SMEs must focus on working smarter not harder to achieve success

SMEs must focus on working smarter not harder to achieve success

We all know hard work is critical to any successful venture. Athletes train hard, musicians rehearse and businesses put in many work hours. Hong Kong is certainly not shy on that front. In Hong Kong, a founder of startups and SMEs typically works over 12 hours a day and employees in SMEs average 50 hours a week. If success is measured by hard work, SMEs and Startups in Hong Kong will be in great positions.

Unfortunately, the reality is that hard work is not enough. SMEs and Startups operate on finer margins, they are affected more by external factors such as competition, economic downturns, lack of expertise and finances. These factors all contribute to the high failure rates to Startups and SMEs. According to Forbes magazine, 90% of startups end in failure.

Businesses looking for ways to scale and grow should focus on working smarter at the heart of their strategy.

As a business owner myself, I have seen the benefits of working smarter. A focus on working smarter has increased our company’s productivity, staff motivation has gone up (leading to working harder), allowed us to venture into new business partnerships and perhaps most importantly, it has allowed us to achieve our growth objectives.

Below are 4 practices I aspire to when looking to work smarter. 

1. Develop an open mindset

After a couple of years of trying to take every decision, run on intuition and control everything on my own, I realised there are simply too many moving parts for me to be in complete control. Decision making and intuition remain my key assets, but knowing when and where to seek help is even more important.

Help can come from many forms, it could be your business partner or colleagues, your lawyer, your family and friends and even technology. More importantly, help does not have to be expensive, you may just need a new perspective, you may need some expert advice at a critical moment, and sometimes, you might just want to be heard.

2. Don’t be everything for everyone

It is competitive out there and is very tempting to promise potential clients on things which you may not be able to deliver. We all know how this plays out in the long run!

Remember your core values, core competencies and your ability to deliver. If the project doesn’t fit into your core values, you will need to make a decision on how this may affect your business in the long run. If you have been asked to deliver on something outside of your core competencies, do not be afraid to tell the client that you are unable to meet the deliverables but turn it into your advantage by recommending someone who can. If the project fits your company’s competencies but it is too big for you to deliver, again do not be afraid to communicate this with the client, they may be willing to pay more so you can complete the project.

3. Don’t try to control the uncontrollables

Your business will be disrupted one way or another. There is nothing you can do to stop that.

Focus on the things you can control and don’t pay too much attention to things you have no control over.

If your business wants to be ready for an economic downturn or another pandemic, do not focus on trying to stop the downturn or pandemic. Focus on working with your colleagues and lawyers so you can have contingency plans with processes in place for when the day comes.

Be prepared. 

4. Stop multitasking

I love the idea of multitasking, but I know I am just not very good at it. I simply do not have the capacity to do multiple things to a high standard all at once.

I just look at how to do one task at the best of my ability each time. This may sound counterintuitive.

However, when I measure our weekly results, I can see significant improvements from our daily processes.

Numerous neuro studies have shown that humans are not very good at multitasking.

Next time you have a lot on, try a different approach. Prioritise the workload and do it in order and see if this will work better for you.


Working smarter should not supersede hard work. Both are critical ingredients for the success of your business. While I do appreciate the benefits of working smarters, I also understand the realities of running a small business. Sometimes hard work is still the only way.

I hope these four practices give you food for thought and I do hope you give them a try.

By Stephen Lai

Founder/Managing Director - Conventus Law

I started my business with a simple idea that I can be successful as long as I help other people achieve their goals and objectives.
Maintaining this focus of serving my customers and staff has helped me achieve nominations for several entrepreneurial awards and being named as one of 30 people to watch in the business of law in Asia by the Asia Law Portal in 2015.

My goal is to combine technology and media which will allow lawyers to re-allocate their resources from routine legal work to higher value matters, and to develop digital business development solutions for law firms.

When I am not working, I can usually be seen chasing my two little girls, watching sport on TV while trying to convince my wife I could have been a pro athlete, trying not to blow up my kitchen with yet another cooking experiment, listening to 90s music, reading anything history related or exploring the hidden streets in Hong Kong.

Reach out if you want to explore how technology may help you.

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