Saturday, 14 May 2011

You're Taking The S.M.E.

Received over 21,000 hits for the posting entitled "I AM NOT AN SME, YOU PATRONISING ***!" on BusinessZone - Big business and Government are hopelessly clueless about "independent businesses"


Call me what you want but the mere mention of the phrase tells me that you haven't got a clue what you are talking about. And I will not be buying from you because you have no idea about how different and varied is the independent business community.

I am happy with
  • smaller
  • independent
  • growing
  • privately-owned
  • owner-managed.
Just don't call me an SME.

Check out the video responses from the Big Boys:

More articles on this subject:
an there is also


Carl said...


Carl said...

Stop calling us entrepreneurs and 'SMEs'

Danny said...

Thank you. The big businesses simply haven't got a clue as to what is going on in a real business. There are simply no excuses for the crap way thatr the big businesses treat us smaller businesses. What is so difficult to understand about what it feels like to be running your own business?

Ann said...

It really hacks me off the way that blue chips know nothing.

Roddy said...

and I am not an SME

DavidA said...

So why are these big business employees and staff so dumb?

Hannah said...

I vote for YOU

Mptrotter said...

Nor am I an OPB!

Point nicely made

Robert Craven said...

Start-Up Britain: Business Support, What Business Support? - SYB Mag #startupbritain #notansme

Robert Craven said...

Comments from the BusinessZone article:
And don't ignore the startups.

Well said. As a startup business it has been exhausting trying to
deal with suppliers that look down on and don't understand small
businesses. The banks could do with reading this post. When I have an
ecommerce merchant account (the highest risk type of merchant account)
why does it then take 2 weeks to set up an ordinary 'customer standing
in front of me with their credit card' low risk account? Oh yes, because
it's your process. Well your process is wrong then, and old fashioned
and inefficient and probably steam-driven.

Please drag yourselves into this century and 're-engineer' your processes to be useful to your customers.

-- The Place for Petites

Robert Craven said...

All Marketers are Liars!

Good article and well put together.

As a marketing professional I must say I find number 7 on the list a
bit harsh and certainly not true of us all. I personally think when
dealing business to business that it is very important to always match a
businesses aspirations to the service or product that you are offering.
This is regardless of the size of a company, the people they employ or
the turnover they create.

It simply doesn't make sense to provide a business with a product or
service that wasn't right for them. Not only would it be damaging to
reputation as you voice your complaints to everyone you know and at
least one other but it wouldn't provide me with any long term or ongoing
value. Marketing in my mind is about developing long term relationships
and that requires knowledge, trust and understanding.

Say what you like about sales teams - they can defend themselves! :)

-- Damien Wright - Staff Development and Training

Robert Craven said...

A very good description of an SME, but in the end it's just a name.

You have summarised the description of an SME very well, how else
would you describe the successful band of small companies that means
the same? Help for small business at



Robert Craven said...

I'm not an SME....

-- Hilda Stearn, CFCIPD Director Partnership Working Ltd 01494 565206


Thought-provoking and largely accurate! Well done!!

Robert Craven said...


Cracking article, wish you wouldn't sit on the fence so much though, say what you really mean ;-)

Robert Craven said...

Small businesses

Small businesses also do not have the resources: a 40 page
contract is not a problem for a corporation with an in-house legal team,
but for a small business it's a major expense.

I think the average small business is probably better at calculating
the overall cost of operation, compared to a corporation with
compartmentalised departments.


Splice Marketing: ecommerce website design

Robert Craven said...

Valid points, but only in context...

There are some great points in this article, but worked in and
around the IT hosting services and web design industry for some time, I
notice a few things in this article that concern me slightly. 

Many customers in my experience seem to assume that an online
business is larger than it actually is and this can lead to problems,
especially when talking about service based businesses, where the client
does not fully understand the workings of the service.

I've written some more about this article on my personal blog @  


EtherClear Managed Hosting - UK Managed Hosting

Robert Craven said...


