There’s an old story about a western businessperson who met a third-world fisherman while on vacation. You can read the whole thing here, but the upshot is the businessperson suggested the fisherman expand and develop his fishing business, working hard for years, until he could retire and…do pretty much exactly what he was doing as a simple fisherman.
The point, which we’ll explore throughout this month, is that there are advantages to being a small business. Not everybody wants to, not everybody is able to, and not everybody should be a Starbucks or Microsoft or UPS. In many ways, a small business is better for somebody who just wants to feed her family while living by her own rules rather than going “full metal corporate.”
If you’re one of those people, or even someone with plans for world domination who’s still at “Stage Two: Small Business,” consider these time-tested ways to leverage your business’ smaller size.
A small business means a small communications chain. Where a multinational corporation might have eight departments, six forms, and a tribunal between customer service and operations, in your shop the departments are next door to each other – if they’re not the same person doing two jobs. This means you can get answers to questions and solutions to problems exponentially faster than a large organization. Make it a priority to do so.
Upgrade on this concept by doing the same on social media. Internet advocates of small, local shops are some of the most passionate and powerful on the web. Quick response, even to idle chat, can turn casual clients into those advocates.
Speaking of advocates, the tribe phenomenon of the Internet as described in Seth Godin’s We Are All Weird is alive and well in the small business world. The idea is that, no matter how niche your offering, there are other people who are just as passionate. Because you share that one thing, it’s likely you’ll share other things in common as well. Those people become not only your clients, but your friends. They will support all the moves your business makes, and tell all their friends about how great you are.
Upgrade on this by forming an elite action team, a group of super-advocates who get behind-the-scenes peeks, early access and special discounts. Ask nothing for it, but watch as it turns already excited advocates into absolute brand ambassadors.
Find the Financial Sweet Spot
The cash-and-effort curve for most small businesses looks like stairs rather than a curve. Effort and income stay about the same, then there’s a chance for expansion. Suddenly both go up a notch and grow rapidly until you hit another plateau. At some point, there will come a time when you have another chance to expand, but feel just fine about the money you’re already making. Why take on the extra effort if you don’t need the extra profits?
To upgrade this, farm out the next expansion opportunity. Choose a loyal member of your team you think is ready to step up into leadership – maybe someone who hadn’t been advancing because of the small size of your shop. Mentor and coach that person until the expansion is running with only a little of your input.
Turn Your Team into Family
Small businesses often have small teams, and you spend a lot of time with each member. If they’re not already family (and for small businesses, they often are), take the time to make them a “family of choice” centered on the work you share. You won’t be able to compete with the biggest corporations in terms of money, benefits packages, or even paid vacation and sick leave. But if you have a personal connection, you’ll keep the best of them through the power of that alone.
Upgrade this concept with a weekly “family dinner” or similar casual gathering where everybody puts work down and gets to know what they do during the other hours of the day. Non-work conversation is what turns co-workers into friends, and deeper understanding turns friends into family.
Locals like to celebrate their locality. That’s why you never see people get truly passionate about Starbucks or McDonalds, but almost everybody has a favorite hole-in-the-wall coffee shop or burger joint. By getting involved in the calendar and community of your town or neighborhood, you can turn this tendency to your advantage.
The upgrade here is getting involved with your local high schools. Most have built-in ways for businesses to support athletics and other programs, and hearing your business’ name will bring the teens in (assuming you don’t run a bar or something). Parents come with the teens, and will return even after graduation.
These are just a few ideas you can use to leverage a business’ small size. Share your own ideas in our comments and become part of the Kabbage conversation.