Being a competitive SME in the digital age is easy as 1-2-3

Being a competitive SME in the digital age is easy as 1-2-3

Does it feel like you’re always a step behind your competitors? You don’t have to feel that way. You would be surprised how easy it is to be a competitive SME in the digital age. In fact, we think it’s as easy as 1-2-3.

1. Be a competitive SME by KNOWing your BRAND and your CUSTOMERS

Find out what your customers want and need

Think of a few brands that you love using or working with. Do you know what they probably have in common? An awesome user experience. Focusing on the customer experience is always a good strategy – after all, that’s where your money is made. Do your research. Do your customers need an affordable alternative to something that’s just out of their price range? Are they environmentally conscious and looking for a ‘green’ version of a product or service? Where are the points in the customer journey that are annoying or difficult for the user? Is there a demand for more choices? Could there even be a demand for fewer choices?

We also live in a time where we have any amount of helpful analytical technology. Find a way to gather and process data on what parts of your business are performing. Having information in black and white about what’s working and what isn’t, will help you make better business decisions.

By knowing and understanding your customers and their wants and needs, you can make sure that you’re tailoring your offerings and services to what people are actually looking for. The less time you waste on what’s not working and the more time you spend on what is, the more competitive you become.

Find something that your competitors can’t replicate

What makes you use a service like Airbnb over any other accommodation services? Why is Uber the go-to name for ride-sharing services? What makes you ask for Coca-Cola over the many similar products on the market? All of these companies have figured out what sets them apart in their respective markets and have leaned into it.

Airbnb has built what was a unique alternative to traditional accommodation services into a whole industry. Uber offered an affordable alternative to traditional cab services with the added benefits of being able to track your driver’s progress and rate your experience on their app. Coca-Cola created a great recipe and has kept it largely the same for over a century. In fact, when they briefly changed it in 1985 to try to compete with other brands, there was outrage from their customer base, and they had to change it back. Their success lies in the fact that the Coke you drank decades ago is the same Coke you can drink today.

Even if there are alternatives on the market to what your company offers, figure out what sets yours apart. Is it a recognisable and catchy name? Are you offering a more enjoyable and user-friendly experience? Is your product utilising technology in a way other brands aren’t? Once you figure it out, use it to build and market your brand.

Plan for the future as a competitive SME with a roadmap

The saying “if you fail to plan you plan to fail” is a cliché at this point, but it’s so true. Planning is key to a thriving business. Know where you want to go and plan how you’re going to get there.

This doesn’t mean that this plan can never change. It’s called a roadmap because it’s a big-picture version of where you want your business to go and how you plan to get there. If you were taking a road trip and suddenly encountered a detour because of roadworks or something, you would adjust your route accordingly.

In the same way, if you encounter an obstacle that takes you off your business roadmap, try a new route. As long as you keep the end goal in mind, you’ll be able to adapt and change your ways of reaching it as you go.


Get the right people

It’s never been more important to have a creative and innovative team. You, as the business owner, can only come up with so many ideas on your own. If you really want to stay ahead of your competitors, you need to have a team of outside-the-box thinkers.

When hiring, look for people who think creatively. This doesn’t mean only hiring creatives – speaking as a creative, I know that would be a disaster – but rather hiring people who are good at figuring out unusual ways of dealing with the challenges in their role. When interviewing, make sure you ask about challenges they’ve faced before, and how they handled them. The more quick-thinkers you have on your team, the quicker you’ll be able to adapt to challenges and obstacles.

Also make sure you’re hiring so that you have a range of fresh knowledge and seasoned experience. It can be tempting to hire younger when trying to keep up with current innovations and trends, but often the experience and expertise of someone who’s been working for a while can be hugely beneficial to your decision making. By hiring from a range of experiences and mindsets, you’ll have several perspectives and options for how to tackle a problem.

Offer competitive internships

It’s vital nowadays to invest in employees with technical knowledge. No matter what industry you’re in, you’re using computers and technology to some degree. And while there’s so much demand for technical talent, any IT professional will tell you the most difficult thing is getting your foot in the door when you’re first starting out.

When looking to invest in staying competitive digitally, try to offer opportunities for those just starting out. Not only are they passionate and excited to get going, but they’re also looking to start and build their careers. Offer internships that pay a good entry-level salary, or that provide career growth opportunities. Not only are you investing in someone who can grow with your business, but you’re also combatting the brain-drain that’s seeing our country lose vital workers who could be helping grow our economy.

Budget for training

As technology evolves, it’s not always intuitive to learn. Spot where there are needs for training in your team and have a budget available for it. You would be surprised how many of your team members are willing and excited to do the work, but just lack the confidence in their knowledge and ability to do it. By investing in training for these employees, you’re investing in a workforce that’s willing to learn and excited to use that knowledge to help build your brand.

3. Be a competitive SME by working SMARTER

Listen to your employees

Often, when you’re not working in the nitty-gritty of the day-to-day operations of your business, it can be easy to overlook where things aren’t working. That’s why shows like Undercover Boss are so popular. When it comes to figuring out where things can improve or change, listen to the people who are working with those systems day after day. If an employee tells you that a system isn’t working or is difficult to use, work with them to figure out a solution.

And when employees come forward with new ideas, don’t dismiss them. Even if you can’t get to them now because of time or budget reasons, having a list of ideas ready for when you are ready to expand and try new things is far easier than trying to brainstorm from scratch. Google has a great system for this. They allow their employees to spend 20% of their time pursuing their passion projects, even if they’re outside of the company’s core mission. While it may seem counterintuitive, some of Google’s biggest product offerings like Gmail and AdSense came from this strategy.

Giving your team the time and freedom to come up with ideas and then listening to them when they present them is a great way to foster the culture of innovation and creativity that will make you a competitive SME.

Keep up to date with tech and automate where you can

If everyone is moving on with technology and you aren’t, you’re going to get left behind. If you want to be a competitive SME, you have to budget for upgrades to your technical infrastructure as hardware and software evolve. This doesn’t mean always having the latest gadgets and gizmos. But it does mean that when you spot processes being slowed by things that can be solved with more up-to-date technology, you need to update your tech and systems accordingly.

It also means looking out for areas where you can automate processes. As an example, at Job Crystal, we realised that we were wasting a good chunk of our day emailing back and forth to request CVs to be typed while also having to manually update a progress list. By using our Applicant Tracking System (ATS) to centralise and automate our CV typing requests, we saved all the time we were spending emailing back and forth and keeping the spreadsheet updated, allowing us to instead focus on the task at hand. Find out where there are systems in your company that can be done quicker and more accurately with the help of machines and allow your team members more time to focus on the parts of their job that require their human expertise.

Hire smarter

In the same vein, the way you become a competitive SME is by hiring the best, fast. Good talent doesn’t wait, so it’s important to get it while it’s available. And we know better than most that the recruitment process can take a long time. Interviews, decision-making, and negotiations aren’t things you want to rush. That’s why you have to figure out where in the process things can be sped up.

Maybe it’s through utilising screening questions. Perhaps you don’t need to conduct your first meeting face-to-face but rather via video chat. You might find that you need to automate parts of the process like smart sourcing with AI or conducting automated background checks (both of which Job Crystal offers). Whichever ways you find to save time in the process, it’s important that you do so that you don’t miss out on those people who can make you a truly competitive SME.


Your business is unique! Maybe you’re offering a similar product or service to your competitors, but there are still things that set your brand apart. No one has the exact team, service, or branding you do. Once you figure out how to use this to your advantage, your business will be unstoppable.