Advice:Know me, know my business – I am not an SME!

By , published on 10th October 2011

All businesses chasing my money have still got to learn that the customer is king. Here Robert Craven presents the needs of the typical growing business ‘turning over a couple of million’. All you have to do is implement a strategy to satisfy them.

I am typical of a breed of business with specific needs and wants – employing 10 or so people and turning over a couple of million pounds. What I call a fast-growing company.

Businesses in this £1-10m bracket seem to be in a forgotten territory: too big to be considered a small business; too small to be treated as a serious medium-sized business. Too many staff and processes and systems to tolerate the totally patronising way most people pitch for my business; too small to have any cachet such that the medium-sized/corporate brigade will spend too long courting me.

And yet, us big minnows (or small sharks) are a brilliant marketplace. We know our stuff – we’ve been in business a while and have been pretty successful to date. We don’t need the petty hand-holding (“How does VAT work?”, “How do you employ someone?”). And we are bright, ie we are not daft so don’t take us for fools. And it is still my business: I am the majority shareholder so I can make decisions right now. However, I don’t have the usual officers you might expect: no finance director or marketing director (well, not really!) and no legal department. You can see this as an opportunity for you. Meanwhile it makes me feel sometimes nimble but sometimes vulnerable.

With what you might consider a slightly half-baked, unfinished business structure, we are doing pretty well: feeding our staff and helping them pay their mortgages. But, there is still this pressure to keep the sales hopper full, to find better staff, to cut better deals, to keep the cash coming in. And to sleep well at night and enjoy the success! And spend time with my kids – not compensating for my long work hours by trying to buy their love with bigger presents but by having the space and peace of mind to give them my full attention and love.

So, what is it that I want my suppliers to be able to do?


First, and foremost, I want you to understand me.

From where I stand, I am totally unique. When I am going to talk about money and my business I want the other person to have a real interest in me.

My business is my baby. So, how can an accountant or a banker or a one-man band (or the desperate pitcher we so often meet at networking events) understand me? I could never imagine wanting the type of environment that they work in – all numbers and ratios and making things balance. That’s why they are accountants/bankers/salesmen and we are ‘business people’. Their concerns are about targets, paperwork, process and balancing the books; my concerns are about where the next piece of work is going to come from, will the last client pay, cash-flow and how to continually motivate my staff.

But more and more my concerns are around making my business simpler to run, yet more effective. I want the lifestyle that I feel my business success merits – a nice house and a nice car and the time to enjoy them and my family.

Second, I want you to understand business.

Business is not simply about money – accountants and bankers often seem to think that it is! Business is about people; employing and motivating people, getting people to buy from you and getting people to buy from. Business is about sales and marketing and about delivering your service or product.

And business is about passion and dreams and thrills and disappointments – it is a way of life, you don’t work to live – you live to work. Playing the devil’s advocate, a ‘passionate accountant’ is an oxymoron… like fighting for peace or fun run!

But more and more my concerns are about getting my senior team singing from the same hymn sheet – working as a team and leaving me alone to do what I am good at and what I should be doing to run the business.

Third, I want you to understand my business.

I have specific problems – problems that are specific to my industry, to my market and to the way that I run my business. You should know this and be able to assist with specific industry-related support! But really I want you to add value – tell me what the accounts mean and tell me what options I have – I want a partner in my business!

More and more I want to work with someone who has bothered to do their homework. Don’t palm me off with some half-baked scaled-down version of what you sell to the blue chips; and don’t try and flog me the ‘lite’ version you usually sell to the start-ups and wannabes.

Fourth, I want swift action.

I will accept most of the output from you. The systems and procedures in most accountants and banks appear to be relatively similar so I will accept whatever calculations are made.

What I want, I believe, is relatively simple. I want the service to live up to the promise. How about guaranteed Service Level Agreements, eg to turn around all work within 14 days or your money back! – My last accountant took 14 months to deliver year-end accounts even though they were given all the information within three weeks of the year-end. What was going on there!

Fifth, I want to know what I am paying for and I want to know how much I am going to pay.


If they charge by the hour then surely they are incentivised to work slowly. Other professional service firms (architects, dentists, doctors) work to a price, so why can’t you? Surely fixed price agreements would incentivise them to work more efficiently!

All I want is for someone like you to understand me, understand business, understand my business, give me information when promised and explain how you charge.

And what is more, I am willing to pay for the service if I have to – if mobile phones can charge a series of tariffs for different service/product mixes then why can’t you do the same?

I think that my requirements are relatively straightforward and I would welcome the opportunity to work with someone like you who can satisfy my simple requirements.

PS  A Happy Ending – at last I have found my Prince Charming, my Knight in Shining Armour… certainly no stereotype… and they all lived happily ever after.

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Robert Craven

About Robert Craven

Robert Craven shows MDs and owners how to grow their sales and profits and focuses on how to do this in recessionary times. His latest book is the runaway success “Beating the Credit Crunch – survive and thrive in the current recession” He is a keynote speaker and the author of business best-seller ‘Kick-Start Your Business’ (foreword by Sir Richard Branson) and runs The Directors’ Centre, helping growing businesses to grow. For further information, contact Robert Craven on 01225 851044 [email protected]

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