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.
Sometimes a startup just make sense. Logical in hindsight to the point where it feels like we should have done it.
Vitamints is one such startup. It is what it says – Vitamins which are also mints.
This Australian startup has taken some really clever insights to form the basis of the product format and it goes a little deeper than vitamins that taste nice. They found that houses were graveyards for half used vitamin bottles (I know mine is!!). The basic idea was to get vitamins out of the kitchen cupboard and into peoples pockets, like gum. So why not package it like gum? Why not make it taste nice? Why not distribute it in more convenient locations?
And aside from the fact that mints in convenience stores are almost the fastest growing impulse purchase, Vitamints taps beautifully into the mobile society we now live in. Your vitamins now live in your pocket people. Sounds a bit like a classic web mashup business, but in an old tired category. Once again industry incumbents need to take a lesson from an innovative new business – maybe that’s why I like it so much.
I can’t wait to read about them getting bought out by a multinational pharmaceutical company in 10 years time.
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…”
I was asked to answer a few questions at a talk I gave last week at the Nationwide Networking Event. It was aimed at Small businesses with the topic about new media and the advantages of being small. I thought it was a nice snippet of ideas worth sharing here.
Q: What type of changes can we expect from media in 2010 and how do we need to prepare for it as business professionals?
A: Media will fragment further, it’s increasingly like fashion with new ideas appearing daily. The art of value, like with fashion is by going with the classics and choosing the right style for the brand you want to build. Match your environment, by being involved in the right channels.
Q: Where do you see the role of the blog in the future?
A: Increasingly important. Blogs are a trusted source, because bloggers become, or are an expert on their topic of choice. This is because all good blogs are topic specific. And people want to deal with experts.
Q: What can we expect from the evolution of twitter and our capacity to use it as a marketing medium?
A: If we use it as a marketing medium we’ve already lost. It’s a conversation…. Conversation can turn into business, but it is primarily a conversation. First we need to be a resource. A resource to others, from which we can build trust and valued relationships. These may eventually lead a business relationship.
Q: What trends are coming from America that we need to be aware of?
A: Trends are global now. We don’t have to look overseas to see it. Things arrive simultaneously. It’s not like it was 20 years ago where our friends return from sojourns overseas to tell us all about the cool things they saw, and we have to wait for them to appear in our market a few years later. Now it’s on our desktop the day it happens. This is been further facilitated by web tools such as Springwise, Twitter and Youtube.
Q: How do we (small business people) benefit from the changes in the media landscape?
A: Barriers to entry have been removed so anyone can play. But it requires a long term consistent effort. New media requires a low financial investment, and large human capital input. Where as old media requires a large financial investment with little human effort. At least now we have to choice. In addition large companies have been (so far) pretty bad at using new media. It creates an advantage for us.
Q: How can we better utilize technology tor reduce our costs and increase our profits?
A: Shift from being doers, to becoming project managers. Outsource where ever possible. It’s easier now with all the tools we have at our disposal like elance and skype. Why do we even need an office? Is it because we need to, or because we don’t trust the people we work with?
Q: Your blog has 50,000 readers a month, how did you do that?
Q: What is the meaning of micro brand building and how would it be relevant to soloprenuers?
A: Build your personal brand first. That’s the first part of micro branding, becoming known for something. Having a skill you can share with others. Then eventually cross fertilize to your business brand.
Q: What are the simplest things we can do to build a micro brand?
A: Have a tight focus area of interest. Share our lessons honestly and openly. Frequency of output.
Q: How do we protect our brands?
A: Not with IP and legal stuff…. Most of that is a simple waste of money. We protect it with customers, innovation and reliability.
Q: What one piece of advice would you give to those of us that need clients and need them quickly?
A: Cold call. Not on the phone, but turn up and talk.
Q: What books have influenced you?
Q: What marketers / speakers have influenced you?
A: Steven Wright (comedian) he taught me how to flip my perspective for alternative solutions.