I’ve spent a significant amount of time in both small business and big business environments. And the over riding conclusion I’ve come to is this:
Big Business is about the small picture.
Small Business is about the big picture.
While it seems unlikely, this irony is true for most of the people involved in either scenario. Big business due to their success and size split the tasks up into tiny little pieces. “Mary is responsible for new product development of our fat free, individually wrapped, cheese slices for the South West region”. The people become cogs in a machine that is so big the world becomes obscured. While in startups and small business we are responsible for, well everything from customer complaints, to invoicing, to media interviews.
So before we transition from big business into a startup, it pays to pay attention to the big picture because all too often when we ‘grow up’ working for big companies we lose sight of the real world we operate in.
Today I was having a chat with an aspiring web entrepreneur. She contacted me for some advice via skype. I asked her a question about her target audience, suggesting she focus on the top end of town and I thought was worth sharing here:
Antony: I thought it’s best to focus on all small & medium companies rather than big giants
Steve: The size of the company is totally irrelevant. What IS relevant – is why your business solves their problems….
I don’t think you can delineate between big or small business being harder to sell to. I’ve had just as many challenges with each…
Small biz can be tighter with their funds….
Big biz can be locked into deals….
and vice versa…. it’s in our mind….
Steve: What matters is the value your business creates…. when you create value that matters – then the sell gets easier – regardless of the target…
So how do we leverage a human revolution from a commercial perspective? It’s a big question. And even though the web has gone a long way in deconstructing power bases, business and human evolution are still inextricably linked. So I thought I’d post a few things that matter in a digital world so all players (people and commerce) can create value for each other simultaneously.
Rules of engagement
- Authenticity pays. Be real, don’t pretend to be something, or someone your not. Brand respect comes from understanding the rules and respecting the on line world as the real world and vice versa.
- Speak with a human voice. We don’t listen to Corpi-speak. We listen to voices from people. We ten must personify our brands.
- Engage the crowd. They own our brands. You want proof. When they stop feeding our brand (buying) it dies. We must pay the respect the real brand owners deserve. It’s always been this way, but we didn’t know…. because we couldn’t hear their voices. Now they they have a voice, we must act on it. We have to let our people hijack our brands. User Generated Content and Crowd Sourcing is where it’s at.
- Compound effort. Benefits take longer to garner in the new world. It’s not like the old days of a large media campaign with instant results. We are moving from a low human capital, high financial capital environ, to a large human capital, low financial capital world.
- Learn on the job – it can’t be strategized. It’s too unorganized and changeable… the web is humanity in digital form. Then they only way to play is to embrace the chaos and be part of the conversation. It can’t be justified to a board room, but the companies and brands who choose not to play will be wondering what happened a few short years from now.
Most of all, have fun doing it.
I was inspired by a recent article from the Australian Anthill about making our business appear bigger than we are. But in the age of authenticity, do we really want that? Sure, appearing big can be a good thing depending on our audience. Certainly, the key point in the article to me was ‘How to appear professional’. But why should professional be inextricably associated with big? Maybe the strategy should be to appear as small as possible. The current market place is not short of large corporates who are starting to understand the importance of personal service again. An example that comes to mind is the Bank of Queensland moving to a franchised branch model – where local ownership is of strategic importance to customers. Especially in such a tarnished industry as banking.
So why would we want to appear smaller than we are? Here’s a couple of thought starters:
Service – it is implicit that service is better when dealing directly with a small group of people rather than a faceless corporation
Trust – Smaller companies are way more dependent on you as a customer. You matter more, so you can trust the fact that they will do all they can to keep you.
Underdog - People love to support the up and comer. The person having a real go. Being small should be embraced and leveraged. Often this might be the only reason people do business with you.
So in the spirit of small = good, here’s the startup blog top 10 list of how to act small. Regardless of our actual revenue:
- Have personal contact details of team members on your website. Email, Skype cell phone.
- Remove pointless gatekeepers from your office who insulate hierarchy members from real customers
- Use real language in all written forms of communication. Use a human voice not corporate PR brochure parlance.
- Be honest when you stuff up. Admit it openly and quickly. Don’t make decisions based on repercussions, but on what’s right.
- Write terms and conditions (if you must have them) in a language anyone could understand
- Never call your audience your target. Business is is not skeet shooting, it is about delighting. You are performing for an audience, who can get up and leave at any time…. or even throw rotten tomatoes.
- Give responsibility to individuals not committees. Give them decision authority. It’ll get done quicker and better.
- Don’t gag your people. Allow anyone to comment on the company and what’s happening. It’ll be the best research you can ever do to find out what’s really going on in your company. No ships will be sunk.
- Have a policy of common sense. Not written manuals no employee will ever read.
- Say, “Yes we are only a small company…. and here’s why we are better…”