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 7 big mistakes to avoid as a growing SME

Posted on: January 24th, 2023 by Andreas Melvær No Comments
Smpl’s Andreas Melvær is an experienced SME entrepreneur. He wants to help you avoid the mistakes that rob SMEs of their success.

Your company is growing! Amazing news. I’m so happy for you. 

There’s no feeling quite like seeing all the blood, sweat and tears paying off. (I’ve been there with my own company and helped lots of other companies do the same.)

But the job is never really done. So, to help you stay on that upward trajectory, here are some of the most common mistakes I’ve seen growing small- and medium-sized business owners make.

Mistake 1: not hiring the right people

When you say ‘hire the right people’ everyone immediately thinks of the right skillset.

Of course, you need the right skills, but how often do you consider a recruit’s fit with your company’s values and its culture? How often do these elements appear on your job descriptions? And how often do you ask about them in interviews? 

People’s skills and experience often speak for themselves, particularly in our world of data, metrics, and KPIs. 

But how they got there is a different matter. That’s what will help decide whether you’re going to love or loathe working with them.

So, spend more time asking ‘how?’ when you are interviewing people and less on ‘what?’

I am not saying you should hire people who are just like you or – even worse – people that always agree with you. What I am saying is hire people who have the right skills and who share your vision and your company’s values.

(FYI: Smpl Chairman Bjørn Ivar – himself a very successful SME entrepreneur – has some interesting thoughts on fostering a dynamic work environments here.)

The author, Andreas

Mistake 2: Expanding too fast

It’s great to be popular! When you are, it’s tempting to take on more clients, sell into new markets, and get more staff on board ASAP. 

But before you do, ask: ‘do I have the cashflow and resources in place to support these ambitions?’ If you don’t it’s going to get tricky, fast.

When it comes to expanding, I’ve got one word for you: ‘planning’. 

The best way to manage growth is to know where you’re going and how that journey will play out in terms of structure, processes, and people.

Having the right tools in place to manage your time effectively – whether that’s digital calendars, post-it notes, or anything in between – will also be crucial in doing this.

Mistake 3: Poor cash flow management

Poor cash flow is the thing most likely to kill any growing SME. 

When sales are increasing, it can feel like you’re swimming in money. But the reality is that running an SME is almost always a bit of a tightrope. It can just take one large payment being delayed (or cancelled) to throw everything up in the air.

To help ensure you stay out of trouble, I’d advise a few basic things:

  • Keep track of all incoming and outgoing funds (including those for payroll) so that you know exactly what cash your business has at any given time
  • Have an action plan ready if things don’t add up as planned (e.g. where you could cut costs, or where you could get a loan)
  • Beware of working with suppliers who offer discounts in return for paying in advance.  The discount would have to really make sense financially before I committed to anything like that 

Mistake 4: Not having a marketing strategy.

Marketing might be daunting but it basically comes down to knowing four things:

  • What you’re trying to achieve with any marketing activity (i.e. your specific, measurable goals)
  • Who your target audience(s) is/are
  • What they need
  • Where they are / how you’re going to reach them

Marketing means making sure that you understand your customer’s needs and problems, not just their desires or wants.

One way of making sure you’re ticking the right boxes is to work your way through the ‘The 5 P’s of Marketing’, also known as the marketing mix. These are variables that you can control to satisfy customers in your target market, add value to their business, and help differentiate yourself from competitors.

These Ps are:

  • Product: this covers the features, advantages, and benefits or using your product (or service), covering functionality, appearance, warranty, quality, packaging, and so on
  • Price: the price tag you’ve attached, any discounts, payment terms, credit terms, price matching, etc.
  • Promotion: how you make yourself better known to customers; these activities are often split into paid (e.g. adverts or sponsorship), earned (e.g. public relations activities) and owned, (where you use your own content and channels to reach customers). FYI: make sure you calculate the cost of acquiring a customer using each method as best you can, to see if it’s worth it
  • Place: this is where your product/service is seen, made, sold, or distributed/bought, so think distribution channels, logistics, location, service levels, etc.
  • People: the way your staff, sales, and customer services colleagues behave, look, and interact with customers can make a huge difference

There are plenty of free resources available online that can help with creating a marketing strategy. A particularly good place to look is HubSpot.

