Can small firms afford the Internet?
By Nilooka Dissanayake
I decided to take a look down again; right at the bottom of the eLadder where most of the Sri Lankan small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are, just to make sure I do not lose sight of realities.
As you know most SMEs do not use the Internet. When I say, "use Internet" I mean sending and receiving emails and web browsing.

Here is an ugly list of obvious reasons:
* Cannot afford it
* Don't know about it
* Too proud to ask and learn
* Don't think it is relevant
* It's for the young generation; I am too old to learn
And here are my reasons why SMEs (or anyone else for that matter) should use the Internet:
* It's cheap
* It's very cheap
* It's very, very cheap…really!

Now let us get down to looking at the pros and cons.
Can't afford it: Trust the first point to raise its ugly and irrelevant head in any "Why we cannot" list, be it with SMEs or anything else; but especially with SMEs.

Firstly, the objection comes because people perceive that computers are expensive. If you look at your basic needs, you will realise that any old computer will be enough for your writing letters or doing a basic worksheet or sending and receiving email. A basic, second hand computer sufficient for your needs can be purchased at Rs. 5,000 onwards or even less. But, when you are learning to drive, do you use the most expensive car or the handy rickety old Morris Minor? You know the answer. So, why not buy it; use it and throw it away? But make sure you get a vendor that will support you and hold your hand throughout the first year at least. It is worth paying for a service agreement. When you know better, buy the latest thing in the market.

Whether you can afford a computer now should be decided after I justify that assertion of "it's cheap, very cheap, very very cheap really!" at the end of this article.

And if you have a computer and an Internet connection, and you work during daytime, depending on your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and the package, you will spend something like Rs. 200-300 for every hour you spend online.

But, if you go to an Internet Café and use the facility there, your cost per hour will be… just Rs. 50 or 60 at the most. It is actually cheaper for me to go to an Internet Café than sit in my office and use the Internet.

Don't know about it and too proud to ask and learn: If you have recognized this, you are half way towards the solution already. There are many books and publications in both Sinhala and English that help you make sense of the Internet and tell you how to benefit from it. Anything you want to, you can do.

An alternative is to check out the many articles I have written on this topic, both in Sinhala and in English which are archived in the eWorld section at You could ask a friend to get them for you. Although you cannot drive without getting into a car, you could learn the basics, can't you?

Don't think it is relevant: There's none so blind as those who do not wish to see. Are you one such person?
It's for the young generation; I am too old to learn: Age is only a number. When I started writing a series of articles on the Internet in the Sinhala medium, a 72 year-old man sent a letter to me. "I thought I had missed the bus," he said. "But, you make it sound as if it is not too late for me to learn these things. Thank You." I do hope he managed to catch a late bus. So can you.

Now to prove why the Internet is cheap.
You are a small exporter. A foreign buyer makes an inquiry. What will you do? Get the letter typed, print it out and fax it. Say, the fax cost you Rs. 200. An email would have cost you less than Rs. 10 if you just typed it offline. And if you had to call and check? Would it not be cheaper to ask acknowledgement by email? Again just a few rupees.

You produce handicrafts. A buyer in Colombo wants to see a sample and you are from Galle. He says a picture would do. You have the photos. Do you take extra copies, and post or send through a messenger? You know the costs. Getting a photo scanned and emailing will cost you almost nothing. Imagine time saved and the speed of response.

I have been speaking to publishers lately. To send a 1,000 postcards announcing a new book or to put a paper advertisement, it would cost Rs. 5,000 at least. But you can reach 50,000 or 100,000 people with the same message and give more details if you used email. And the cost would be insignificant.

Can you still say it is not worthwhile exploring the potential of the Internet? It's cheap, very cheap, very very cheap really! -- especially for the SMEs with limited budgets. What are your questions and concerns? Let us know so that we can share these with our readers and seek solutions together. You can contact us on

The writer is the Managing Editor of Athwela Vyaparika Sangarawa (Athwela Business Journal), the only Sinhala management monthly targeting the small and medium enterprises, the Ezine Athwela Email Magazine and, the bilingual small business website.

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