The key points in brief:

  • The corporate strategy forms the basis for the future marketability of a company – and that holds true for SMEs too.
  • It is important for entrepreneurs to revisit their strategy on a regular basis.
  • A good way of doing this is to ask yourself questions about the current market situation, your growth strategy, and your ideal company structure, as well as how to motivate staff and communicate with them.

If they are going to survive and thrive long-term, a company must remain competitive. This is only possible if the management regularly revisit the current market situation as well as anticipated trends. The basis for this is a comprehensive corporate strategy. 

But many SMEs find it difficult to draft or develop such a strategy. After all, the management already have their hands full with their daily work schedule and are preoccupied with their many meetings and responsibilities. What’s more, very few companies have designated a person to be in charge of the corporate vision, the strategy and its implementation. In most cases it is the boss’s responsibility.

Our tip: Take a step back from day-to-day business at regular intervals, get away from the familiar setting and take the time to look into your company’s future. Think about which strategy you are planning to use to drive your SME forward successfully. 

Don’t know where to start? That’s understandable. We have put together ten key strategic questions for you to help you find the right answers. 

1. Existing products and services: What problems do I solve for my customers?

It sounds like a simple question. And yet it is one that has to be asked again and again. Ultimately, a company will only remain successful in the long term if it provides relevant products or services that are geared to its customers’ current – and ideally even future – needs. Do you need, say, to diversify your product range, add a new product to the existing market or even open up an entirely new market?

2. What role does sustainability play for my company?

Today, nobody questions the importance of sustainability, so it should definitely feature in the corporate strategy. Companies should continually reflect on

  • how to make their existing products and services more sustainable,
  • how to make their processes more sustainable
  • and how sustainability can be integrated and anchored in the corporate culture.

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3. What is the corporate goal – and does everyone know it?

As an entrepreneur, it is important to have a clear vision and definite goals for your company. Corporate goals are a vital component of the corporate strategy. The next step is to ensure that all your people know what the company’s goals are – only then can they work towards them. Ideally, your stated goals should be clearly measurable.

4. Are my employees getting me where I want to go?

This question is about your team. It is well worth checking regularly whether the team still has the necessary know-how, the right skills and personalities and, above all, the ideal mix. Personnel diversification – coupled with agile working methods – can sometimes be a success factor and should therefore be considered in the strategy.

5. How do I organize my company?

Team structures in SMEs are often fixed long-term and tend to be relatively rigid. It is good to check your company’s organizational structure, too, at regular intervals. Ask yourself whether the organizational structure with its divisions and team constellations are still fit for purpose today. Also take a look at your future plans (for example, expansion abroad, growth ambitions, innovation goals, diversification, positioning) and consider whether you need to modify structures or reorganize teams, e.g. by bringing in additional competencies.

6. How do I foster creativity and innovation?

Creativity and innovation are an important component of the company’s strategy. To remain successful in the long term, creative, forward-looking ideas and sustainable innovations are crucial. At the same time, it is not easy to create an environment in which ideas are sparked and innovations can be developed. It requires the courage to try out new things and accept failures.

In most cases, however, it is not necessary for the entire company to work creatively. This means you should think specifically about where creativity and innovation are needed in your company and how you can foster both in the departments concerned.

7. Culture: Would I want to work at my own company?

Be honest: As an employee, would you really be satisfied with the decision-making processes, the communication culture and the working conditions at your company? Would you enjoy working for your company? Do you see long-term development opportunities? Take a critical look at the culture in your company. Because only with the right, positive corporate culture can you retain the best people and attract new talent – allowing you to successfully pursue your corporate strategy and achieve your goals.

Would you like to invest more in your attractiveness as an employer in the future? We have some valuable tips for you.

8. How do I finance future growth?

Growth offers the opportunity to boost the company’s profitability. At the same time, growth is challenging and harbors dangers – if the quality of the products decreases due to scaling, for example, if overcapacities are created, or if staff are overwhelmed by the new structures. Accordingly, growth calls for careful planning – in particular how you will finance it. After all, poorly planned financing will confound even the best-laid plans. If you plan to enter a new market, develop a new product or make bigger investments at some point in the future, it is best to talk to your bank advisor well ahead of time. Might a classic bank loan make sense, for example, or would it be better to lease? Get advice on which forms of financing are available and which are best suited to your project.

Financing capital goods with foresight

Are you working on your growth strategy and planning a new acquisition? Then leasing may just be the ideal form of financing. Find out more in our article (in German).

9. Network: What additional support is there that I don’t yet take advantage of?

You don’t have to solve everything by yourself – get yourself some support. For SMEs, there is a wealth of services and associations where you can look for and obtain help, advice and inspiration. We recommend that you contact organizations such as the chamber of commerce, industry associations and trade associations, depending on the challenge you face. Connect with them and benefit from the broad network of industry expertise.

10. How long do I want to remain at the helm of my business?

Many entrepreneurs have strong emotional ties to their company. This makes it all the more important to be able to place the company into the best hands when the time comes. 

Planning a sale or handing over a business to a successor or the next generation often takes longer than expected. That’s why we recommend that you start thinking about your personal and professional plans for the future early on. It is best to start the initial preparations for the handover of your business several years in advance. After all, you never know what life will bring. And you certainly don’t want to risk having your company – which you have built up and poured your heart and soul into – become incapacitated.

Are you considering selling your company to a senior executive or the current management? Read more about management buy-out and buy-in here (in German)

Not planning to sell or hand over your business for a long time yet?

All the same: It is never too early to safeguard yourself and the company for every eventuality and to have your legal and financial matters in order.

Our Succession Check shows you in a few minutes whether your succession is properly planned in the event of a sudden incapacitation and where any gaps exist. So that your company continues to be successful and grow.

We hope our questions have given you valuable food for thought in developing your corporate strategy and will inspire you to implement appropriate measures. 

Our tip for strategic questions: get professional advice

Do you need a sparring partner to discuss strategic issues? UBS advisors talk to you as equals. As a bank, we serve thousands of corporate clients, many of whom face the same challenges.

We help you finance your future plans, plan your succession, and assist you in the sale of your business. UBS also brokers support for its corporate clients from its wide network of internal and external contacts. Whatever you have on your mind, talk to your UBS advisor.

Use our network

Do you sometimes find yourself wondering whether other companies are pondering the very same questions as you? We don’t only support you with financial matters.

Drawing on our extensive network, we offer you solutions to any challenges you many face during your day-to-day activities. Including for issues relating to strategy or expansion, for example.

Nikolaus Schäfer

Head Strategy for Corporate & Institutional Clients

Nikolaus Schäfer has been working in the field of strategy for over ten years. First with the Boston Consulting Group in North America, Asia and Australia and now for the past several years with UBS. He heads up the UBS Strategy team for our corporate and institutional clients.

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