Business Advice

SME skill disparity remains a massive challenge for digital industry professionals

Craig Reardon /

I have to start this blog with a confession.

Excuse my French but servicing the smaller business market can be a bloody tough gig. Relatively few projects move through without any number of unforeseen challenges.

Let me step you through some of them.

First there’s the lack of funds. The smaller budgets compared to the much deeper pockets of their corporate cousins are tough enough to work with, but over time you get to learn how to manage that. What’s much more difficult is managing the massive skill disparity from one small business operator to the next.

Chalk and cheese from business to business

On the one hand you have those that are almost cutting edge when it comes to understanding and embracing technology. These operators understand what’s required in managing a technical (and often creative) project and make much of your work a whole lot easier.

Unfortunately they are in the smallest minority.

On the other hand you have those who barely use a computer and need fundamental education that you can never be paid for — otherwise said budget would be blown out altogether.

While there will always be challenging customers in any service industry, this combination of low budget, little time to dedicate to the project, and low competency can lead to projects that have little hope of being delivered on time or on budget — and much frustration on the part of all concerned.

But surely these issues are no different to the ones encountered in bigger business, right?

Well, not so fast. In fact the opposite is true.

While you will always have challenges with projects of any size and budget, there are three key differences between smaller and larger business.

1. Contingency money is anticipated and available

Bigger businesses expect that projects can occasionally go over scope, schedule or cost. Therefore if more money is required to complete a project, it can usually be justified and found.  Smaller businesses simply don’t have these additional funds to throw around and so the chances of finding extra coin to cover a contingency are almost zero.

Instead, the time side of the time, cost, quality triad we discussed last week gets blown out and can lead to dire cashflow issues for the provider.

2. Your client is qualified and experienced

Larger businesses employ qualified and experienced people to manage projects. They have usually managed them several times before so are aware of the requirements, the procedures and the pitfalls of projects and thus are equipped and resourced to manage them.

Few smaller business operators have such experience with technical/creative projects and no matter how well they are educated and prepared, they can often come unstuck with a issue you just don’t see coming due to a lack of understanding or experience of one aspect or another.

3. Your client is dedicated to the project

Most smaller business operators have 1001 things to do in their average day. When they are not performing their core competency, they have all of the general management, finance, marketing, HR, fire fighter and myriad other tasks just to keep their business humming.

Therefore, your digital project is fighting any number of also important activities for attention. And sometimes it simply may not get the priority you would like, which means deadlines and cashflow can be severely affected.

But it’s not all doom and gloom; some smaller business operators are experienced and cashed up enough to make your life a relative breeze.

But the reality is, these dream business operators can be few and far between in smaller business.

Of course the obvious answer is to source larger clients. And for many, that is exactly what they do, often leaving smaller business in the hands of far less capable providers.

Or those that enjoy the challenge of assisting those with less budget and skill.

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Craig Reardon

In addition to being a leading eBusiness blogger and educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team, which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs around Australia.

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  • MatthewAddisonICB

    Hi Craig. There is definitely a difference between big and small business and their approach to change and implementation of items.

    I need to introduce you to our community of bookkeepers who spend their lives helping business with these items. http://www.icb.org.au

    Our community introduce change, brief business owners on things to think about and then have the skills or networks to implement the change.

    Tough: yes
    Different approaches for each different business owner is pretty much the norm. Our community works with this each day.