Optimising SME potential

When the subject of SMEs comes up in the news or in conversation what springs to mind? Perhaps your local corner shop or independent garage, a one man band or just a handful of people working together in a common cause?

If that is the case would it surprise you to learn that the official definition of SMEs encompasses all businesses with fewer than 250 employees? Moreover, SMEs represent some 99% of all UK businesses and, according to the office for National statistics, in 2017 they accounted for some £2.1 trillion of turnover.

It also appears that the SME sector takes a balanced approach to finance. In fact, a recent report revealed that demand for credit by SMEs in Q2 2018 remained healthy with banks approving some 70,000 new loans to the tune of £7.1 billion. Nevertheless, overall SME borrowing remained relatively stable with repayments to existing loans off-setting new borrowing. Interestingly, the same UK finance report also reveals that the SME sector is a net depositor; holding cash balances in excess of the overall total borrowed.

With that in mind it is perhaps surprising that a survey by Santander UK revealed that just 35% of school and university leavers were looking to work in the SME sector. This it seems is down to a perception that the SME sector offers a lack of job security, lower salaries and fewer opportunities for progression than can be found in larger organisations. Santander comments that this perception may be partly due to a lack of SME visibility at job fairs adding that “SMEs offer huge opportunities for growth and many are at the forefront of British innovation and exports.”

Apart from increasing visibility what could SMEs do in order to attract those entering the workforce for the first time? Search the internet and there are plenty of suggestions covering areas such as helping people to achieve the blended work/home lifestyle which are looking for as well as meeting the increased social conscience of the latest generation of school leavers. But it is also about getting the basics right, about offering and delivering a cohesive message and distinct identity to the organisation.

Even fundamentals such as ensuring that the advertised telephone number, or numbers, is in line with the organisation’s aims can make a measurable difference. Your choice of local, regional, national or freephone number says something about the business and the customers it is trying to attract. And then there’s the internal communication system. How easy is it to transfer calls or to speak to someone in another department or office? Do all calls have to go through a switchboard or are internal transfers relatively simple? Is it common practice for calls to ring unanswered or are there protocols in place to ensure that when a position is left unattended the call is automatically diverted to someone who is able to offer assistance or to an answerphone?

And of course if you are trying to offer a more blended lifestyle, how integrated is your telephone system? For example, can calls be easily transferred to mobile or to alternate sites and is there a message board system which would enable people to pick up and respond to messages from outside the office?

Santander says that SMEs are at the forefront of British innovation. Perhaps it’s time to ensure that your business telephone system is in tune with that message.

Written by Alison