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What SME owners can learn from 100 top CFOs’ business strategies

Ever evolving geopolitical events have had a huge impact on companies, with business leaders working hard to make sure they are prepared for future success. But we've found they can learn a thing or two from the top CFOs' business strategies.
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At American Express, we questioned 100 of the UK’s senior finance executives in our 2017 Global Business and Spending Outlook, to get a sense of how employers will do this over the next 12 months – and what CFOs’ business strategies will entail.

Rather than cutting costs, our research found that CFOs’ business strategies include planning ahead and committing to spending more across different parts of their organisations in an effort to prepare for challenges in the future. With many different hats to wear and diverse sections of the business to influence, they are becoming Chief Flexibility Officers.

This means that in the current environment, flexibility is quickly becoming businesses of all sizes’ common ground. Businesses are increasingly focusing on agility, and how it can flex around client demand and cope with fast-changing operating environments.

What are the key areas of the top CFOs’ business strategies over the coming year? And what does this mean for you as a small business?

Customers remain king

When it comes to maintaining competitive advantage, giving customers the best possible service should be every business’ number one priority. This is something that is becoming increasingly important.

Our research shows 84 per cent of UK CFOs say pressure to compete on the quality of customer service has increased over the past two years. And, in order to meet rising customer expectations and boost customer loyalty, over the next 12 months CFOs’ business strategies involve increasing spend in this area.

The thinking behind this is clear: the customer remains king – and cutting costs on service could see businesses fail to attract or even lose customers in the future. The good news is that SMEs are perfectly placed to deliver a personal, quality service – so it is important you continue to use your size to do this.

People are a business

Top talent is vital for steering a business in the right direction, so it’s important that leaders get their people strategy right. This is especially true in challenging times. We’ve found that the greatest challenge businesses face in delivering all-important great customer service is retaining the right staff – and the UK’s CFOs say hiring more customer support staff would benefit the company.

This means that instead of reducing headcount, senior finance execs expect to see the overall number of employees increase over the course of the year, and plan to boost investment in headcount to this end.

Top CFOs are also focused on creating workplaces that are magnets for top people. For finance execs, securing flexible working, building better workplaces and improving training are top of their priority list this year. Given the natural ability of small businesses to create supportive and flexible workplaces, it’s reassuring to hear this is a key priority. By keeping staff happy and motivated, businesses can reap the rewards when it comes to business performance.

Investments in tech

Technology is set to receive the biggest increase in spend in UK companies this year. CFOs are especially interested in investing in their business’ hardware and infrastructure, as well as mobile technology to help people work remotely.

The CFOs that we spoke to are also committing to spending more on data analytics, to help better understand how their business is performing and make better strategic decisions as a result.

While small businesses might not always have the resources to enable dedicated technology functions, getting under the skin of your organisation to make the changes that matter is not a problem. Your size is your advantage here; and selecting technology partners that are as flexible as you will help to boost your overall business performance.

Jose Carvalho is senior vice president of global commercial payments Europe at American Express

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