Getting past the survival stage

By: Anonymous

Date: 8 November 2007

Ambitious corporate marketers will try to swerve the ‘SME marketing brief’ as they climb the career ladder. After all, it’s much more exciting to be working with a cool creative agency on a big budget telly campaign (and the expenses are bigger, too).

But the real reason marketers avoid the SME marketing brief is because, well, it is so damned difficult. How do you sell into a vast but fragmented marketplace? How do you create an SME marketing strategy for a brand when you have little understanding of what it is like to run a small business? Questions, questions…

It is always fascinating to watch public sector and corporate marketers wrestle with these issues. No doubt senior marketers with big budgets face a lot of pressure. But the pressures of running a start-up business are arguably greater. After all, it’s someone’s house on the line.

And an owner-manager must juggle a hundred tasks. Working capital, finding premises, commercial insurance, the list goes on and on, and they all need attention. No one can be an expert in all these functions; yet small enterprise owners have to wear many hats to survive.

Imagine you are running a hair salon. You want to put prices up. What needs to be done? Well, most people would say: ‘reprint the price list’ or ‘tell the staff’. That’s fine, but hold on, don’t we first need to work out how much we want to increase the price? And how much business we can afford to lose while retaining the same turnover? Will that actually make us more profitable? Will we need the same number of staff? Who is looking after our marketing literature? How will we pay for that? What do we tell our customers about the price hike? There are so many steps involved in implementing one simple price change… and this is just one task you face at your salon today.

There were 447,000 mainstream business starts in 2006 and current government figures quote 4.5m UK SMEs . So why doesn’t the number of new businesses rise by half a million each year? Simple: the number of closures more or less matches the number of starts. That’s how hard it is to steer a new business past the survival stage — a lesson we should all remember when helping brave entrepreneurs.