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This content is taken from the Deakin University's online course, SMEs and Digital Engagement. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds BRUCE BILLSON: Twenty years ago, there were two technology businesses in the top 10 biggest companies listed on the US stock market. Today, that number is eight. If technology’s changing the big end of town, what’s it doing for SMEs, our small and medium enterprises– your business? The answer is stacks. We hear all about the digital economy, digital businesses, and digital transformation. And you might be forgiven for thinking that’s all about someone else’s business. The reality is it’s all about all businesses. They’re all being impacted by digitisation. So it makes it very much our business, as well, and important for us to get our minds around what’s going on. But what’s it all mean?

Skip to 0 minutes and 51 seconds What’s the relevance of digital engagement for your business now and into the future? And how do you take best advantage of new technologies and digitally enabled capabilities to drive and grow your business? Hi, I’m Bruce Billson. I used to be somebody, as the Australian Cabinet Minister for Small Business, seeking to energise enterprise through policies that made the Australian economy more supportive of small businessmen and women and those individuals who commit to the success of their enterprises. I’ve owned and do on my own small business, and I’ve benefited from some of the best minds sharing with me what they think improves the prospects of success for SMEs.

Skip to 1 minute and 31 seconds Without exception, all spoke of the direct link between digital engagement and prospects of success. This course is about what digital engagement is and how it’s changing the very nature of commerce. And if you’re not embracing this potential, you can be assured others are– your rivals– and that will be to your commercial disadvantage. Together, we’ll answer the big question– what do I need to know to make sure digital transformation works for my SME? I invite you to participate in this course and gain some of the valuable insights others have shared with me. Together with your peers, I’m sure our journey and shared learnings will be of benefit to you and your business.

Let’s get started

Effective SMEs understand how and when to use digital engagement to maintain and grow their customer base.

Defining a small business is a surprisingly difficult endeavour. In Australia a small business is ‘defined differently by regulators depending on the laws they administer’ (ASIC 2013). For instance, ASIC (the Australian Securities and Investments Commission) defines small business differently from the Australian Taxation Office.

In the UK, small to medium sized enterprise is ‘any business with fewer than 250 employees’ (Ward & Rhodes 2014). In the US, a small business is defined as having ‘fewer than 500 employees for manufacturing businesses and less than $7.5 million in annual receipts for non-manufacturing’ (US Small Business Administration n.d.), although the definition in the US depends on the kind of industry you’re in. Franchises are included in the definition of SME, although their definition is just as vexing.

If you own and/or manage a business or franchise and don’t consider yourself to be a large business, then this course will apply to you.

Despite this lack of consistency and the complexity of defining SMEs, the importance of digital engagement for their success cannot be overstated: ‘Increasing the digital engagement of Australia’s [small-to-medium business] sector will result in wide-ranging financial, customer and efficiency benefits for both business and the Australian economy as a whole’ (Deloitte Access Economics 2017, p. 21).

In this course, Bruce Billson introduces you to a range of Australian small business owners and/or managers who have used digital engagement to successfully transform their small to medium enterprise or who work to help streamline SME business operations. The examples from actual businesses seek to emphasise the central tenet of this course: all businesses are digital businesses.

As you hear from this range of others, identify those things that might allow you to transform your SME using a range of digital technologies. What would be just as useful is sharing your own experiences and insights with others in the comments. In this way, we learn from and with each other and contribute to others’ learning as well as our own.

The case studies and resources in this course come from Australia but the principles we discuss can be applied to any SME in any country. If you live outside of Australian, search for similar resources and agencies in your country of residence. If you cannot find a similar organisation/resource, it may be useful to draw on the Australian materials realising that they should be used as general information only and may not comply with your country’s laws and regulations.

We look forward to your active engagement in learning about digital engagement and your exploration of practical strategies to further develop this area of your SME.

This course is the first in a series developed by Bruce Billson and Deakin University.

Your learning outcomes

Upon successful completion of this course you’ll be able to:

  1. assess the array of digital technologies promoted by vendors and select those most suitable for your SME

  2. discuss the importance of digital engagement to the success of your SME

  3. evaluate the most suitable technologies for your SME in a cost-effective and sustainable way

  4. investigate SME visibility and appeal in the social media environment and digital channels to market.

This course addresses the question: What do I need to know to make sure digital transformation works for my SME?

Meet the team

Your lead educator for this course is the Hon Bruce Billson. Bruce is the former Cabinet Minister for Small Business and a long-term advocate for small and medium enterprises in Australia. Through decades of engagement with SMEs Bruce has identified key elements that help to ‘energise enterprise’.

Bruce is the Director, Small Business and Enterprise at Deakin University, chairs the IPA (Institute of Public Accountants) Deakin University SME Research Centre, is Executive Chairman of the Franchise Council of Australia, a non-executive director of an SME-focused finance institution, Judo Capital and a small business owner and shareholder.

Bruce has a Bachelor of Business, Graduate Diploma of Management, Masters of Business Leadership (RMIT), and is an Honorary Fellow of Monash University.

You’ll also be supported in conversations and discussions by mentor Dr Sharon Pittaway. Sharon is an experienced teacher and former small business owner who has worked closely with Bruce in the development of this course.

Select their names to find out more about each team member and follow them for course updates, feedback and discussions.

Also you can follow the team on Twitter by using #FLSMEsuccess for ongoing updates, more information and to continue the conversation about SME digital engagement.

Your task

To find out more about the key topics you’ll explore in Week 1, watch the video. For an overview of all course activities and steps refer to the course map.

Take some time to introduce yourself in the comments, tell us why you’re interested in this course and something about your current digital engagement practice.


Australian Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC) 2013, Small business – what is small business, retrieved 12 July 2018, https://asic.gov.au/for-business/your-business/small-business/small-business-overview/small-business-what-is-small-business
Deloitte Access Economics 2017, Connected small businesses 2017, Google, Sydney, NSW, pp. 1–25, retrieved 30 April 2018, https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/au/Documents/Economics/deloitte-au-economics-connected-small-businesses-google-161017.pdf
Ward, M & Rhodes, C 2014, ‘Small business and the UK economy’, House of Commons Library*, 9 December, retrieved 12 July 2018, http://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/SN06078
US Small Business Administration n.d., retrieved 12 July 2018, https://www.sba.gov/

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SMEs and Digital Engagement

Deakin University

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