By Charlie Goulding, Managing Director at Greencorn

I’ve always liked watching start-ups form, grow and enter the SME space. It’s truly fascinating to watch a business graduate from the “one great idea” stage.

But how and when do startups become SME’s? While funds, people and goals are arguably the only things that matter when it comes to progressing a business to the next stage, I think it’s useful to look growth from an operations point of view. For me, this means IT.

A business will not live, prosper or die by its IT. But if you’ve got the fundamentals in place, the right IT might help you make the leap from startup to SME faster. Some of the technology in my list might surprise you, and most of it will be useful for firms at all every of development:

1. Microsoft Office….and by this, I mean move to the cloud

As your business begins to scale and you look to taking on more people, selling in to different regions and taking on new cloud based services to help you run and grow your business, there will be no way around cloud adoption. Getting a cloud based infrastructure in place is not an insignificant expense, but it’s one that has likely already been accounted for in your business plan. It’s also a move that can happen gradually to ease spending. Cloud-based solutions like Google Docs, Box and Dropbox may go a long way.

2. CRM

Many small businesses are managing their universe of contacts via spreadsheets and this is okay until it comes time to actually keeping logs of customer communication, and marketing to selected lists of customers and lead scoring prospects.

Salesforce.com is one of the most well-known CRM systems out there and it’s a powerful tool, but for many small businesses the license cost per head is just too high. The good news is that there are many alternative CRM systems out there including Sugar CRM, which is very customisable, and Zoho CRM, which also features a mobile app.

3. Marketing Automation

If you want to take a pro-active, inbound lead based strategy to identifying prospects, it makes sense to deploy marketing automation technology.

These platforms connect with your CRM system and enable you to track visitors on your website after they have registered to download content (such as white papers or case studies) from the site. You can set up alerts for future visits, and “lead scoring”, which tells you when a contact has performed enough actions on your site to be considered a warm lead worth contacting.

True, there are some big and expensive marketing automation systems such as Eloqua, but there are also smaller systems that many startups and SMEs are using in-house. Act-On is a popular one, with a license fee that can justify itself against the leads it’s likely to help identify and convert.


Human Resources Information Systems may seem like a mouthful or like overkill when you’ve only got 10 employees, but what about when you’ve got 50 spread across 3 different offices?

Today, HRIS systems are dedicated not only to keeping track of your employees’ details, but also to maximising your employees’ careers. Many feature “talent management modules” which are designed to ensure the goals of the employee are working in synergy with the business. When employees are happy, the business is well positioned to grow, and you may just find that the leap from startup to SME becomes a near term reality.

5. Private social network

Your employees are going to use public social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to talk to each other unless you provide them with a private social network such as Yammer.

These networks are a great idea as not only do they build up great banter and provide a set place for the sharing of ideas, but they also ensure that your “all users” email doesn’t get clogged up with invites to the pub and emails of more personal and social nature.