SME myth-busting: Why businesses must work smarter, not harder

Running a small business is a difficult job, writes Mark Woodhams, Managing Director, EMEA for Oracle NetSuite

Small businesses operate on finer margins and a more perilous knife edge than many larger businesses. They typically feel the bumps in the road more starkly and are often more exposed to external challenges, such as new competitors and economic uncertainty, than larger rivals who have the scale and financial clout to exert price pressure and weather trickier times.

Small business owners often claim the role can feel like they are running to stand still. Working hard, putting in the hours, just to stay in business. At times growth can feel a far off dream.

Yet for all of this, the UK’s entrepreneurial sector has flourished in recent years. This is increasingly because many are recognising that while those external challenges exist, how they react to them can set them apart and put them on the road to growth.

At the heart of their response should be a focus on working smarter. All small business owners are accustomed to working hard, but that does not always mean they are working smart. To accomplish things faster than ever before, here are the five most common myths small owners must challenge in 2018:

1. No help needed

 One of the first things they need to do is share the load and accept they cannot know everything about their business, take every decision single-handedly and run it on pure intuition or instinct alone. If a business owner has grown a business from the ground up, it is easy to think they can always be in control. But there are too many moving parts to every business for that to be realistic. Intuition and instinct are important qualities for any entrepreneur, but so is knowing when to bring in help.

Much of that help can be provided by technology and while some may be inclined to think technology is too expensive, or too complicated, or not how they want to run their business, the reality is it is essential and can be efficient and easy to use. Even emerging technologies such as AI are now within reach of small businesses and can dramatically improve the quality of decision making within a business while automating important but time consuming tasks such as data analysis.

2. Owning data is everything

Data is crucial to businesses of all sizes and data-driven insights can augment the natural decision-making capabilities of even the greatest business owner. Data analysis can get them closer to their customers and give them insights into major trends, threats and opportunities within seconds, freeing them up from laborious manual analysis and number crunching to focus on delivering real value to their business and customers.

Simply having data and analysing it will never be enough, however. That data must show them a realistic, holistic picture of their entire business and its operations: its staff, its processes; its supply chain; and its customers. Armed with that information, business owners can make smarter decisions with a greater impact on their business. It will help them see opportunities but it will also help them fight off the disruption that threatens every business in every sector.

3. Disruption only impacts the big

The reality is no business, large or small, is safe from disruption. No business can rest on its laurels or assume it will always succeed, or its particular niche will always be theirs and theirs only. Small businesses shouldn’t live in constant fear but nor should they ever assume their work is done or their business is safe. Market consolidation and the expansion of big names, and the arrival of international challengers, in every industry is a trend that is swallowing up niches and forcing smaller players further to the brink.

©Monkey Business

Simply working harder cannot fight off the threat. Businesses need to find greater efficiency, get closer to their customers, remove any bloat, duplication or dysfunction from their processes and doing so requires accurate, up-to-the-minute data and a depth of understanding of those processes which would be beyond the scope of any individual. They have to be in peak fitness to fight off the threat of disruption and evolve their own business to deliver on the attractive promises of disruptive brands.

4. Steady evolution is enough

Business owners should also be prepared to bring in external human perspective and fresh thinking. Many business owners naturally fall into a belief that if they have grown a business to a point of success, then they will know best what the future of that business should hold. Of course they remain the right person to drive that growth and will always have more passion and greater ambition to succeed than hired hands, but they must not be afraid to admit they do not know all the answers, especially when it comes to innovation.

Many businesses, large and small, have a limited view of innovation. For many iteration, rather than true innovation is the norm – a change to a product, the steady evolution of a service. At the speed many industries change now the innovations of many smaller businesses need to become more wholesale, more fundamental if they are to use the great agility that comes from their size to outmanoeuvre their larger competitors.

5. Too small to go global

The final myth that business owners should challenge is the idea that international expansion is only for the big brands, and that they should focus on success in their local market. Technology has made the world a much smaller place and has put millions of new customers within reach of even the smallest business. The opportunity presented by markets such as the US, and particularly China, cannot be ignored.

Ultimately, small business owners need to think about how they identify new opportunities and how they exploit them. Technology can help get them a long way down that path. The hard work will always be essential, but with the right focus on smarter data and insights that hard work can deliver greater results and greater success.

About the author

Mark Woodhams is NetSuite’s EMEA Managing Director, with over 30 years of experience in the IT industry. Mark has worked across a number of disciplines in the field of ERP, CRM, ecommerce and Business Intelligence