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The Elephant in the Room

John Nelligan


So what can an SME learn from a corporate? Not much you might think as they are so fundamentally different.

Of course it’s far easier to list how the corporate differs from an SME.  With its large-scale operations, mature processes and hierarchy, global brand recognition, hundreds if not thousands of customers and staff, large budgets, huge investment in R&D, staff training, marketing and advertising, layers of management and graduate recruitment programmes the list goes on and on.

Yet, on closer inspection it’s striking how much an SME with ambitions to scale up can take away from a corporate and start embedding into its own organisation relatively quickly and inexpensively.

The resources of a corporate are extensive. But the beauty of an SME is in its agility and the ability to make decisions and implement changes quickly. But how can it do this? Here are just a few key areas that SMEs can work on immediately:


Organisational structure

The organisation structure of an SME business can be flat with the owner at the top of the hierarchy with many direct reports, making it stressful to run. If there is a management team in place lines of reporting can be messy and hap hazard with friends and family often in the mix adding a layer of complexity.

When a small business achieves product/market fit and is ready to scale, one of the biggest challenges is ensuring the right staff are in the right roles.  In order to do this it is essential to step back and reflect on what structure and people the business really needs to operate effectively. And have clear lines of reporting and accountabilities, job descriptions. Each manager also must be responsible for their own metrics or numbers and forecasting, mirroring those in the corporate world



In a large corporation values become diluted and it may be difficult for the staff to recall the values of the business or not give much thought to them. In an SME on the other hand, having values in alignment across the whole organisation improves not only the morale and productivity of the organisation but helps guide its decision making in terms of the suppliers it works with, its customers, how it treats its staff and those it recruits.  Having colleagues that are endlessly passionate and engaged about the company’s mission makes a big difference to the working culture, which is why it is vitally important to find the right hires for your business. Getting this wrong can be very costly for an SME, which is far less able to absorb costs than a corporate.


Affecting change 

In larger companies, for most the opportunity to affect real change and to contribute to the direction of the company is limited. However in a small business people are given the chance to realise change and affect tangible results across the whole company as well as their immediate role.

However, there are less peers and marketers in a smaller team with who to sound ideas out therefore it’s crucial to stay connected to your networks as well as keeping abreast of the latest news, trends and events.

In summary, as an SME continues to grow and turn into a large company, it will face many of the same challenges as a corporate. To name a few, how to sustain its competitive advantage, deal with threats from new players in the market and make the business less dependent upon its owner. The good news is that founders of scaling businesses can borrow the processes and operational learnings of the corporate world as they embark on their scaling up journey.


More information

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