A very good article I agree with wholeheartedly

"SMEs" are not all one sized business by any means - and there
are so many different types of business with so many different aims that
it's just not right to lump us all together. We don't all want to grow-
for a start I don't want to have to employ people as I'm well aware of
all the red tape and expense that goes with it. We are talked down to
all the time as if we haven't quite made it to big business status - by
people often incapable of doing what we do or understanding it.
And as for marketeers and salespeople- we do understand when people
are trying to sell us advertising space so don't approach us with your
offers to "grow your business" and other such management rubbish. If
you're selling advertising space please just say so. If I'm interested
I want to know how much first, and then I'll ask you for what I get for
that to see if I want to. I don't want to listen to your sales spiel
when I don't want to spend any more money on advertising no matter how
great your product and I'm far too busy to waste time. And if I haven't
got the sort of cash to spend that you want then don't waste my time or
yours. Why do you think it's better to try and keep me on the phone when
I'm not interested rather than send me something through the post that I
might look at for the future when my circumstances might be different?
I'm not stupid so don't try treating me as such as you'll never get a
sale out of me, ever.
And if you have a product, why do you insist on charging me most of
the amount that you'd charge a large PLC? Why not design a product more
suited for what I need at a price I can afford instead? As others have
said banks and credit card terminal providers operated by them are
ridiculous in the way they try to stop small businesses surviving at

Posted by Rachel Battersby on Wed, 01/06/2011 - 14:19

Robert Craven said...

Big businesses and governments are totally, hopelessly clueless about small businesses, says Robert Craven

This is the first accurate representation of the world of small
business I have come across after many years operating as one and
working for and with many others.  It makes a refreshing change to the
BS served up by the various so called representative organisations we
know comprise of self serving careerist box tickers and their
corporate sponsors.  I share all of these views and probably a few more
and wish they were more publicly stated.  I will be sharing this with
pals...very validating.

Posted by woman succeeding on Wed, 01/06/2011 - 14:33

Robert Craven said...

and... also form the BUsinessZone article

So what suppliers should non-corporates use as suppliers

I totally agree with the original post, but it begs the question
who can deliver the services that small and medium sized enterprises
need in a way which meets their needs.  The challenge is that other
small and medium sized companies know how to relate to their peers but
may not have the breadth and depth of expertise needed or the
My view is that an answer lies in alliances - large communities of
multi-skilled non-corporates.   Each company within the community has
its own clients but can call upon relevant people from the community as a
whole to form a team to meet a particular need of a particular
company.   I see this as a very powerful solution as long as members of
the community are good team-workers and each task is managed by someone
with good practical project management skills. 
It could / should also be the answer to how do non-corporates win
significant business from corporates and local / national government.   

Posted by Coffeemate49 on Wed, 01/06/2011 - 14:54

Robert Craven said...


Excellent article

Well done Robert.

Your article certainly sounded like you needed to get this off your
chest! As someone who has used 'SME' previously, it will certainly make
me think twice in future.


Bold Internet - AdWords Specialist

Robert Craven said...


Great article

Its not often I take the time to comment on these kind of articles but this one struck a chord!

As well as sound advice for big companies, Robert makes a compelling
case for all small companies seeking to market and sell to small
companies, take note of his 20 thought bubbles and you are far more
likely to be successful.


Robert Craven said...


Their loss is our gain

A brilliant post. Needless to say it will fall on deaf ears.
Still while the large corporates blunder around trying to work out
why business owners aren't buying, we can profit from doing good
business with each other.

Posted by AlexMoscow on Wed, 01/06/2011 - 17:35

Robert Craven said...

ha ha ha!

Brilliant - I love this. It's so true...and beatifully written! :o)
Some fantastic thoughts in the comments section too. I also don't
think we need the corporates - we should be focusing on doing business
with each other and driving the UK's enterprises forward. We're also
more likely to get better service, better understanding, more creativity
around doing deals etc. if we work with each other.
Big deals for start-ups & small businesses

Posted by CJLarkin on Wed, 01/06/2011 - 19:02

Robert Craven said...

and also form the BusinessZone article
I don’t believe it!

Business is Business, whether it is tiny, very small, small, medium or medium-rare as long as it is well done!

I am typing this slowly as I know all of us smaller
businesses (I refuse to use the stupid acronym, as it is meaningless)
are very slow readers…

Robert covers some great points and without putting my Victor hat on I can only agree.

The question is what can we all do about it?  We
clearly have a strong, representative and powerful voice but how do we
tell those that need to know?  Answers on a postcard (or any other
modern communications method) to Mr Vince Cable.

Gary T Neal

Robert Craven said...


