All of us at After Digital are proud to have the company’s roots in Scotland and we’re very proud to be a part of the Scottish digital sector. So, any investment from the Scottish Government into the digital industry gets a thumbs up from us! That’s why we were recently excited to see the Digital Development Loan – set up to help support small to medium businesses drive their digital capabilities.

We wrote about it (and its potential use for digital transformation) in one of our recent blogs, ‘What is The Digital Development Loan?’, where you can get some more info. But, let’s go over it a little again here. According to their website, The Digital Development Loan has been set up “to provide loans to companies who wish to improve their digital capabilities and capacity.” And, “the loan also covers staff digital skills development as part of the Scottish Government’s drive to improve economic productivity.”

This loan has been a byproduct of the coronavirus pandemic, helping SMEs adapt more to the current situation, which has forced businesses to become more digital in their processes – whether they were ready to or not. In fact, 52% of the UK population are now working from home, which is a sizeable increase from the just 5% of the active 32.6 million UK workers who considered their home as their main place of work (prior to coronavirus) in 2019. However, it’s reported that around 70% of those now working from home had no prior experience of doing so at all before the pandemic; it’s been a pretty seismic shift for our day-to-day working habits.

Looking to Scottish SME’s in particular, a survey by Simply Business has reported that the cost to small businesses is currently highest in Scotland and the North East of England, with the average loss of income (including lost earnings, work, and loan repayments) for small businesses coming to over £15K in Scotland alone. 72% of small businesses in Scotland have also temporarily stopped trading and 5% of Scottish businesses have closed permanently. It’s clear that Scottish SMEs need some help to survive the pandemic and there are plenty of loans out there, like the UK Government’s Bounce Back Loan and the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme.

However, it’s been clear in recent years that Digital Marketing and the impact it can have has been a growing focus for the SME community – more so now than ever:

  • 61% have said they aimed to use online advertising to bring in new customers
  • 51% have suggested they wanted to use online advertising to increase awareness of their business
  • 41% of SME owners and managers have claimed that ‘generating new customers’ is their key challenge over the next year
  • 70% of SMEs believe that communicating with customers is more important than ever during the pandemic
  • Research by IAB UK highlights “a big opportunity to provide SMEs with more guidance on how to best use search and online display”

On top of this, the tech sector is reportedly the fastest growing sector in Scotland, however, Scotland also faces a considerable digital skills gap and 10% of the overall UK workforce also lack basic digital skills. So, with all of these points in mind, we want to focus on how using the Digital Development Loan to up your business’s digital marketing capabilities could help your SME survive during, and thrive after, the COVID-19 outbreak.

How could I use the Digital Development Loan?

There is plenty of detailed information on the loan’s website, but the main purpose of the Digital Development Loan is to enable businesses to transform themselves through a digital project. And, they must be able to prove that this project will do at least one of the following:

  • Improve the company’s Digital Capacity
  • Improve the company’s Digital Capability
  • Improve the Digital Skills of the employees.

The type of expenditure that is likely to be eligible includes things like hardware and software that will improve capacity and/or capability of the company, e-commerce platforms, and expenditure on digital processes that speed up production. However, the eligible expenditure that we want to focus most on is the expenditure on training.

As digital marketing itself is not an eligible expenditure, meaning the loan couldn’t be used as marketing spend or to hire an agency to run your campaigns, using the loan to fund digital marketing training could be a great asset as lockdown eases and people start to return to normality. Having a good digital marketing strategy is more important than ever and, as we have seen from the stats above, more and more SMEs are keen to invest in it.

Why should digital marketing be important to SMEs?

The internet is a huge part of our lives, in fact, almost 4.57 billion people were active internet users as of April 2020 – which is over 59% of the global population – and digital marketing is a huge part of being present on the internet. However, digital marketing has a fairly wide remit, from SEO to PPC to social media advertising (and more!), there’s plenty that comes under the umbrella of digital marketing – all important in their own right. However, UK investment in digital marketing has only been increasing year on year since 2007.

Chart showing the progression of digital marketing spend

SOURCE: Statista - Digital advertising spending in the United Kingdom (UK) from 2007 to 2020 (in million GBP)

It goes beyond just spending money on your advertising, having a digital presence is incredibly important in today’s market; your customers and competitors are online. So, to compete and to be accessible, you have to be too. Digital marketing not only allows you to reach a wider audience online; it allows you to develop a target audience and reach them easily, it allows you to promote your business in a cost-effective way, and it allows insightful data and tracking – enabling you to constantly improve and evolve your strategy.

Thinking about something as simple as e-commerce and how digital marketing plays a role in it, retail sales through this method of shopping are set to make up a massive 17.5% of retail sales worldwide by 2021. Relating this to social media, 87% of e-commerce shoppers believe social media helps them make a shopping decision. Relating it to SEO, stats suggest that 39% of global e-commerce traffic comes from search. And, relating it to something you may be the most familiar with, email, 3 ‘abandoned cart’ emails result in 69% more orders than a single email.

Information like this, combined with the stats we listed about the SME community earlier in this blog, really does highlight the importance of digital marketing – particularly if you’re an SME yourself. So, while hiring an agency to handle your digital marketing may not be financially feasible for your business right now, digital marketing training could be the ideal way to gear up for life after COVID-19.

Would digital marketing training benefit my business?

Digital marketing and consumer behaviours are ever-evolving fields which can be hard to stay on top of. Working in an SME, whether you’re a business owner or an in-house marketer, can mean you wear a lot of hats in your day-to-day role; making it even harder to devote time to a specialism or keep up with emerging trends and changing technology. When you fall behind on the evolution of these channels, it can grow harder and harder to find success and easier to fall into routines which don’t deliver the way they used to – we’d like to take some of that pressure off...

At After Digital, we regularly work with clients who are looking for support with their digital marketing output. Often this is taking care of their paid digital marketing on a retainer basis, but we do also understand that businesses sometimes prefer to upskill their internal team and develop their in-house talent rather than rely on third parties.

With this in mind, we have developed our own tailored digital marketing training which benefits team members at all levels; from business owners dipping their toe into the digital marketing pool for the first time to marketing managers who are taking steps to become more familiar with emerging digital marketing platforms.

people in a digital marketing training session which could be funded by the digital development loan

We work with you to identify your team’s current skill level in order to craft a completely tailored experience with us. Whether you’re coming to us with a basic understanding or an advanced skill set, working with us will help your organisation to:

  • Fill knowledge and skill gaps
  • Create a more self-sufficient team that will save your business money further down the line
  • Open up new channels of opportunity which, in turn, will make money for your business
  • Empower your team and give them the confidence to achieve results on the marketing platforms essential to your business’s success

We offer training on Google Analytics, SEO, PPC, social media, email marketing, and digital strategy. However, our main philosophy is that the best way to learn is to do, so, by running practical workshops with tailored training materials (which you can take away with you) we will enable you to leave our training sessions with actionable knowledge.

You can find out more about our Tailored Digital Marketing Training services here. But, if you’re a Scottish SME looking for opportunities to boost your business as we come out the other side of the coronavirus pandemic, the Scottish Government’s Digital Development Loan could be a great way to invest in your business’s future. If you’re interested in finding out more about this or our digital marketing services, don’t hesitate to get in touch!