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Editor’s Question: What collaboration ideas do you have to grow a SME?

Editor’s Question: What collaboration ideas do you have to grow a SME?

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Given the importance of delivering a differentiated customer experience, organisations of all sizes must ensure that their teams can collaborate effectively in a distributed work environment. This is where Atlassian’s Jira software development tool facilitates the creation of more integrated, agile teams, according to local partner, Obsidian Systems.

“Effective collaboration involves teamwork. From getting a new customer to providing them with a quote, implementing a solution and providing on-going support requires multiple people across different teams to work in sync with one another. Communicating with the customer and keeping them satisfied throughout the process become vital to establishing trust,” said James Wicks, Atlassian Business Consultant at Obsidian.

Traditionally, email was at the centre of how work was done. It was used to enhance internal and external communications at companies. Even though it is still an acceptable platform, there is always a risk of emails getting lost. With customers likely to turn to a competitor following a negative email experience, companies cannot risk this happening.

“At a time when most businesses receive hundreds of emails per day, it is easy for something to be missed. It is especially in smaller organisations which cannot afford to lose clients due to a lack of email collaboration between departments where a different approach is required,” he said.

A collaboration tool like Jira can integrate all emails across the business to provide line of sight for everything happening in the organisation. It also enables the building of more sophisticated reports that empower decision makers with the knowledge of where to proactively address issues before they impact on the customer experience.

Jira can monitor everything from network performance to services being delivered and send alerts if customers are down even before they realise it.

“Using Jira, we can build scripts that automatically restart any critical processes that might have stopped or crashed. This automation frees up admin time and ensures key personnel are always informed of what is going on. Effectively, Jira provides a single source of truth that shows what has happened to a system throughout the year. From an audit perspective, auditors and business owners can have complete trust in the environment,” added Wicks.

Even if departments work on different systems, Jira can integrate everything to ensure they ‘talk’ to one another. Again, this ensures that the company has one trusted source of information. And because it is a cloud-based solution, it can easily scale to the demands of the business.

“It is also a solution that can benefit small businesses. Depending on the number of licences required, SMEs can use Jira for free. And if they grow, they can cost-effectively purchase additional seats without impacting on the performance of the environment.”

Three experts offer their advice below on collaboration ideas for SMEs.

Rajat Bhargava, JumpCloud CEO

While growing an SME involves a lot of collaboration both internally and externally, I would say that collaboration with customers and partners is essential for SMEs.

Part of what early customers expect when they purchase is that you’ll deliver what you promise – and that you’ll continue to do so. Committing to collaboration requires that you share what future product developments are on the roadmap and clear timelines to expect them. But it also requires that you establish a bi-directional channel that enables communication, soliciting feedback from customers as frequently as passing on information to them.

For SMEs, I’d recommend leaning into this collaboration even further by adopting a product-led growth (PLG) strategy. PLG makes collaboration the foundational pillar of business operations, and one that has proven success driving company growth for SMEs. Essentially product-led growth is fast iteration on your product to more closely match your customer’s needs. This is done through eliminating friction, delivering product value quicker/easier and putting more control in the hands of the customer.

PLG requires active, deliberate focus on what users want and need. The goal is that by building instant value for customers based on their wants, those same users become purchasing influencers down the road.

In practice, this means aligning your goals with those of customers and partners. Many SMEs work with partners, which means your channel strategy needs to emphasise the same collaborative behaviours that you want to encourage. For engineering teams, collecting data is essential. Getting analytics to see how/why/when of product use lets you implement a dynamic PLG roadmap, built on features that are accessed most frequently, solve users’ pain points and deliver what users report they need.

For sales, the collaborative effort of a PLG approach means approaching customers as partners to build with, rather than targets to sell to. Many PLG customers grow after the initial sale, which explains why a freemium model can be so effective. Sales teams can adjust to focusing on how to widen customer use over time and should empower sales reps to become more technically helpful in guiding customer use by sharing insights that add value long-term.

Integrating collaborative values through a PLG demonstrates a business’s commitment to its customers’ success, a vitally important signal as today’s buyers increasingly turn a discerning and sceptical eye toward products. Leaning in with a product-led focus lets SMEs show, and benefit from, the collaborative journey between those building the product and those using it. 

