David Saul, Managing Director of leading serviced office operator Business Environment, explores how SMEs can thrive.
The recent launch of an online store devised to allow small and medium-sized businesses to take on larger corporations by selling their goods online reflects a wider business truth – small businesses are at risk of being undercut on cost by larger online businesses.
Unfortunately, for small retailers vulnerable to being undercut by online businesses, merely setting up an online store of their own isn’t enough to head-off the threat. Retailers that only operate online will continue to undercut those businesses that have both an online presence and the overheads associated with a physical location.
Despite this, it’s not all doom and gloom for small businesses – the fact that setting up an online store isn’t enough in itself doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile, while there are plenty of other steps they can take to remain competitive.
Firstly, small businesses can use their smaller size as an advantage. They have the capacity to make swift adjustments, to expand beyond their core area without endless meetings and discussions between different departments. Of course, this shouldn’t mean a foolhardy swiftness to enter new sectors or markets, but a quicker and more efficient approach to steering the business towards success.
When HMV attempted to address the problems it faced as a result of being undercut on cost by online stores, it attempted to expand into cinema, music venue sponsorship and gigs showcasing up and coming musicians. These were interesting ideas but they appeared to be the actions of a firm playing catch-up. A smaller business, on the other hand, doesn’t have to be caught on the back foot.
Smaller firms can also use their size to offer an improved level of service to customers. They have an excellent opportunity to really get to know their customers and understand their requirements.
They can trump larger companies in this area, who might cast their net for custom so widely that they place more emphasis on quantity of business relationships rather than quality. Equally, the increased level of face-to-face contact that physically located businesses tend to have with clients means a greater ability to receive instant, honest feedback that enables businesses to improve.
Small businesses contribute huge amounts to the economy and to job creation – it’s important that they use their strengths to compete with larger firms that can afford to undercut them on cost.
In recognition of the contribution SMEs make, we have carefully considered how we can support their success as a serviced office provider. This has resulted in our launch of a tailored start-ups package, offering small businesses the chance to take up office space without paying a deposit or rent for the first month. We also created our SMARTpreneur award, aiming to encourage entrepreneurs to make the initial jump and get their business ideas off the ground, offering the chance to win a year’s office space, along with call answering, mail handling, and PR, marketing and branding support.
With the right support and approach, SMEs can thrive in a difficult environment and make a crucial contribution to the country.
David Saul is MD of Business Environment