By Michele Cuccovillo, Co-founder and CEO, Netberg

In a remarkably short period of time, the internet has moved from a fixed user experience with a desktop computer, to a part of everyday life, accessible almost everywhere. This omnipresence of the net has led to incredible opportunities for businesses and helped some online companies become household names in almost no time at all. It’s incredible to think that the likes of Amazon and eBay were pretty much unknown just a generation ago.

The internet isn’t just an opportunity for some businesses, but all of them, no matter what size - including SMEs and microbusinesses. Recent data from Eventility shows that 97% of consumers search for local businesses online and this is not a statistic small businesses can ignore. These potential customers are looking for everything from restaurants, estate agents, dry cleaning services, plumbers, driving instructors, hairdressers and fishmongers. Even Capgemini, in a recent report, stated that 75% of us think websites are important to researching purchases, well above the over-hyped social media channels.

Yet, at Netberg, we conducted our own research of small high street businesses in London and found that almost half do not have their own website.

This means only one thing: those small businesses that can be found online by 97% of consumers are the only ones that have a much better chance to survive. The others face an uncertain future.

Physical footfall can no longer be relied on as the sole source of income and reaching out to an audience as wide as possible is critical to remaining profitable and keeping the doors open. Businesses that consider themselves as an offline business need to remember that harnessing the power of the web can drive customers into their stores and build offline relationships. In today’s world, people want to find out on the web where to go. Those small businesses that are not online risk missing customers, and having their competitors take greater market share.

A website is able to give access to information about your business 24 hours a day. Many customers expect businesses, no matter what its size, to be online. Your business may have closed its doors for the night, but your website is always there marketing your offer to prospective customers.

Many small businesses think they do not need a website. Equally, some recognise a website presence might be useful but fear they do not have the time, or think it will cost too much. Yet getting online is cheaper and quicker than most SMEs realise.

Our goal is to get online the 3.5million small businesses in the UK who are currently without a website (73% of all SMEs) – and in doing so plug them into the global opportunities the web can bring. This will enable independent businesses to compete online with the likes of Amazon. It is no longer a discussion as to whether a business needs to be online or not. Everything offline now needs to be online.

Only by harnessing the power of the web can independent businesses not just survive – but thrive.