Small businesses in rural Australia are ahead of their counterparts in the capital cities when it comes to online strategies.
That is according to Google Australia head of small business and marketing Richard Flanagan, who said an increasing number of regional business owners understood they had more at stake in the digital revolution.
The tyranny of distance has always created challenges for rural businesses and many of those challenges can be overcome online.
“What we’ve found is, businesses in rural Australia are somewhat at the forefront of taking advantage of online technologies,” he said.
“Certainly in today’s economic environment, businesses in rural Australia need to take advantage of the latest digital technologies in order to have customers find them.
“Their customers are not just in their local areas, which might be a relatively small community that is geographically close to them.
“But [if you are a customer] just with a couple of clicks on your mouse, or a swipe on your phone, you can be connected to a business from across your state, from across the country, or indeed across the world.”
Spreading the buzz
Jo Knobel and her husband run a small business producing and selling bush honey in Clermont, central Queensland, but they have their eyes set further afield.
Most of their sales so far have been the old fashioned way, but Ms Knobel has built an e-commerce website which is gradually gaining traction and she hopes it will connect her with new customers who are interested in her relatively niche product.
Using her skills as a photographer, she is able to capture an audience on social media with striking images of her bees and honey.
“That’s our main thing for the future, having the website so people all over the world can purchase Teddy bears from Tambo.
“When I put up images [on Facebook] you get a response from people and then they start asking, ‘Can I have some honey? Where is it?'” she said.
“The other thing I find is if you put an image with the words, then people will respond better.
“If you just put some words, people don’t usually read it.”
Ms Knobel was recognised for her efforts in the digital sphere recently when she was named one of 10 finalists in the nationwide Regional Online Heroes competition, held by Google and the Regional Australia Institute.
The 10 finalists, small business from a wide range of backgrounds, were flown to Sydney for master classes at Google headquarters on how to take advantage of the digital age from regional Australia.
Digital age is the great leveller
The overall winner of Regional Online Heroes was Tambo Teddies, which makes teddy bears in Tambo, a town of 345 residents in central Queensland.
With such a tiny population, and a relatively short season to sell to tourists, co-owner Alison Shaw said the business would need a strong digital presence to succeed in the future.
Now Tambo Teddies’ e-commerce website and social media presence are taking them to a wider market.
“That’s our main thing [for the future,] having the website so people all over the world can purchase teddy bears from Tambo.
Ms Shaw said the digital age had levelled the playing field between city and rural businesses.
However, she said not enough businesses in rural Australia were taking up the opportunities.
Go mobile for success
Mr Flanagan said requirements for a successful digital strategy were always changing and one clear trend at the moment was that a business’ website must work smoothly on customers’ mobile phones.
“Right now we have phones at our sides, in our pockets, literally day and night,” he said
“We have access to all sorts of information around the world.
“Businesses that don’t recognise the opportunity that mobile offers and aren’t providing a fantastic experience to potential customers on their website when viewed on a mobile phone, really are going to be left behind.”
Source: ABC Rural