How SMEs can get ahead of the game has been a recurring theme in a number of articles that have crossed my desk this week. The clear message coming through is that there are practical steps that smaller business can take to stay ahead.

It’s about having the courage to think outside of the norm sometimes – or allowing the business to veer off its planned route in order to exploit an emerging market or an evolving customer need. 

The next big thing doesn’t always have to be a ‘big thing’ either. Sometimes, all it takes to steal a march on the competition is a new twist on an old product or an alternative approach to service delivery.

Read these six tips to find out how your business can get future-focused and ready to seize new opportunities.

Lift your head

Look beyond your immediate market for ideas and inspiration. How are other sectors tackling similar challenges? How are they evolving their products to match changes in the way we live and work? Make a conscious effort to widen your reading too. Keep on top of what’s happening in the world of science, economics, arts and sports – to see if there are principles you could apply to your own business.

Exploit your data

Make sure you don’t fall into the trap of being data-rich but information-poor. Look closely at the data you have about customers, employees, competitors and suppliers. Are there trends emerging that you can take advantage of or gaps in the market you can fill? Revisit your data regularly so that you can see if patterns are emerging that could lead to new insights.

Embrace Technology

Technology can free up your time so that you can concentrate on driving the business forward – but it can also help you innovate. Think about how you can use some of the latest software solutions to add an edge to the way you operate. Explore how social media could help you communicate better with employees or customers or make your product stand out from the crowd. Technology is constantly evolving. Make it your business to know what’s on the horizon so you are ready to take advantage.

Widen your network

If you always network in the same old places you will see the same old faces and have the same old conversations. Encourage your people to get out and about and talk to professionals from a wide range of sectors. Support them in doing voluntary or community work, even if it appears that what they are doing bears little relation to your line of business. Light-bulb moments often occur when and where you least expect them.

Get your people practices right

There’s plenty of research around that shows that companies that get their people strategies sorted out early on find it easier to sustain growth. That doesn’t mean adding in layers of bureaucracy. In fact, it’s the opposite. It’s about keeping lines of communication open, sharing values, encouraging involvement and building leadership and management skills.

Recruit for tomorrow

Don’t fall into the trap of recruiting people who are ‘just like me’. When you’re ready to hire look for employees with the skills your business will need for tomorrow as well as for right now. Don’t be afraid of people who will challenge what you do and how you do it – they are the ones who will get your business fit for the future.

Erika Lucas author image

Erika Lucas

Writer and Communications Consultant

Erika Lucas is a writer and communications consultant with a special interest in HR, leadership, management and personal development. Her career has spanned journalism and PR, with previous roles in regional press, BBC Radio, PR consultancy, charities and business schools.