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Business Expansion, Expansion Alternatives

Keeping Your Small Business Small – Tips to Stay Hip, Trendy and Small


The “elbow” is a sweet spot for a lot of things: communication, purchase prices and small business. For a company, as size increases so do profits and effort required…until you hit the elbow. At that point, both profits and effort skyrocket.

Not every business has the opportunity to choose whether or not to push beyond the elbow into the realm of Amazon, McDonald’s and Target. If you do get the chance, you’d be crazy not to take it, right?

Not necessarily. Remember the massively expanding income is accompanied by corresponding massive expansion of effort and hassle. You can provide well for your family and employees below the elbow if you know how to leverage the power of keeping a small business small.

Here are eight techniques used by restauranteurs, martial arts studios, web designers, small presses and other operations that live in a small, local world and like it that way.


  1. Focus, Focus, Focus
    You can’t compete with Amazon or Target on variety, or on price. If you tried, your inventory expenses would skyrocket and you’d fill every corner with unmoving merchandise. Instead, choose to do one thing extremely well. Develop contacts in your physical community and the community of hobbyists or professionals you serve. Don’t try to be the guy who has everything an electrician might possibly need…but the guy with the highest quality components for electrical engineers. Don’t run yet another generalized used book store, run book store with the largest collection of pulp westerns in the region.
  1. Get Transparent
    Between social media, instantaneous communication and a millennial distrust of faceless corporations, consumers want to know enough about a company to believe they can trust them. This is one place small businesses have an enormous advantage over larger corporations. When the Assistant Administrative Vice President of Social Media tweets, nobody cares because they all know the message will be sanitized and insincere. By contrast, a tweet about the inner workings of the local bowling alley by Sally, the owner who’s there every Friday night will get attention, reshares and appreciation.
  1. Own Your Social Media Tribe
    It doesn’t matter how niche or rarified your business becomes, the Internet can put you in touch with ten thousand people just as passionate about it as you. Some of these people will be the biggest movers and shakers in the industry. You should get to know them, share their insights and network. Some will be your peers and even your rivals, with whom you should have deep and public conversations about what you do and sell. Others will be your followers and potential clients. Share everything you can with them, so they think of you as a thought leader in your own right.
  1. Foster Referrals
    Major corporations make their money on convenience and consistency. Small business bank on community. If you’re doing your job even halfway right, by now you have a small cadre of people who love your business and what you do. Turn them from clients to advocates with a truly value-laden program that rewards them for bringing in friends, or simply for their continued patronage. It takes seven times as much money and effort to sell to a new customer as to an existing client, and when those clients bring somebody to you that new guy comes in at that lower cost. Do everything possible to encourage this behavior.
  1. Form a Street Team
    Take the most passionate members of your cadre of supporters and make them part of an elite club with a name you think best works for your particular industry. A bar might call them the “Happy Hour Heroes” while a martial arts studio might have a team of “Apprentice Instructors.” The idea with the street team is to give them backstage access, individual attention and special rewards to keep them excited and enthusiastic about your business. Host some kind of special event each month to celebrate them, and of course invite them to bring a friend or two so they can show off your business for you.
  1. Become Aggressively Local
    A small hamburger joint owner shouldn’t be in business if he can’t be bothered to know exactly what the high school football schedule looks like. If a local comic book store isn’t leveraging movie premiers and chess tournaments, it’s missing low-hanging promotional fruit. Whether your particular community is geographical or interest-based, the more you know about it and the more involved you become, the larger your fan base will become. The big players might try to buy their way in by donating (sometimes very big) money to a local school or event, but only small businesses like yours can be on site for the Founder’s Day parade or make meaningful comments at a local convention panel.
  1. Respond Instantly
    Keep an eye on social media, email and the phone and respond right away to any complaints, and almost as fast to complements and neutral observations. The personal touch is what will motivate people to spend a little more, and drive a little farther, to do business with you. The faster you respond to incoming messages, the more personal it feels – especially if you can keep a local and transparent tone during the communication.
  1. Practice Low-Instensity Expansion
    Not choosing to step up to the Target/McDonald’s tier doesn’t mean never expanding. Instead of seeking the new location or investigating franchising, take advantage of ways to add income streams without radically increasing the complexity of your business. Many Kabbage clients have taken their shop online, simply adding a little social media activity and a few hours of filling orders a week to add thousands to their annual revenue. Maybe your small book shop could add a traveling counter you set up at relevant community events, or your burger shop could take over concessions at the high school football stadium (giving a portion of the proceeds back to the school, of course). These small expansions can offer high profits for low investment if you identify them early and leverage them well.

Have you tried some of these techniques? How did they work? What would you do differently the next time? Are there practices that work well for you that you didn’t see on the list? Comment below to tell the Kabbage community all about it.


Kabbage Team

Kabbage is here not only to provide access to the small business funding you need, but to also help you grow your business through free marketing tips, webinars, tools and more. Is there something you'd like us to cover or want to get your small business featured on our blog? Send us a note at