Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to examine whether strategic intent influences developing intellectual capital (IC) and if IC affects performance measured in terms of product and service diversification within small and medium enterprises over time. Design/methodology/approach – This study discusses if and how structural equation models can be located within the third stage of IC research, and subsequently presents an analysis developed using 1,392 questionnaire responses through a temporal lens. Findings – Empirical results show how relational, human and structural capital strongly connects to support a firm’s performance measured in terms of product and service diversification. Additionally, IC and strategic intent influence each other creating a constraint effect on one side and an ambition effect on the other. Interestingly, the constraint effect is much higher than the ambition effect, and this falls in line with a contingency approach to strategic intent. Practical implications – Several practical implications are developed. First, results show that high regulation where firms can offer mandatory product/services can limit IC development. Therefore the findings contribute to the dialogue between policy makers, managers and businesses. Second, business schools should consider how strategic intent contributes to developing IC in order to design future curricula for accounting and management studies. Third, firms that operate in similar contexts should pay attention to managerial myopia due to low competition where a significant part of firms’ revenues is from mandatory product/services. Originality/value – This paper contributes to the existing literature by investigating how IC affects strategic intent and how strategic intent fosters IC development. Additionally, findings build on existing theory, helping to understand how IC affects performance measured in terms of portfolio diversification.