Corporate strategy has long been accepted as being essential for the success of large organizations that indulge in what may be considered as being relatively sophisticated undertakings and often issues related to strategy have been ignored in small businesses, with owners and managers being too tied – up with the day – to – day operational chores. However, researchers studying small businesses have noticed that problems associated with strategy are often the most prominent in a plethora of issues that confront such businesses. Unless a way is found to achieve the expectations associated with a small business, it is unlikely that what is desired can be achieved in reality. Hence, strategies, which is about creating value for a small business so that the business can sustain competitive advantage and achieve strategic competitiveness to be ranked with the best is as important for the small business as it is for the larger corporations. Being a success and generating above-average returns is not just important for multinationals, but it is also likely to be vital for the local corner shop or pizza parlor whose owners may have tied up precious capital after years of hard work. However, because strategy is often neglected in small businesses, it is important to consider the importance of strategy in the previously mentioned business organization and it is with this objective in mind that a discussion about the importance of strategy in small business has been presented in this dissertation. The dissertation also takes a look at a small firm, www.ifa-ltd.co.uk, which has ambitions about establishing itself as a financial consultancy.
Small businesses and by extension, small and medium enterprises or the SMEs, are important because they have been shown to make a special contribution to an economy (Ayyagari, 2005, Pp. 1 – 10) and (Biggs, 2000, Pp. 1 – 15). Small businesses create jobs with lower capital as compared to the large enterprises and they can be used as a seedbed for entrepreneurship and innovation. These businesses can utilize e-commerce platforms for linking with the national and international economy if the business idea is sound and small businesses generally add a level of dynamism and competition to the economy as well as acting as practical users of university-based research or new ideas. Countries like Taiwan, Hong Kong and Italy have demonstrated that it is quite possible for small businesses to compete in the international markets. However, it has been noticed that these businesses are often more unstable, prone to insolvency and also have a tendency for not have sufficient capital to expand their operations to a more sustainable level. Hence, it is important for small businesses to pay special attention to strategy, as a means of determining how these businesses can achieve the objectives that they will like to accomplish, especially when it has been demonstrated that the strategies, structures and core capabilities of small businesses are often rather inadequate, with the mechanisms for learning required for upgrading inadequacies being weak.
Strategy can be considered in terms of being an integrated and coordinated set of commitments and actions or pattern in a stream of decisions or actions that are considered as being important in gaining competitive advantage (Finlay, 2000, Chapter 1). A determination of strategy is usually important in determining the success of a firm and thinking about strategy precedes the taking of action that should effectively marshal, integrate and allocate a firm’s resources, capabilities and competencies in order to render it effective in the external environment of the market. An effective strategy rationalises a firm’s strategic intentions and its mission for the future, while coherently determining what will be done in order to achieve the desired objectives. Sometimes it is the firm which formulates a strategy and it is also possible for a strategy to form or influence organisations. However, it has to be agreed that without a critical look at a market, the resources that are available, the proper manner in which the resources can be employed and planning for success, it is unlikely that a small business, or any other organisation will succeed. Although planning and brainstorming coupled with knowledge of the internal and external domain produce “intended strategies”, these basic but not sacred guidelines for strategy formation may remain partially unrealised and lead to an emergent strategy which results in a realised strategy. A difference between intended and realised strategy also exists because the external environment is chaotic and changing, which makes it difficult to formulate a single strategy without any modification as a result of changes in the external environment. Nevertheless, unless attempts are made to think about the internal conditions and resources as well as the external situation, it is very likely that nothing coherent or sensible will be decided about a firm’s activities and any success will be pure chance.
In view of the fact that small businesses are important and often exist as a result of the hard work and ambition of a few individuals who have their precious funds and time committed to an enterprise, it is definitely worth thinking about strategy and its importance for the small business. A small business owner is very likely to have a vision and it is rational to think how this vision can be translated into reality with efforts being directed towards trying to achieve the vision, or exceeding it and making compensations for the fast changing business environment in which a small business has to operate. Exceeding the vision is definitely better then failing and loosing, because often what is lost can be very difficult to regain.
