Telling the truth about SME life today

Advice from 5 business schools on how to grow your company in 2015

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When 2015 rolls round it will provide an opportunity for business leaders to reassess their companys offering and position in the market. Looking at the coming 12 months, they should pause for thought and think about whether they are doing everything possible to maximise the output of workforces, streamline operations and improve products.

For many, business schools provide a valuable environment to both share and come up with new ideas. Whether this is in the form of one-off seminars or an MBA, resources available at business schools can provide a different perspective.

Recognising this, the Small Business Charter together with the governments Growth Vouchers initiative is providing 2,000 in match funding towards the cost of programmes being run at business schools for small business owners. The scheme provides advice in the form of finance, marketing and planning though mentoring and workshops.

However, to see what those running business school courses really think about the current market, and believe needs to be addressed in 2015, we asked five academics for comment.

Polly Pick, programme leader for corporate programmes and marketing expert at Nottingham Business School at Nottingham Trent University, gave this as her forward-looking statement:

See the world from your customers perspective, and be prepared to respond to their needs.

She added: Where organisations have a genuine and profound understanding of the needs and situation of their customers, they are able to see what is important and relevant for those customers now and in the future. Companies can achieve customer insight in several ways: through the use of social media and analytics tools; through high quality market research and analytical services; through employees with important similarities to consumers in key emerging markets; through managers own interests and experience; or by developing close relationships with customers and really listening to their feedback. 

It is however important to ensure that this understanding is kept up to date and continues to be relevant as the markets change and new target markets develop. Organisations which are agile enough use their insight to respond to the changing needs of customers, and keep their services relevant and meaningful, can benefit from the loyalty of clients who are happy to stay with a supplier that really understands their needs. Benefits to suppliers include closer client relationships, effective new product development and referrals from satisfied customers. This applies to business-to-business customers and also in business-to-consumer markets.

David Chapman, director of enterprise at UCL, makes the call:

Share you challenges with a network of entrepreneurs.

He commented: Entrepreneurs who are leading businesses that have achieved initial success and are facing up to the challenges of dramatic growth often feel isolated as the struggle to develop robust strategies, systems and structures to scale the product and the team. 

Their intimate understanding of their current business offers few insights to the unknown-unknowns , the things that the simply do not know that they do not know” about the creation of scalable organisation that retains the sense of purpose and vision that has underpinned their past success. 

“We believe that the very best way to support growth leaders is to harness robust, actionable, business training to peer-learning within a community of entrepreneurs faced with shared challenges. By doing so we find that entrepreneurs find the support needed to take a step back, to delegate day-to-day operations freeing time for them to point work on the business rather than work in the business .

Read more on business schools:

Andrew Greenman, lecturer at Haydn-Green Institute and Nottingham University Business School, sees the following as key to 2015 growth:

Developing a capacity for growth through learning.” 

He said: The forecast looks good as the economic recovery gathers pace. However, it’s worth pausing to consider that recovery doesnt automatically equate to growth. Growth, whether planned or opportunistic, requires change. Strategic goals may need refining and current solutions to coordinating resources may require adjustment. 

Firms that grow typically manage these transitions better than competitors. Firms that consistently grow, although rare, develop systematic processes for optimising resource use whilst creating the capabilities required to identify, evaluate and exploit opportunities for expansion. Sustained growth, good growth, requires investment and preparation. 

In the absence of a universal formula for business growth how can SMEs develop the right type of growth One option is learning. Investing in learning is a slow burn not a quick fix. The Nottingham University Business School works with SME owners to develop a capacity for growth that stretches the planning horizon beyond firefighting immediate challenges; provides space to challenge existing ideas about how best to grow and draws on collective intelligence (e.g., mentors, other SME owners, academics). The aim is to help SME owners convert growth challenges into growth opportunities. 

As economic growth builds there is good reason to celebrate; but cautiously. Turbulence is still likely. Investing in learning won’t help predict change but it will help to be better prepared.

Mark Hart, professor of small business and entrepreneurship at Aston Business School, concludes:

Innovating and exporting will convert into fast growth.

He explained: Turning a temporary export market into a permanent one will offer real growth opportunities. Operating in international markets is positively associated with firm growth. Apart from the obvious increase in the number of potential customers, it exposes the business to a wider set of competitive pressures that can spur productivity. But it is combining this with genuine business innovation, in the widest possible sense, that will lead to faster growth.

Julie Holland, director of the Glendonbrook Centre for Enterprise Education and part of Loughborough University School of Business and Economics, urges:

Speak to a business school about how they can help.

Make 2015 the year when you get to know your university and find out about the opportunities that your local business school can offer. 

“Whether you are a recent start up business or an established micro, small or medium sized company, you can draw on support from a wide range of experts, access specialist facilities and become part of an exciting university-business network.   

“We are really keen to hear how we can help you grow your business. Our product is knowledge in all shapes and sizes and we are keen to transfer knowledge to organisations that will benefit from it. In partnership, we can make an impact. 

By working with us, you can access our knowledge through research projects and consultancy. You can also access funding schemes such as Graduates into Business and Santander Internships to help you recruit students into your organisation.

“Working with a university can make a real difference to your organisation and your profits. From cutting-edge research and development to expert advice, we have a range of both commercially and partially funded options to help you improve performance and grow your business.



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