The smart use of tools and resources – including those from the financial and IT sectors – can make the difference in helping SMEs to survive and prosper. However, business owners still have to add a certain "X-factor" to ensure business success. 

This is a key finding of the SME Survey 2007, backed by Standard Bank and Fujitsu Siemens Computers, and principal researcher Arthur Goldstuck explains: “There is no clear set of rules for success and the specifics of what will work and what doesn’t will change from business to business.
However, business owners can "throw the dice" in their favour, he says. “What the survey has revealed is that there is a statistically significant correlation between resources used and competitiveness. The implication is that you stand to make your company more capable by taking advantage of the same resources.”
Explaining that only 42% of SMEs in South Africa regard themselves as highly competitive, Goldstuck says a strong correlation is observed in any instance where more than 40% of those in this category use a given resource.
Just the use of computers in the business is immediately related to heightened competitiveness.
“There is a direct relationship between the number of computers used and the competitiveness of the company. Of those using more than 10 machines in their environment, more than 46% are competitive; with more than 50 machines, the level of being highly competitive increases to 54%,” he says.
Affordable, high speed connectivity is next, with 45% of ADSL users being highly competitive; of users of Mac and Linux software (which indicates a more mature technology consumer) 48% are competitive, while the use of any support services (end-user training, hardware and software sales, Web development and strategic consulting) and Internet services (e-mail excluded) has a high correlation with competitiveness.
Danny de Beer, business development director at Fujitsu Siemens Computers, believes most SME owners are eager to find technologies and services to improve their efficiency but don’t get around to it.
“Many SME owners spend too much time on relatively arbitrary functions instead of paying a specialist to handle it for them. However, the problem is twofold: One is that the business owner may not trust the available service providers or know how to find them, and the other is one of cash flow,” he says.
While de Beer says he can understand the business owner getting bogged down in peripheral tasks, he says the SME Survey has shown the value of taking the time to establish supplier relationships to free up one’s time to focus on strategic or revenue generating activity.
The use of professional services and financial instruments delivers further advantage, notably the engagement of a mentor. While only 10% of SMEs consult a mentor, 50% of these regard themselves as highly competitive.
Melt van der Spuy, director of business banking at Standard Bank, says those using professional and mentoring services are likely to have a more strategic, rather than operational focus.
“These services are strategic by nature. The business owner who has recognised the need for specialised strategic support has moved beyond an operational focus. He is working on the business, as opposed to working in the business.”
Van der Spuy adds that, despite the findings of SME Survey, any successful entrepreneur is one who will see opportunity where there are challenges. This is the X-factor which he believes is essential for sustained success.