SME Challenges: How to Overcome Financial, Human Resource, Operational, and Marketing Challenges


Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are a vital part of any economy. According to the US Small Business Administration, SMEs make up 99.7% of businesses in the United States, and employ half of the private sector’s workforce. Despite the valuable contribution of SMEs, these businesses often face deceptively complex challenges in order to remain successful. In this article, we dive into what those challenges are and provide helpful strategies for overcoming them.

Definition of SMEs

An SME is a business which employs fewer than 250 people and has an annual turnover less than €50 million or a balance sheet total less than €43 million. According to Eurostat, this definition is widely recognized and used internationally.

Overview of the common challenges faced by SMEs

SMEs face a variety of challenges which can cause disruption to operations and revenue. The four main categories of challenges are: Financial, Human Resources (HR), Operations, and Marketing. Each of these categories includes several specific challenges which we will go into further detail about in the following sections.

Strategies for Overcoming Financial Challenges

Financial challenges can easily disrupt cash flow and make it hard for a small business to survive. The following strategies can help an SME overcome financial difficulties.

1. Develop a budget and cash flow forecast.

Budgeting and forecasting are essential for an SME to survive. Before an SME owner begins to make investments or other long-term financial decisions, it is important to plan out finances so that future cash flow is managed accurately. This will allow the SME to create realistic projections and ensure that there are sufficient funds to cover necessary expenses.

2. Utilize financing options.

One of the biggest challenges that SMEs face is having access to financing. Traditional loans can be difficult to obtain for an SME, especially one with limited years in business or a low credit score. However, there are other financing options which can be utilized to offset these obstacles. For example, crowdfunding and venture capital are becoming increasingly popular financing methods for SMEs.

3. Stay informed about tax laws.

Tax laws vary from country to country and change regularly. It can be a challenge for SMEs to stay up to date with the changes and ensure that they are compliant. This is why it is important for an SME owner to consult with an accountant to ensure that they are aware of any new tax regulations and filing requirements.

4. Seek professional advice.

Financial advisors and professional business consultants can provide valuable insight into the financial health of an SME. Consulting with an expert can reveal challenges that the business owner may not have been aware of and can help them develop strategies to address these issues.

Strategies for Overcoming Human Resource Challenges

Staffing is not an easy task for SMEs. This section covers strategies for reducing HR challenges.

1. Hire the right people.

It is important for any business, large or small, to ensure that only the best candidates are hired, as this can make a huge difference for the success of a business. Before hiring, SMEs should make sure to research candidates thoroughly, make use of behavioural assessments, and involve multiple stakeholders in the hiring process.

2. Develop a clear job description and fair wage structure.

Having a job description which outlines what a position entails will prevent future confusion or conflicts. Having a fair wage structure is also crucial for employee satisfaction. It can be helpful for an SME to do research to find out the industry standards for a specific role.

3. Establish a positive company culture.

Having an enjoyable work environment is important for employee retention and productivity. SMEs should create an open work space which fosters collaboration and creativity. Encouraging employee feedback and providing team-bonding activities can help employees feel valued and appreciated.

4. Keep up with the latest HR laws.

HR laws vary from country to country, and it is important for SMEs to stay updated and compliant. Laws regarding employee rights, wages, and working hours are important for every business, regardless of size. It is best to consult with an HR advisor or check government websites to make sure that an SME is following the latest laws and regulations.

Strategies for Overcoming Operational Challenges

Operational challenges can be difficult to anticipate, and can disrupt the everyday operations of a business. The strategies explained below can help an SME manage its operations.

1. Utilize technology.

Technology can be a great asset for an SME. Automation tools can take care of mundane tasks, allowing employees to focus on the more important aspects of their jobs. These tools can also help to track productivity in order to provide valuable insight into the overall effectiveness of the business.

2. Analyze customer data and trends.

Analyzing customer data can help SME owners to better understand their target market and identify new opportunities. Tools such as social media analytics can track customer trends and behaviors, allowing business owners to make informed decisions for product development or marketing strategies.

3. Streamline processes.

For SMEs, efficiency is key. Streamlining processes can help businesses to reduce costs and increase productivity. This applies to everything from customer service to the overall management of the business. Finding ways to optimize processes can help SMEs to reduce their overhead costs and maximize their profits.

4. Invest in employee training.

Investing in employee training is essential for any business. Training will help employees become more efficient and productive in their roles, and it can also provide a morale boost for employees. Investing in training can be expensive, but the benefits will last long after the training is complete.

Strategies for Overcoming Marketing Challenges

SMEs often have limited resources and budgets when it comes to marketing. The following strategies can help to overcome these challenges and create an effective marketing strategy.

1. Identify target markets.

Having a clearly defined target market is essential for any business. For SMEs, it is important to identify the customer segments in which they are most likely to succeed. It can also be beneficial for them to research competitors to see what they are doing to reach their target markets.

2. Utilize online marketing tools.

In this digital age, it is important for businesses to have an online presence. Relevant social media accounts and a website should be set up to reach the optimum number of potential customers. Tools such as email marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), and pay-per-click (PPC) can also be used to increase visibility online.

3. Develop a content marketing strategy.

Content marketing is a great way for businesses to reach their target audiences and to demonstrate their expertise. Content can be used to educate customers and generate leads. Creating a consistent content strategy which blends website, blog, and social media content can be useful in increasing engagement and improving brand awareness.

4. Leverage customer reviews.

Word of mouth is an effective form of referral marketing, and customer reviews are an extension of that. Customers often read reviews before deciding to purchase a product or service, and having a good reputation is essential for any business, large or small. SMEs can use customer reviews to improve their business, identify customer pain points, and build trust with potential customers.


This article has explored the four main categories of challenges that are faced by SMEs and some strategies for overcoming them. From developing a budget and cash flow forecast, to leveraging customer reviews, this guide has highlighted some of the key techniques that can help SMEs succeed. It is important to remember that success is achievable for any SME, regardless of resources or industry. All it takes is a bit of planning, dedication, and motivation. The strategies mentioned above can help an SME to identify challenges and develop strategies to overcome them. Above all, it is crucial to remember that entrepreneurship is a journey full of ups and downs. The successful SME owner is the one who is able to stay focused and be proactive in the face of challenges.

If you’re currently looking for solutions to help your business overcome challenges check out Biz Expo 2023. Tickets are still available. Register your business for the event and get full access to the exhibitor hall, workshops, seminars and an all-inclusive networking breakfast and lunch. Learn more here.

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