High Street or Super Highway?Should you set up your new business online, or move your existing company onto the web? It’s a hot topic right now, what with the stress on Britain’s high streets. But arguably it’s the changing habits of this country’s shoppers that have had the biggest impact, not the state of the economy.

The fact is we Brits have become addicted to shopping online. The UK is the most internet-based economy of any G20 country, says the Boston Consulting Group. In 2010, 13.5% of all purchases were made over the internet, but this is projected to rise to 23% by 2016, it says.

That we in the UK are so web savvy presents a great opportunity – not a threat – to anyone who runs their own business, or is thinking of starting one up. If you wanted to set up a business a decade ago you had to rent a shop or office, fit that out, fill it with goods and hire assistants to serve your clients. So you had hefty costs to cover before you’d even put up the ‘Open for business’ sign on the door.

But not anymore. By going online, your business can be up and running in no time. It can be based in your spare bedroom, so you don’t have expensive business rates and rent to pay, and you’re open 24 hours a day to customers throughout the world. By trading online you can pare your costs right to the bone, giving yourself the best chance to make a go of your new business in today’s tough economy.

A great example of this is the Cambridge Satchel Company. Julie Deane, a mother of two, started selling her leather bags online from her kitchen table. Now they have become a fashion phenomenon and are seen slung over the shoulders of catwalk models and celebrities alike. Google recently used the company in one of its ads, which has had over 4 million hits (and counting).

If you already run a business, you can also use the internet to boost your revenues. You needn’t be a retailer either. If you run an IT firm or accountancy practice, you can go online to increase your number of potential clients. You may not do business electronically, but far more people are likely to see your website than your office, which might be tucked away behind a bank or over a shop.

But moving your business online is just the starting point. There’s no point having a good website if no one clicks on it. You still need to get customers to visit you, so some of the money you save by being online needs to be ploughed back into the business to market it. You have to give potential customers every opportunity to find out who you are, what you do and what makes you different. You want people to remember you, so even if they don’t buy something from you today they will come back to you when they do need your product.

The good news is that marketing is arguably easier these days, because you have more ways to promote your business – again thanks to the internet. You can use pay-per-click advertising, search engine optimisation, blogging and social media to raise your profile now, rather than just putting an ad in your local paper.

Startups can now choose the best place to set up their business: in a bricks-and-mortar premises or online. Or both. Setting up online might be a radical decision, because firms in your line of business haven’t traditionally chosen to go digital. But that could be your unique selling point. If the demise of physical stores such as Woolworths has taught us anything, it should be that just because your kind of business hasn’t been done online until now that doesn’t mean it won’t be in the future.

UK is the most “internet-based major economy”, BBC News: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-17405016

The Cambridge Satchel Company: https://www.cambridgesatchel.co.uk/