For many small businesses, survival is everything and it takes a lot of time, effort, ingenuity and smart opportunism to not just keep going but also to grow. From overcoming external market challenges, such as increased competition, heightened economic uncertainty and rising operating costs, to addressing internal issues, such as scaling teams and developing and rolling out new products, a small business’s longevity and success is dependent on having an ability to consistently perform at a high-level, adapt to competitive and fast-paced markets and stay on the right side of the risk that come from being a small business with less protection against lean times or mistakes than many large businesses.
Yet despite these obstacles, the UK entrepreneurs continue to flourish and many SMEs prospered in 2017 - accounting for half of all of the country’s private sector turnover in the last 12 months.
Business challenges aren’t going to go away, so it is the response to them that will define which businesses succeed. To help, we’ve highlighted five common misconceptions that small business owners should be aware of if they want to succeed.
‘I know everything about my business’ – When you’ve built a business from the ground up, it’s easy to assume you know everything about products, services, customers and employees and many entrepreneurs have traditionally trusted intuition and their own knowledge. However, in a digital age, with so many moving parts to any business it is almost impossible to manually stay in control of a business. Business owners need to look to technology and the power it provides to collate, analyse and understand the data created by their organisation, its customers and its operations. It doesn’t need to cost the earth but small businesses need to embrace their ability to be nimble by giving themselves greater capabilities to spot trends within their data that help the capitalise upon a new opportunity or dodge an emerging risk. As businesses grow, maintaining manual processes and trusting intuition alone will only make them less responsive and leave them more at risk.
Only big businesses are susceptible to disruption – We often hear how large organisations are leaving the door open for emerging competitors, but the reality is that no business, large or small, is safe from disruption. Small business owners can be just as blinkered as their larger counterparts to emerging competition, especially if things seem to be going well today. Small businesses need to shake themselves out of this mind set. The great customers they have today may not be there tomorrow and business owners must always have one eye to the future. Understanding your customers, their behaviours and anticipating their needs will enable you to adapt to meet demand down the road.
I’m already innovating – Many businesses have a limited view of innovation. True innovation goes beyond making product changes or adding new solutions and features. It means challenging the status quo and understanding that the way you’ve done business in the past may not work in the future. Businesses of all sizes need to be willing to ‘disrupt themselves’ and make bold moves, in new, progressive directions. It requires a deep introspection and a detailed, data-driven view of the future and the way trends and opportunities will play out. External perspective and fresh thinking can provide essential assistance in challenging deep-seated habits and old ways of thinking.
I’m dealing with too much data – Data is the new business currency and the main driver of growth. But many business can feel as though they are drowning in information. Their data pools are growing but disparate, confused and unstructured. Without a single view of their customers their business and its resources and processes, businesses will struggle. Costs will spiral and they will see more efficient competitors pulling away from them. Similarly, businesses that are using data to unlock new insights can still miss a trick if they do not respond to those insights quickly enough, or if those insights relate to an isolated part of their business. Businesses may be collecting a lot of data but until they break down their data silos and consolidate the information in a way that’s meaningful, it’s all for nothing.
‘I’m not ready to go ‘global’ – The days of selling and providing services to those only in your local market are gone. Ecommerce has opened a world of opportunity for businesses, large and small. While the US, for example, will continue to be a lucrative market, UK businesses should be looking for opportunities to reach major markets such as China. China is home to the world’s largest internet population, with online sales hitting $769 billion in 2015 and set to double by next year.
‘New technologies are not for me’ - It’s almost impossible to miss the buzz around new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning but many have assumed it is too complicated, or too costly, or not relevant for them. However, 2018 will see AI break into the SME landscape, with small businesses benefitting from AI in three transformative ways: automatic recommendation of decisions based on data analytics; intelligent interaction whereby dashboards of data are presented based on what the machine thinks the user needs to see; and intelligent automation of processes based on AI learning from business patterns and behaviours. Collectively, AI will solve many day-to-day business challenges and will help SMEs focus on what matters most: finding new prospects, analysing leads and closing deals, safe in the knowledge they can tap into an intelligence and accurate view of their business at any time.
Ultimately, the success of a small business boils down to the effectiveness of the business owner and their employees. However, what this article shows is that business owners should not just be focused on working harder, but working smarter, making informed decisions about their use of technology and unlocking the value of their data.
Mark Woodhams, Managing Director, EMEA, Oracle NetSuite
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