Northern Ireland small businesses must embrace new technology to grow

By May 21, 2015Corporate, Newsroom

Small and medium-sized companies are becoming more positive about the future but lack the marketing skills to take advantage of digital technology.

That was the key message at ‘Think Big, Act Small’, a special event organised by CIM and Ulster University Business School attended by more than 80 SMEs at Ulster University in Belfast as part of Local Business Week.

Christine Watson, chair of the CIM Ireland Board and Kirsty McManus, Director of the Ulster University Business School SME Centre, led the event, which included one to one advice for small-business owners from marketing experts and examples of industry best practice.

Ms Watson presented the key findings of a major CIM survey which explored business performance and confidence, attitudes and motivations of business owners and entrepreneurs and their approaches to marketing including available skills and resources.

She said: “Our findings clearly indicate a growing sense of optimism with 64% of respondents predicting growth and 70% predicting improvement in trading conditions but there are gaps in their marketing skills that mean they may not take full advantage of opportunities.

“We found that strategic marketing activities are mostly done in-house with more than 70% developing their own business plans, monitoring competitors and market trends and analysing the needs of their customers. But the majority of those undertaking these activities lack experience, training and qualifications. Only 13% of those surveyed had a marketing specialist as part of their team.”

Ms McManus said small business owners should take full advantage of the resources offered by the Ulster University Business School and CIM, the body that represents the marketing industry globally, to improve their marketing capabilities.

“We are delighted to be working in partnership with CIM on this event, which is about giving small businesses practical tools to help them compete on a global scale and giving them access to best practice, which shows that with the right marketing principles and techniques they can compete with larger companies.”

The aim of Local Business Week is to encourage the public to buy more products and services from their local businesses and also give business owners advice and resources so they can compete with large companies.

The CIM findings support the most recent UK Government Survey of small businesses, which found that confidence is strong in the sector with 73% of business owners planning for growth.

However, only 28% feel confident to enter new markets and only 44% feel they are good at developing new products and services.

According to CIM CEO Anne Godfrey there is a growing concern that given greater consumer power and increased competition, small business owners may struggle to face up to the digital challenge.

“My take on these results is that small businesses need good marketing to deliver their growth ambitions; yet only 7% are seeking the support they need to take their business to new heights. This is further exacerbated by their scarce use of the marketing resources available.

“Johnston Press and Buzzboard reported that 44% of small businesses do not have a website, 71% are not mobile ready and 69% do not use Twitter; so even free or low-cost tools such as social media are not being used to their advantage. With three quarters of UK consumers now shopping online, this could mean that small businesses are missing out on significant revenue opportunities.

“If a small business (or a business of any size for that matter) doesn’t keep up with changing consumer behaviours and modern marketing tools, how will they remain competitive?”

For more information about support available from CIM, go to and follow @CIMinfo_Ireland, #CIMSmallBiz15