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3 ways brands can play a big part in the small business hub

SMEs have their own unofficial club. Earnest suggest three ways big brands can secure an invitation

A strong network is the lifeblood of a small business – and brands need to be part of it. Which means getting in the trenches and understanding life on the frontline for a small business owner. It’s about seeing how they can support them, not sell to them. It’s about prioritising relationships over acquisition. 

We look at three ways brands can ‘think small’ and join the unofficial SME club. 

1. Support SME networking events – or better still, start your own 

When you work in corporate, chances are you’re nostril-deep in networking opportunities. When you’re small business owner – particularly if you operate outside of a large town or city – you have to do more of the heavy-lifting yourself and get involved in running or supporting events, soaking up time you don’t have.

Netty Reddish co-owns Shop Reddish, a wood and metal-working shop in the Peak District. For Netty, networking has been crucial for growing the business: “I used to think networking was for people with nothing to do – but now it’s an essential part of business.”

Netty’s wife and business partner, Marlene, believed not enough was being done to facilitate networks for small businesses, so she set up a local networking group for SMEs. The group meets on the top floor of a pub to discuss the challenges they’re wrestling with, and share know-how on everything from product packaging to accounting software. “The key ingredient to small business success is doing it together, alone.”

The takeaway

Small businesses are crying out for help. Brands can embed themselves in SME networks by providing hands-on support.

  • Offer a space for a small business group to meet. 
  • Get your in-house experts to run workshops on things like IT and accounting. 
  • Draw on your relationships with other businesses to help grow the network. 

And never forget you’re there to help, not sell.

2. Understand the fine margin between success and failure

Suppose you supply an SME. Over the course of a year you make 100 deliveries, and 99 arrive bang on time. Then the SME ditches you for a competitor.

If you’re wondering why, maybe you don’t appreciate just how finely balanced the small business ecosystem is. That one late delivery can throw an SME’s whole operation into chaos – and put a big dent in their reputation. 

Monty George and Dan Beckles run Furniture Box, a furniture company that imports and sells flat-pack furniture online. It’s an international business that brought in over a million pounds of revenue in its first year – all from a small warehouse.

On the surface, it’s a simple business model. Monty and Dan choose a series of flat-packed products from a supplier in China, get the furniture shipped over, sell it on eBay and other sites, then ship to customers when orders come in.

Behind the scenes, things are a little more complicated. The business relies on a network of 10 different suppliers in China, as well as three delivery partners, accountants, currency brokers, insurance brokers and vendors – as well as their key channel partners who they sell through. 

In effect, this network of partners is the business. Success hinges on partners and suppliers who are helpful, trustworthy and reliable – and ultimately see Furniture Box as an extension of their own business. Unsurprisingly, Monty and Don are very picky about who they partner with. 

The takeaway

To partner with an SME is to be a vital cog in a machine. Fail to deliver and the whole operation grinds to a halt.

  • Do exactly what you say you’ll do.
  • Never over-promise.
  • Check you’re meeting expectations. 

And remember, what seems a minor blip to you could be a relationship-ending fail to a small business owner. 

3. Get involved with local communities 

Small businesses won’t go far without the support of family, friends and the local community. When Rob Broadbent arrived from Australia and set up Lynwood & Co, a coffee shop and food outlet in Lechlade, Gloucestershire, he relied on a keen sense of community to get the business off the ground.

“The best bit about growing Lynwood has been the support from the local community. They have been so supportive, from spreading the word of the shop, to helping me out wherever they can, to just their regular custom.

“And in turn I have tried to give something back. We buy our meat from the local butcher who comes in to buy his coffee, and all of the bread we sell in the shop is from a friend down the road.”

Lynwood is now a social hub for the community, as well as a place for local businesses to network.

The takeaway

It’s hard for big business to earn the trust of local communities. But not impossible. It just takes a different approach.

  • Drop the corporate talk – nothing alienates people quicker. 
  • Humanise your brand – do your bit on the ground and support local events. 
  • Help SMEs connect – look at how you can bring small businesses together so they can learn from each other. 

A brand that’s sensitive to a local community’s needs is far more likely to win the respect of small business owners – a solid foundation for any long-term relationship

Think Small: How to market to small businesses

In this marketing success pack, B2B Marketing and Earnest offer advice, opinion and first-hand experiences of targeting and engaging small businesses owners.

Learn how to target small business owners

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