The best business advice, opinion, news and expertise in Greater Manchester and further afield.

Friday, 30 July 2010

Friday Guest Blog: The size advantage: Why SMEs are better placed to compete in the digital world


By Tom Cheesewright, strategy director - AND Digital

Let's face it: size matters. In most spheres of business, big companies carry an advantage. That's not to say the smaller players can't compete - many of the businesses I meet through the Chamber do just that. It's just rare for the smaller enterprise to have a well-defined advantage over the industry gorillas.

But in the digital world, I see that they have just that.

This isn't a pop at larger companies: that would be unwise given the size of some of our clients. Rather it's the recognition of a trend, and an exhortation to the smaller business to take advantage.

Small businesses have always had the advantage of agility: small, tight-knit organisations can be flexible enough to respond to market opportunities that large companies simply cannot. Big businesses have to train more people, adjust more policies, account for more challenges etc. This makes them (generally) risk-averse and conservative.

By contrast, small businesses can often afford to take risks without seriously jeopardising the health of the company.

Today there are some small risks on the web that are worth taking because they carry huge potential rewards. The web is flooded with powerful, low-cost tools, learning materials, sales opportunities, marketing vehicles and more. Businesspeople have an opportunity to reduce their costs, increase their productivity and grow their sales through using these tools. All you need to access them is a broadband connection, a reasonably up-to-date computer and an open mind.

Unfortunately for the corporations, up-to-date machines and open minds are often in short supply. The cost and complexity of upgrades leave many organisations running software that is years out of date. Innate conservatism means that access to the web is often locked down, leaving employees with little opportunity to seek out new opportunities online. If you work in a large corporation, the chances are that you are blocked from accessing social networks, video sharing, photo streams, blogs, software downloads and more. Even if you can, your web experience is likely degraded by the fact that your browser software is years behind the state of the art. In a world where the standards change almost weekly, this is a major disadvantage.

Small companies don’t need to be encumbered by these problems. If there are social networks where your customers hang out, you can likely do a better job of connecting with those networks than your corporate competitors. If there are free or low-cost software tools out there, don't be afraid to give them a try - you could save a load of money and find that they are many times better than the expensive solutions designed for corporate environments.

So I encourage SMEs to get online and live the web in the way that the large corporates cannot. Take a little risk and you could find a huge reward.

Tom will soon be launching a new software tool that helps companies to get better returns on their online marketing investment. If you'd be interested in finding out more and testing an early release of the software for free, please email him at tom@and-digital.com

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