The power of listening in micro-business support

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Small businesses, categorised as those with fewer than 50 employees, account for more than 99% of all businesses in the UK, as of 2023. Of those, nearly 75% of the small businesses are sole traders and just over 21% have fewer than 10 employees. That equates to more than 5.5 million businesses in the UK that fall into the category of micro SME.

These micro-SMEs and start-ups often have very clear needs in the first few years of business. However, when it comes to business support, businesses of this size are usually given very general and broad advice and are often given examples from hugely successful large corporations such as Amazon or Google. While this might have some aspirational value, it’s of very little practical use for micro-businesses and start-ups that have a very different reality and benchmarks for success. 

Many business support schemes that exist to assist micro and small businesses with their growth and success can have quite a lot of rigidity in their required deliverables. The programmes are evaluated on things like the hours of support received, how many jobs have been created or the amount of funding leveraged. However, deliverables like this can be quite unrealistic for start-ups and micro-businesses. Increasing your headcount based on the 12 hours or so of business support being provided isn’t often feasible for businesses at this stage. Despite this reality, these are the kinds of metrics that sometimes dominate the business support landscape. As a result, it can almost feel like micro-SMEs are being set up for failure, to some degree.

What is the solution that will provide better support to micro-SMEs and start-ups?

Throughout my experience of working with micro-SMEs, it quickly became clear to me that the best asset early in the support process is to listen. 

While many businesses can face similar challenges and thereare some common themes, every business is unique, and one size definitely doesn’t fit all. Trying to force-fit an unnecessary business diagnostic to a micro-SME generally isn’t effective at all. The best jumping off point is to listen.

Some business support schemes have great toolboxes, but they won’t always align to the needs of every micro-SME. Therefore, a tailored approach is needed to get the best support solution in place for that specific situation. 

Recognising the individual micro-SME’s challenges and support needs only comes from listening to the business owner or other stakeholders, and that provides a great starting point for redirecting to the specific support that is going to make a tangible positive difference. 

I’ve seen this in practice many times. With a number of businesses I have assisted, we would often start with a specific goal in mind. However, after the first or second meeting we would flex our agreed goals to new, more relevant, targets.

As a consequence, we’d be working on something much more meaningful and useful for the business. The outcome in those cases was a support package that aligned with the immediate business needs rather than some unrequired items picked from a tired and rigid business menu. Staying close to the business owners and listening carefully early on is a crucial aspect of effective business support.

If you’re a micro-SME looking for specialist support to help with planning, growth and change, I’d love to hear from you. Get in touch.  

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