One hundred percent correct

 Well done Robert. Hopefully some FTSE Chairmen will be squirming
over this, though probably not. They probably don't understand what
you're talking about. However, it needed to be said. One of the key
things I always say to my students and clients consdering starting a
business is to focus your entire business on your customers. Give them
what they want when they want it at a price they can afford and of such
quality that you do not need a 'customer service centre' somewhere in SE

Posted by skazman on Sat, 04/06/2011 - 14:32

Robert Craven said...

and also on BusinessZone:

Not an SME

As an accountancy company that works entirely for "micro
businesses", to use the bank's jargon, we're well used to working with
small start-up businesses.  It's a steep learning curve for anyone who
decides to become self-employed and makes little difference what the
owner's previous experience was. There's a big difference, too between
someone starting out as a self-employed plumber and someone running a
Limited Company with 50 staff for many years, although they're both
lumped together as SMEs.
Our company tries to help new start-ups to navigate through the
rapids on the turbulent river they find themselves in, whether by
explaining what records they need to keep in what way for how long - and
what they need to watch out for - or by it's helping them to find a
supplier that they need.
If a new business owner can find a reliable mentor or"sign-poster", it can make life a bit more controlled.
In my experience, it takes quite a while for someone who is
self-employed to move on to thinking of themselves as someone who runs a
business.  It's a developing mindset as not everyone sees themself as
the next Dragon's Den panelist.
There are companies out there who actually do know what small
businesses need and can help them grow. Generally speaking, they don't
seem to be banks or government departments. Organisations like the FSB
or FPB can provide valuable support and opportunities to meet other
people who are trying to run small businesses.

Posted by wirralmersey on Thu, 09/06/2011 - 18:19

Robert Craven said...

See the reply/video to my BusinessZone article at

 from Simon Devonshire of 02

Robert Craven said...

and a reply to the 02 video:

Enterprise - They Still Don't Get It.... But They Will

It was great of Simon Devonshire to do this interview with
Business Zone. I'm really pleased that he and O2 are attempting to
understand the issue. It's a cracking start so thanks to BZ too.
However, he and O2 aren't quite there yet.  I don't think they do
understand why so many of us have written articles on why the term SME
is meaningless (99.9% of all UK businesses are Small and Medium
Enterprises) or why it is patronising and, most often, discriminatory as
a term.

Robert Craven's ace Business Zone article says it all so I won't
repeat these reasons. However, it is important to appreciate that
this is not just a new rant from enterprise owners.  Many of us have
tried to ensure that corporates, academics and government improve their
segmentation. Why? Because they hide behind the term. It's about respect
and a fair deal for all that take the risk to start and run their own

Simon Devonshire I don't think understood that most of the 4.5
million of us don't measure success in terms of number of employees.
Neither do very many of us aspire to be 'the next Richard Branson' but
we do want a fair opportunity to compete, earn a reasonable living
and control our own destiny by starting and running our own business.  

A government, a bank or a corporate saying they 'support', 'lend to' or  'provide products and services' 'specifically for SMEs' in practice means that they are only really bothered about helping under 5% of larger 'SMEs' or those they guess will become larger 'SMEs' .  Those with the most employees get all the action.

It misses the point that decades ago when the 'SME' definition was
coined by academics and governments for  Europe there just weren't the
4.5 million micro enterprise owners and half a million start ups a year
that there are now.  Enterprise today is not about 'SMEs'.

We do need to win this #NotAnSME campaign.

Paricularly important is
that we need some answers from the corporates and government that don't
hide behind the term 'SMEs'. For example:

- How much of the Department of BIS £15 billion a year budget goes to
help start ups and micro enterprise owners (i.e. 95% of all UK
businesses, with 0-9 employees)?- How much of the government public procurement target of 25% for SMEs will go to micro enterprise owners?- How much of the Banks' 'SMEs lending target' from the government will go to start ups and micro enterprise owners? - How much of the £billions of adult learning, skills and employment
budgets 'for SMEs' benefits start ups, micro enterprise owners and self
employment as an alternative to employment?As 1 in 7 of the adult workforce run their own business - why isn't
'starting and running your own enterprise' supported by government and
FE as an all sector career, at any age, with its own skill set just
like like  business studies, administration, ICT and management? As over 50% of all business owners in the UK run their business from
home - what are 02 doing to make sure UK small business owners can
compete, as well as those in other countries, through the internet from
home and provide them with free wifi in public places for when they're
on the move?

On September 1st we're launching a 'free to join' UK charity for and
run by start ups and micro enterprise owners called  Enterprise Rockers
@EnterpriseRocks.  Despite being very pleased that Simon Devonshire has
responded to Robert's article I'm certain that the Enterprise Rockers
will continue with their #NotAnSME campaign. 

Robert Craven said...

also on BusinessZone:

Not just 'big business' that doesn't understand

 In my experience, government doesn't understand the thousands of
one or two person businesses either, judging by the rediculous number
of hoops we are supposed to jump through and irrelevant question we have
to answer/have policies for before we can even bid for public sector
contracts. I don't have an environmental policy, a maternity/paternity
policy (I've had my kids), a disciplinary procedure, and I don't need to
monitor the race, sex or faith of my employees (I know what I am and
what do and do not believe) because my business is just me,
with ad-hoc support from other people in exactly the same position! The
point about the fact that we do not purchase (or sell) the same way as
large businesses really hit home.

