Small companies make a BIG difference!

By Mark Lomas, Diversity Consultant, Glen Addis, Director at East London Business Place (ELBP), Naheed Afzal, Co-Founder of Contracts IT Recruitment Consulting

Did you know that in the UK, over 99% of businesses are small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs)? More encouragingly, 20% of these SMEs are female led. Moreover in October 2015, it was announced that 26% of FTSE100 board members were female. While it’s great to see SMEs taking over the UK’s economy and women making big strides on executive boards, there is still work to be done.

Mark Lomas, Diversity Consultant, previously at BBC, added that, “Engaging with SME suppliers offers a range of opportunities for corporate organisations. The agility offered by SME suppliers and the increased focus on customer satisfaction make SME suppliers a good option for organisations. The benefits are wide ranging. Increased agility and flexibility , brand enhancement due to working with organisations embedded in the fabric of local communities and importantly, given the popularity of self-employment amongst BAME groups and women, engaging with SME suppliers can provide real benefits in relation to diversity & inclusion.” Described as employing up to 249 people, SMEs are referred to as the “backbone of the UK economy; they employ 15.2 million people and have a combined turnover of £1.6 trillion. According to Minority Supplier Diversity United Kingdom (MSDUK), there are over 300,000 ethnic minority owned businesses in the UK representing over 7% of the total SMEs in the UK. These are great statistics for small organisations and ethnic minority owned businesses but there’s more; in general, they can be shown to have advantages over larger businesses, adding tremendous value to corporate and private sector supply chains. Here’s why:

Customer – Centric

SME’s tend to be directly involved when it comes to their customers, clients or candidates, fostering better communication and relationships between them. This direct involvement tends to happen frequently, demonstrating a commitment, trust and loyalty to those customers and candidates whilst also improving relations with business partners. SMEs can adapt and tailor their solutions very quickly around a client. Tangible benefits also derive when sustaining good customer and client relationships, as they can lead to referrals and new business outcomes.


With many transformations taking place in the markets and new opportunities on the horizon, SMEs have the ability to adapt to these fast changing environments and seize new opportunities, allowing them to stay ahead of the curve and be the “early adopters”. With larger corporate’s it is more of a challenge because it always takes longer to get the permissions and approvals from the seniors to move forward i.e. there are usually lots of layers of bureaucracy before a decision can be made. The agility of a business comes from the speed and stability of a business, this has a direct impact on the organisational health of a company. McKinsey & Co, a management consultancy, highlighted in their December 2015 article ‘Why agility pays’ that the trick for companies is to combine speed with stability- the use of SME’s have a direct impact on this. Aspiring local companies are resourceful when it comes to hiring and retaining local talent as larger companies can be less proactive because there may be internal boundaries. It can be said that SMEs are good at being flexible in the working environment, that they are consistent at delivering good and high quality services and that they are passionate about retaining their clients. Mark Lomas says “SMEs bring agility, flexibility, diversity and they have a real focus and care on great customer service”.

Better employee engagement

In a smaller business environment, you develop positive team relationships which has been proved to increase employee engagement, forming an inclusive and supportive environment to work in. McKinsey & Co (2015) found that diversity also increases employee satisfaction and fosters positive attitudes and behaviours in the workplace. According to them, “a supportive culture among colleagues and supervisors is more important than the presence of a non-discrimination policy, necessary though such a foundations is”.

Entrepreneurial Spirit

Creativity, new ideas and innovation is what makes SMEs different. Quoting MSDUK, “they not only bring their unique entrepreneurial spirit to the business, they bring to the front their proven track record of innovation, hard work and flexibility that can add huge bottom line benefit to an organisation”.

The value of SMEs and diversity in supply chains Glen Addis, Director at East London Business Place (ELBP) who is running the “Ready to Supply the City Programme” discussed the value SMEs bring to larger organisations. “For supply-chain service providers (especially those who are monopoly and multi-disciplinary suppliers), SMEs can often provide a more diverse range of services which are both local and can more rapidly meet the demands of the supply-chain’s main client. Additionally, SMEs are becoming increasingly more useful in helping supply-chains refresh and market-test their own preferred supplier-lists, especially in today’s stringent procurement climate where larger buying organisations are insisting on percentages of workforce and sub-contractors to be based within close proximity of the client who requires the services or goods”.

Mark Lomas also provided a great example of how SMEs and diversity add value to a supply chain “Once a social enterprise needed to cut costs and boost their local profile. To achieve this they reviewed their supply base and found that one major supplier was responsible for a large proportion of their costs. They re-tendered for a new supply contract, targeting SME suppliers in the process. The successful supplier was a disabled led SME organisation that delivered better quality at a much more competitive rate than the previous supplier.”

Supplementing this example Glen Addis, ELBP, says “in addition to bringing a lot of flexibility, innovation and diverse offerings to larger organisations, there are also distinct benefits to using local SMEs. Local SMEs are very accessible to come in and discuss solutions to challenges and opportunities face-to-face with a larger buyer (who often has to deal with Tier 1 and ‘historical’ suppliers who may be miles away) – this is a distinct benefit which also facilitates faster-to-market solutions and more real-time negotiation on price, quality and service standards.”

The role of diversity and inclusion

It is fair to say that SMEs are playing a vital role in development and growth of the UK economy as they are generating local employment, bringing out creativity and thriving off innovation but how does diversity and inclusion fit within SMEs and the supply chains of corporates. Diversity and inclusion is a major talking point at the moment as and it will only get bigger and better in 2016 as large corporates recognise the tangible benefits they bring to their organisations. It is a business imperative which should be embedded in all organisations setting the tone at the top and downwards.

