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SMEs: The pick and mix alternative

by Gary Gerrard, marketing and communications consultant

Forrest Gump spoke of life being like a box of chocolates. Admittedly, he goes on to say that you never know what you’re going to get, which suggests that he never bothered looking at the card or on the side of the box that clearly identifies what all the chocolates are.

However, ignoring the erroneous reasoning, the first part of his metaphor stands: Life is like a box of chocolates. You have your favourites, the ones that you’re happy to give away, and the ones that get left there until they’re thrown, still stuck in the box, into the recycling.

All this begs the question, was it worth buying the big box of chocolates in the first place to tuck into a handful of those you really wanted, while the rest are surplus to requirements?

You may be asking: What has this got to do with consulting? Simple. As SMEs, rather than trying to capture everything we can possibly do, we concentrate our efforts at a more specialist, niche level, providing a smaller number of services that we are exceptionally good at. We target the sectors and markets that would best benefit from these services. Where additional skills or expertise is needed, we tend to have a list of other SMEs that we regularly call upon to provide those additional resources, extending our capacity and widening our range, all while retaining our individual identities and specialisms.

A box of chocolates. You can have the strawberry ones.

This may seem a little complicated at first glance. Surely it would be easier to go for the ‘box of chocolates’ option and take what you need? You may be right, but easier isn’t always the better option. There are many advantages of this pick and mix way of working:

The right people, every time

As individual SMEs, we don’t have the strength in depth to take on each and every contract we’d like to, especially as separate companies. We need to be more selective, so we only tender for bids for which we know we can put out our strongest possible teams. These teams will always have the right people with the right skills. Where we don’t have them in our ranks or if they’re not available at the time, we will team up with one of our trusted partners who do have those people available. You will only ever get an ‘A-team’ from SMEs. We don’t have the luxury of doing otherwise. Every single contract we get is important to our ongoing survival. Throwing a junior in at the deep end so they can learn their trade is a gamble we cannot, would not, ever take.

Client first, every time

You are important to us. If we make the right impression, we know you may extend our contracts or come back to us next time you need our skills. Doing a good job may lead to you recommending us across your network, which will lead to more work. Yes, we know this should be standard behaviour regardless, but for us it’s embedded. We go above and beyond to make sure everything is as it needs to be. This doesn’t mean we’ll act like an obedient dog. Our reputation depends on getting it right, and if that means ruffling a few feathers and pointing out where you’re doing something wrong, we do so. Being nice and helpful is in our nature, but so is the check and challenge.

Right price, every time

We cost less than the major players in our arena for several reasons. Firstly, SMEs have cheaper overheads and fewer people sat ‘on the bench’ waiting for their next role, so we have less outlay to cover when pricing our bids.

What’s more, even those of us who work together regularly are still competing for your attention. Our pricing structures reflect this. We want your business, and the healthy competition between those with whom we have an established relationship means you reap the benefits of a reduced cost. This isn’t being cutthroat. This is business at the other end of the management consulting scale. We provide all the skills you need, and more, but for less money than you may have expected.

Right place, every time

While we, as smaller companies, tend to concentrate our efforts within a manageable radius, our collective reach extends across the UK and beyond, and we’re not afraid to use it. Most of us have an extensive resource backlog of associates we can call upon at a moment’s notice. Also, relationships between other SME consultancies are good and well maintained. We never know when we may be able to step in and help each other, so we will always find a way to address your needs. whatever you need, wherever you may be.

Make your choice

On top of all the reasons above, there’s now a government-led commitment to use 33% SMEs directly, or via the supply chain, by 2022.

So, which would you rather have? All your favourite Lindt chocolates, but at half the price because we’ve forgone all the expensive packaging by opting for a non-branded, recyclable paper bag. Or, the full box of Celebrations, packaging and all, with only a couple of Galaxy, too many Snickers, and half a box full of Bounty to be thrown out at the end?

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