SME Business Tips – Different Perspectives

sme tips

Something which I’m asked on a regular basis from my clients in the SME sector is what would your top five tips be . 

So I’ve asked this question of a number of business leaders recently from all different backgrounds with a focus on SME and innovation to give their top five tips for SME owners to help them succeed. 

CPA Ireland, one of Ireland’s leading accountancy bodies is focused on SMEs, entrepreneurship, innovation and has a number of business tools available to SME owners to help them in their business .

Please find attached a link to the department of Finance which shows what supports are available for SMEs which is an interesting spread sheet.

SME Matrix Dept of Finance

An Education perspective ….University College Cork 

JB McCarthy - UCCJB McCarthy – Development Director
Financial Services Innovation Centre, UCC, Cork.

You might want to let people know that the Enterprise Ireland call for €5K Innovation Vouchers is open at present. Companies can apply for a voucher to help explore a topic with a university, the only cost for the company is that they pay the VAT which they should be able to re-claim.

We have done several small projects for companies where they want to explore or innovate on their existing business model or explore new business models or see how social media might be able to build their profile.

A Legal perspective ..

Virgil Horgan, Solicitor – Hegarty & Horgan

At Hegarty & Horgan our clients come first. Our personal service ensures that we take time to listen to and understand our client’s legal requirements. When you need professional advice we are there for you. Along with the areas of practice listed on as in any General Practice there are a myriad of other problems and issues that clients require advice on and we use our experience and expertise to advise and assist our clients to find the best solutions.

1. Hire a business coach or accountant  .A third party or ‘outsider’ can help you work on your business from an objective point of view. Share your ideas and concerns of the business with a good mentor who has business experience .

2. Review your cash flow or budget plan. Very  few SME owners recognise the importance of a cash flow plan. Cashflow is critical to business survival and success .

3. Regularly review your business strategy. Identify what you want to achieve and where you want your business to be in one, two and five years’ time. Do an offsite SWOT analysis on your business with your advisor.

4. Develop a networking strategy. Most businesses benefit from networking and word-of-mouth, however, very few SME owners have a networking strategy. Be it online or attending events appropriate .

5. Make a commitment to learn more this year take the time to identify areas of your business that need work. Where do you need to improve your performance or learn new skills .Broaden your skillset .

A banking perspective …AIB Bank

Sinead O Connor-Aib KinsaleSinead O’Connor – Branch Manager of AIB Kinsale Co Cork.

Sinead is a Qualified Financial Advisor.  Given her wealth of experience, Sinead along with her team at AIB Kinsale can offer SMEs advice and guidance in relation to their financial needs from the beginning and right throughout the lifecycle of their business.

My top 5 tips for SMEs are:

1.  Know your Bank Relationship Manager and proactively engage with them throughout the year, inviting them to visit your business premises to ensure they fully understand how it works.

2.  Conduct quarterly reviews of your Business with regard to sales performance, competitors, industry analysis and the people working in your business.  If appropriate engage with external consultants to support you in this task.

3.  Review your financial statements with your Accountant/Financial Advisor to obtain a full understanding of the financial data.  In particular, establish how profitable your business is, and how much cash does it generate.  Work on areas of the business where greater efficienices can be achieved, or where margins can be improved.

4.  Consider your “unique strengths and weaknesses” and how you can use them/deal with them to your benefit.  Outline these to your Bank/Accountant to maximise the Partnership that you have with those specialists.

5.  Visit AIB’s website regularly at to avail of the full product and service offerings available to you.  In addition throughout our Branch network there are specialists available to assist you either at your place of business or at the branch in the areas of Financial Planning, Leasing and Hire Purchase, Credit and Internet Banking.

A political perspective ..

Aine CollinsAine Collins TD

1.Seek Mentoring Support – look at all the options that are out there…. ie. Enterprise Ireland, leader, etc.  “I know that  the various supports available can seem complicated  to wade through but this is something I’m working on with the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.

Hopefully we’ll have a more streamlined approach to state supported mentoring services by the end of this year.  However I can’t stress enough how helpful mentoring can be for a business.  It’s so useful to have someone who knows the ropes and has the expertise to act as a guide and confident.

