ANY business that does not effectively use online platforms risks losing new and potentially lucrative opportunities, says digital agency Stead Lane.

The Southport-based company, which specialises in web development and digital strategies, says with the rise of the digital era more people have become heavily reliant on online platforms to look for the products and services they need.

While some businesses still consider an online presence to be just setting up a website that contains the name of its company, its services and contact details, Stead Lane founders Flynn McFarlane and Adam Stead (pictured) say this is a concerning misperception.

To tackle business online, the dynamic duo has teamed up with the Gold Coast City Council to offer an online program that helps companies to realise their potential through online platforms.

The program, which works with Gold Coast-based businesses with high growth potential, analyses current digital assets and strategies, assisting businesses to identify opportunities to enable growth and expansion.

McFarlane says no business can afford to neglect online as a huge marketing channel.

"It's hard to find anyone who doesn't conduct online research before they choose a product or service to purchase," says McFarlane.  "And it's not all about ecommerce either, as 95 per cent of high-value sales or long-sales-cycle businesses should have a strong online presence as part of their business model."

Stead Lane says most participants enter the program not knowing how to measure success online and how that can, or is, affecting their business.

Through the program it teaches business owners how to measure this success, allowing them to get an understanding of how the digital space is directly impacting their business.

"Digital communication is continuing to grow at a rapid rate and the way people interact with companies digitally is constantly changing," says Stead.

"It's important to measure the return on your digital assets, as well as understanding how customers are interacting with your business online. The online business program gives participants the knowledge of how to understand these interactions and use it to grow their business."

As part of the program, Stead Lane completes a digital audit of each business to determine whether or not the company's digital presence aligns with its business strategy.

From the audit, workshops and mentoring sessions, Stead Lane works with the business to develop a competent digital strategy.

"A great digital strategy will look at the fundamentals of marketing and apply them online; you don't always need to reinvent the wheel," says McFarlane.

"It's about integrating the value proposition to an online format and getting consistency.

"Participants who implement what they learn from workshops and the digital strategy recommendations have seen KPI increases of up to 300 per cent, with cohort average of 53 per cent. The majority of these results have resulted from correcting issues discovered in the digital strategy and presence audit."

Gold Coast company Coffee Roasters Australia has taken advantage of the online business program, which has helped to educate the company on online strategies and solution-based outcomes for business growth.

"It helped us to better understand how online marketing strategies work and how you can optimise the website using Google and SEO," says Alana Beattie of Coffee Roasters.

"From it I was able to go back to my SEO company and go through a number of points that I learnt from the course to optimise my site which actually resulted in a huge increase in my online shop and my Google ranking."

Following the course, Coffee Roasters achieved a 300 per cent goal conversion increase.

"Our conversion rate was massive; what we were able to achieve in terms of the bounce rate on our site and reducing that, and converting people to actually send an online enquiry or to purchase something on the site was huge," says Beattie.

"And it was just from a few really simple steps that they taught us.  They broke it down and made it super easy to understand because a lot of those things are very technical and unless you are living and breathing it, it can be a bit of a minefield."

In addition to providing the online business program, which is part of the Gold Coast City Council's Competitive Business Package, Stead Lane offers a range of digital services including website development and branding and social media strategies.

Stead Lane was founded in 2009 and has grown to employ around 10 people, consulting to big names including global education provider Navitas, SurfStitch Regional Development Australia, Griffith University, McGrath and Steelx.

McFarlane says the growth of the business is attributed to Stead Lane's unrivalled technical capabilities.

"We have more technical strength than a lot of the other agencies, so we can tackle bigger and more complex projects," says McFarlane.

"A lot of the other agencies on the Gold Coast are doing beautiful looking websites but when it gets to the complex digital platforms, we play on a more national scale.

"We have a lot of clients that have high-traffic websites and the up-time of the site and the ability for it to work can massively impact their bottom-line, you are talking tens of thousands of dollars if you get it wrong.

"From the beginning we set ourselves up so that we produce high-end digital solutions where we put all of the systems and technology in place to deliver at the higher end.  We endeavour to produce something that is really robust and can handle the needs of a client."

Both McFarlane and Stead were finalists in the 2015 Gold Coast Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards.

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