SME Slowdown Survival Guide
As a small to medium sized enterprise, SME, your first concern in a market slowdown is obviously survival. You will have a sea of issues facing you that occupy your time, and they will easily occupy all your time if you let them.
Don’t let them! Carve out some time for planning for the future. As a leader, that is the most important thing you can do! After the 2008 recession, the businesses that subsequently thrived were those that spent the slowdown re-imagining their business for the world ahead. And, you have the opportunity to do this.
If you are going to be productive in thinking about and planning for the future, you need to make some time. To do this, I would urge you to use a simple technique like a Mission Matrix. Try to prioritize the sea of issues on your desk. Work out what is really important and what can wait or be delegated.
Try to list all your issues and then rank them as most important, of medium importance, or less important—and easy, medium or hard to fix. That will give you some clarity of thought and help you focus on what is really important. Obviously, easy and most important are good places to start.
Just a word on delegation: you don’t have to do it all yourself. Let others have a go. They may surprise you! For many great SMEs, the founder/owner IS the business. He or she holds all the reins and makes all the decisions. The team does its bit. And it works well, and it will always be a great SME, but that is all it will be, because it cannot scale. The leader who holds all the reins and makes all the decisions eventually becomes the bottleneck and the constraint to growth. If growth is your aspiration, then you need to learn to delegate and empower. So, when looking at your Mission Matrix please ask yourself, “Who else could do this?”
Once you have freed up time to think about the future, you then need some expansive thinking. Ideally, you need to start thinking differently about your business, and that might not be easy for you personally as you have built this business, brick by brick, into its current state. That is obviously the shape you think it needs to be! So, without tools, it might be hard for you to imagine other futures.
But tools we have! Some of these ideas might seem a bit “off the wall”—and that is the plan. We often need a nudge to start seeing things differently.
These things are best done with your key people. They may or may not be in your management team, but they are the people who really know what is going on in your business. So set up a meeting or video conference and start considering what the future might look like after the slowdown.
Use some catalysts to get people thinking and talking:
- Brainstorm. Does it seem a bit passé now? Try it. List every and any idea to improve your business. No idea is stupid. Write each one down. Be radical.
- Try writing down the assumptions that underpin your business, and then imagine what it would be like if the reverse was true.
- Pick a random word from the dictionary and spend some time exploring how that word might apply to your business. It might seem a bit zany, but all you are trying to do move people out of their normal, well-worn assumptions and thought processes.
The by-product of these efforts delivers the first of the three top tips of this paper:
- Talk to your staff, and customers and partners. Your view of how your business should run and what the future might hold is only one view. Other views are available. You should seek them out and consider them. You don’t have a monopoly on being right. As one mega-successful business once said, “If I am right half of the time, I have done very well!” Are you likely to be any better?
- Trust your staff. A lifetime in mergers and acquisitions has taught me that if you want to know what is really going on in a business, talk to the people on the front line. You would be amazed what you learn. When pondering the future shape of your business or marketplace, ask your staff, and listen to your staff. That very process will help with empowerment and engagement, to say nothing about the insight you will gain.
- Embrace technology. Ensure you have linked information systems that deliver one version of the truth. Do not try to run a business on multiple Excel spreadsheets (like so many companies are). Use a good customer engagement system that records all contacts with customers and prospects alike. Over time, technology can be the most valuable asset you have. Organizational apps can help free up more of your time for thinking.
If your business is quiet now, you have a unique opportunity to change things. Don’t squander it!
Remember the old adage, “If you do what you always do, you get what you always get!”
Andy Makeham has enjoyed a lifetime in software ‘business development’, as a programmer, implementor and entrepreneur. He has grown, bought and sold many business software companies and floated one on the public markets. He has worked with private and ‘private equity’ owners. Today Andy acts as a business development advisor to the software sector. In that capacity he is working with SOS Inventory.