We want to give our members here in Northern Ireland a platform for telling us all about their experiences as an SME in NI and their reasons for being a member of the FSB.
Following the success of the #ThinkSelfEmployed campaign last July we are delighted to get the “Small Business” story from a member’s perspective. This month we speak to Rich Dale, CEO of Flowlens that he established to provide user-friendly cloud software for equipment manufacturers and dealers.
I’ve always helped companies work smarter using web technologies, since the late 90s. Today Flowlens software helps SME Equipment Manufacturers and Equipment Dealers to properly manage their processes, stock and customers. Flowlens helps remove wasted effort, errors and confusion. Working with SMEs we saw how many relied on spreadsheets to manage their business, and the problems this caused. We set about building Flowlens as a user-friendly, modular system that transforms collaboration and communication in the business, and captures data that business owners can trust to make decisions.
Why did you join FSB?
We joined on the recommendation of customers who are members. The FSB offers so many services at an extremely affordable rate. Beyond this, being part of the wider network is important to us as we seek to build our own customer base.
Have you used any FSB services so far and how has this experience been/helped your business?
In addition to the newsletters which provide useful and timely updates, I have so far attended several FSB-led or partnered events. These have been effective for networking and developing relationships with other members, not just locally in Northern Ireland, but across the UK.
What is the single greatest challenge for any SME at the minute?
There are never enough hours in the day, and we see SMEs are challenged to maintain levels of service, whilst managing people, costs and transactions. There are also issues like Brexit and GDPR which many are struggling with. The uncertainty of Brexit and the politicking around the negotiations does nothing for business confidence.
For us, we want to grow our business directly with new customers, but also through partners. Our current challenge is seeking relationships with like-minded business consultants and advisors who work in the SME Equipment Manufacturing or Dealer space.
What are the opportunities and positives for SMEs at the minute?
SMEs have never before had so much choice in technologies and supports to help reduce their costs and make their businesses more effective and profitable. However evaluating and choosing a system can be daunting, and adopting a new system requires time and commitment.
Subscription based offerings, coupled with professional implementation services makes this investment less risky, however we recommend that before businesses choose any system, they should follow some basic first steps.
We have found that businesses who take time to map out their business process and more likely to choose software that fits with their needs. This exercise also sharpens understanding of the business process within the team, and can help towards a successful implementation process too. Check out our blog for more details on how to do this.
FSB key campaign issues at the minute include: Brexit, Small Business Rates Relief, GDPR, Prompt Payment, local Bank Branch Closures, Broadband. Which is most important to you and your business at present and why?
Brexit would be top of the list as many SMEs are dealing with enough uncertainty and volatility in the market. Having a clear position as soon as possible makes it possible for SMEs to plan for the future.
Your words of advice to anyone starting a small business
Start small and keep it simple whilst you learn how to create a sustainable and repeatable sales process. Many businesses struggle with generating leads, and it can be easy to take the eye off the balls to fight fires and deal only with existing customers. Understanding how you generate new sales, and keeping enough coming is essential to success.