24/03/2011

By David Critchley, UKI director of Small and Medium Enterprises, Cisco

Small business is big business: whatever the state of the economy, whatever they do and wherever in the country they’re based, SMEs provide the foundation of virtually every economy in the world today. What’s more, as our recent Business Heroes Barometer research has shown, the majority of them are reaping the benefits of their good work.

Our research showed that 44 per cent of UK SMEs increased their revenue in the last 12 months — encouraging news indeed. So what have these businesses — who we’ve dubbed Business Heroes - been getting right?

• Business Heroes make a business plan and stick to it — it’s so easy to get caught up in the dream and vision of where you see your company in ten years time but to get there, it is important to plan your journey carefully. Clearly lay out the direction you want your company to go in and plan accordingly. If you don’t take responsibility for creating a plan of action and understanding each component of your business, who will?

• Business Heroes make customers the centre of the business — turning a profit is fundamental to business but without customers there is, of course, no revenue. It may seem obvious but time and time again companies fall down on customer service. In a time where reviews are fierce and feedback is readily available, you must be savvy about how you deal with your customers, both current and potential. Invest in CRM tools and use them!

• Business Heroes take tech seriously — while we live in a tech-savvy age, there are still a huge number of businesses failing to use technology to its fullest potential. Increasingly we are seeing technology used for flexible working and collaboration; our research showed that 69 per cent of SMEs plan to improve this in the next 12 months. But still only 30 percent use technology for improving delivery and logistics. Get your technology in line and there’s no telling what level of improvement you’ll see

• Business Heroes get intimate with finances — it is not enough to simply make money, you have to understand your finances and analyse everything against your outgoings. If you aren’t great with numbers, an accountant is one of the best investments you’ll ever make. Similarly SMEs shouldn’t shy away from good investment. It’s one thing to be sensible with your pennies, but without driving forward with innovation and investment in the right places you will only stand still

• Business Heroes understand the opportunities available — a big part of being a good business person these days is understanding the wider business landscape. For example, according to our research, only 35 percent knew about the recent announcement pledging a quarter of public sector contracts to go to SMEs and a whopping 79 percent knew nothing about tendering for London 2012 business. It’s so important to seek out and utilise every opportunity available, whether its regulation changes, incentives or media opportunities. Keep your ear to the ground, after all: it is your job to make the most of your surroundings

From technology to sustainability, international expansion to successful start-ups, there are great businesses of all shapes and sizes all over the country — and they will all have a part to play in long-term recovery. Fortunately, from what we’ve seen, the tenacity, resilience and fighting spirit to help us get there clearly exists. The only way is up.