2. Review Yourself – are you doing  what you are really good at for your own business?  Often entrepreneurs set up a business because there’s a certain aspect of it they love and are really good at – they then end up doing things that go with running a business that they really don’t like.  Do what you are really good at – and make sure you’ve really good people to do the other bits!

3. Review Your Business – make sure you’re really clear where you want your business to go.   Develop a business plan if you don’t have one & if you do, then take it down from the shelf, dust it off and review it objectively.  Then you’ll probably need to re-write it or at the very least modify it!  A plan must be reviewed and adjusted regularly – we need to plan, but as they say ‘the best laid plans….’, so review and monitoring is also key.  Keep the vision clear.

4. Messaging – what is your message, are people hearing it and do they understand it?  And review this both internally and externally.  Do you really know what your own message is?  Do your staff?  If you’re not all really clear on what your business is all about then you’ll all find it difficult to communicate this to your customer.  And the message also needs to be reviewed regularly to incorporate new changes within your business, be it new products or services, or changes in external market forces.

5. Be Brave.  Sometimes its really easy to stay in our comfort zones and be wary of taking a risk.  So every so often we all need to take a deep breath and jump!  This could be anything from taking on new staff, delegating more or deciding to expand your business.   Again, on this one, I’d really recommend a mentor – its great to have someone else to bounce ideas off.  And they can help give us the confidence and focus on the priorities to achieve the goal.

Áine Collins TD
Fine Gael, Cork North West

A Branding perspective …

Gerard TannamGerard is CEO of Islandbridge Brand Development

Branding is all about relationships. These are the five things you can do to make your mark with customers:

  1. Meet Regularly With Customers: Spend time with those who buy from you to find out more about them and what part they want you to play in their lives (but make sure there’s no selling agenda during those meetings / conversations).
  2. Network: Get out there and meet people. This can be face-to-face at industry seminars, general business events or dedicated referral opportunities or via the wide range of social media that is now available to the business owner.
  3. Be An Expert: Customers love to deal with people who really know their stuff. Be generous with your knowledge and experience. Become the go-to person in your area. If you can, publish.
  4. Gather Testimonials: Nothing succeeds like your prospective customer knowing that someone else happily bought from you. Invite your customers to offer testimonials and include these in exchanges with prospects and elsewhere in your market when you can.
  5. Engage The Right Team: It’s vital that everyone working for you plays their part and is consistently on-brand. Gather the expert resources you need and check that they have the right attitude as well as the know-how to work closely with you to deliver your brand.

A Regulators perspective…

Muireann O NeillMuireann O’Neill – CIT

Muireann O’Neill is employed by Cork Institute of technology, lectures in accountancy and is recognised as one of Ireland’s leading auditing and management accounting lecturers. Muireann also holds directorships in Inland Fisheries Ireland (‘IFI’) and the Irish Auditing and Accounting Supervisory Authority (‘IAASA’).

My approach to Business is a follows:

1. Ensure compliance with Law and Regulation. If you don’t know what is needed, engage an expert and don’t leave it to chance. You never know who may come knocking if you are not compliant.

2. Pay attention to RISK. Failure to do so can cause irreparable damage to the reputation of a business. Reputations take years to build and moments to lose. Risk awareness should be embedded within an organisation’s processes, culture and systems. Organisations should have a risk policy statement and maintain a risk register.

3. Successful business people view TIME as their most precious resource. Each day they list what’s most important (rather than just most urgent) and make sure they do it. Bill Gates has said that being acutely aware of the value of his time is one of the most significant factors in his success

4. Set goals in writing and then remind yourself of these goals every morning. Research has shown that this approach can make you over 30 times as likely to succeed.

5. Don’t be one of life’s best keep secrets. Be noticed and create a bit of noise.

What are your 5 Tips?

Cormac Fitzgerald - Fitzgerald & PartnersCormac Fitzgerald FCPA is the owner of Fitzgerald and Partners and is Vice President of CPA Ireland

Fitzgerald and Partners are SME Business Advisory, Accountants and Auditors located in Kinsale in Cork