This dissertation presents a discussion about the importance of strategy for a small business and the role of vision as well as strategic planning and management. The discussion also includes content related to how a mission statement influences strategy for a small business and barriers to having and implementing strategy. A small business, www.ifa-ltd.co.uk, which has ambitions about establishing itself as a financial consultancy is considered as an example.
The next section of the dissertation presents a literature review for the topic of discussion.
Research has indicated that the most frequent problems that are encountered by small business owners for which professional counselling or management consultancy assistance is often sought are of a strategic nature which have an impact on the small business (Lee, 2004, Pp. 1). The other issues that require consultation are administrative and operational problems. In the United Kingdom, the three year survival rate for small business is about 70 % and a strategy is required for everything, ranging from pricing for products or services, financing, marketing, application of technology and even exit planning from the business (Small Business Service, 2006, “Office for National Statistics”) and (SCORE, 2007, “Search Results for Strategy Resources”). Although it has been stated that many more young men and women have been getting involved in small business, the business climate has been described as being challenging and vacancies in small business have been described as being hard to fill (Federation of Small Businesses, 2007, “The Challenges for Small Business”) and (Small Business Service, 2001, “SBS unveiled three-year strategy”). Thus, strategy is an important dimension in a competitive business environment and the strategy approach that is found in a small business is something which is likely to be considered by almost all those who may have to make a choice about getting themselves involved with a particular small business, including the banks and the financiers.
Pricing products and services is an example of the difficulties that a small business manager faces in determining strategy. Charging too much can mean that customers will disappear and charging too little usually results in a reduced ability to provide quality which customers desire (SCORE, 2007, “60-Second Guide to Developing a Pricing Strategy”). It can be vital to determine a marketing strategy in order to ensure that the manner in which precious funds that are being spent on generating marketing messages for a business do not get lost in a clutter of mail, email or advertising launched by others. Even the business plan that is worked out will need to present a strategy that takes into consideration the strengths that are available to the small business, while compensating for any weaknesses. A business strategy for the utilisation of technology is very likely to include thinking about the manner in which expensive technology can be deployed to streamline business operations.
The nature of problems that require thinking varies as a small business gradually develops and matures. In the early stages, marketing and capital acquisition may be the issues that require attention, but managerial and administrative problems are likely to become important as an organisation grows (Lee, 2004, Pp. 121 – 131). The nature of a business is also likely to determine which problems will require more attention. Thus, retail and service businesses are likely to require a deeper thinking related to strategy then a small business which has contracts with a large firm for the supply of sub-assemblies. The correct approach to determining strategy may be influenced by the owner of a business, who is likely to be very competent in a profession, but may need assistance because of a lack of business, managerial and marketing skills. Male and female owners have different strengths and weaknesses and females are likely to be stronger in inter-personal skills, but weaker with financial, marketing and operational skills. However, it has been observed that regardless of the gender of the owner or manager, strategic issues are important in all small businesses and it is important for all owners to ponder upon strategy related questions about various aspects of their business.
A vision is something which can be best described as being the dream which a small business owner wants fulfilled and for which they will strive. A vision is important because the vision presents an idea about what is required to be built and what shape a small business is required to have in order to satisfy its owners. Thus, a vision for a business can be thought of in terms of the end result that is desired. However, just like a builder has to think about what ought to be done in order to construct a home for which architectural drawings have been provided, the small business owners or managers have to think about what steps are likely to bring about a business organisation that is desired into reality. It is not possible to discuss strategy without considering the strategy development process and unfortunately, the strategy development process, or strategic planning, is often likely to be neglected in small businesses as compared to the larger organisations because of the lack of resources and expertise (Stephens, 2000, Pp. 35 – 40).
Although small firms are often preoccupied with the myopic challenge of day – to – day survival, it is essential that attempts be made to consider target customers, target markets, customer expectations, the competitive environment, financial markets, economic indicators, government policies, technology and the utilisation of appropriate technology, societal expectations and any risks that may be associated with a small business. Strategy development not only addresses how best to try and achieve the vision, but also how best to compete in markets, while considering operational capabilities such as speed, responsiveness and flexibility while remembering capabilities, such as human and technical resources or supplier / partner relationships. The process of strategy development results in action plans which present the best methodology for achieving what is desired. Agreed, that action plans may be required to be modified if new insights are available or the external and internal environment changes, but without an effort to develop strategy, it is unlikely that any understanding or insights can be developed.