Mistake 5: Misreading the market 

Markets move fast and you’ve got to watch them like a hawk.

There will always be someone in the wings and working on something cheaper or better than your offering. 

Customers’ wants and needs are ever-changing change, driven by any number of developments, whether they be social, political, technological, legal, or whatever else.

How to watch a market

You need to monitor the market, the needs of your customers, and what your competitors are doing… then keep improving.

Doing so will help you:

  • gain a better understanding of what your customers want and how they behave
  • understand their preferences better than competitors who don’t read the market as well as you do
  • adapt as necessary and stay ahead of the game

I recommend keeping an eye on the media (both industry websites and the wider news environment), attending conferences, and listening to all your different stakeholders – in particular, your customers.

Mistake 6: Not managing your sales pipeline

You’ve got to keep a list of potential customers that you’ve identified as being good fits for your product or service.

Maintaining that pipeline – and the different levels of interest each prospect within it has shown – is a critical part of your sales process.

It can be difficult to constantly identify new opportunities and keep them flowing through your pipeline. 

Here’s how to make sure things don’t get clogged up:

  • Identify companies that have expressed interest in what you offer (by signing up for your newsletter or downloading an e-book, for example) and reach out regularly so you stay top-of-mind
  • Set aside time every week to reach out to prospects
  • Make sure all employees know who should be contacting whom at identified target companies before reaching out themselves (you don’t want multiple people annoying your contacts)

Mistake 7: Not focusing on repeat business 

One of the biggest mistakes that SMEs make is not targeting existing customers.

It’s a lot easier to sell to an existing customer than it is to find a new one. 

If you do your job right and provide excellent customer service there’s no reason your current customers won’t want to continue buying from you. 

In an ideal world, you’d automate this process by creating products and services that automatically earn you Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR) or Annual Revenue (AR). Software companies are excellent at this, which is why they command such big valuations so quickly.

Good luck with your journey! If we can be of any help, let us know. We have a lot of experience of helping entrepreneurs and innovators to create growth strategies, before designing and building the digital products and services to deliver them.
You can email Andreas directly, just leave us a message here and we’ll come straight back to you.

“We weren’t smuggling, I promise!”

Posted on: November 18th, 2022 by Andreas Melvær No Comments
Andreas, Smpl’s Head of Design, on how to make or break a digital project, why impossible ideas matter, and being mistaken for a pirate.

My father was a digital pioneer

In the ’80s he set up the first digital ad agency in Norway. He was this eternal optimist and never afraid to try really ambitious projects. He had to be with the ad agency because none of the software we take for granted now even existed.

We’ve moved on a lot since then; there’s nothing left from those early days. Everything is new. Everything except ideas, that is. Great ideas – and knowing when to take a chance on them – will always be what determines success. My father taught me that.

If you want to win you’ve got to focus

I’ve worked with so many different clients who have great ideas but then pile so much on top of them we need to go digging to find that focus again.

Your product or service needs to do one thing extremely well. All the extras can come later. I’ll never stop saying it: if you want to succeed, you’ve got think ‘focus, focus, focus.’

Andreas LOVES workshops

Impossible ideas can be the best ideas

I love doing workshops. It’s a chance to get hands-on early and make sure I’m helping the client make the best possible version of their Big Idea.

The crucial thing is to create an environment where people can share ideas, no matter how crazy or impossible they may sound. And sometimes it’s the impossible ideas that lead to the best solutions.

I like to think hundreds of years ago an explorer, looking over the horizon, said: ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we just flattened the earth so we can see where we’re going?’ and instead of laughing at him, someone took that idea away and invented the map.

