Most of us have made the mistake of pigeonholing ourselves based on the group we seemingly or want to fit into. How many times have we inadvertently placed limitations upon ourselves based on our birth date, physical characteristics, ethnicity or an income level? It’s a trap based on the powerful human desire to belong and the marketer’s urge to know us. Even if it means joining formerly unflattering clubs like AARP or Weight Watchers, wearing the latest in support ribbons/bracelets or surfing on a revealing social Web site like MySpace.com, belonging trumps the discomfort of feeling alienated.
We may need to be choosier about the brands we align with and the boxes we check on the whiteboard of life. If, for example, we always mark the box that reads “Some College” on an education profile, we end up short-changing ourselves and our far-better real-world education. Don’t misread this; formal education is great but if you’re successfully leading a business and not feeling like a graduate, then the trap has caught you. We may not chew off our leg to escape like a desperate animal, but we have been harmed. Doubting your ability is nearly as bad as lacking it.
Kryptonite For Business Dreams
We trap ourselves and place boundaries on who we can become. Do managers who understand operational complexities like division of labor in an environment with both custom and commercial production lines normally have just “Some College”? Rarely. But in this industry owners’ often end up exceeding their schooling. The damage grows when we restrict our companies by labeling them as small businesses. The offense can strap down partners, employees and yourself. If you’re a small thinker, even revered customers will eventually identify your firm as small potatoes. What a terrible shackle to affix to your company on a journey that’s supposed to be all about creativity, agility, guts, speed and wits. “Small” may be a pocket-sized word but its like Kryptonite for business dreams.
The most exciting companies have no idea what size they are. They create and implement and succeed as if they are much bigger than their balance sheet — or bank statement — might indicate. These big-thinking owner/managers are not more courageous than others, nor are they simpletons for believing. Rather, they have decided their goals are tied to what’s achievable through their intellect, vision, strategy, dreams and steady implementation of great ideas. At the end of the day, a small business with no big ideas is just that — a small business.
How Big? vs. How Good?
Any smaller company can become an organization that is loaded with BIG IDEAS. It requires a commitment to the concept that your business will not be handcuffed by the size of your revenue. Disconnecting “how big” from “how good” entails placing qualities like professionalism, safety, liability limits, morale, technology and marketing on the same plane as tooling, equipment, adhesives and inventory.
Small Business . . . Big Ideas
Great, easy-to-adopt ideas are lined up like jets at O’Hare Int’l Airport on a holiday weekend. It can be so dizzying that the challenge can center on where and how to start. Here are some big ideas to consider for your smaller business:
- Harassment Policy — There are many free, well-written and researched zero-tolerance harassment policies on the Internet. Include all forms of harassment (ethnic, ageism, religious, orientation, etc.) by all groups of people (co-workers, vendors and customers) and not just the headline-grabbling sexual variety. Get your attorney’s approval, hold a brief company meeting, hand out the policy and answer questions. Research/implementation time = 6 hours. Out-of-pocket cost = About $150.00. Rest easier factor = High.
- Performance Recap and Goals with Graphics — “Build it and they will come.” Want true buy-in? Then share true numbers. Use easy-to-prepare spreadsheets and recap charts detailing performance trends and comparisons (sales, profits, markets, expenses, assets) and highlighting expectations. Create a unified vision of where you’re at and where you’re going. Accountant, Owner or Excel Wiz-Kid armed with a P&L and Balance Sheet can build it in a day. Approximate cost = $750 initially, far cheaper thereafter. Productivity and team morale impact = Huge.
- Get Electric About The Internet — Treat the most critical equipment you own the way you did when you upgraded your electrical service in the shop. Fabricators, including smaller ones, never skimp on power capacity. Here’s your last chance to get serious. Go broadband now. The infrastructure is changing to a fiber optic future with video as the primary application. Web content will be central to business management, knowledge sharing, productivity, throughput, even customer service. Free e-mail will soon be a memory. Thriving small businesses will adopt early and adapt frequently with upgradable/scalable tech systems. Costs = Like workers’ compensation or gasoline, irrelevant. Business impact = Makes joint adhesive seem marginal.
- Customer Satisfaction Survey — No excuses allowed. From a time and cost standpoint, there is no better investment in the viability of your business. Just mailing a professional looking survey with an ink signature from the owner and a stamped return envelope (with little intention of actually enacting any changes) will get you enough “customer care points” to make it worthwhile. Can you imagine the benefit of actually analyzing the results and responding genuinely to the desires of your customers? The net is loaded with great surveys. Find the best one, customize it, attach a crisp “thanks for participating” $5 bill and staple a heart-felt cover letter to it. Mail it to all of your customers. The tricky part is following the written instructions they will send you on how to continue receiving more and more of their money. Prep = One day. Out-of-pocket = Around $100.00. Service enhancements = Less costly than keeping status quo. Impact = Prove you listene and they’ll give you their hearts and pin number.
- Press Releases — Not only big firms have press releases. Creative small business owners usually have plans for improving their companies tucked inside their heads. Major milestones can be turned into a brand-building press releases. The Web will tell you exactly how to write and send them. Turn your evolution into industry news and document a new location, a new product offering, installing state-of-the-art equipment, a promotion for a loyal employee, company awards, participation in a trade show or community event, a sales campaign or a new Web site. Trade associations, chambers of commerce, community newspapers, etc. are always hungry for good local news. Time to write/send = 4 hours max. Out of pocket cost = $50.00. Impact on local industry and kids = Competitors jealous, kids reluctantly admit you’re cool.
Big Ideas Make All The Difference
Congratulations! You have chosen to take on the work that goes hand-in-hand with owning/managing a smaller business. Everyone knows how tough it can be, especially if you’re up against bigger competitors. Don’t limit yourself. You can even up the odds by developing the advantages that smaller businesses have: flexibility, speedy response time, meaningful service and big, creative ideas that get put into action and not into committee.
Remember, the most exciting companies have no idea what size they are. Their goals rest upon what is achievable despite revenue. Don’t fall into the size trap. The best small businesses think big . . . and big ideas make all the difference.