Small businesses are not just important for the small business owners, but such businesses are important in a national economy because in an era of free markets and knowledge based business, governments find it difficult to sustain employment generation by promoting and establishing the large enterprises only (Hallberg, 2000, Pp. 8 – 24). Thus, governments around the world have tried to assist small businesses to thrive by trying to address market failures that create cost disadvantages for small businesses and by attempting to enhance their access to markets. Governments can also try to enhance transactional efficiencies in financial products that are of use to small businesses and try to improve upon public regulations and policies that discriminate against small business. Public investment in infrastructure that is of benefit to small business is also an appropriate strategy response by a government that wants to stimulate the small business sector. Thus, it is possible for a government to contribute to small business strategy for the broader public good and the small business owners can benefit by trying to keep an eye on developments in public policy and incorporating any beneficial developments into the strategy for the small business.
In the United Kingdom, it has been estimated that about 50 % of the private sector workforce is now working in the SME sector (Federation of Small Businesses, 2007, “Lifting Barriers to Growth in the UK Small Business” and “Barriers Briefing No. 5”). However, small business owners think that too many regulations continue to present problems and they want the government to provide better information about government funded business support services. Currently, accountants are the most frequently consulted professionals who advice small business owners in the United Kingdom. Crime has also been a cause for concern and it has been estimated that about 57 % of all small businesses in the United Kingdom have been victims of crime, with the highest crime rate being experienced by the hotel and restaurant sector. Clearly, the government can do more to enhance the strategy for small business stimulation and communication with small business can be improved.
Strategic planning and implementation of strategy can be considered in terms of organisational learning (Fielding, 1999, Pp. 6 – 17). Thus, the process of strategy formulation and strategic planning presents opportunities to owners and managers of small businesses to establish goals and to assess the performance of a small business. By indulging in a process for considering strategy, a small business is able to monitor the positive and negative forces that have an impact on its viability and organisational members are able to generate insights into what adjustments are necessary to the strategic plans that have been established for the achievement of organisational goals. Small business have to recognise and give due diligence to the fact that they exist within the context of a larger external environment which is not likely to be influenced by a small business, but rather it is the small business which will have to adapt to it. A look at strategy may become necessary as a result of a new problem which the small business may have encountered, such as a rapid human resource turnover rate, reduced sales or the emergence in the market of new competitors etc. Engagement in cyclical planning processes should be an accepted part of the managerial chores in a small business, because if a small business refuses to engage in cyclical planning, then the business is refusing to proactively engage in the determination of its future.
Business strategy has been described as being a relatively young field which presents a convergence of several disciplines including economics, organisation theory, general business, marketing, finance and even geography or public policy (Ehn, 2006, Pp. 7 – 24). According to a pioneering researcher on strategy, Mintzberg, strategy can be considered in terms of a plan that will optimise the results or performance of a business or it can be considered in terms of a ploy for coping with competitors or countering their tactics. Strategy can also be thought of in terms of a pattern that is considered in all actions that are taken by a business or strategy can be considered in terms of coping or locating within the business environment. Strategy has also been thought of in terms of a perspective with which small business owners or managers ought to look at the world in order to maximise their chances for success. Whichever way one is prepared to think about and consider strategy, it has to be agreed that a small business is likely to benefit from all perspectives associated with strategy.
Many small business owners start a small business in order to create an economic opportunity for themselves that is better then what is available in the environment if the business owner was to work for others (Pradhan, 2004, Pp. 70). However, starting a small business is not easy and it is appropriate to consider all perspectives carefully. The nature of a small business that can be established by its owner depends on a number of factors which may include family and religious background, educational background, experience and knowledge of small business and industry, location, motivation, financial opportunity, accessibility to customers, suppliers and support services as well as attitudes towards the establishment of a small business etc. If the small business owner is an individual who may have accepted reasonable risks with their own savings, then it certainly pays to try and succeed and success can only be assured by acquiring detailed insights into what is likely to result in growth for the small business. Thus, strategy formulation and having a strategy for the small business is likely to pay dividends, because it is likely to be a great pity to try so very hard and to loose it all at a time when regaining what has been lost is likely to be impossible. Only by considering strategy can a small business owner acquire the desired insights and convince others that they have a plan that is worthy of support. Hence, having a strategy is absolutely essential for a small business and without strategic thinking the business is likely to fail.
