A colleague of mine, Robert Epstein, head of Microsoft Small Business recently met with Lloyds, AIMs and FSB to exchange experiences and advice to help support SMBs at this tough time (see link to Podcast below). It became clear in this debate that although seeking advice, planning for the long term, staying in touch with customers and peers and continuing to market your business were all paramount, all panellists concluded that technology is the true enabler of all this and is likely to become the key to revival.

There have been 3 panels to date and some of the overriding themes to come out of the discussions has been that it’s not all doom and gloom out there and there are still plenty of opportunities to be had for entrepreneurs. In fact many see it as a time of growth, as recession drives innovation. The key for SMEs is knowing where to invest in order to nurture innovation within their businesses. Through the use of technology, SMEs should aim to automate low value tasks/processes, support staff and share ideas.

SMEs need to be clear on exactly what their business goals are before they begin aiming at them.  Many SMEs initially slashed all investments in blind panic. While cutting costs may be paramount in the short term; they must also look beyond this to ways to increase revenue and encourage stability and growth in the longer term. Cooperation is key for small businesses in the current downturn; sharing ideas and interacting with the wider market is now more important than ever. The internet and social networking sites have opened up such networking opportunities. The language of business is changing, businesses have to work harder and re-evaluate and adapt their business models to survive. The hope is that SMEs will come to recognise what they can do to help themselves in the current climate and in turn become the door to revival for the wider economy. The key to prospering during the economic downturn lies in making the most of everything you currently own.  Investing wisely in areas that will maximise productivity is a part of this, but SMBs should not forget to look more closely within their business to see where they can use processes more effectively.  Mobile working is an obvious example here, especially in the light of the technology systems that are now available to SMBs over the cloud.

Some important areas that particularly came out of the latest panel included the need for SMEs to add value to their customers, particularly as SMEs will never win in a price war against larger enterprises. It is critical to understand customers’ needs and adapt and innovate accordingly. SMEs must take advantage of the fact that they can get closer to their customers and so understand them better. The economy has led to a shift in customer service methodology – where businesses must actually prove their value as opposed to just telling customers and prospects about it.

To survive, businesses need to align themselves with the right networks, advice and support systems, but ultimately they must have the drive and ambition to succeed and the confidence to shout loudly about their business to be heard above the competition.  Take a listen to the full podcast here: http://www.microsoft.com/uk/smallbusiness/sme/default.mspx

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