Monday, 17 August 2015

Not so typical: advice about advice for SMEs

The space Aistemos occupies in the social media -- in particular Twitter and the blogosphere -- is a territory which it shares with many businesses and individuals whose interest lies in data: where it comes from, how reliable it is and how current, how to interpret it and how to present it in a manner that can be easily understood. We read each other's comments, follow each other's exploits, ponder each other's thoughts and dutifully click each other's links in search of insight and enlightenment.

One theme that many contributors to the innovation-information-investment zone address is the provision of advice to small and medium-sized enterprises -- SMEs. Some of this advice is well-intentioned and of good quality; some is frankly nothing other than blatant marketing material with the letters 'SME' scattered through it in an attempt to drum up interest or establish one's SME-friendly credentials.  Most of it is somewhere between.  

The fact that it's bait doesn't
mean it can't be attractive, but ...
Readers will be familiar with the format of what one might call typical SME bait. There's often a title along the lines of "Five things every SME should know about Big Data", "Three biggest mistakes SMEs make when promoting innovation", "Ten things your SME backer wants to hear from you" and so on.  The text is usually bland, written at a level of generality that ensures that every statement in it is bound to be correct in one context or another, and leads to an invitation -- express or implicit -- to contact the author for further information, advice or assistance.

Things might be better if those of us who choose to go down the path of pumping out "SME advice" think about the following points before they take their next step:
  • The typical SME wants guidance and advice when it feels the need for it or is worried about the lack ot it -- not when people want to offload it on to it.
  • The typical SME does not have any organised system for organising, arranging and consulting the various items of commercial, legal and marketing information that it picks up in the course of its activities.
  • The typical SME does not have the time and the resources to study closely the information it receives and to read it carefully to identify points at which the information it receives either corroborates or contradicts earlier information and advice.
  • The typical SME is not automatically guaranteed to be sensitive to the geographical footprint of the advice on offer: is it global, US-oriented (the default position for some writers), EU-derived or based elsewhere?
  • The typical SME assumes that information received from a reliable source is reliable and may not be immediately sensitive to changes in business practice, technology or legislation which mean that it has passed its use-by date.
  • The typical SME relies in a smaller corps of key staff than the typical large corporation. This means that, when any significant employee or officer leaves, a disproportionate amount of corporate memory and wisdom may depart at the same time.
  • The typical SME does not necessarily appreciate the patronising tone of some of the advice that heads its way. One doesn't often spot articles headed "Five Things Your Multinational Corporation Doesn't Know About Innovation".
  • The typical SME does not depend on Tweets and promotional blogposts in order to make its major decisions any more than you do, and may be just as unimpressed by lavish illustrations and informatics, banks of embedded links, and lofty pronouncements of 140 characters or less as you are.
Most importantly:
  • The typical SME does not actually exist: it's a handy concept that lets us generalise our advice whereas in reality every SME is a special case, with its own facts, its own assets, advantages and problems. 
None of this is to say that we shouldn't be supplying information, marketing services and generally being nice to SMEs (or anyone else for that matter). We should, and we all will. But let's try to be a bit more sensitive to their needs -- and their feelings -- at the same time.


  1. Hear, hear. Those numbered lists have become one of the most tedious cliches of our times. In fact, they come out number 7 in my list of 10 top things to avoid if you want to impress prospective clients :-)

  2. Those lists are addictive and can't be resisted. You always click through to them just in case you missed something. You have to.

  3. See also

  4. Looking at the Twitter accounts followed by @aistemos I think these objectionable lists have proliferated since you posted this. How long will it be before you're doing them too :-;