When researching a new topic or tackling a research problem, it is always necessary to benefit from the experiences of other scholars, researchers or investigators who may have pondered on similar issues, as their experience can certainly benefit the investigator in reaching appropriate conclusions and gaining insights into the problem.
The basic technique for the research that was undertaken for this dissertation involved finding suitable published literature through library database searches and internet searches to access journal articles, research papers, published books, research reports and project reports that were related to the subject of the dissertation. This literature was then reviewed in order to extract relevant themes which could possibly assist in the investigation that was being conducted for the dissertation. Research as a whole is a complex and sophisticated field which contributes to knowledge as a whole. The research process results in the generation of a theory, the testing of a hypothesis or theory or both. Currently, there are two traditions of research which have developed along with their terminology, methods and techniques and these traditions have been referred to by different researchers with different names such as qualitative or quantitative traditions in research, humanistic and scientific traditions or the positivist and phenomenological traditions of research. The differing names refer to the same distinctions in the processes of conducting research. On the one hand, the qualitative tradition consists of case study methods, ethnography and historical as well as action research and on the other hand we have the quantitative tradition that consists of methodologies such as survey research, experimental and quasi-experimental research as well as research after the occurrence of a factual event (Collins, 1999, Chapters 1 – 3) and (Marshall, 1999, Chapters 1 – 4).
It is possible to express facts as objective reality which can be expressed as quantities. This forms the basis of the positivist tradition of research which is quantitative research and relies on numbers, measurements and experiments to derive numerical relationships under conditions of controlled behaviour that can be manipulated. The phenomenological tradition attempts to describe and understand reality which is set in perceptions with narratives and observations being used to focus on understanding and meaning to yield knowledge and understanding (Collins, 1999, Chapters 1 – 3) and (Marshall, 1999, Chapters 1 – 4).
Generalization of situations and settings, understanding of events and why they occur as well as predictions are some of the results of the research process. There is a difference between explanation and understanding that develops as a result of seeing things happen, after reasons have been fitted into patterns and deductions can be made from other known truths. There is a requirement for elements being investigated to be related to other elements and the overall picture forms into a unified model with the unification forming the explanation. Thus, there is an explanation for something when it can be understood. Understanding requires the use of rich descriptions and formation of relationships between different parts. This fitting together of things is what is known as the pattern model and the understanding of patterns is the result of research of a qualitative tradition. This form of research is aided by review of literature. In the quantitative method of research, the more basic facts or laws are used to determine what is to be explained and a deductive model is constructed (Collins, 1999, Chapters 1 – 3) and (Marshall, 1999, Chapters 1 – 4).
There is a distinction between prediction and generalization. It is possible to deduce an unknown part of a pattern from a known part and, therefore, the symmetry of prediction and deduction uses the deductive model. In some areas, generalizations tend to be complex with there being a great deal of conflict and scrutiny (Collins, 1999, Chapters 1 – 3) and (Marshall, 1999, Chapters 1 – 4).
Qualitative research is, therefore, more appropriate for the development of complex interrelationships in the more natural or real life situations with a possibility of using this methodology of research to test theories which have already been developed. The qualitative and quantitative methods of research often work together and quantitative research can be used to further test theories which have been developed using qualitative research and qualitative research can be used to further explain the results of quantitative investigations. Qualitative methods are, therefore, useful for rich descriptions of issues being studied with hopes of achieving better understandings with predictions not being the main aim and generalisations taking the form of natural generalisation (Collins, 1999, Chapters 1 – 3) and (Marshall, 1999, Chapters 1 – 4).
