SME Strategy Tips From Business Academics

They’re the experts who design the frameworks we use each day, let’s see what tips they have for SMEs…✅

6 min read

Strategy Tips Book

There are a lot of frameworks to help you with your strategy. SWOT, PESTLE Analysis, ADL, SOAR, TOWS, and many more are used in strategic planning day to day. You may well be using some of these in your own work today.

Each framework is developed by strategy academics, individuals who research this topic extensively. They are at the cutting edge of thinking around business strategy.

So what would their single strategy tip be for companies? Let’s take a look at some…

The Strategy Tips

To me the most important thing to the is to be an active networker. Not only networking a lot, but in particular networking smart. So not adding similar type of people in your network, but really getting in touch with people with different backgrounds. Often this implies going out of your comfort zone, as it is easier to communicate with ‘similar’ people.
Professor Tom Elfring, University of Liverpool, UK

Keep the strategic logic simple and really try to get everyone involved in creating and sharing the story.
Professor Donald MacLean, University of Glasgow, UK

All the big companies are obsessed with data, and SMEs need to be as well. What valuable data do you have (or could easily collect) that would give you a unique advantage? Make sure you are collecting data from all your digital assets (including sites, apps, and social media accounts) and are regularly searching for your top performers.
Professor Jonathan P Allen, University of San Francisco, USA

Networking is a much as art as a science. Success often depends on making the first move.
Professor Paul Manning, University of Chester, UK

Developing new or leveraging existing capabilities was at the core of the change process and led to the intensive development of strategic initiatives across the organization. (Canales, 2015: page29)
Professor J. Ignacio Canales, University of Aberdeen, UK

By working with stakeholders to develop legitimate norms, companies can create business opportunities that are sustainable because they are responsible by design.
Assistant Professor, Gastón de los Reyes, GW School of Business, USA

Open up your strategy, include frontline employees, customers, and experts. You will get better ideas and smoother implementation.
Professor Christian Stadler, University of Warwick, UK

Successful small businesses tend to network with others and aim at international markets; the former contributes to sales growth and the latter to profitability.
Assoc Professor Mika Westerlund, Carleton, Canada

Strategy implementation should be based on two pillars; talent and flexibility. A clear and coherent strategy should be based on engaging and leveraging the distinctive talent in your organisation. However, this strategy also needs to be flexible, and agility to changing circumstances is a central ingredient for continued success.
Dr. Kieran Conroy, University of Belfast, Ireland

When leading strategic change, ensure that there is alignment between structure, processes and values. Failure to do so will lead to any implementation progress being short-lived and/or decoupled from ongoing operations.
Professor John Amis, University of Edinburgh, UK

If it’s a family business, there’s a great book called Strategic Planning for the Family Business by Carlock & Ward.
Professor Shahzad Ansari, University of Cambridge, UK

My advice is simply to Network, network and network and leverage networks and relationships created.
Professor Nicholas O’Regan, Aston University, UK

Make everybody in the company aware of what your goals are. As soon as you have a strategy, share it with your employees.
Dr. Monica Masucci, University of Sussex, UK

Know who you are – Forging a clear and attractive identity is crucial for start-ups and new ventures (“What kind of organization are you? How are you going to be different from other organizations like you?”), and important for small business in general, who often rely on differentiated niche positions to compete with more resourced, more efficient, more powerful competitors. For all these organizations, having a clear view of the unique product or service that they bring to the market, and the unique culture that is to support their operations (and new recruits have to buy into) may be essential to survive in a crowded competitive space.
Professor Davide Ravasi, UCL, UK

Taking some inspiration from Daniel Kahneman, I think one aspect that frequently occurs with SMEs is the need to think and act fast – however I would recommend thinking slow, but acting fast instead. Balancing your instincts with some evidence (derived analytically) really helps to ground your decisions and may save you from making (bad) strategic decisions (some of which turn out to be more tactical than strategic anyway).
Professor Amir M. Sharif, University of Bradford, UK

A strategy is a credible schema for attaining advantage.
Dr James Fowler, University of Essex, UK

SMEs can outperform big business in innovation, flexibility and value for money in public sector contracts if they were only given a chance…. Strategic public procurement can change the entire negative environment for SMEs fighting for a share in public markets and allow for their sustainable growth.
Professor Christopher Bovis, University of Hull, UK

The capacity of an organization to capitalize on its middle managers’ strategizing capabilities will depend on the extent to which the latter are included in the strategy-making process right from the start. (Canales, 2013: page 513)
Professor J. Ignacio Canales, University of Aberdeen, UK

Strategy development is a dynamic and continuously evolving process of analysis, execution and review.
Senior Lecturer René Moolenaar, University of Sussex, UK

Customer prioritization in terms of offering important customers added “perks” can destroy profitability instead of increasing it. Telling customers that they are most important to the firm triggers entitled behaviors that result in an explosion of customer service costs. To maximize the profitability of prioritization programs, focus on benefits that are largely “silent” about customers’ status within the firm and avoid symbolic benefits that make customers feel like VIP.
Professor Maik Hammerschmidt, University of Göttingen, Germany

Cooperation between competitors (co-opetition) could be a beneficial business strategy, especially for SMEs, given their lack of resources and capabilities, limited market presence as well as the high risk of product development. By adopting co-opetition strategy, business firms have the opportunity to gain “first mover” advantages over other competitors, as long as they focus on the positive outcomes, such as: Creation of innovative products and services, Improvements in production methods, Access to valuable resources, Greater bargaining power over suppliers, and Increase the competitiveness of their industry.
Dorothea Kossyva, University of Piraeus, Greece

Never confuse the formulation of strategy with the implementation.
Dr James Fowler, University of Essex, UK

Canales, J. I. (2013). “Constructing Interlocking Rationales in Top-driven Strategic Renewal.” British Journal of Management 24(4): 498-514.
Canales, J. I. (2015). “Sources of Selection in Strategy Making.” Journal of Management Studies 52(1): 1-31

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