It often comes as a a surprise that in a world obsessed by global big business, most UK companies are actually small and almost three quarters have no employees at all.
According to the Department of BIS Business Population Estimates latest (October 2011) figures, 99.9% of the UK's 4.5 million businesses are SMEs employing less than 250 people. SMEs employ 59% of all private sector employees. And most are not even medium size - 99.2% are small businesses with less than 50 employees and 74% have no employees. OK - enough figures but sufficient to demonstrate that in sheer numbers there are far more small and one man businesses out there than big companies. The question is how do they market their businesses? Not it would appear by using social media.
Working out of a small home office I get to meet and talk to quite a few one man businesses and small companies. For example last week we were having some home improvement work done. The typical business model is the one man business who plans and does the work overall and calls in and manages additional specialist services as required and co-ordinates with local suppliers and negotiates discounts on products. He has a web site, but this is a showcase to which he refers his prospects to view examples of his work and read testimonials from satisfied customers. His main source of enquiries are from word of mouth recommendations and repeat customers. He has work planned in for months ahead. His connections are by mobile phone. He doesn't have time to tweet or Facebook.Take another example, this time an accountant. When he started in business he was persuaded to have a web site built and several years later he is still waiting for his first enquiry from it. Meanwhile he has developed a successful business, again through recommendations.
Now look at it from the customer perspective. For a start do I want someone doing work for me who is constantly tweeting, checking friends Facebook status, watching YouTube and being engaged in social media, or do I want someone who is actually doing the job I am paying for. Hiring anyone to do work is a matter of trust and that is why recommendation is so important because you can see the work, talk about the price and the whole experience with someone whose opinion you value.
The other day I was sent a user generated video from a marketing company talking about social media in the building industry and how immediate news publication and reader response was today. One person interviewed offered the idea that during work breaks construction workers would go online and respond to news stories. It seems people are responding to breaking news stories, but not the people I speak to they are too busy to bother, but some clients are undoubtably buying the story and investing resource heavily into social media campaigns. Another video from the same marketing agency had attempted to capture a presentation to an audience being presented somewhere by one of their team who demonstrated the value of Twitter by means of a weird story. When trying to discover if your favourite wine was in stock at the local Tesco in the old world you had to telephone the store and wait while someone went away to check. Really! Now you ask the question on Twitter and within 10 to 15 minutes you apparently get an answer from Tesco Customer Care. Amazing and worrying if its true. My builder knows his suppliers on first name terms, stock levels, pricing and ordering is done in a brief telephone call in minutes.
Meanwhile back in the small business world people carry on working, building reputations and getting recommendations for new work tweet free.