As an extension of our mentoring programme, we're offering small businesses the opportunity to win a one-to-one mentoring session with UK entrepreneurs Levi Roots and Liz Earle, where they can learn from their experiences of building and scaling a brand as well as adapting to a digital-first world. To enter small businesses can visit:Sign Up: 1-to-1 Mentoring with BT and Google.
Connectivity small businesses can count on
With more people shifting to home working and setting up businesses at home, improving access to affordable broadband is also more important than ever. Our recent research found that 65 per cent of small businesses said that their need for a reliable broadband connection increased over the last year.
Many of the country's smallest business owners are feeling financially squeezed by the ongoing effects of the pandemic, so we've come up with our best value full fibre broadband packages yet. The new packages offer the UK's smallest firms a reliable broadband connection with guaranteed signal wherever they're running their business from, all at an affordable price.BT's Full Fibre Business Essential packages start from as little as£25.95 for speeds of up to 150Mbps - that's double the speed of a standard Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) connection. Businesses can check out the currentoffers available here.
And with more and more businesses needing the flexibility to work from their mobile device, we're also enhancing our mobile offers for our smallest business customers, focusing on both reliability and value. With our latestEE plans, small businesses can benefit from enhanced support through services such as a free device MOT, alongside smart benefits such asinternational direct dialling allowance for calls made from the UK to Europe and Business Zone countries - all on the UK's best network for business collaboration.
With the recent launch of BT's new SoHo unit, this is just the beginning of our enhanced offerings for the UK's smallest firms and the thousands of start-ups which have thrived during the pandemic - whether that's by helping them to stay better connected; helping them reach more customers through the power of digital advertising; or by boosting their digital skills through our mentoring programme. I look forward to working with my colleagues and customers to further build on these foundations in the coming months - so watch this space!