Online vs. offline: The difference for a small business

13th September 2016



More small businesses are online than ever before. But those who aren’t risk being left behind.

Brits are among the most enthusiastic online shoppers in the world, spending a reported £52 billion last year. Yet according to research from Nominet, which runs the .uk domain, over a quarter (26%) of small businesses still don’t have a basic website with contact details and opening times.

Getting online needn’t be difficult. Or expensive. In fact, you can do it for £1 – Nominet has partnered with Do It Digital and to offer UK businesses the chance to experience the first stages of creating a website, and setting up a professional email address, for less than the cost of a cup of coffee.

A website can be a crucial step toward growing a business. For Peter Clayton, founder of, the job wasn’t new – “I knew the plumbing and heating trade like the back of my hand, having worked with my dad since I was a child.” But going online was a turning point in terms of scale. “My website has taken me from running the business from home, to an office with 12 employees and a successful online business. I am proud to say that we now receive orders and enquiries from all across the UK.”

Small businesses know how important an online presence can be. More than half (51%) said they realised not being online could hurt their reputation, and 53% felt that not being online would leave them unable to compete with larger organisations in the future. But 55% still felt that they weren’t meeting their customers’ online expectations. Many are unaware of just how easy and economical it can be to create a really effective website, or don’t have the confidence to make it happen.

Our campaign with Do It Digital and aims to help redress the balance – and give both customers and businesses what they want. It includes helpful guides and free hands-on, face-to-face events.

Many small businesses say they don’t know where to start, but there’s no need to be overwhelmed by the task.  Jonathan Jones, the commercial director of, says they kept things simple to start with. Tregothnan sells products from its Cornwall gardens, including the first ever British-grown tea. Describing the growth of their online shop, Jonathan said, “It started small. Very basic in the beginning, just a part-time job. Did about £5,000 a year.” Introducing more products led to increased sales. “Before we knew it, it was a full-time job. The following year we had our first £10,000 month. Suddenly four people were involved, working directly on our website.” Fast-forward a few years and there are now 18 jobs dependent on, with sales expected to reach £20 million by 2020.

UK customers are clear about their online expectations: more than a quarter (28%) think businesses without a web presence are outdated or can’t keep up with the times. Failing to meet these expectations puts small businesses at a disadvantage, especially when competing against larger firms with a consistent online presence. By being proactive about digital opportunities, small businesses can achieve greater scale and reach than they could on the high street, and give bigger rivals a run for their money. According to Jonathan, the website has allowed them to do just that: “We love the fact that with a bit of clever thinking, online we can reach as many people as any of the major supermarkets – or, in fact, any other retail business.”