SCOTTISH Enterprise chairman Bob Keiller talked last week about the impact that scaling companies make to our economy.

Keiller said their collective focus on scaling represents one of the biggest opportunities for Scotland’s economy and that SE needs to be clear about what it is and do more of it.

According to SE, a true scaling company is one with an annual turnover of more than £10 million but with the capability and ambition to grow rapidly to a turnover of £100m and beyond over the next couple of years.

There aren’t many of those in Scotland.

SMEs make up 99.3 per cent of all private sector enterprises, yet all too often their contribution is eclipsed by the scaling companies. And the support they get is seen as contradictory at best, and disdainful at worst.

Unicorns and scalable companies get glorious headlines and one-to-one, account-managed support while SMEs, the hard-working Shetland ponies of the economy, get Small Business Saturday once a year and struggle for recognition of their economic and social contributions.

Elaine Burns is co-founder of e-commerce platform Wear Eponymous. She says Small Business Saturday is a great initiative, but there needs to be a real effort to shift thinking towards what we can do for smaller businesses all year round.

“We completely understand the processes required to reach account managed status on the high growth route,” says Burns.

“But it does appear to be out of reach for so many strong small businesses with great potential that are in danger of treading water without the right support now.”

While she appreciates that funding, grants and loans realistically can’t be offered to anyone with an idea and shouldn’t be too easy to access, Burns says certain industries are well supported while others are in a business support “no-mans land”.

“For example, retail is considered a dirty word and too high risk to support. Isn’t selling a product or service what makes every business survive? Tens of thousands of Scottish jobs are in commercial retail and yet it receives little to no support in our experience.” Communications consultant Mairi Damer says she doesn’t understand why smaller businesses are sidelined so much.

“I’d go as far as to say we are treated with a certain level of disdain from the national enterprise agencies. But promotion of business within a narrow, turnover-obsessed agenda just doesn’t represent the true spectrum of Scottish business. Collectively, SMEs, micros and sole traders play a huge role to support the Scottish economy, but despite our numbers we really struggle for recognition of our combined efforts and our economic and social contributions.”

Damer, founder of Word Up Communications, says at the beginning she felt a bit like a pinball being rocketed around a bewildering range of enterprise agencies, all of which had slightly different (and highly confusing) messages about the best way to get her business started. She would like to see small-scale loans, an effective mentoring programme which anyone can access, regardless of growth potential and ongoing access to professional and personal development training programmes.

Burns agrees that more support is essential for SMEs: “Support, targets and an advisor who is the perfect fit for your industry is essential, with regular planning and working towards strengthening weaknesses and nurturing strengths.”

Michelle Rodger is a communications consultant