The years 2020 and 2021 will long be remembered among many SMEs in the UK as the time they regrouped and re-imagined the way they do business. As we approach the halfway mark of 2022, these same companies are now experiencing impressive growth and financial success.
Their leaders are also quite confident about the future. A recent survey of almost 600 senior staff found that business optimism is rising, currently scoring 55 on a scale of 100, up from just 40 points in the second quarter of 2020.
On the surface, this trend seems somewhat perplexing. In the face of significant challenges and uncertainty– from the supply chain crisis and rising costs on just about everything to the lingering impact of the pandemic– opportunities for profitability and expansion among UK SMEs abound.
Dig a bit deeper, however, and you’ll discover that these opposing forces are brought together only when SME leaders remain laser-focused on a few core areas in their business. Most leaders already know that they need to stay on top of their digital toolbox, customer experience, or staff management. But it’s too easy to get lost in the sea of planning, strategies, methods and tools and a shifting, unstable environment where the goalposts keep moving to turn that knowledge into action.
More than ever, SME leaders need to be crystal clear about their priorities. These areas and strategies will make the most significant impact and allow the company to proactively respond to a shifting environment where the goalposts keep moving.
Priorities for SME Growth and Success
That said, to keep your SME headed in the right direction, here is my short-list of 4 critical priorities that need to be front and centre in your strategic planning:
Collecting data for agility and innovation
I’ve mentioned in previous articles that your data collection, analysis, and data-based insights to guide business decisions and action are the foundation of your company’s competitive advantage.
It is only part of the equation, however. The underlying goals of all this data collection are not just to increase your ROI or improve your customer experience. What you are after is operational flexibility and innovation. Your data should inform you, at any given time, where and when to grow and guide the resource allocation to optimise your operations. You’ll know where to pivot in response to shifting trends, give your customers meaningful, personalised experiences, and discover future growth and development opportunities.
Making informed digital purchases
As a whole, UK SMEs continue to ramp up their investment in digital tools. But, as the number of software options skyrockets and platforms offer overlapping features, you may be struggling to narrow down your options. More software and solutions are not necessarily better. There has been a rise in the number of universal platforms or ecosystems of service providers that combine many standalone systems.
So, how do you choose the right solution? How can you be sure that your brand name software or service saves you the time and money its other clients are supposedly enjoying?
Before purchasing any software or signing up for a subscription, you should establish a plan for evaluating the platform in question alongside your current and future needs. Make sure to grade any potential purchase across several variables: the presence of standard features such as integration, data capture and reporting, as well as automated processes, ease of use, and the ability to scale with your business. Also, pay attention to the level and quality of customer support. After purchase, you should also evaluate the platform’s performance and note any issues.
Flexible workflow management
After the pandemic, there has been a renewed focus on employee well-being and blurring lines between work and personal life. Beyond ensuring that your staff have the tools, time, and space to do their jobs effectively, your biggest priority is closely monitoring and evaluating your workflow processes.
Consider the critical, time-consuming processes that frequently happen in your business. Where do bottlenecks and errors occur? What areas are not getting the time and attention they need? Where might it make sense to rely on skilled outsourced contractors or service providers? According to research, when staff feel empowered and focused on the task, they are more engaged and productive.
Nurturing professional partnerships and collaboration
These days no business is an island. Your continued success and growth critically depend on the quality of the relationships you maintain with your service vendors, suppliers, business partners, and professional consultants.
Leverage collaborative arrangements with suppliers, build creative partnership marketing and co-branding opportunities and look for professional consultants who approach your business as team members, not just service providers.
In short, with enough clarity and focus on your resources, you can turn your SME into an operational machine that will not only survive but thrive even when the storm winds are raging.