What are the main challenges stunting the growth of SMEs?
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What are the main challenges stunting the growth of SMEs?

26th September 2019
By Tom Ladle

Starting and maintaining a business is no easy task, even if you’re convinced it’s the best thing since sliced bread. Anyone who manages to get a business off the ground deserves a huge pat on the back, but the start is often the easiest part. It’s the pesky growth stage that seems to cause the most nuisance. With the uncertainty clouding Brexit and what will happen when and if it ever happens, means the trials that businesses face at the best of times are only intensified. We’re going to give a quick run down of the main challenges stunting the growth of SMEs and hopefully provide some solutions to overcome them (every cloud aye).

Strapped for cash

Here at PowWowNow we have a knack for stating the obvious, so here goes. No business will achieve growth without receiving some form of funding or a steady stream of revenue (mind blowing, we know). As a small to medium business, particularly one that is young, revenue and funding aren’t always readily available. Research from 2018 found that over half of UK businesses are unable to access the funding required to grow[1]. So, what can you do as an SME to help clear this hurdle and ensure that your company goes from strength to strength?

Well as with most things in life, there isn’t one definitive answer (that would be too easy). The most important solution and potentially the simplest is just to do your research. There are plenty of funding opportunities out there, some providing not only a financial helping hand but also strategies on the best ways for your company to achieve growth. You may need to seek alternatives to the major banks, who often required a proven track record of money making before providing a loan. Point being that educate yourself on the options out there before making any haste decisions, potentially finding yourself in financial hot water. For a more comprehensive list of funding options for SMEs click here.

Get your tech hat on

With the rapid advancements in technology it’s possible to be left in the dust, covered thinking what just happened? That’s why as an SME it’s crucial to keep up with the digital trends. A recent survey found that one in ten SMEs haven’t invested in any new technology at all in the past 12 months. A slow up in innovation goes hand in hand with a slow up in growth. Having and investing in the latest tech makes it easier for your employees to work smarter and more efficiently. With the tech industry bursting at the seams with competition as well, then you should be able to affordably keep up.

With tech such as conference calling, webinars and video calls you can unite your workforce on the move. This has many perks, particularly for SMEs who may be short on cash to accommodate a space for the entire workforce. A study found that between 53% and 60% of SMEs said that new technology solutions have enabled them to begin/revise their workflow and processes to streamline operations and improve productivity[2]. As an SME you need to be as efficient as possible when trying to grow as realistically you often don’t have as many resources as the bigger players. But if you’re adopting the latest tech than the gap narrows somewhat, and you create a more level playing field as you can achieve much more with limited resources.

Who’s got talent?

Another challenge that isn’t an exclusive annoyance for SMEs but may be more of a challenge is recruiting the right talent. The advantage larger businesses have over smaller businesses on this front is that their name alone usually attracts talent, so they don’t have to put in as much effort seeking it out. Research carried out by The Telegraph found London to be the “only region where the number of SMEs finding it easy to recruit skilled staff outweighed those that found it difficult”[3] (crikey). What can SMEs that find themselves outside of the bustling bubble that is London do to attract the best talent?

Our first humble piece of advice is a term that you may have heard before if you’ve read any of our other blogs. Wait for it…that’s right…you guessed it…flexible working. Introducing and promoting flexible working can be an effective way to attract the best talent, regardless of location. More people want the option to work flexibly so why not give them what they want? To further illustrate this point, check out our 2019 flexible working survey here.

There are other steps you can take that helps your business secure tip top talent. You should take a leaf from the big dog’s book and develop a brand that people want to become a part of. This may seem difficult as brand awareness often means a hefty injection of cash flow but there are other ways you can develop you brand without having to spend tones of cash. Focus on your culture and have this become synonymous with your brand. Don’t underestimate the power of word of mouth, if you treat your employees well and have strong company values in place then your employees will sing your praises (no need for bribes). To learn more about the power of a happy workforce, check out our post.

Two’s company, three’s a crowd

As they say. In case you didn’t gather, we’re talking about competition. Unless your business is completely and utterly unique, which unfortunately is very rare you’re bound to have some competition. So, in often very crowded markets, how can you make your business stand out?

Going back to our earlier point, creating a culture with a strong identity is one way. You can use company culture to stand out internally, but I hear you asking how can I make my company stand out to consumers? Again, there isn’t a definitive answer but there are numerous options. It’s incredibly important to know the market you’re in inside out. This means lots of competitor research (play fair) so you can best understand how to market yourself as a brand, so that you shine amongst the crowd. It could be developing a certain tone of voice that separates your brand or having the best product (easier said than done). Whatever it is, just make sure it’s unique.

Challenges are made to be overcome

In 2016 UK SMEs accounted for 99.3% of all private sector business. They are the lifeline of our national economy. We at PowWowNow certainly wouldn’t survive without them. We hope this post has raised some important challenges that we all face and provides viable options on how to overcome them. PowWowNow, over and out!

[1] https://smallbusiness.co.uk/smes-unable-access-funding-2542893/

[2] https://www.whistl.co.uk/news/how-should-smes-use-technology-to-grow

[3] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/challenges/sme-key-challenges-2019/