The beauty of small

Steve Pateman on how big businesses can learn a lot from their smaller rivals.

As I mentioned in the last issue, Santander sponsored SME of the Year at the National Business Awards 2011 (won by ShortList). It was a privilege to meet the nominated companies and I was very impressed with the range of products and innovative approaches to the marketplace. The companies were all very different – focused on different products with varied marketing strategies, but keeping the customer’s needs at the heart of everything. It’s inspiring to look at the fresh approach taken by newcomers to the market and take lessons from their ability to think differently.

Adapt to survive

Bigger businesses, particularly those with complex infrastructure, can struggle to be nimble, whereas those at the smaller end of the scale can see an opportunity and act on it immediately. As a company grows, the ability to adapt and effect change quickly can be lost. However, there is an incredible amount that large companies can learn from their smaller counterparts – not least seeing which strategies are working and adopting the successful ones.  Although, don’t have any doubt, these small companies won’t stay small: they have spectacular growth rates. The challenge will be maintaining what works so well for them as they grow.

Inspiring leadership

A lot of what makes a company successful, large or small, comes from the top. If the MD has insight and enthusiasm, this pervades the culture of the business, and provides an example to staff.  The MD can’t rely solely on himself, the people he has around him are extremely important. The team he chooses helps set the tone, maintain the culture, and increase the organisation’s flexibility and responsiveness by maintaining the entrepreneurial hunger so vital to any successful business. 

Focus on what matters

Many businesses are doing well in this climate, and I’m impressed by those demonstrating real customer insight. Companies that have taken the time to figure out what makes people come back – Pizza Express, for instance, and how it makes things easy for families, from providing crayons to the babyccino at the end of the meal.  These businesses succeed by being focused on what they do and doing it well. Steven Purdew at Champneys, for example, has created a brand that stands for something, instead of just rolling it out to a huge number of locations UK-wide.

Concentrating on quality creates a win-win situation – for your customers, and for your business.

The National Business Award SME Finalists:

For more information on the awards visit: www.nationalbusinessawards.co.uk

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John Carroll - Helping businesses achieve International success. Head of Product Management & International Business, Santander UK