When it comes to business, small (and medium-sized) is often beautiful. SMEs pioneer new ways of doing things, and can be more agile and better equipped for change than the big multinationals. They’re also often at the cutting edge of technological or organisational breakthroughs – often through necessity – while bigger companies steam ponderously onwards with their ancient legacy systems, and often even more ancient ways of doing things.
But it’s not all wine and roses. The big beasts, with their strategy departments and huge financial clout, can plan for and absorb the pressures of regulatory change, late payments, supply chain disruption, recession, or – in the case of the UK – the vast, as-yet-unquantifiable threat of Brexit. But SMEs are hugely vulnerable to choppy waters, and many of them don’t make it beyond the first five years as a result. And although most governments recognise their importance in the form of subsidies and tax breaks, these inevitably come with long lists of rules and regulations that can stifle their ability to grow.
SMEs, it’s often pointed out, are the “engine room” of the British economy, making up a remarkable 99.8 per cent of private businesses in the UK. Most of us work for one. And they can be remarkably resilient. But, particularly in today’s volatile era, are we taking them for granted?