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When Should SME CEOs Seek External Support?

As a CEO of a small or medium-sized enterprise (SME), steering your company toward growth and navigating the complexities of the business landscape is a part of your daily agenda. However, there are pivotal moments when the wisdom of internal resources is best complemented by external expertise. Let’s discuss when you, as an SME CEO, should consider looking beyond your organisation for advice.


This blog post gathers thoughts from Aamu Partners’ Tuomas Paananen and CEO CF’s Tony Wood. Aamu Partners is a company assisting SME CEO’s to reach their goals and grow their shareholder value. CEO CF is a forum where selected leaders collaborate to build trust, share insights, learn from others’ experiences, and develop into respected leaders in society and their organisations. Through this post, we present dual perspectives from these seasoned business consultants and leadership experts.


“The first thing is that A CEO should always be looking for advice everywhere.”

 – Tony Wood

Securing Serious Funding

When it’s time to secure significant funding, the stakes are high, and the right approach can mean the difference between scaling new heights and missing out on key opportunities. This process is multifaceted, demanding a solid grasp of finance, a strategic approach to investor relations, and meticulous preparation of company valuation and pitch decks. Tuomas lists a few key points how experienced experts can help when seeking for funding:

  • Enhancing the credibility of your financial projections and business valuations.
  • Crafting compelling narratives for potential investors.
  • Navigating complex regulatory landscapes to ensure compliance.
  • Broadening your network to connect with the right investors.
  • Fine-tuning the terms of investment to align with your company’s long-term vision.


Tony also reminds that peer-to-peer support from other CEOs can help to understand the process and what is to come, and hence to choose the right external experts and understand the future path better.


Sharpening Governance

Governance concerns the system by which a company is controlled and operates, and the mechanisms by which it, and its people, are held to account. As SMEs grow, they may find that their governance structures need to evolve to meet new challenges and comply with increasing regulatory requirements. According to Tuomas, external consultants can offer valuable insights into best practices, helping to:

  • Establish clear roles and responsibilities for the board and management.
  • Ensure compliance with corporate laws and regulations.
  • Implement effective management processes.
  • Develop a robust framework for ethical conduct and corporate policies.


In addition to these fundamental elements, Tony Wood would stress the significance of integrating peer collaboration and leveraging diverse external perspectives. He advocates for an approach where governance is not only about compliance and structure but also about fostering a culture of open dialogue and continuous learning. This involves actively seeking insights from other experienced CEOs and industry experts to enrich governance practices. Wood emphasises the CEO’s role in not just establishing, but dynamically engaging with governance structures, ensuring they remain agile and responsive to the ever-evolving business landscape. Such an approach ensures that governance is not just a regulatory requirement but a strategic asset driving the organisation forward.

Preparing for Special Situations

Whether you’re facing a funding round, company restructure, contemplating an acquisition, or tackling market expansion, special situations demand special attention. Like Tuomas phrases it:

“Preparing for special situations, such as mergers, acquisitions, or major market expansions, requires a level of experience and expertise that often goes beyond the internal capabilities of an SME. Most SMEs face these special situations once or twice in their lifecycle. Specialised consultants could have faced these situations dozens or hundreds of times”

These special events are rich with potential yet fraught with peril, making the margin for error slim. Hiring specialists with a track record in successfully managing such events can be pivotal. Their counsel can steer your strategic planning and execution, mitigating risks while maximising opportunities. 


“In addition to seeking expert consultants, engaging with a network of peers, such as other CEOs who have undergone similar experiences, can be incredibly beneficial”, Tony suggests. Wood would in many cases advocate for a balanced approach where external expertise is complemented by insights gained from peer-to-peer support networks.


Whenever You Feel the Need

Sometimes, the need for outside help is not triggered by a specific event but by the recognition that the company could be performing better. This realisation may arise from within the board as they recognize gaps in their knowledge or skill set. Or, it may be in response to feedback from shareholders, employees, or customers. Tuomas lists a few examples when consultants can be brought in:

  • Provide a fresh perspective on business challenges.
  • Implement new technologies or processes.
  • Offer specialised expertise in areas such as strategy, operations, marketing, IT, or HR.
  • Train and develop staff to improve performance.

Don’t forget to also rely on internal advice
Even though external advice from outside the company is important, it is as important to remember to get advice from within the company. As Tony Wood puts it:

“CEOs should be looking for advice from their team. Ideally they should be the last person to speak in any meeting. The CEO should be hiring people who have more experience and specific skills in a specific field than the CEO, and the CEO should take advantage of this resource.”


In Summary

Your role as the CEO is to lead your company toward success, making critical decisions that will impact its trajectory for years to come. Engaging with outside experts is not an admission of inadequacy; rather, it’s an acknowledgment that the right knowledge at the right time can catalyse significant progress.


The careful selection of advisors and consultants can bring new insights, skills, and perspectives that align with your company’s culture and objectives. It can set your SME on a path to not just meet the challenges ahead but to capitalise on them, ensuring a position of strength in the marketplace.


Remember, in the rapidly changing business environment, the strategic use of external expertise is often what distinguishes a thriving enterprise from the rest. As the CEO at the helm of an SME, it’s up to you to wield this tool effectively and judiciously for the betterment of your company’s future.

And even with external help, don’t forget to utilise the internal resources as well!



Read more from our blog post series: 

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