UK SME is as powerful as UK PLC!

Last week, in the context of the UK election and all things joyous to do with Brexit, I heard a news commentator respond to an article regarding companies leaving the UK (in the event of Brexit) by using the phrase ‘it doesn’t matter if it’s just a few SMEs, it’s the multinational companies that count’.

This. Got. Me. Riled.

I get that large corporations are important, and I get that their impact has the potential to be highly damaging or constructive for economies and communities, depending on the commercial decisions they make, but for that commentator to dismiss SMEs so readily was plain wrong and showed how little they understood the role of SMEs and micro-businesses in the UK. This post is not written to denigrate large organisations, but rather to sing the praises of the many smaller (and often overlooked) companies that make up the UK economy. According to the Federation of Small Businesses, SMEs account for three fifths of the employment and around half of turnover in the UK private sector.

Now I’m no management consultant or business guru, but I do have experience of working in a range of differently sized organisations, including SMEs and as an independent contractor.

Those who work in SMEs or on their own have to have a diversity of skills. And this doesn’t just relate to something along the lines of ‘can code in JavaScript and Python’. As an example, in the past week I’ve had to undertake the data analysis I was being contracted to do, I’ve diagnosed IT issues on my machine and a client’s computer (and fixed them), I’ve issued and chased invoices, I’ve implemented a rudimentary marketing campaign and I’ve developed upward of three sales leads. This isn’t me trying to ‘big up’ myself, but is rather my trying to make the point that those working in very small teams have to be aware of the need to deal with all sorts of things to run a business, and capable enough to make sure they don’t get overwhelmed or drop the ball. And more often than not, these ‘background’ skills do not get taken into account when discussing the next contract. As in all walks of life, a small business owner is more than the sum of their parts, and certainly more than is visible to the outside world.

Often an SME employee will be wedded to the job. They need to be, in order to be able to deliver on all the different aspects that come up, as discussed previously. The effort expounded by people working in SMEs for little direct remuneration (although there is often the promise of more if things go well and the company can be sold) can be quite astounding – you often hear about work being their passion.

Being a small operator also provides the opportunity to genuinely do things differently, to disrupt, and to try to change things in the market. Alternatively, some organisations will be more conservative in their approach to business so as to attract the larger organisations. In my experience, the best experience for everyone comes from balancing the two and altering work practices based on the job or client in hand.

Working as part of an agile and multi-functional workforce, rapid re-skilling is also a critical business component for SMEs and micro-businesses. With the right staff in place, ones who thrive on learning, then this should be seen as a strength rather than an affirmation that the company did not possess the skills in the first instance.

To complete this list of strengths, SMEs and particularly micro-businesses are (or should be) highly collaborative. They need to be, in order to survive. ‘Collaboration not competition’ is a mantra that may seem counter intuitive to some, but creating a mix of specialised companies and individuals will ultimately be to the benefit of all.

And finally, a great benefit of owning a micro-business is that you can speak out and quite often speak plainly! If you’ve read this far then thank you, and hopefully none of the points I made have been too far from the mark.

The next time that any of us hear SMEs and micro-businesses being talked about in a disparaging way, we’ll be able to correct those who think that these key components of the wider business ecosystem are unimportant.