Currently we live in challenging business times - after decades of one sector rising then falling as its bubble bursts, businesses cannot afford to stand still.  A business model  based on ‘this is what we do and do it well' will not work anymore.

How many businesses review their activities, canvass their customers or staff for feedback, or apply this knowledge to their products and services or look at their competitor's business model for inspiration? Fostering an environment that allows people time to think differently is a necessity.

Difficult economic times can force change, but SME's are best placed to react to market demands as they can adapt quickly, make timely decisions and implement them almost immediately. It is layer upon layer of red tape that strangles business, causing frustration and allowing negativity to infiltrate even the most positive people within a company.

I believe all businesses should have regular business reviews - it is absolutely crucial. How do you know if your business is efficient and profitable if you never review what you are doing? I would recommend that a company's working methods, message and management are reviewed consistently, adopt the ‘outsider looking in' method. Review the customer journey too, I often send enquires to my own business and its competitors to check response times and compare levels of service.

It is important to identify internal and external resources. I am a sales person through and through. You can have the best operation but without proactive selling you have no business.

Take an objective view of your marketing tools and strategies. I prefer to outsource design and online marketing for this reason....the online world changes by the hour with new more advanced ways of generating business and communicating, so investment in a good online marketing company is a no brainer. Why would an SME pay an internal when they can outsource and reduce their costs?

I think SME's need to work on their marketing activity, analyse the quality and capitalise on low cost - high return. I want to know what activity each marketing channel produces. I work out cost per lead, conversion rate and generated revenue. This means I only spend in areas that generate business.

Marketing has changed dramatically, it's important that SME's are aware of all the options. Social networking is a fantastic low cost way to promote business but SME's do not take full advantage of it. It costs nothing to ‘tweet' in money or time and you can reach many decision makers.

If you are a savvy SME take advantage of the media - be proactive, tell your story, keep your business profile in the spotlight! Don't react to what is reported in the media as their ideas could have a negative effect.  Why take on problems...keep a clear mind and focus on your business.

So, review, review, review! Look at your business activity quarterly, question whether you are moving in the right direction, focus on your key revenue streams.

Keep a grip of your finances. Don't focus on turnover - focus on profit! Understand your actual Gross Profit and Net Profit margins and don't become a busy fool. An increase in turnover is good but bad if you have no GP or NP increase.

Use the team around you! There are reasons why you have staff, they are there to help grow your business. I encourage my staff at all levels to get involved, ten brains are better than one! Make your communications clear and get on with the job! Cut down on meetings - too many SME's sit and talk and talk and talk... taking no action means making less money!

Ruth Badger

Ruth Badger Consultancy