Small is beautiful: why being nimble can make you a lot more competitive

Written by Michael Smith on the 30th of September, 2014

Back in the 1970’s, a guy named Schumacher wrote a book called ‘Small is Beautiful’. Listed as one of the top 100 influential texts published since World War II, it posed the notion that Globalisation and mass production had dehumanised the workplace and hampered creativity and competition. In contrast, it extolled the virtues of being small, nimble and able to adapt and adopt in a way that enabled you to punch well above your weight.

Much of what Schumacher preached related to economics, notably the scale at which you chose to operate and the economies or diseconomies that resulted from this. This is even more relevant today than you might believe.

The impact of technology has enabled businesses to go stratospheric in a very short space of time but its interesting that scale, globalisation and critical mass has does not always turn these organisations into dinosaurs. The smart businesses, like Google, Zendesk, Xero and other SaaS technologies realise that remaining nimble is key to staying competitive.

Conversely, there are a number of established software providers that have been around alot longer who have become global conglomerates in the old sense and have failed to react to the changing world (you know who you are!).

Being able to emulate this approach can have surprisingly positive benefits for SME businesses. By embracing more collaborative ways of working and using technology to become more market-focused, an organisation can effectively punch above its weight because it has freed itself of the operational and administrative chains that has held it back and by using technology, has empowered its people to freely communicate and collaborate in a wider world.

Here are a few things that you can do with your IT and technology to help make being small a real benefit:

  1. Change your finance & accounting software: products such as Xero go far beyond the capabilities of legacy software software. The ability to automate your bookkeeping, update ledgers and access information remotely on any device is of obvious benefit to any business owner. If your accountant doesn’t get it, change that too!
  2. Get rid of your desktop technology: being only able to access information from the office or on clunky, remote desktop is an incumbrance that you do not need in this day and age. Google Apps for Work is by far the most efficient solution available - mainly because of single sign-on, it can be used as a foundation to access all cloud-based applications such as Xero above.
  3. Adopt a dynamic, nimble CRM platform you can access on a mobile or tablet: we still see SMEs using developers to build their own CRM tools. Why bother when you have a range of solutions available to you from Capsule through to Salesforce that can be adapted to work in harmony with Gmail, Xero and a host of other cloud apps?
  4. Operate a proper Helpdesk, not an expensive phone line and queuing system: we all get frustrated by call-management solutions that shove us in a queue whilst our phone bill stacks up. By putting in place a proper helpdesk solution like Zendesk, you can liaise with customers using voice, mail or social media and build a self-helping community.
  5. Be part of the technology decision process, don’t just subcontract: for years, IT has been practiced as a dark art - maintenance and support is expensive and slow to arrive when you need it. What you adopt and how you adapt in respect of technology can no longer be 100% somebody else’s decision - you need to get involved.
  6. Educate and support your workforce in new ways of working: if you don’t support change, it will not happen. Our ethos is ‘deploy, educate and support’. By individual user, not company as a whole. If you have not got time, use a technology service provider to quietly get on with doing this for you.

References: E F Schumacher (1973) Small is Beautiful, Random House E-book.

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