We are towards the end of the NSW Government’s Back to Business Week, that promotes small business in NSW. I had the pleasure of presenting alongside the Deputy Premier at their plenary event, ‘Meet the Future Head On for Small Business’ on Wednesday night. Throughout the evening, we discussed both the opportunities and the challenges facing small businesses in the digital economy.

SMEs are like the hidden champions of our society – they make a big impact on our GDP; they employ a large number of our workforce; they provide a sense of community – the list goes on. Yet these hidden champions need to start gearing up for digital disruption.

The window of opportunity is now. Disrupting and resolving significant customer and citizen problems in a dramatically better way is at the heart of the entrepreneurial talent. It is happening here in Australia and SMEs need to start the digital transformation and reap the benefits of the new digital world or be left behind for good.

SMEs should be the front-runners of disruption. How do they do this? By learning how to reinvent themselves and becoming tech-savvy. The good news is that access to cutting edge technology has never been easier as the world moves to cloud-based IT and an everyday richer world of Apps. A stack of integrated business, accounting and banking software is available on demand without major initial capital layout so SMEs can drive their growth and business efficiency with the click of a finger.

To be able to thrive in a digitally disruptive environment, SMEs need to:

  1. Think innovation. Think collaboration. Think global: SMEs should seek out partnerships with innovators to improve their product bases; invest more into improving the customer voyage (offline, online, mobile); invest into apps that better connect with their customers’ needs.
  2. Adopt new skills and workplace cultures: subscribe to the best entrepreneur and innovation websites and blogs from across the globe; hire tech savvy graduates or people from the start-up community; learn about disruptive business models in your industry and the underpinning technologies  (cloud/IaaS, mobile Apps, integrated ecosystem) and enabling cultures (experimental, fail fast, openness, growth).
  3. Take on the bigger fish in the pond: Large corporations are slow to innovate and it is easier for SMEs to adopt new technologies and take advantage of gaps in the market as a result. To do this, adopt cloud-based software where possible to become more agile and flexible in your business operations.

Those that will prevail and become champions of disruption are the aggressive hyper-growth entrepreneurs and the start-up founders and SME business leaders who reinvent businesses. Incumbent businesses will sideline at best, or at worst decline and vanish. The small business sector cannot afford to be complacent in the face of disruption. SMEs need to challenge themselves to find new ways of operating. There are windows of digital disruption that open up, transform industries and close. We need to use those windows to establish ecosystems of SMEs and Australian champions. The race is on to capitalise on these windows of opportunity, yet whoever is too late loses the benefits of the digital future.