Naheed Afzal, Co-Founder of Contracts IT Recruitment Consulting believes “different perspectives, backgrounds, religions and cultures and generally different ways of doing things provide a rich mix which disrupt, invigorate and bring about greater yields. These in turn translate into better commercial outcomes for their organisations” SMEs help contribute to the diversity and the vigour of corporate supply chains, making them more successful, innovative and competitive. In addition, diversity enables companies to react more effectively to market shifts and to new customer needs. There are of course many benefits to larger organisations which can outweigh the benefits of an SME and perhaps the way to best manage this to ensure that an organisation has a diverse and representative made up of the BIG and the SMALL.

Arranging marriages and meetings in San Diego!

By Farooq Mohammed, MD of es-p – an instinct for winning

When Ervin from MSDUK first approached me to write a ‘blog’ about my experience attending NMSDC2015, I wasn’t sure as I’d never done a blog before, but I decided to have a go and will leave you to now decide if I have succeeded!

So what was my experience in San Diego? In one word… awesome! From having the amazing opportunity to speak at the conference to meeting with key figures from the US corporate world, everything from the beginning to the end started fast and finished even faster with lots of contacts made.

The journey began long before getting on the plane. I’d recognised the visit as an invaluable opportunity for my business ( to network and pursue our goals. In making the internal decision to attend, it was important to be crystal clear about how it all aligned with our strategy. We’d spent 3 years building a business foundation, and entering our 4th year set a course to pursue growth where the decision to visit the US aligned with expanding overseas. The next step was setting objectives to maximise ‘ROI’, a key objective being to raise awareness of our brand and unique value prop. We started promoting via social media and were then pleased to hear from Raj at MSDUK, requesting a profile of each business, with the aim to compile and share a UK Directory with MSDUK’s contacts in the US to begin the process of facilitating meetings in advance of our arrival, we’d not even set foot in San Diego yet and we were being promoted… the ROI had already started!NMSDC 2

During the visit there were so many positives, from the glamorous location of being close to Miramar (think Top Gun!), to staying at the Bayfront and opportunity to network with thousands of businesses at the iconic San Diego Conference Centre, it was very easy to forget I was there on business! Picking out a couple of highlights is near impossible as there were so many, however if I was to do so it would include the opportunity to speak, I’d done public speaking previously during my corporate life but never to an ‘international’ audience so this was potentially a banana skin if the content failed to stimulate interest. Audience numbers weren’t great due to a lack of promotion, but two things went in my favour, luckily the subject matter was positively received, and the audience included key figures, who were suitably impressed to extend impromptu invitations to ‘select’ meetings and invitation to ‘speak’ again during the conference. I was stunned, we had definitely arrived in the US! With the momentum behind us it all began to build with opportunities to engage with US stakeholders. The second highlight almost began to feel like too much opportunity to handle at once if that is at all possible! Separate to the opportunities which presented after speaking at the conference, Mayank from MSDUK had also arranged a series of targeted meetings with US Corporates (USCs), if I had been impressed with Raj organising the UK Directory pre visit, it just ramped up another level to engage with key USCs one on one to introduce ourselves! I remember thinking to myself, where else would you be presented with ‘organised’ opportunities like this to present your propositions and explore potential business opportunities? The third highlight I would pick out would be the spirit and camaraderie within our group. We were a ‘diverse’ mob who didn’t know each other at the beginning but from the moment we met, I knew it was going to be great. The ease and speed with which we all started to ‘work together’ felt like an extended family, from supporting and looking out for each other to helping set up and support the MSDUK stand at the exhibition. Best bit of all was the banter within the group, from ‘arranging’ Raj a potential future wife to my being labelled with a new name… ‘GB’ (Thanks to Rahul Mehta).NMSDC 3

I think it is fair to say we all returned home exhausted but very inspired with a long list of business contacts and conversations to follow up. It took me the best part of a day to debrief feeling like I’d been away weeks, not a few days! Today, I’m engaged with a select list of USCs who are interested in es-p and most align with our priorities. Conversations are taking place via video, telephone, etc. and relationships are developing. I then found myself travelling to Johannesburg 4 weeks later to attend the SASDC conference, a direct result of engaging with the SASDC delegation who were also in San Diego, exploratory conversations are now also started in that part of the world so you just never know when you start where you are going to end up. I should also mention the value of conversations with peers back here which only come about because we were together in San Diego, not to mention the bonus of the odd dinner party invite too! So all in all, when you unpick my blog, hopefully you will find an aggregated value from the trip through making contacts, friends, conversations and opportunities which translates to an amazing ‘ROI’. For me, the NMSDC experience has inspired and expanded my horizons, this has already influenced our business strategy and leaves me excited about the future ahead. So if you are thinking about attending NMSDC2016 in Chicago, don’t hesitate, I recommend the experience wholeheartedly.

So in summary what have I realised? We have been a member of MSDUK network for just over a year and have already gained so much value in return, this trip is just one example of that. Without being (1) part of the network and (2) recognising the fantastic support of Mayank and his team, it would be a challenge to achieve the same level of access and opportunity on our own, so I have to take this opportunity to publicly say thank you to everyone at MSDUK for enabling my experience! NMSDC2015 serves as a timely reminder to myself of always remaining open to possibilities and new challenges, whether, writing a blog or exploring new markets. We can slip into our comfort zones and limit ourselves, and if we never push to go beyond these limits, we’ll never reach the heights to become the Top Guns on our own journeys. Back in 2012 I never envisaged choosing to leave the corporate world let alone establishing a business. I now look back and recognise that as one of the best decisions I ever made and look forward to the next stage of my entrepreneurial journey after 3 years in….

I hope I’ve succeeded in sharing my personal experience and provided food for thought, please do let me know what you think about the blog and whether I should continue or keep to the day job! Thank you for reading the blog and I wish all of you good health, prosperity and success in 2016.