There aren't many certainties in the world of business, but one of them is that the internet is becoming increasingly essential to the ways in which small firms operate.
Evidence of this isn't hard to find. In December 2013, the British Retail Consortium recorded a 19.2% annual growth in the number of purchases that consumers made online - the sharpest rise in four years and evidence that the world of ecommerce continues to expand rapidly.
But with all the promise the internet brings, there's also plenty of risk. It says a lot that the government ranked cyber safety concerns alongside international terrorism and natural disasters when setting out its National Security Strategy in 2010, while its latest estimates say the web is worth a staggering £82 billion a year to the British economy.
The internet is a potential goldmine that shouldn't be ignored, but at the same time it's an area where many SMEs have undeniably found themselves exposed
The fact is that this is something small businesses have to take into account - the internet is a potential goldmine that shouldn't be ignored, but at the same time it's an area where many SMEs have undeniably found themselves exposed.
According to government figures, 87% of small firms reported some form of cyber breach in the year leading up to December 2013, with estimates placing the average cost of such an event at somewhere between £35,000 and £65,000.
They're startling figures, and the immediate reaction of many SMEs may be to shy away from an area that could prove this costly. Yet when you consider the growing success of online retailers such as Asos (in the final four months of 2013 the company saw its UK sales jump 37% from a year earlier) it seems firms would be crazy to rule out the web as a viable sales channel.
That's why the government has launched a range of initiatives designed to enhance the online security of SMEs - an attempt to support British firms by ensuring they take full advantage of the internet's potential.
The latest campaign is called Cyber Streetwise, and its sole aim is to improve the safety measures that businesses and consumers take when using the web.
With figures revealing that less than half (46%) of small firms regularly monitor their IT systems for breaches - and that only 58% make the effort to use complex access passwords - it seems that many businesses are slipping up on the simple things. These are the areas where Cyber Streetwise is intended to prompt change.
The initiative itself is one that costs only a small portion of the hundreds of millions of pounds the government has spent on promoting awareness of the challenges the internet poses, and is further evidence of the belief that more SMEs need to be encouraged to use the web appropriately.
Businesses can take advantage of such resources and implement effective tactics to protect themselves online. This may require concerted effort from new and existing businesses, but it's effort worth taking if it results in increased profitability.
Dan O’Sullivan is Make It Cheaper's Web Content Manager, which means much of his time is dedicated to ensuring we have plenty of online material to help business owners understand the energy, insurance and telecoms industries. With years of experience working alongside SMEs, Dan is committed to making life as easy as possible for smaller firms. You can email Dan at firstname.lastname@example.org
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