A case study may be described as an investigation of a singular nature emphasizing on the individual, group, event or culture. Case studies may involve both quantitative as well as qualitative elements but the studies result in a characteristic wholeness without any loose collection of facts and traits. Case studies build upon concepts, structures and promote understanding with the researchers looking for systematic connections, observable behaviours, causes and speculations. The case study deals with a full body of evidence and this methodology has been found to be of use when questions are being asked about situations or events over which the researchers do not have any control. Case studies are also guided by underlying theories, hypothesis and assumptions but construction of conceptual framework, theory building and conceptual structure are important aims of conducting case studies. Studies of specific issues in a number of settings are referred to as multi-site case studies and such studies can strengthen the ability to generalize while remaining on the more qualitative side and maintaining in-depth description and consideration (Collins, 1999, Chapters 1 – 3) and (Marshall, 1999, Chapters 1 – 4). In this dissertation, the topic of investigation is about the importance of strategy for the small business. Although it is possible to carry out quantitative investigations in the form of case studies for specific firms, the brevity that is required for the dissertation demands that the topic be discussed from a qualitative perspective, rather then a quantitative perspective. Thus, a literature review for strategy in small businesses is the main argument for the discussion presented in this dissertation.
A reasonable amount of published research material is available is available about various perspectives associated with strategy in small businesses and this is utilised for the literature review. The research methods that were used for this dissertation consisted of basically finding suitable literature related to the topic of research and then examining this literature through a process of literature review in order to present the salient points about the strategy and strategy formulation for small business. Suitable literature was selected through a process of library database search, internet search engine search and an examination of the articles as well as research papers which had been presented in journals related to small business, business management, strategy etc. Published material that was available from reputed international academic institutes of related to business and management as well as specialist organisations related to small business counselling were examined for suitable material.
A lot of work has been done in the European and American universities about various aspects of strategy and strategy formulation for small business. Content which was considered to be the most suitable was then selected and a literature review was prepared. Some of the more important themes associated strategy and strategy formulation for small business which came through from the published material selected are presented in the dissertation. This methodology of research was considered to be the most appropriate, considering the nature of discussion. The qualitative research methodology can be supported by a quantitative survey of various small businesses and how these businesses develop and utilise strategic concepts for their business. However, such an investigation is likely to result in a lengthy investigation which will result in a lengthy dissertation and this is something which was not required under the scope that has been presented. Thus, only a literature review which also tried to consider any quantitative investigations by other researchers has been presented and this is what has been used for all arguments presented in this dissertation.
The literature review has been previously presented and the next section of the dissertation presents a discussion for the topic of investigation.
From what has been presented in the literature review for this dissertation, it should be obvious that thinking about strategy for a small business is something that is essential and should be considered as being a part of the routine managerial activity. Not only is strategy important during the start – up phase of a small business, but strategy has to be considered and re – tuned repeatedly as the business grows. From business plans, marketing plans, securing finance for a new business to outwitting competitors and utilising technology as well as when considering the administrative aspects of the small business, strategy perspectives must be considered carefully to provide optimal workable action plans that provide the best course of action for success. Strategy is also required to be considered when a small business encounters a problem that is internal or external to the firm, such as a negative deviation from an established sales target, the introduction of new government policy that has an impact on the small business, a human resource turnover, a supplier related problem or the availability of new technology with a capacity of bringing quality or performance improvements for the small business etc. Strategy is about the means for the achievement of a desired end and this means that perspectives related to strategy are likely to be associated with any business or managerial problem that needs a solution.
When formulating strategy it is important to know just what is required to be achieved, because strategy is about finding the appropriate manner in which a desired result can be achieved. This means that it is desirable to know just what is expected out of a small business and then to try and establish if the desired target is achievable and what may be the best action plan to achieve the desired result. Thus, a vision for a small business is important when thinking about strategy for the small business, because if the vision is something that is achievable, then this vision can only be achieved by action plans that describe the appropriate action methodology, or strategy, for the achievement of the desired vision. Thus, strategy is necessary for the attainment of a vision and it is very likely that if strategy is not considered, then the vision will not be achieved. Vision is also important because when an entrepreneur sets out to establish a small business, they must have an idea about just what will satisfy them, be competitive in the market, as well as being appealing to the customer and also what can be achieved with the resources that are available, within the constraints that are imposed.
