Britain’s economy rests on the shoulders of small businesses and sole traders which account for 99% of the UK’s private sector businesses. However, research carried out by professional services marketplace Bidvine.com has produced the surprising discovery that micro enterprise in the UK is being driven by the humble pen and paper rather than cutting edge technology.
Although 67% of the UK’s micro businesses and sole traders surveyed now use a Smartphone for their business, 63% use pen and paper to manage their diary and almost 1/5 rely on nothing more than their memory to ensure they know where to be from day to day. This is particularly concerning as 20% say they have lost money in the last month due to poor diary keeping or communication.
It appears that the old way is still the most common way when it comes to finding new customers; 86% of sole-traders and small businesses still rely upon word of mouth as an important new business channel. The systems don’t change once new customers have been acquired either, almost half still use pen and paper to track their customers.
The same businesses are also favouring more traditional methods when it comes to taking payments. Despite plans to phase out cheques by 2018, 44% are still accepting cheques while less than one quarter take web payments and a mere 6% accept mobile payments.
The importance of a mobile to communicate with customers is however evident – over 1/3 say their phone is extremely important or vital to their business – only 16% felt they could operate without it. 52% communicate with customers by text and 65% by mobile call, compared to 50% who use a landline.
For Sohrab Jahanbani, founder of Bidvine.com, there is a place for both technology and tradition in small businesses. He comments, "The research findings show that the majority of sole-traders still value the importance of writing when it comes to diary-keeping and customer management. However there has been some progress towards the use of technology - despite still using the mighty pen, 78% do use email to communicate with their customers. It is also clear that the mobile phone has become an integral part of even the smallest businesses. It shouldn’t be a ‘one size fits all’ approach - through trial and error, these businesses are learning which technologies provide benefit and, in some cases, when a more traditional system will do the job just as well.”
John Griffin from Unflatpack has gradually made a transition towards embracing the benefits of technology in his business and is now reaping the rewards, "Unflatpack, our flatpack assembly business, was started 10 years ago out of an office in London with the help of a duplicate pad and paper-based payment system to process single orders. We now employ 100 people across the country and this growth simply wouldn't have been possible without technology. It is at the heart of how we run the business; our team of professionals are all connected by a web portal and they communicate with customers through text messages. It allows us to effectively manage communications and enables us to provide an efficient service.
"Technology is integral to every part of the process; from the initial enquiry to the final online payment. Online customer feedback and comparison sites also allow us to constantly review our service. Whilst word of mouth is important, more and more people are searching for services online. This is where Bidvine plays a part in our growth, as it helps us reach new customers nationwide. For us, the future is very much digital.
We are working towards a completely paperless system that is accessible to everyone."