STEVE CURRIE talks about the most important trends among the SMEs that are likely to dominate the rest of 2017.
Entering the second quarter of the calendar year is a great opportunity to have a look at how the year is shaping up according to set business plans and overall strategy. It’s a time to look at what small adjustments can be made now that will have a significant impact later in the year.
It’s fair to say that 2017 is still a difficult year for many. There is still a lot of uncertainty in the marketplace with many companies having to make tough decisions about how they can best service their clients in this tough environment. However, at the same time there is a sense of opportunity in the air especially within the SME sector. There are a number of bodies and companies within the UAE working hard to give SMEs the best possible support network. But there are a few simple steps that some are already implementing to help themselves. It’s about changing the mindset. For example, SMEs are adopting new ways of working and they’re looking at new ways to stand out from the crowd which is critical to a company’s success. Those unwilling to embrace change and challenge pre-existing thought processes are the ones who will be left behind. In many cases, SMEs are ideally suited to be able to adapt to new ways of working which is a distinct advantage in the business world.
The general trend amongst SMEs currently is the desire to be working smarter. We know that to maintain that competitive edge companies must look to maximize their efficiency whilst keeping their costs in check but this is now more important than ever before. Companies are looking to achieve this by focusing on two main areas. Firstly, on how they can better manage the required skills and services and secondly, how they look to continuously improve – to work smarter and become smarter.
Traditionally companies in the Middle East have hired additional permanent staff when they’ve found themselves busy and then laid off people when business slowed down. This practice is not only outdated and expensive it’s also counter-productive. Most SMEs don’t have the luxury of having huge in-house teams to support them each time they have a specific need and they don’t have the budget to hire someone on a permanent basis either.
Focusing on areas such as leadership, management, HR, accounting and strategy, business coaches can help firms work smarter whilst increasing their profits, in most cases with less work.
Forward-thinking SMEs are already addressing this by adopting a smarter way to work. They are obtaining the skills and services they need for their business as and when they need them. As consumers, we like to only pay for something when we are using it. Now, thanks to advancements in technology and the increase in people wanting more flexibility in their working life, a work-life balance is now possible. If business is quiet or the future is uncertain why have excess headcount affecting your bottom line when you can use flexible resources to meet the demands of your business?
Globally there is a pool (more like an ocean) of highly skilled and highly talented individuals who are keen to provide their services to clients in a much more ‘on demand’ way. These service providers are experts in what they do. Some are full-time freelancers whilst others have full-time jobs and are looking to supplement their income by working in their own time. Others are people looking to return to work after a break, but fitting it around their schedule is essential. Some are actually SMEs in their own right, able to provide a service to companies in a more outsourced way. The point is there are resources out there providing companies with an exceptional level of service without the costs associated with hiring a more permanent solution, (visa, holiday, gratuity, insurance etc.). Being able to have a scalable approach to specific resources is helping SME owners to better manage their headcount and their budget.
Another trend within the SME sector is the increasing number of firms seeking some form of business coaching. Having a great product or a fantastic service is now not enough. The little extra that is needed comes from ensuring the knowledge and the level of competency within the business is being utilized to its maximum. Recognizing areas of weakness is great. We live in a world today where acknowledging and accepting areas of your game that need to be improved is encouraged and accepted. However, it’s those companies willing to take decisive action to address these weaknesses that put themselves in the best possible position to succeed. Of course, working with a business coach comes at a cost, and it can be perceived as an intangible cost, at least in the short term, but there are clear benefits. Focusing on areas such as leadership, management, HR, accounting and strategy, business coaches can help firms work smarter whilst increasing their profits, in most cases with less work. Again this falls under the trend of working smarter.
In some SMEs it’s common to find people wearing many hats, holding down a number of roles, trying to meet the demands of their business whilst keeping costs to a minimum. But this often leads to a number of issues such as overworked and stressed employees, low morale and sub-standard work, all of which can be avoided. While multitasking is, of course, a given within any small business, those at the helm have to realize the point at which they reach their maximum capability. Business coaching ensures you’re getting the basics right. It ensures you fully understand the nuts and bolts of business and the impact decisions will have on the organization. For example, it’s often better to outsource a certain piece of work or business function and have it done properly than it is to try and make it work with the stretched resources you have internally, consequently compromising on quality.