In a digital world, the power of the platform is paramount
It is possible for SMEs to compete with the big boys on a level playing field if they use online tools effectively, writes Gerard Murnaghan
Businesses in Ireland are not doing enough to leverage the sales reach and efficiencies that the online world can deliver to them.
Research suggests that over 60pc of Irish SMEs are unable to make sales on their websites, meaning that millions of euro of orders go to overseas businesses with slicker online offerings and efficient delivery logistics.
For every Micksgarage.com (the award winning online car parts retailer now shipping 1,000 online orders per month) there are dozens of businesses yet to harness the power of selling online, and therefore missing out on accessing a market forecast to be worth over €20bn by 2017.
Maximising sales is one key part of business success, but another is making sure you hire the right people, and again SMEs are failing to use the web as effectively as larger rivals.
Many companies rely on advertisements in local press, notice boards in local shops and 'help wanted' window signs in commercial premises.
While this has worked for SMEs in the past due to the close-knit and interconnected nature of Irish society, the downside in the digital age is that they now find themselves at a disadvantage in attracting any company's most important assets, its people.
For years, attracting the brightest and best talent from near and far was the preserve of companies with highly developed recruitment programmes and considerable advertising budgets. Now it is possible for SMEs to compete on a level playing field if they use online tools effectively.
Migration online is starting to happen, and while Indeed's analysis shows a 9pc rise in the number of jobs posted compared to a year ago, the increase is over 20pc in many SME sectors, particularly healthcare and IT.
SMEs may have taken longer to feel the benefits of the economic recovery, but now have the confidence to hire aggressively.
Posting jobs online and making them available for search, which can be done for free, means your business will be dangling its hook where the fish are swimming: job seekers visiting Indeed.ie have risen 40pc in the past year to 800,000 unique visitors (UVs) per month - that's a lot more eyeballs than will pass any shop window ad!
A job seeker looking for a role online is just as likely to see a small company right next to a big company. The internet has often been lauded for its democratising effect, for its role as the great equaliser - and this is clearly in evidence in recruitment.
Online recruitment also gives you the best chance of accessing international candidates, which can be particularly important for hard-to-fill roles like software and technology.
Today software-related jobs account for over 50pc of the most in-demand-roles in Ireland based on analysis of over 43,000 jobs on Indeed in Ireland. As businesses of all sizes rely more and more on technology, SMEs are having to compete with bigger companies to seek out candidates in Ireland and overseas with specific, technical skills. That's proving a challenge, with research showing that 60pc of SMEs are struggling to find staff with the right digital and technology skills.
Another key thing businesses need to consider when recruiting is that a huge number of people now search for jobs via smartphones or tablets. A year ago, job searching on mobile devices accounted for 40pc of our traffic, now it accounts for 55pc of searches and is growing every month.
Of course, the serious job seeker, perhaps someone who is out of a job, may well sit down in front of a computer to plot their next move - but for the savvy candidate the job search is always on. While sitting on the bus or train on the way home from the office, the modern jobseeker is always keeping a eye peeled on the job market.
It's often said that it is easier to get a job when you're in a job, and for recruiters, the majority of the best candidates are now always open to new opportunities - so it's vital to give your job posting the greatest possible chance of being spotted, which means you have to go mobile.
Managing a business that only moved to Ireland in 2012, and has already grown to more than 200 staff, I am very confident about the strength and durability of the economic recovery we are experiencing.
It is based both in both the goods and services traded by the international FDI investors who have chosen Ireland as their European base, and increasingly on a genuine recovery in the 'animal spirits' of the domestic economy as the end of austerity comes into sight.
Now is the time for every SME to move rapidly to fully embrace absolutely everything that the internet has to offer their business. That can be as a sales tool, a recruitment tool, and as the medium through which cloud services can be purchased at dramatically reduced cost: telephony, accountancy solutions, and data storage are all now elements where a well-thought-out online strategy can deliver meaningful savings that can be reinvested in growth.
So while I remain profoundly confident and optimistic about the trajectory upon which the Irish economy is headed, I think if anything it is going to mean the competition for talent and hiring the right people is going to get more and more difficult.
That will mean that the companies that take seriously the recruitment challenge - and recognise the power of the digital platform in securing the right staff - will be those placed best to succeed.
Gerard Murnaghan is managing director of Indeed Ireland, which is the country's largest online jobs site, employing 200 staff and recently announcing plans to add 30 more people to its team
Sunday Indo Business