"Corporates are clueless about small businesses": O2 responds

Dan Martin
Former editor
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A recent BusinessZone article claiming that big companies are "clueless about small businesses" has generated more than 7,000 reads and several comments. In an exclusive video interview, Simon Devonshire, general manager small and medium business at O2 UK, responds to the claim.


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By tonyrobbo
15th Jun 2011 10:51

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 enterprise.

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.  

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By meaco
15th Jun 2011 12:42

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 :(

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By Adrian42
15th Jun 2011 13:16

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 well.

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? www.ffenics.com 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!


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By celtic coach
23rd Jun 2011 14:26

I guess Simon has hit the nail on the head at about the 5 1/2 minute mark, or is that hit the small business by crushing it! So he admits O2 isn't really set up to deal with small businesses and is worried if he did deal with them they might get crushed!

He says that if a small business wants to do business with a big business then it needs a champion on the inside - or as we call it a relationship with someone on the inside. Pity he doesn't offer any advice on how to get the big business to listen in the first place in order to begin to build that relationship.

In order to be fair though, most large businesses want large quantities of whatever they are buying and (in most cases, but not all) most small business can not scale up to supply them without serious cash flow problems (which of course would be helped if big businesses paid promptly.)

But why should we care - the Uk economy consists of millions of small businesses so lets all just help each other and ignore them - after all, the bigger they are the harder they fall!

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By RobertCraven
21st Aug 2012 11:52

Have tried a couple of times to discuss this with O2 but to no avail - would love to talk about what they should/could do...

If anyone can help make the connection...?


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