Writing about growth and working with SMEs has forced me to look harder and more deeply at the relationship between the big and small and the role of social media.
Not just in the superficial, “Ah yes, everybody’s using it, so should I”, but specifically in relation to growing and developing relationships between shoppers and SMEs.
To do this, I have immersed myself in research around SMEs and their growth across the OECD and talked to the big end of town as to where they see the SME sector moving. I’ve also spent at least part of a day each week for the past eight months with the owners of a small but long-established digital communication agency at Fox Studios that builds digital strategies for large and small businesses.
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It’s been an interesting process, and the trends and themes I’ve kind of noticed are loosely as follows:
Everybody in big business, banks, accounting firms and government understands that SMEs are vital to economic growth and job creation for the next 10 years. They all have a will and significant investment in structures to work with SMEs. But nobody has a clear strategy as to how to reach them.
Independent organisations that support and coach SME owners, Coraggio, YPO, Family Business Australia, The Executive Group, and COSBOA are all working independently run, sustainable business models to nurture micro and SME businesses.
Social media, whilst hugely important as a two-way communication medium, is not something an individual can use to form an authentic relationship with a large organisation. No more than a mouse can build a relationship with an elephant.
The owners and employees in micro and small businesses tend to stay in those businesses as long as they can and service longstanding and loyal shoppers within a niche geography or within a niche area of interest or need. Think of shoppers living within a 10 km radius of a store or business premises, or worldwide but focused only on spare parts for old Triumphs. Linking the shopper and the people who work in these small businesses via constant social media chat builds authentic and long-term relationships that support business maintenance and growth.
So what? Well I have now taken to recommending the use of social media not just as an awareness vehicle for small business, but as a way that small businesses can be personalised. A way to establish authentic and constant communication with each individual shopper. A way for shoppers to settle into a comfortable and ongoing relationship with the small business owner. And each time I’ve managed to convince small business owners to allow themselves to be the face of the business, it has delivered growth.
Kevin Moore is a retail expert and the chairman of Crossmark Asia Pacific Holdings.