What must companies do to stand out to an ever-growing SME crowd?

To Kim Symmons, Head of User Experience at Mettle


The SME market has boomed in recent years, so much so that it makes up 99% of the UK economy. When it comes to banking for this market, London alone has 2,500 fintechs – and 79% of Brits state they use fintech apps for banking and payments.

But it’s not only the ‘traditional’ SMEs that we need to cater for. There is the ‘passion economy’ – almost five million side hustlers, freelancers and small businesses – growing across the UK. From the pandemic to the cost of living crisis, people are changing the way they work, why they work and what they do.

This group of people want to work for themselves and own their own time. They want to start their own businesses or side hustle along their main jobs. Being able to turn a passion into an opportunity, whether it’s a side hustle to generate more income or to be your own boss takes a lot of work. And at the heart of it all lies your business finances.

According to research by Airtasker, 46% of people in Britain are making a second income using side hustles. Of the 5.5 million small businesses in the UK in the private sector last year, 4.2 million had no employees.

When it comes to banking, this group of entrepreneurs need a financial service provider to make their lives easier by reducing day-to-day hassles. They want fast, simple and mobile-first banking. They also want their banking products to be able to help them manage bookkeeping and tax better.

Having the ability to offer access to financial solutions, whether directly as a lender or through partners, is critical for this segment of the market. However, traditionally this group has been too expensive to service by high street banks and their needs are too diverse.

Enter fintechs. The rise of financial technology firms cannot be understated – they have brought faster mobile banking to customers, where many high street banks were still hampered by legacy infrastructure.

The difficulty comes in when trying to stand out in this noisy market. Understanding who your customer is one part of the puzzle. But the overall marketing machine behind that app needs to be able to stand above the crowd to attract and retain those customers.


Designing a stand-out product

Talk to your customers. Build. Talk to them again. And iterate.

It sounds simple in theory but understanding the specific needs of your customer base and creating an intuitive and user-friendly process wouldn’t be possible without solid research. Especially as customers should always be a priority – because at the end of the day, who else are you building this for.

Once you’ve identified a problem you think you can solve with your app, you need to research what products or services your target customers are currently using. This will help you to understand if there is an equivalent product or service out there.

It helps if you can make a list of the top five competitors and figure out what they are doing well. Use this as a starting point for the product design process.


Big on content, short on time

The application that customers will be using is important. But it’s not the only piece of the puzzle when it comes to standing out from the crowd. The wider brand and marketing around that application is equally important.

Competitor analysis can also help to identify how other products or services talk to their customers – what their tone of voice is, their style and how frequent they reach out to customers and on what channels.

When going through this process with Mettle we found that companies tend to put a lot of content on their websites. However, when we spoke to some of our customers, we found that they had limited time.

This then fed into how the website was designed – easy to navigate, and not overwhelming visitors with information. And part of this was championing the very people the app was for.

As part of the website design, we worked with a few of our early customers and arranged photo shoots in their business environments. This helped to capture the authenticity and showcase this to potential customers just like them.

Ultimately, when it comes to standing out from the crowd, you need to first understand what that crowd is and how it operates. From there you can look to build an application that solves a problem your potential customers haven’t fully been able to solve before.

But it doesn’t stop there. The design process isn’t a one-off – you need to constantly talk to your customers, monitor the market and iterate as you go. You should have a design system in place so that the business and app can grow and develop alongside your customers.

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