More than 400 small businesses have gathered in Dublin this morning for an event organised by the social network Facebook. The event is the first of a series set to be held across Europe, which aims to encourage small and medium-sized enterprises to boost sales through the increased use of digital tools.
Olivia Leonard, director of SMB EMEA at Facebook, says that customers are increasingly spending their time online - so businesses need to be sure they are there too. "It's absolutely critical for businesses to think about how they digitalise their businesses going forward because the opportunity is truly immense," she said. "If you think about where people are spending their time today, people are on mobile and their customers are on mobile, and it's a great opportunity for businesses to connect with their customers."
While Irish firms have not always been the best at embracing the digital world, there are some signs of that changing - particularly amongst newer firms. Of the companies attending the Facebook event in Dublin, the vast majority were already selling their products online. This is less surprising when you learn that most of them are less than three years old. Overall, though, Irish firms are more engaged with online sales than their European counterparts - though there is still a lot of room for improvement in the figures. "We are doing better than our European counterparts but we still have a long way to go," Ms Leonard said.
Around 31% of Irish SMEs are using social media - compared to 14% in the European Union; while 24% are selling online compared to 15% in the EU. Irish usage of e-invoicing and the cloud also outstrips its European counterparts, as does the amount of firms that are exporting. Of course all of this requires investment - be it in terms of finance or just time. Ms Leonard said that getting online is relatively simple now - and is a process that can take minutes rather than hours or days. However the vital next step is dedicating time to the platform on an ongoing basis, to make sure that the value of a digital presence is fully enjoyed. "We're noticing that more and more consumers are messaging companies and they want to use messaging to connect with customers," she said. "Small businesses in particular can actually be quite nimble in responding to that."
MORNING BRIEFS - Wireless Group has reported a pre-tax profit of £10.7m from its continuing operations for the year to December. The company - formerly known as UTV Media - recently completed the sale of its television business and is now solely focused on its radio operations. It said it had revenues of £75.1m from these last year - boosted by the Fifa World Cup
*** Britain's potential exit from the European Union is already hurting the economy there, according to stockbrokers Davy, which could have a knock-on effect on Irish growth. Analysis by Davy economists estimates that for every 1% drop in British GDP, Irish GDP falls by 0.3%. They also warn that any sharp depreciation in sterling could hurt exporters here. However the country is less exposed to the British market than it was in the past. Just 15% of Irish exports now go to the UK, compared to 50% in the past. Ireland's agri-food sector risk being worst affected by any Brexit, however, and Davy says that an agreement around single market access - similar to the one enjoyed by Switzerland - would be crucial in minimising this.
*** There were 251 corporate insolvencies in the first quarter of this year, according to Deloitte, just one higher than the same period of last year. The composition of those insolvencies has shifted, however, with construction firms making up a smaller percentage of cases than before and insolvencies involving services firms on the rise. According to the figures, 74 appointments in the first quarter were in the services industry - representing 29% of all cases. 42 were related to construction, representing 17%, while retail made up a further 13%. Of the corporate insolvencies registered in the first quarter, 69% were creditors' voluntary liquidations, 25% were receiverships and 12% were court appointed liquidators.