Antony Main of app developer The Distance was nearly wiped out two years ago. Here he shares his tips for other SMEs on staying afloat
Two years ago, I was about to close my digital agency. But right at the last minute we signed a key client and the company was saved. From there, I’ve built the company up from two staff and no income to 20 staff and an almost seven-figure turnover.
So, here are my tips, based on my own experience, to help your SME in tough times.
Find your niche
Before our turnaround, we had an ambiguous company, offering both e-commerce and mobile apps, with no crossover customers. This didn’t work, so we divided the business to individually focus our marketing on clear customer propositions. Find your niche and stick to it. Ensure your marketing communicates your expertise in that niche, and don’t try to be everything to everyone.
Watch the competition
Our early impact in the space made us naively confident in our market share and we hadn’t realised how many competitors, like us, had grown to the same degree. Always keep an eye on the competition and ensure you’re staying ahead of them, not slipping behind.
Be a secret agent
It’s so important to know what the competition is doing, from their inbound process, to their offering and the quality of the documentation in-between. Create a dummy project and subtly test them out. Find out what they do well (integrate it into your process) and discover where they are weak (ensure you don’t do the same).
Align with the market
An important aspect of your competitor analysis is to understand both their pricing and how customers will perceive yours. Make sure you align with your market, even if you expect your quote to be larger than your neighbour’s.
Never stop marketing
We became too comfortable with the quality of our inbound leads and complacency set in as a result. It’s important to keep marketing, even when times are bad – you can’t build a business if no one is finding it and the leads aren’t coming in.
Monitor your business
Track as much as you can about the operational side of your business. You ideally need to create a data dashboard and update it at least monthly, so you can compare to previous months or years, looking for any trends which might raise a flag.
Have a cash reserve
All industries go through waves, often unexpectedly, and you need to be able to brace against them as best as possible. This often simply means supporting drops in revenue with a cache of finance for rainy days. Aim for at least three months break-even in the bank for comfort.
Watch the economy
The UK’s decision to Brexit had a huge impact on us; we should have been better prepared. Keep up-to-date. Don’t be ignorant to wider scale events that might have a future impact.
Build a great team
Build a great team around you by waiting to employ the right people – taking on the wrong people can be time-consuming and costly, whereas the right team will help ensure the business thrives.
Enjoy what you do
As a creative agency, we are stereotyped with a certain culture and we embrace it. Develop a company culture that suits your business and team. Work isn’t just about productivity – it’s also about enjoying what you do.