Unfortunately, strategy formulation and strategic planning are often ignored in small businesses, because the owners and managers are occupied with the daily chores that are related to the operations of a small business. Also, business and managerial expertise may be lacking and often channels of communication with sources, either government sponsored or public may be fuzzy. Thus, many small business owners and managers do not adequately consider aspects related to strategy for the small business. However, such an attitude can only result in suboptimal business performance coupled with relative high risks that are poorly understood. A small business owner or manager who has been putting scarce finances at risk and carrying the burden associated with starting and operating a small business owes it to everyone to ensure that adequate insights about the business as well as the business environment do exist and action plans that incorporate strategy for success are drawn up and reconsidered periodically. A very high percentage of small business owners are those who have put at risk savings that took a lifetime to earn and it should be unthinkable to utilise these in a suboptimal manner, or to squander them away without deep thinking and gathering insights as well as formulating strategy. Despite the fact that risks are sometimes required to be taken if entrepreneurs are to lift themselves above the mediocre, there is no set of reasons that can justify taking risks without adequate appraisal and thought for strategy.
Although strategy is exceedingly important for small business, it has to be remembered that businesses exist in chaotic environments and both internal and external variables can impact on a business in a manner that has the potential to require that intended strategies be converted into emergent strategies after due consideration of a changed business scenario. Thus, strategy is highly relevant to a small business and needs to be reconsidered with evolving internal and external business situations. The perspectives associated with strategy that have been presented by Mintzberg, the pioneering strategy researcher, should be capable of guiding small business owners and managers about the dimensions of strategy that should be of importance to a small business and convince them about the importance of having a strategy for their small business.
www.ifa-ltd.co.uk, which is a small business that wants to establish itself as an independent financial advisor in Yorkshire can be considered as an example of a business which should have developed its strategy more carefully. This company has definitely got it all wrong when it comes to the marketing and advertising strategy that has been used. Although the company has established a rudimentary web presence and advertised it by placing links on other websites that recommend businesses to the general public, such as Business Jeeves UK and Ireland. However, the website is stated as being under construction and this is unlikely to result in a good impression. It is also important that IFA promote its business in the physical world, at least in the areas in which it intends to operate. Thus, the marketing strategy for the company is totally out.
IFA should also have a vision and it is important that the company understand just what kind of independent financial advice it intends to provide to which groups in the general public. If specialist financial advisors are available, then these should have been mentioned on the company website or in other material for promoting the company. An independent financial consultancy is only advisable as a small business for those who have had extensive experience in the financial sector and have developed contacts as well as respect within the industry. Because public money is likely to be at risk, it is important that the company at least have a registration with the Corporate Affairs in the UK and also mention some of the more prominent of its clients. A small business which wants to establish its presence in the highly competitive financial industry in which it is possible for a client to seek advice from bankers, stock brokers, accountants and real estate agents etc should have something outstanding which will attract those who are seeking financial advice. Also, those who are offering financial advice should be financially successful themselves, as well as being astute and the company should be able to project this image. Hence, IFA Ltd UK has a lot of strategic thinking to do if it wants to make a success of its business. As it is, either this small business has not developed the right strategy for a start-up, or it has failed and is in liquidation.
It is important from an owner and management perspective that any business be in a position to earn above – average returns and to fulfil the expectations of the stakeholders who may have invested precious resources and hard work to justify such expectations. Strategic competitiveness, which refers to the creation and implementation of a value – creating strategy that distinguishes a firm in the market is not just for the large firms such as GEC, but this concept is also desirable for the local retail outlet, laundry or the pizza shop. It is far better to perform then to loose, because the pain associated with failure in a small business that is owned by a single owner with decades of hard work behind them can be enormous. Hence, it can only be said that it is essential to consider strategy in all dimensions associated with a small business, so that considerations associated with the external environment and the internal environment can be translated into a strategic mission that can be used for strategy formulation and implementation. Paying attention to strategy in a small business is the only way in which it is possible to achieve strategic competitiveness, which is about performing with the best in the market. Failure to consider strategy in a business, including a small business, can only result in mediocre performance and unacceptable risks which can wreck a potentially sound undertaking.
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