How SMEs can digitise and plan for future growth

John Palfreyman, lecturer / supervisor at Leeds University Business School and teacher on the Help to Grow: Management course looks at how SMEs can survive and thrive in the digital era.

In a small to medium enterprise (SME), operating efficiently is the key to running a successful company. However, taking advantage of the vast array of digital technologies available to achieve this can be confusing and challenging. 

Digital transformation is the smart use of digital technologies to drive sustainable competitive advantage.  

The power of digital transformation for SMEs is in leveraging technologies to make established ways of working simpler and more efficient, thereby boosting productivity, and significantly saving time and costs to increase competitivity. Technology can also open new channels to market, resulting in increased business income. 

In practice, this could be anything from using smartphones or tablets so employees can work remotely, optimising your social media presence to achieve impact or access new channels, or going paperless by adopting digital workflow solutions.  

As an SME, digitally transforming your organisation on a limited budget can seem daunting. However, leveraging digital technologies not only enables you to be agile, flexible, and ready to grow, but can also widen your market share.  

In parallel, care will be needed to shore up your defences against cyber-attack, but the good news is there is masses of great information readily available to help you do this. 

Digital transformation is changing the way business gets done. Now we’re firmly entrenched in the digital age, here are my top tips for SME leaders embarking on a digital journey: 

Execute strategic intent: digital transformation should always deliver real business benefit. When used well, it can help SMEs maintain a competitive advantage and make a significant contribution to profit generation and turn strategy into action.  

Experiment with different digital ideas: try out several options before adopting a specific solution to a business problem. Use trial packages to test out different technologies, and collect real usage data to figure out the best one for you to invest in. 

Understand the possibilities: explore what your technology is capable of, and how you can adapt it to your business and processes to make the most of your investments. Understand how others in your industry are using tech, copy (when relevant) and improve! 

Be bold: approach digital transformation from a business perspective and don’t be put off by technical jargon. Accessible resources are available to explain digital transformation and the options available.  

Talk to people in a similar situation: seize opportunities to learn from what your peers are doing. You may be surprised to find that even if you are working in different industries, you can learn from each other.  

Empower employees to drive digital solutions: engage your employees by involving them in the decision-making process, empower them to make decisions based on data and feedback from customers, and train them in using new technologies. 

Digital transformation is not easy for SMEs. However, if done right, it has the power to propel your SME into a sphere that is far above the competition. 

Keen to grow your business?  

John Palfreyman delivers a Digital Transformation module as part of the Help to Grow: Management programme, run by Leeds University Business School. 

The 12-week programme is designed for local small business owners and senior leaders operating in small and medium sized businesses, who want to grow. It offers 50 hours of practical business leadership and strategy training, with 1:1 support, mentoring and peer-learning networks.  

The Digital Transformation module combines practical sessions with opportunities to connect with peers, share learnings, and develop an action plan to boost your business.  

By the end of the programme, you will be able to walk away with the skills and tools needed to innovate and build a plan for your next stage of growth.  

Register for the Help to Grow: Management course | Leeds University Business School | University of Leeds