How Small Businesses Can Outmanoeuvre the Behemoths

Published on
23/11/2023 03:32 PM
small businesses

By Deirdre Byrne, Head of UK & Ireland at Slack 

In a world of global business, multinational mergers and intense competition for customers, it can be easy for small business leaders to feel the deck is stacked against them. Despite making up 99% of the UK’s companies, these organisations face challenges that have only grown in recent years - from squeezed cash flows to strains on securing talent. Meanwhile, bigger competitors reap the benefits that come with economies of scale. 

However, smaller organisations do have some advantages over the business behemoths. First and foremost is agility. If the multinationals are cargo ships taking hours to change course, smaller businesses are lightweight speedboats ready to run rings around them. 

Maintaining that pace requires the right mindset and tools. So, what exactly do these Davids need in their pocket in order to stand up against the Goliaths today? 

Acting with agility  

Being a smaller business doesn’t guarantee agility. It takes the right mindset - one that prioritises responsiveness, impact and improvement. In practice for leaders, that means empowering managers and employees with greater decision-making powers, boosting access to information and data across the organisation and increasing transparency in communication. 

This isn’t always easy. Letting go of the reins after nurturing a business can feel like a big risk. Yet Harvard Business Review notes that overly responsible leaders can end up feeling overloaded and overwhelmed. Moving power to the front line not only enables teams to move faster, but it frees-up leadership to focus on strategic work without getting bogged down in too many details. 

A big part of this requires using the right tools. And that starts with moving work out of emails and inboxes. Today, the average employee is drafting 99 emails every week - and 40% argue that they feel bogged down by these kinds of menial tasks. By moving work into a productivity platform where channels make it easy to search and share knowledge across the business. In a channel, everyone who needs to be in the know has the latest updates, documents can be easily shared and leaders can track progress informally. That means managers and other employees can get on with the work at hand, while still being able to call on the cavalry when needed. 

Let’s take Sasha, a theoretical founder of a small business, as an example. Sasha wants to update her whole organisation, and coordinate closely with her senior team. She has a couple of channels that help here. In an all-hands channel she shares a regular video update with the full team, who can jump in and watch when it works for them. Meanwhile, using a leadership channel, she can coordinate strategy input from all department leads, and then hop on a quick audio-only call to iron out the details. All of this - even that quick call - takes place in the channels housed in one productivity platform.

In contrast, another leader, Sandeep helms a bigger business that hasn’t updated their collaboration strategy in years. They rely on email. Videos are a pain to attach so he sticks with bullet pointed updates that the wider business largely ignores. Meanwhile, aligning the senior team takes at least two weeks of back and forth on diary invites, and that’s before considering the struggle to get timely input on the strategy doc he emailed out. Work grinds practically to a halt - while Sasha’s races ahead.  

Accelerating work with automation and AI  

With the right mindset and a platform that enables smooth and transparent collaboration between teams, small businesses have the bones of an agile approach. However, to make that agility truly future-proof calls for the latest technology - including AI and automation. 

AI and automation can further accelerate the work going on in small businesses - removing the drag of repetitive processes and empowering employees to focus on the work they care about. Further, those AI helpers and automations can be plugged directly into the channels where work is already taking place. 

Returning to Sasha, she can set up an automation reminding her team to input into a quarterly report, or which flags up a new request from finance that needs approval - without teams needing to ping her directly. Meanwhile, with AI she can further accelerate how she stays across the latest updates, simply asking an AI assistant to provide a quick summary. Not only does this mean rapid access to answers built on data that can be trusted (as it already exists in the organisation) but it also means Sasha doesn’t need to keep asking teams for reports. Everyone moves faster.  

In this way, small business leaders like Sasha can use AI to put further pep in the step of their businesses. 

Moving forward faster 

In a competitive world, small business leaders need to run with every advantage they can. And the biggest of these is an ability to be nimble - their secret weapon when it comes to fending off larger competitors. 

Maximising that agility calls for both the right mindset, and the right toolset. With each in hand, leaders can empower teams to move faster and reduce the busywork that comes with leadership. And with automations, AI helpers and a central platform for collaboration, all of this can be done while maintaining the bird’s eye view they need to keep that speedboat zipping through the waves ahead.  


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