By Tony Speakman

SME is an acronym hot on the UK business and political agenda at the moment, with many predicting that the future of the British economy depends upon the sector.

Indeed, small and medium enterprises and start-up businesses account for the employment of around 22.8 million people in the UK. But the road to a successful business is often rife with obstacles and for many small business owners it can be overwhelming to start with. That said, there’s still plenty of room for growth and success. While SMEs do perhaps need to be more innovative and creative these days, I’ve certainly heard some amazing customer stories over the past 12 months and I have no doubt that the future is bright for UK SMEs.

Though there are many tips on the market right now covering everything from how to make the best first impression with your handshake or close a deal with the power of a smile, productivity in the workplace is an absolutely invaluable asset. Whether you have one, four or 150 members of staff, efficiency at the core of your business will serve you better than any firm but gentle grasp of the hand.

So how best to achieve that productivity?

Invest in the right technology — the term “investment” may ring alarm bells for many, but it needn’t mean forking out ridiculous sums. There are software tools on the market that allow you to effectively manage every aspect of your business, without breaking the bank. It’s very easy to get lost in over-complicated systems and processes, but often simplicity is the best course. By unifying all your data you will make your life much easier.

Don’t get into a tangle with your finances —it may be a boring task but getting into a regular routine of data entry and money management will save you time and money in the long run. Understanding your data is often the biggest hurdle, so implement a solid analytics system from the beginning that will allow you to get a good picture of what is going on in your business. If you get the central system right early on then developing it as the needs of your company grow will be as simpler task. Think about how systems need to feed one another - you may not need to on day one but if you’ve planned it, it will help immensely when you need this perspective. If you know what is working and what is not you can do more of the right things.

Mobilise your workforce — last year almost 90% of small businesses were disrupted by bad weather, transport problems or seasonal illnesses. Add to that increasing travel costs and the pressure of achieving work-life balance and the case for remote working has never been greater. With the technology to work from home without disruption readily available it makes good business sense to be as flexible on working location as possible. Potentially, it’s not just time and cost saving, but morale boosting too.

Surround yourself with the right people — for many SMEs, their first employees are family members and friends helping out. While this is fine for those starting out, it’s important to make sure your staff choices are not made on financial or personal grounds alone. Surrounding yourself with innovative and experienced staff will add more value to your business than those who come cheaply. Similarly, be realistic about your own weaknesses — we can’t all be brilliant at everything so be sure to hire people who complement your skill set.

Learn to say no — it’s so common in business, especially when first starting out, to take on more than can be managed. While good intentions may be your motivation, it is important to know your limitations. Remaining busy is undoubtedly important, but you will gain more respect in the long run if you stay true to your business values and don’t take on more than you can deliver. Be polite, be open, but be straight on what you can and can’t do. Delight your customer by setting an expectation that you can exceed.