How the internet has changed the way businesses are run

It has never been easier for someone to turn his or her business idea into a fledgling company. On-demand businesses such as mass-customisable clothing and electronics mean an idea can be tested with limited investment risk. Creators can promote media to potential customers worldwide faster than many would have thought possible a generation ago, and receive much more exposure due to the ease of advertisement, promotion, and distribution.

In the workplace, permanently connected, portable computing ensures people can always be in contact, and can work from multiple locations rather than being based in central offices. This can keep growth costs down, as telecommuting workers means less office space is needed, and businesses need less physical expansion for the same amount of demand.

Cloud management systems such as Workshare allow multiple people to work on the same files, keeping track of changes and progress. Using cloud solutions also means being able to work asynchronously, so employees in or out of their office, and employees in multiple countries working according to their own time zones, can still communicate. Workers in different cultures can also provide more support to customers around the world.

The internet allows faster and farther-reaching communication; a business can grow from local to international in years instead of decades. If it ‘goes viral’- catching the attention of consumers who share it to their networks and so on – a business can expand exponentially. Catching people’s attention can be made easier using targeted marketing, aiming adverts at the groups of people most likely to respond to them. For example, someone searching for new shoes online will subsequently have more of their browser advertisements contain shoes, as they are more likely to follow up those adverts than others. Alternatively, a company could place targeted advertisements, containing coupons for their own business, aimed at people who shop with their competitors.

Online business means greater opportunities for both competition and collaboration. Dutch entrepreneur Robert Bonnier made his fortune by combining these techniques. Bonnier took over directory listings service FreePages, renamed it Scoot, then set it up as a direct competitor to BT’s directory enquiries service. He then joined with media provider Vivendi, allowing Scoot, accessible via mobile phones, digital TV and the internet, to reach a larger audience. This joint method meant Scoot grew dramatically, becoming one of the highest-profile online businesses at the time.

The visibility of being online also means greater opportunities for people to both support businesses and to expose them. Customers can interact with businesses via social media, by leaving reviews to publicly promote or disparage them, while businesses can use social media for customer support and good PR, increasing customer loyalty.

Overall, the internet has changed almost everything about businesses, from starting the business, to promoting it, to interacting with customers. The increased connections between businesses, customers and advertisers does have its risks, but has also led to many businesses and jobs being created that may not have been viable in previous generations.