Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are facing two key challenges at the same time; one is to digitally transform to keep up with their competition, and the other is trying to scale up in order to become a bigger, more successful organisation.

While digital transformation is something that has been talked about for years, scaling up an SMB has always been something that small businesses are striving to do. However, with digital transformation increasingly enabling business scalability, it’s worth considering what steps SMBs must take if they are to truly grow their business.

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In a recent IDG-Dell Survey of IT decision makers (ITDMs) from small businesses, less than a quarter (24%) of ITDMs said that nothing was preventing their business from scaling up, suggesting that the remaining majority of SMBs still have a number of hurdles they need to overcome.

We delve into what these challenges are, and how SMBs can overcome them.

 1. Talent: recruitment and training

The obstacle that was selected the most by ITDMs was ‘limited human resources in regard to skills and staff’ (38%).

It is worth analysing which skills are still necessary within your business – digital transformation should make your needs very different to what they once were. Efficiencies made in some areas can then help you to invest in talent in areas where your business may be lacking.

Sometimes this may require a new approach to recruitment altogether; attracting talent with the right skills isn’t easy and lengthy application forms and processes are likely to put high-calibre candidates off. There is also the option of training existing staff with the skills necessary to help with continuity in the business. 

2. Cultural impact

Cultural change is a big part of digital transformation, and it can actually help businesses to scale too.

Culture/legacy thinking from senior management (12%) was another factor cited as stopping SMBs from scaling. Often people think about changing the way people work in a business but don’t think about senior management needing to change their attitudes and strategies too. Without buy-in from senior management, there is little chance of real change, and the opportunity to scale-up can be lost. 

 3. Replacing legacy tech with more efficient, more valuable alternatives

Softer issues -- such as skills, attitudes and culture -- are a core part of business change, but this doesn’t mean that the technology an SMB has should stay still. In fact, legacy IT infrastructure (8%) was cited by ITDMs as a factor stopping them from scaling their businesses – but luckily, they’re acting on this; according to IDC’s Worldwide Semi-annual SMB Spending Guide, total SMB IT spending is predicted to grow by 4.9% in 2018, reaching almost $602bn globally.

So, what should you consider spending that money on? Automation and analytics could help SMBs to become better at recruitment, while improving public cloud platforms could increase efficiency, providing more time for employees to focus on scaling up the business. In the study, SMBs said they were deploying and testing a range of emerging technologies, including data analytics (52%), IoT (38%), AI/machine learning (34%) and containers/microservices (30%).

However, it’s critical for SMBs to ensure that the business is looking at outcomes first, and then deciding which technology can help them. If the outcome is to scale up, then AI may be more suitable than IoT, for instance.

 4. Better use of data

While larger enterprises are hiring Chief Data Officers to manage the huge plethora of data at their disposal, SMBs may not have the same luxury (or budget).

This doesn’t mean the data cannot be better managed though. New technologies can help SMBs to make more of their data, enabling them to provide better customer experiences, and perhaps even helping those ITDMs who said that a limited customer base (18%) was stopping them from scaling their business to grow their number of customers.

With better use of data, existing customers are more likely to be retained and new customers will be better targeted. Subsequently, this could lead to a larger customer base and ultimately a larger, more successful business.

5. A trusted partner and advisor

When asked what one thing would help their business to grow or innovate, only four percent said a trusted third-party vendor would aid them.

This suggests that many organisations have either not considered a third-party or would rather try to implement change themselves. However, looking at the four points above, to truly scale up there would be merit in being advised by trusted third parties – particularly because SMBs often need tailored solutions which cannot be purchased ‘off the shelf’.

Personalised solutions may also help to get buy-in from senior management, as the company can decide how it wants the products and services to fit within the business, while an external expert’s views could help senior management to adjust their attitudes and legacy culture. Furthermore, a partner could also help SMBs to find the talent necessary and ensure that the emerging technologies it's looking to deploy can be integrated, providing actual business value.

With over 30 years of experience in helping small businesses to thrive, Dell is dedicated to creating the products and services your business requires. We offer a personal level of partnership for peace of mind that your technology will perform the way you need, even as your business evolves.

By working with Dell Small Business Advisors, you can support your small business with industry-leading expertise, modern technologies and 24/7 support, with all of this offered through fast, efficient and understanding financing.

Through our support, you can focus on what really matters -- driving business growth and innovation.

If you would like to find out more about how Dell can help you achieve true business scalability, please visit Dell Small Business Central.