Michelle Dickens CEO at TPN Credit Bureau

Your bottom line is profitability – more customers spending more, while tightening your expenses and still optimising for quality.

Now, how do I get my competition on board to help me?

Let’s kick off with growing the customer base, finding new customers from within your community and ultimately expanding your community.

Today’s online marketplace looks a bit like Takealot. And Takealot knows a lot about its customers’ data analytics: what they search for, what they buy and based on similar profiles of other customers, what they are in the market to buy next.

Chances are pretty high that the purchase of outdoor furniture will lead to a second upsell of complementary cushions from a different Takealot vendor. Targeted advertising showcasing designs and ranges of outdoor furniture accessories will follow shortly after the initial purchase, highlighting how to use the initial sale to upsell. Not wanting to lose out, hopefully the outdoor furniture manufacturer might also sell cushions and present his new customer with a direct offer for matching cushions too.

Complementary products and services exist all around us; a dishwasher machine needs dishwasher tablets. What is your business’s collaboration companion? How do you engage with that companion to grow your combined marketplace? Estate agents love giving welcoming baskets to new homeowners, a voucher from a local restaurant is the perfect gift for move-in day. And so, the estate agent’s community morphs into the local restaurant’s community.

Revenue is a minimum requirement, but success is measured in profitability, so managing expenses is essential. Bulk buying power does not need to be limited to the ‘Massmarts’. By forming an association or industry group, similar purchasing power is available to small business owners too. Think of a class action suit; if each plaintiff took separate legal action, the combined attorney fees would be many more zeros than the single class action, and cost aside, the success of the litigation increases with the combined case.

Similarly, in the world of rentals, your lease agreement is not the competitive edge over the competition. TPN and our drafting attorneys understand that a legally sound lease agreement is critical to any future potential tenant/ landlord dispute. But the legal cost of maintaining lease agreements in the ever-changing legislative landscape can place a burden on each individual estate agent. A collaboration of a single set of up-to-date LeasePack agreements means that standardisation for tenants, landlords and property managers is cost-effective for each individual agency and the law is applied consistently.

Collaboration is a mindset – we are not limited to smaller slices of the pie, let’s just build a bigger pie.

Paul Rowe, Sales Director for NetUtils

The last 18 months has been a rollercoaster for many SMEs as COVID forced a mass switch to home working. At the pandemic’s height, over 40% of the UK workforce was homeworking – and even today, the number is double that of a decade ago.

As ‘the office’ becomes less focal, SMEs are moving towards IT delivered as a service rather than maintaining their own physical hardware and in-house supported applications. This service approach to support flexible remote working has also extended to cybersecurity.

Unfortunately, there has been a sharp rise in cyberattacks targeting home workers and UK government data shows that half of UK businesses suffered a cybersecurity breach or attack during 2020. Its most recent survey found that although 77% of micro and small businesses say that cybersecurity is a high priority for their directors – only 13% of smaller businesses train staff on cybersecurity and just one in five have evaluated their staff response, for example with mock phishing exercises.

Part of the problem is that traditional cybersecurity approaches of hiring staff and building protective systems in-house is costly – and with the skills shortage – difficult to maintain for a smaller business. As such, managed security service providers are increasingly working with smaller businesses to create affordable bundled offerings that work on a per-user basis within a fixed service contract that includes implementation, maintenance and support. The model is like leasing a company vehicle rather than owning it outright which can offer a better deal for many businesses.

Cybersecurity is also becoming more important for customers looking to grow their business. For example, for an SME to become a supplier for certain government contracts, including the NHS – it must show that it takes cybersecurity seriously. Increasingly, this means having met the ‘Cyber Essentials’ standard, a government-backed, industry-supported scheme to help organisations protect themselves against common online threats. Cyber Essentials is supported by the Federation of Small Businesses, the CBI and insurance organisations which are offering incentives for businesses.

The combination of managed security and Cyber Essentials certification are two positive steps that any SME can take to help them to focus on their core activities. If the last year has taught us one thing, being flexible is key and moving forward, progressive SMEs should make cybersecurity a contributor to growth rather than a business burden.

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