Beware designers who design for designers

A good designer should give you confidence they can quickly get their head around your goals – no matter how complex – and that they can make them simple and work for your audience.

That might seem obvious, but I’ve seen far too many designers who create things they think will win them an award. Very often what will win a design award is not what the audience for that product needs. 

Errr… is that our boat on those rocks?

It’s a pirate’s life for me… sort of

I had to take over captaincy of a 20-ton sailboat after it broke its mooring one night and crashed onto a coral reef near Fiji.

If that wasn’t bad enough we got arrested while on land and accused of smuggling (which we weren’t, I promise!) Then the captain decided he had had enough and went home!

I had to take charge and get us from Fiji to Australia… in hurricane season. When we eventually appeared out of the storm in Newcastle, Australia, the locals were amazed we’d made it.

Sailing through the storm taught me a lot about leadership

Those lessons are ones I use in all our projects today. For me, leadership is all about having clear goals, about inspiring and motivating people, and being willing to get stuck in with everyone else.

It’s about being able to communicate openly, mustering up positivity and energising people even when things are really tough… like when you’re on a boat that’s taking on water in a huge storm! (That was really scary. Still, I like to think the crew didn’t realise quite how scared I was…)

If you want to find out more about how we can bring your Big Idea to life faster, more efficiently – and considerably less stressfully! – than anyone else, we’d love to hear from you.
Click here to email our MD Andreas, or leave us a message here.

7 ways to nail your Big Idea using a workshop

Posted on: November 17th, 2022 by Andreas Melvær No Comments
There’s an adage that says you shouldn’t find an audience for your idea, but an idea for your audience.

But even if you’ve got that Big Idea – one that solves a pressing problem or addresses a need that’s begging to be met – you still need to work out what the best version of that idea is.

One of the most effective ways of doing this is to workshop your Big Idea as quickly as possible. Doing this can put you on the fast-track to delighting customers and growing your business.

But workshops are a double-edged sword.  They can be filled with traps for the unwary and lead you quickly down rabbit holes, towards dead-ends, and into all sorts of other unfortunate travel metaphors.

So, we asked our very own King of Workshops, Smpl’s Head of Creative Design Andreas Melvær, to give you his top tips for a successful workshop.

Soon your Big Idea will be on the highway to success. (OK, that’s enough of the travel metaphors. Ed.)

1. Get the right people involved

All too often those attending a workshop already know what the answer should be. The voices you really need to hear – who have the diverse opinions you need – are excluded or forgotten.

So, before you start, try to think of all the internal and external stakeholders who will be involved in the creation and consumption of your idea, and invite them along. That could mean colleagues, investors, the target audience, and others.

The key is to ensure that,  as best you can, you include people who represent the cultures, interests, and needs of those you want to attract to your project. Build something for them. Not for you.

You can never have enough of them…

2. Get lots of post-it notes

This might sound clichéd but post-its perform an important democratic function in a workshop.

By getting people to write ideas down rather than shout them out, you avoid having the guy with the loudest voice or with the most senior job doing all the talking. 

When using them, it’s important to ‘time box’ each question, issue, or challenge you are addressing (e.g. your goals, target audiences, the impression you want to make, some of your functionality you might offer, etc.) This means limiting the time people have to come up with ideas/solutions, while making sure they only offer one idea per post-it. 

When the limit expires, one person should collect all the ideas and group similar ones together. 

Then invite people to discuss and vote on the best ideas, encouraging participants to look carefully at all of them. Don’t ignore the lonely post-its with ideas that only one or two people have come up with; often those outliers can be gamechangers.

3. Use the ’Yes and’ principle

This is all about parking the cynicism we naturally employ in day-to-day life.

Scepticism can be toxic in a workshop. Instead, we want to embrace solutions, no matter how crazy or weird they might seem.

The ‘yes, and…’ principle dictates that when Person A makes a statement, Person B responds by accepting Person A’s statement (the “yes” part) and then builds on it further (the “and” part). This encourages people to be positive and constructive, rather than look for problems. 