S Webb

Power Hour

Robert Craven said...

from BusZone

Definition of a Small Business

Apparantly he is involved in several SMALL businesses three of
which he has built to multi-million pound turnover.  I wish I was that
SMALL !!!!  I think our definitions may differ slightly and from my very
recent experience they certainly do not understand the needs of a truly
small business.  And I hope that the management team and call centre
staff are considerably better than the ones that I experienced as they
did not understand the needs of somebody who relies so massively on a
mobile phone for running their business day to day and doesnt have funds
sitting around to simply purchase a new one when something goes wrong. 
Although saying that I dont know about the area manager as they never
bothered to contact me despite several promises to do so following my
complaint about the mis-selling of my contract.  Maybe I am just a
little too small to bother with :(

Posted by meaco on Wed, 15/06/2011 - 12:42

Robert Craven said...

and another

Huge Difference Between 'S' & 'M'

Apart from being a pretty ugly sound, SME is too broad a categorization.
There is a large enough difference between different
SMALL businesses, so why clump them together with medium sizes ones as
It's like saying: "there's big business, and there's the rest of you".
Hence my feeling that, despite what is being said, the corporates are a world apart, and behave that way.
But then, why should I care?
is a small business selling to small businesses, so the more the
corporates don't understand this market, the more there is left for us!

Posted by Adrian42 on Wed, 15/06/2011 - 13:16

Robert Craven said...

What description
would be suitable for small and medium sized businesses? I am not offended by
the term and regard it simply as a label...

by Lynne Bastow

Robert Craven said...

Hi Robert -

I attended one of your seminars and am pleased to be able to read your views on
Linked in.

I wholly support your view point. I feel very fustrated that small business
owners do things differently, and run successful businesses using a flexible
approach to our many delighted customers.

Yet large organisations (including the banks) and government, want a "one size
fits all" solution to supply of funding,credit, goods, and red tape.

we are different and consideration of that should be taken into account.

Thanks for taking the time to put into words the frustration that many of us

by Katy Jones

Robert Craven said...

Brilliant Robert! I
read it & agreed with most of it - though I don't think owner-managers feel
as strongly as you suggest. On the whole they are ambivalent mostly because
they don't know what they don't know. The problem you outline so well though is
one big business ignorance of small business needs.

by Graham Hall

Robert Craven said...


Love the "Frogs
are not the same as small crocodiles" analogy. Great article, very blunt
and to the point, which I think in this scenario, is exactly what is needed.
Not sure I agree with all your points, but overall, as I said, a great article

by Neil Bulman

Robert Craven said...

Good article Robert.
The way even small business is defined is not what most of us do. I think we'd
be defined as "micro business" . Most of the politicians, especially
the so called career politicians, have no clue about industry or job creation

by Arthur Mulholland

Robert Craven said...


I find myself in a strange place. My business name is SME Needs because I want
to help small businesses measure understand and resolve their problems. I have
spent more than 10 years working for and marketing & selling to small
businesses and I agree with the vast majority of your statements in your blog.

Big businesses struggle to understand small businesses but are desperate to
enter the market because there is so much money there. Last time I looked the
technology spend in the sector was £9billion a year. Although most owner
managers like to make fast decisions the cost of sale into an individual
business can be high compared to the revenue generated, which is, I believe,
why the products and processes are frequently chopped down versions of
enterprise products.

The best bit about working within the small business community is the variety
and almost not knowing what you are going to be doing from week to week. In a
corporate it is the same week in , week out - where's the fun in that?

by Nigel Davey

Robert Craven said...

Phillip Bower •

I love the article entitled "A Caterpillar Doesn't Know It's A Baby Butterfly" @

I am NOT and SME, But I do matter! Micro Business is the start of the future!

Robert Craven said...


too true, Great Blog
post. I run once such owner managed small business that competes against the
corporate giants like BT. The government view our industry is "give lots
of money to the big guys" , while the small guys actually have the answers

by Bill Lewis

Martin said...

A superbly written
piece. There are so many blogs that are thought-provoking but not necessarily
entertaining with it - but this encompasses both. As someone who is about to
launch into small business ownership in a few weeks time, it is interesting and
also informative to see what I am likely to expect!

by Martin Allen

Carol said...

Great selection.