You Are Not a Startup: Why Most Business Advice Doesn't Apply to Your SME

(About a 4 Min Read)

As an owner of a Small or Medium-sized Enterprise (SME), you've probably spent countless hours scouring the internet for tips and advice to propel your business towards success. However, you may have noticed a recurring theme - much of this advice seems better suited to startups or larger organizations.

This isn't just an observation; it's a harsh reality in today's business ecosystem where the startup culture and big business mindsets often overshadow the unique needs and characteristics of SMEs.

The Startup Spotlight

In recent years, startups have been in the spotlight, thanks to their innovative ideas, high growth potential, and attractive investment opportunities. Consequently, the business advice ecosystem has bent towards these fast-paced, risk-tolerant entities. The advice ranges from securing venture capital and stock options to aggressive growth hacking, and pivoting business models – practices that are often irrelevant or even dangerous for a typical SME.

Startups, with their "fail fast, fail often" mantra, can afford to take significant risks because they operate on a different model. They're often backed by venture capital, aiming for rapid growth to eventually become attractive for acquisition or prepare for an IPO. This scenario is vastly different from the typical SME, which is usually self-funded, family-owned, or supported by small loans and seeks steady, long-term growth.

The Enterprise Illusion

On the other hand, you have advice from the MBAs and corporate gurus, which, while valuable, is geared towards large enterprises. The strategies are often about scaling operations, navigating bureaucracies, managing complex supply chains, or leveraging vast resources for market domination - situations that are far removed from the realities of an SME.

Large organizations have extensive resources, existing market share, and complex corporate structures. As such, their strategies are often about maximizing these resources, capturing more market share, or improving efficiencies at scale. While some principles might be transferrable, most of the time, the context is too different for the advice to be useful to SMEs.

The Compliance Professionals

Then there are the "experts" - the accountants and bookkeepers who, while being excellent at maintaining your financial health on paper, may not have the necessary expertise or experience in growing a small business. While they play a vital role in keeping your business compliant and your finances in check, they are not always equipped to provide growth-oriented business advice.

So, What's an SME to Do?

Recognize that your SME is neither a high-risk startup nor a resource-rich enterprise. Your needs are different, and so should be the advice you follow.

Focus on practical, applicable advice that acknowledges the realities of running an SME. This could mean prioritizing steady growth over rapid expansion, customer relationships over aggressive marketing, and financial health over risky innovation. It's about the tactical realities of operating in the SME space, where cash flow is king, and customer loyalty can make or break your success.

Remember that advice isn't one-size-fits-all. What worked for a Silicon Valley startup or a Fortune 500 company might not work for your SME - and that's okay. You're not them, and you don't need to be.

In the end, your SME can be as successful as any startup or large corporation. But the path to that success lies in understanding your unique situation and applying advice that respects those nuances. Tools like Elements, designed with SMEs in mind, can help you set relevant, achievable goals and make tactical decisions that suit your business size and aspirations.

You're not a startup. You're not an enterprise. You're an SME, and that's something to be proud of. The world of SMEs is unique, full of diverse challenges, and equally rich in opportunities. And that's the advice you need to be seeking.

Ash Guy

Co-Founder at Elements, Developer & Business Owner with 15 years of experience solving hard business problems with elegant tech-based solutions.

Posted May 20, 2023