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3 Essential Strategies for SME Success in 2023: Navigating Challenges with Confidence

Welcome to Take an Aspirin, the Business Leaders' newsletter from Aspirin Business Solutions! This is a 3-per-month release containing our best practices, tools, and advice to help build Strong Businesses, Motivated Teams, and Confident Leaders.

With turbulent times set to continue globally, 2023 & 2024 may be ‘Sliding Door’ years, when the businesses that successfully navigate their challenges take a very different path to those that don’t. In this challenging environment, leaders must be ambitious, resilient AND empathetic. Those who’ve worked on their own personal and professional development will leap ahead, without the personal cost. With higher costs of living, rapid change and disempowering stories in the media, these are stressful times.

But, if we help our people thrive through their work, they will grow, perform and become their best selves. Being part of a motivated team is critical to this, and to both performance and retention.

  • Week 1: Stronger Business

  • Week 2: Confident Leaders

  • Week 3: Motivated Teams


In a rush? Read the Executive Summary:

  1. With turbulent times set to continue globally, 2023 & 2024 may be ‘Sliding Door’ years, when the businesses that successfully navigate their challenges take a very different path to those that don’t.

  2. Be Strategic: When the majority of SME businesses don’t have a written Business Plan, being strategic has never been more important. Business has never been less normal.

  3. Develop a Track Record of Results: The role of leaders is to lead their team into unchartered waters, be it through growth, AI or a sale. Track records give our teams the confidence to follow us into the unknown.

  4. Apply Best Practice: There are countless ways to be creative in our businesses now, but this must be balanced with profitable growth. So implement proven best practice to avoid reinventing the wheel.


Be Strategic:

In the ‘old days’, it was fairly easy for businesses to achieve 10 – 20% increases in turnover each year, without needing a plan. They recruited as required and expanded. However, with rapidly changing external factors like inflation, the cost of borrowing, supply chain issues, and the reliability of employees, it’s far harder to achieve this growth, let alone ensure it’s profitable growth.

Having a Business Plan means thinking it through – what do we want, where will we get the extra business from, what does that mean for our buildings, machinery, staffing, etc., and where will we get the money to fund it. It doesn’t need to be a huge document. It does need to be a working plan that the leadership gets behind and uses as their North Star – a way of navigating their path and recognising when they’re so off track that they need a new plan.

Being strategic also means looking for the root causes, rather than trying to treat the symptoms. It means nipping issues in the bud, including underperforming team members, poor payers, a declining market or prices from new competitors, or because our customers have less money to spend.

Develop a Track Record of Results:

The role of leaders is to lead their team into uncharted waters, be it through growth, AI, or a sale. It’s to transform that uncertainty into certainty, into a vision of a bright future with a plan that we can all follow. Leaders need people to want to follow them into these uncharted waters, because they have faith in the leader.

Why would people have the faith to follow us? To invest their career in doing so? It’s because of our track record. Our track record of achievement and of how we treat people. Our reputation, what others think of us, is based upon that track record. So how do we develop that track record?

It's rare for a leader to become a leader without some track record of commercial and technical success. So let's focus on their people skills instead. The key attributes we look for in a leader we will willingly follow into the unknown are how they treat others. It’s the consistency of their behaviour, rather than being a ‘nice person’. We’ll willingly follow a difficult leader into battle if we know they have a fantastic track record of success, although we may not stay for long. It’s the flip-flopping between being nice and being nasty that presents the challenge, that creates a stressful working environment – being drawn in and spat out.

Leaders rarely have Development Reviews themselves, but most insist on providing them for their teams. Does that mean that Leaders don’t need development, that they’ve reached the pinnacle of enlightenment?

Sadly not, especially in a world that’s changing faster than ever, requiring them to adapt their business and themselves to meet the changing needs of their customers, teams, and stakeholders. So, it’s important that leaders find ‘mirrors’ that reveal both their strengths and areas for development. These mirrors might be their colleagues, but that can provide a limited and biased perspective. They might be external business mentors or leadership groups. They might be profiling tools, like Motivational Maps, diagnostics, or Leadership Development Programmes.

In our last Leadership Gym, our members completed a Leadership Diagnostic. The results enabled our Members to problem-solve their shared Areas for Development, generating both new solutions and commitment. You can complete this diagnostic here.

Apply Best Practice:

One of the characteristics of entrepreneurs is their ability and desire to break out, to forge new ground and find gaps in the market. That’s admirable and aligns with the Spirit motivator in Motivational Maps. However, there soon comes a time when we need to stop forging new ground and, instead, apply best practice. When we need to focus more on procedures, ways of working, and consistency. I can feel our entrepreneurs shudder at the thought – and that’s okay. They are probably not the best people to do this work. That’s why they need a team with different motivators and strengths.

Innovating, finding the newest, shiniest thing can be fascinating. And today, especially with AI, there are countless ways to be creative in our businesses now, but this must be balanced with profitable growth.

Systems like ISO 9000 are fantastic for creating those best practices. In our previous business, we were inspired by the E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber. My father and I read the small book on a skiing holiday, and then implemented our Business Operating System. It was a fantastic system that tracked our work from Enquiry to Quote, from Quote to Win, from Win to Project Completion. It enabled us to speak with our team, find out what they did, why they did it, find the best ways and document it. We later tied our SHEQ (3 ISO standards) into our BOS, and it saved us many thousands of pounds when we inadvertently blew up a heat exchanger during testing on a site. Our written methodology reassured our insurers that it was a genuine claim.

So implement proven best practice to avoid reinventing the wheel, especially your own best practice that’s got you here and incorporates the best work of your marvellous team.

The coming years present an opportunity for SMEs to redefine their paths. It's about adapting, evolving, and emerging stronger, not just in spite of the challenges we face, but because of them. Let's embrace these strategies, not just as tools for survival, but as stepping stones to a future where our businesses don’t just survive, but thrive.


Take an Aspirin - Building Stronger Businesses

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P.S. Don't miss the chance to further refine your business acumen by taking our fast and free Business Healthcheck. Simply click the link, complete the diagnostic, and if you're interested, tick the 'Contact Me' box at the end for a personalised follow-up.


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