Small businesses in the West Midlands are not exploiting niche markets as well as they could because of a lack of resources, a panel of experts has warned.
The AXA Midlands Small business round- table brought together members of the small business community and representatives from the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and the Asian Business Association to discuss some of the major issues affecting the region's small businesses.
The panel identified that small businesses were often unable to free managers from the day-to-day running of the firm in order to concentrate on strategic planning.
The speakers agreed the many small businesses operated in 'survival mode' which meant that opportunities to plan ahead were often missed.
John Anderson, head of SME markets at AXA, said one of the major concerns was that as more small businesses move into increasingly niche and transient sectors, there will be an increasing need for firms to spend more time researching possible new markets. He said: "Many small businesses are now operating in national and international markets and have been forced into niche provision by larger firms.
"However, it is also clear that most have insufficient contingency plans to cope with a market downturn.
"For example, would small businesses in the Rover supply chain have suffered to the extent they have if they had more capacity to plan and diversify?"
Other issues discussed by the panel included the need for local business to form better links with schools and colleges. Discussion also took place on how small businesses respond to an ageing workforce and the need to form industry bodies that will effectively develop and stimulate markets.
Another central issue raised by the panel was a lack of sufficient recruitment skills in small businesses, to ensure that they get exactly the right person needed for the position.
Mr Anderson said: "Many SME owners don't train to be managers or businessmen. Most either develop their business from a interest or idea, and some inherit the firm. Those owners who find themselves in this position often just 'get by' without getting further training or support."
The panel called upon local bodies supporting small businesses, such as the chambers of commerce, to make access to training and support easier to help owners of SMEs produce a strategic plans that will allow them to diversify.
"So often, when something goes wrong with a particular industry, local government and supporting bodies end up firefighting. These organisations need to work closer together."