Business Essentials

How to keep up with change - Brought to you by NatWest

How to keep up with change - Brought to you by NatWest

Thursday, 07 March 2019

In a landscape of innovation and constant technological change, UK start-ups and SMEs need to find ways to maintain their momentum.


Have clear objectives before investing in shiny new tech

Monitoring new business trends and working out which technology or products to invest in can be a minefield for SMEs that are navigating a myriad evolving options.

Digital procurement expert James Woods, programme manager of digital futures at Crown Commercial Service, says it’s crucial to define what you need.

“Failure to have a clearly defined end point can lead to trying endless tech fads in the hope that one will become a magic bullet. Incremental innovation is far more reliable in delivering competitive advantage,” says Woods.


“Find a source of information you trust and that goes beyond the hyperbole, get good at sifting through the chaff and always relate back to strategic objectives,” he says.


Keep an eye on the market

Scanning the horizon for new trends, competitors and market changes is vital for SMEs, says Vanessa Peters, SME growth adviser with Business Doctors network.

“If SMEs don’t allocate time to this they’re operating in a bubble that could burst dramatically when competitors who do research and plan effectively overtake them,” says Peters.

“Market awareness needs to be more sophisticated than ‘I googled it’. But it also doesn’t need to grow into a cottage industry. If an SME networks effectively and is keeping up-to-date with regional and national news in its sector it should get a clear sense of where things are heading,” she says.


Scan for trends

“Market research is a fine line between competitor analysis and industrial espionage,” says Donald Melrose, business breakthrough specialist at Business Growth Mentors.

“PESTLE analysis is a good start: understanding the ever-changing political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental trends is a great framework to consider how changes in each of these areas might affect your business,” says Melrose.

“Brexit, the euro, digital children, social media, the General Data Protection Regulation [GDPR] and plastic waste are all examples of PESTLE considerations that could potentially impact your products and services,” he adds.


Capitalise on market changes

Joseph Durrant, marketing manager at Merit Software, says the business responded to GDPR in a two-pronged way.

“We set up a team to monitor the legislation and communicate the changes internally – so we could make sure our product roadmap was on track. We also viewed it as an opportunity to develop software that helps our users stay GDPR compliant,” says Durrant.

“In a similar way, we capitalised on the rising use of mobile devices by developing mobile-friendly applications that streamline the payroll process for recruitment agencies and their temporary workers,” he says.


Collaborate to gain advantage

Frequently, entrepreneurs and start-ups discover someone else doing the same thing and have to quickly decide whether to compete or collaborate. In other instances, they forge partnerships and collaborations to facilitate growth and commercial success.

Physicist David Ure is director of Birmingham-based Irresistible Materials (IM), a spinout business from the University of Birmingham that collaborates with US-based Nano-C, which supplies specialist raw materials.


“Innovation doesn’t happen in a corner, you need everyone on board”


Fran Nolan, MD, Superdream

Ure describes Nano-C as a “value-added raw material supplier” and says the collaboration has been hugely valuable.

“As a start-up, you can’t take on everything – you have to be clear about what you’re able to do and you have to bring partnerships and collaborators to the table who bring other resources,” he says.


Cultivate an innovative mindset that thrives on change

“Innovation doesn’t happen in a corner; you need everyone on board,” says Fran Nolan, MD at Worcestershire-based Superdream, an award-winning marketing agency.

“An innovative solution doesn’t have to be digital,” says Nolan. “Although we use cutting-edge technology – for example, artificial intelligence – to inform marketing analytics, we’re just as conscious of approaching every aspect of what we do with an innovative and curious mindset.”

Superdream’s 24/7 working pattern, made possible by its second office in Australia, enables clients to have contact at all hours and allows the team to respond quickly.

“Every morning and every evening we call Australia,” Nolan says. “We hand work over a few days every week. It’s great because you get to come in and they’ve had a completely different take on it. And a lot of pay-per-click and social media work goes on overnight,” she says.


Give your team headspace

Keith Bevan, director of card-payment services company Suresite, is an advocate of keeping staff engaged and positive. “We want our staff to enjoy what they do, we’re keen on them networking and we have lots of breakout areas in the business, and we encourage staff to go and spend an hour and think about something else.”

Suresite specialises in card services for petrol stations and is expanding into other areas, including the convenience store sector.


“Our petrol team will go to science and technology fairs to see different tech from different sectors, and we’ll send our IT team to petrol fairs – we really mix them up,” says Bevan. “It’s about getting them into different environments and getting them to think differently.”


Top tips for coping with change

  • Use market awareness as a springboard for more detailed research, for instance by setting up a ‘what do we do next?’ meeting with colleagues and collaborators
  • Mobilise your ‘army’ and engage your frontline staff in product development
  • Make a champion by giving someone the remit to keep the business up to date with innovation in your market
  • Try doing something in a different way in order to deliver the unexpected
  • Mix it up and give staff experience of a different aspect of your business to generate creative solutions


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