There’s plenty that big business can learn from SMEs; lean-thinking, quick decision-making and informal processes, but the opposite is also true. Developing a big business mentality across many areas of your SME can, in many instances, be a good thing. In short, it’s okay to start small but think big.
Four things to think about as you integrate best practice into your organisation:
Revisit plans for growth
Your growth strategy will naturally depend on what stage your business is at. It seems incredibly obvious, but when you are deep in the daily operations of an owner manager existence, it’s easy to miss.
Considering when and what you have to invest, assessing current markets and business goals, and establishing what strategies you need to have in place to make the next move is something big businesses do all the time, and they’re very good at it.
Moreover, if you’re in it for the long game, you want your small business to be a big business one day. If you’re experiencing periods of growth, then your expectations will be very different to what they were 12 months ago. So it’s important to constantly revisit your business plan and set adjustable, realistic and achievable benchmarks.
Focus on your people
In 2019, Amazon announced it was spending more than US$700 million training 100,000 employees for higher-skilled jobs over the next six years, and that hasn’t altered during the COVID-19 epidemic. Amazon staffers are also encouraged to take part in free leadership and professional development programmes when they join the company.
The thinking is clear; investing in your team from the outset will encourage them to invest in the business. We mentioned previously why ‘now is the perfect opportunity to think about who in your team needs upskilling, and in which areas. Upskilling improves employee retention and boosts workplace morale, productivity and customer satisfaction. Moreover, it fosters a culture of learning and company-wide self-improvement.
‘Capability building reassures owners that they are moving in the right direction to future-proof their business – by having the right people in the right positions, each possessing the right skills to work effectively and confidently. Upskilling also empowers owners to shape their own future and hopefully negate their own recession.’
Commit to change and innovation
‘In terms of successful business strategy, 33% said the ‘commitment to change and innovate’ was a key ingredient to success, particularly in today’s competitive SME landscape,’ explains Australia’s NAB.
Common thinking is that the freedoms SMEs have to move adeptly in a market to create new opportunities can leave larger organisations standing. After all, entrepreneurs are discoverers and early exploiters of disruption and skilled at navigating previously unexplored revenue opportunities.
But that doesn’t mean huge, clunky corporates are incapable of making seismic shifts in what they do. Nokia, Twitter, Starbucks, Netflix, Instagram and Flickr are famous examples of business-pivoters, and corporates do it all the time.
Indeed the OECD believes that in this area, larger businesses are trailblazers – to a point. ‘SMEs are, on average, less innovative than large enterprises. However, some small enterprises are highly innovative and can reach productivity levels above those of large companies.
‘Companies which develop and use their internal strategic resources effectively (e.g. managerial and workforce skills, ICT, R&D, etc.), and collaborate with external partners in the innovation system, have better innovation performance… Innovation is a key driver of productivity and long-term growth.’
Know your customers to know your business
80% of your revenue comes from 20% of your customers (Gartner). Understanding customer behaviours and what makes them buy, is another obvious area where big business excels. Naturally, they have the resources to undertake deep-dives into what makes an individual buy products and services but SMEs can do this, too.
Capturing whatever information is available on your customers is worth its weight in gold because it leads to all sorts of exciting opportunities around personalisation and showcasing your core company values through your brand and messaging.
‘Personalised content does 178% better than non-personalised content, according to HubSpot – and you can take this as far as you like,’ says Icehouse coach Kevin D’Ambros-Smith.
‘Everyone can find their secret sauce – it’s just how you package it up. To be unique is about making lots of small incremental gains, and as time goes on, that will equate to one sizeable competitive advantage. Suddenly, people from the outside who are doing the same thing as you won’t understand why you’re doing so well.’
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