SMEs are often seen as sitting in a slightly isolationist position within the general business environment. This isn’t surprising; most SMEs are the creation of a single entrepreneur, or perhaps a partnership, and as a result have an understandably inward looking approach to the way they operate – and also a flat management structure.
The focus is on ‘my’ creation. But the world is changing. Demand for better and faster product delivery, improvement in product offering, innovation in concepts and constant reinvention across all industries and sectors characterises the way business is being run in the digiworld. Those with bigger capabilities are winning.
This means that those SMEs who are willing to embrace a collaborative approach at a commercial level – what is being called the ‘We space’ – are able to capitalise on shared capabilities. Working together to share ideas, concepts, skills – sometimes even physical space – and intellectual property, is an invaluable chance for expansion, and of course as a result, revenue increase.
So what are some cost-effective and reasonable ways for savvy SMEs to capitalise on the ‘We’ space and make the most of commercial collaboration?
- Make sure you are leading a team, not a group of people working in the same building: often SMEs fall into the trap of one person with a vision, plus X number of support people who just happen to carry out required tasks. If you want to expand, you need to involve your staff at the decision-making level. Trust engenders trust, excitement, and energy – which in turn engenders an upturn in productivity, both mental and fiscal.
- Think fast: do you know who your competitors are? Do you know who their teams are? Their 2ICs? Their network affiliations? Are you sitting in the right place within your market share? Expansion is only a possibility if you have done your research in the first place.
- Look at sharing space: if you are a business that trades in ideas rather than commodities, or if your production is based offshore or off-premises, then look at hot-desking or entering into a creative space with other SMEs. Creative spaces are a fantastic way to not only cur down on overheads, they actually encourage collaboration on a commercial level, as businesses not only bounce ideas off each other but tend to pass leads, clients and opportunities to each other – particularly within the same sector. For example, an advertising agency, a social media consultancy, a copywriting team, and a photographic studio – imagine the commercial opportunities if these were all under the same creative roof?
- Establish an ‘intelligence bank’ with other SMEs: seek out businesses that complement your company’s skill set. For example, if you are producing disposable plastic bottles, look for a design studio and an online marketing company. Establish an exchange of skills/services in return for cross-promotional opportunities and the chance to gain new sector exposure. Often SMEs are cash-poor and ability rich. Working collaboratively in this way means an eventual expansion for all concerned, without financial outlay in the first instance.
- Think of commercial collaboration as ‘evolution’, not ‘revolution’: don’t try to reinvent the wheel. If you are that company making plastic bottles, don’t suddenly start making an app that tells people where they can buy your plastic bottles, or how to shoot plastic bottles off a wall. Instead, much as Coke have done, collaborate with your new ‘intelligence partner’ the design studio, and use their skills to demonstrate to people how to recycle your plastic bottles into cool things. It may not seem you will sell as many – but your profile is raised, and therefore your revenue will also be on the upswing.