Your aim is to create an environment where participants can propose ideas or solutions that range from the sublime to the ridiculous. Something you first think is impossible might the basis of a great idea.

Once you’ve done this you can create time for critical thinking, but critical should mean ‘analytical’, not destructive.

Every journey starts with a single… workshop

4. Define your MVP

Once you’ve defined goals, target audiences, the impression you want to make, some functionality, and so on, then it’s time to define your MVP… your Minimum Viable Product.

This represents the beating heart of your product or service – and is the most important thing to nail if you want to succeed.

The fastest way to get to your MVP is to define the most common (or core) user journey for your product or service. To find that you’ll need to ask questions like:

  • what’s the user’s motivation (what are they trying to achieve)?
  • what does he or she need to do to achieve his goal?
  • what is he or she feeling at each stage? (If you know what motivates and frustrates them you’ll find it easier to keep them engaged.) 

You may come up with several user journeys, but you need to stay focused on the one that will be the most commonly used by customers. 

Take the example of a camping app that lets you book a plot in your favoured place. Your customer’s most common journey will be:

  1. search for camping place
  2. select camping place
  3. book it
  4. pay for it
  5. get a receipt

They might want other functions, for example to change their password, order an extra kayak, or buy anti-moose spray. But these are not core journey elements. Put them aside for now and concentrate on that core journey and make sure you have removed as much friction from that as possible.

This should then form the basis of brainstorming a site map – a list of pages/stages you need to create so the customer can complete that journey.

This will, in turn, become the basis of your prototype.

5. Create non-traditional personas

A quick word on creating audience personas, which are used to help you understand your customer and how you can reach them. 

Traditionally, these were created using categories like age, gender, and so on. Be careful with these as traditional roles and behaviours have changed and lines have blurred.

It is often more effective to create personas that are based on common interests, rather than more restrictive categories.

The award- and investment-winning Campall app, which started with a SmplCo workshop

6. Tell an epic story

This is the opposite of the MVP (Minimum Viable Product), which focuses on doing core functionality well.

In the case of MVP, you are trying to minimalise the concept. Now it’s time to let your imagination soar and start thinking about all the possible applications of your product or service.

This allows you to start thinking about how you are going to talk about the vision you have for your idea, as well as what its benefits and features will offer.

A good way to get the creative juices flowing is to ask the room:

If what we’re doing / the service we are going to provide becomes the new norm, what is the most extreme consequence of that scenario?

This question is a great way to start unleashing people’s creativity. Find how far you can stretch the concept (and then dial back if you want to).

7. Start thinking about thoughts

It’ll be much easier to sell your Big Idea when it hits the market if you are already recognised in that area. It’s never too early to start establishing yourself as a trusted source of information in your area of choice.  

If customers know who you are and – even better – see you as trustworthy, they are much more likely to buy from you. So don’t wait; start establishing intellectual capital ASAP in your chosen area. 

Going back to our camping example, I would ask those in the workshop what areaas of expertise they want to be recognised for in the camping space.

Based on the answers, easy wins might be creating articles and videos on how to cook in the wild, your favourite camp spots, how to pack, or how to fight off a bear. This content can then begin to establish you as an expert who can be trusted.

(Top tip: you can also get a head-start by searching Google Trends to see what it is people who are into – e.g. camping – are searching for and using those search terms. Taking cues from Google means you are more likely talking about the things your audience is searching for.)

A workshop is a great place to get that ball rolling on this. To maintain focus you should create content cards, with one idea on each. A single content card will detail elements like:

  • the topic I think we should be talking about / demonstrating our expertise on
  • where we’ll publish content about this and how often
  • what collateral will we need
  • where should we NOT publish and what should we NOT say?

If you pick some core subject areas and some distribution channels to share them, you’ll start to create a manageable, consistent content system from the earliest days and begin to establish yourself as someone that others should come to for solutions.

If you want to find out more about Smpl, or you’d like talk to Andreas about your Big Idea, click here to email him, or leave us a message here.