June 13, 2014
How Committed Are You
Plymouth Rock holds a very important place in the history of the United States. This was the first place in the New World the pilgrims traveling from Great Britain came ashore. This represented the end of an incredible 3 month journey across the Atlantic ocean and the start of a new life. These early travelers were incredibly committed to accomplishing their goals.
So, clearly these early settlers were committed to their cause but how does this relate to us today and how can their commitment be related to small business? Let’s look at four ways their commitment to their goals affected their decisions.
They Believed In Their Cause
This small group of courageous individuals were absolutely committed to their goals. They believed in their cause to such an extent they were willing to accept great trials. Regardless of your opinion of their beliefs and their choices, it is undeniable they were willing to do whatever the they needed to because they believed in the reason.
As a small business owner, founder, it is also absolutely essential that before you can see your business become successful you need to believe in what you’re doing. It may seem simple and rather obvious but consider the reason why you’re doing what you do. Do you believe in the cause of your business? Or have you lost your focus and now simply do what you think needs to be done to be successful? You must believe in the product, if now then you are not truly committed. (Not to mention you’ll find very little personal satisfaction in your work).
Your work must be fun. You must enjoy what you do and you must believe in what you are doing. A popular quote which most of you will know is applicable here:
Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.
But it’s much more than just believing in your cause. It’s taking the next step and being willing to give up everything to accomplish your cause.
They Sacrificed Everything
The Pilgrims were willing and ready to sacrifice everything to accomplish their goal. This is easy to see as an extreme level of commitment however, often times, this is overlooked when thinking about the Pilgrims and their journey to the colonies (soon to be the United States). The conditions they were leaving in England and the conditions they were accepting when moving to the colonies were exact opposites. And yet, due to their beliefs and their level of commitment they were ready and willing to sacrifice everything they had. They sacrificed lifestyle, friends, personal health, prosperity, and even loved ones for their cause.
Small business founders face difficulties and trials that others may never see. If you’re a small business owner then you understand the feeling of a bank account with a zero (negative) balance and the uncertainty of how to pay employees (definitely no payment for yourself). And yet you must continue. If you are committed to the success of your business you must be willing to sacrifice everything.
“The entrepreneurial life is one of challenge, work, dedication, perseverance, exhilaration, agony, accomplishment, failure, sacrifice, control, powerlessness… but ultimately, extraordinary satisfaction.”
– David S. Rose
They Expected Hardships
It would have been foolish for these brave individuals to assume everything would go smoothly. They went ahead with their plans to travel across the entire Atlantic ocean full-knowing they would experience loss, they would be forced to sacrifice their old lives, friendships, and even family. The both knew and accepted these hardships as part of their commitment to achieving their goals. This is important. Many places and historical records document the exact conditions they would encounter during their journey and upon their arrival. These travelers were fully aware of exactly what they could expect. No surprises.
Small business owners especially must be cautious of this point. Plan for success, but always, always, understand and be aware of any associated risks. If you know the hardships you can expect to face you can prepare yourself better to handle them. There is nothing wrong with looking at the potential pitfalls and preparing a way to navigate through them. This isn’t a sign of unbelief or pessimism in your business’ success, but rather a very clear display of your commitment.
“Never sacrifice planning for failure in order to appear optimistic, this will only leave you looking foolish and unprepared.”
They Followed Their Dreams
One last important correlation we’ll draw between the pilgrims and small business is quite possibly the easiest to see and the most pleasant to discuss. The pilgrims believed in their cause but even deeper than a belief in a cause, they took action and followed their dreams. It seems almost poetic but it is a very real situation. Rather than sitting back and talking about change, bemoaning their current state, and dreaming lofty wishful perfect outcomes, they boldly committed to following their dreams. They made plans (with calculated risks), understood the sacrifices, and the hardships to come and they still chased their idyllic utopian society.
Small business owners dream big. We all believe in an endless vast open space where anything is possible and with a little hard work our dreams can become a reality. Dreaming up ideas to change the world is something done on a daily basis. The part which comes next (which the first travelers to the new world actively did) the difficult task of planning and executing on their dreams and actively pursuing the dream is the hard part. This is the part small business owners can learn and grow from. As you dream (dream big) be sure to make plans, calculate risks, understand the sacrifices, and expect the hardships to come (believe me, they will come).
“I think if you’re an entrepreneur, you’ve got to dream big
and then dream bigger.”
– Howard Shultz
Life wasn’t easy for the early settlers and life certainly isn’t easy for small business owners. But we should continue to chase after our dreams. Because at the end of the day, it’s really the same dream of the pilgrims we’re still chasing today. The American Dream.
A Final Thought
I encourage you to examine the lives of these people and the above aspects. Explore what they endured, what they believed and begin to understand the commitment they demonstrated. Ask yourself, as a small business owner, how many of these same areas apply to your life. Answer those questions and you’ll see just how committed you are as well.
June 12, 2014
Hmm, interesting title for an article, Wilbur Buds. Sounds a bit like a person’s name. I’d like to discuss the history of an obscure (somewhat) product and the reason why I believe many have never heard of Wilbur Bud but have heard of the successfully marketed copycat.
Ok, rather than keep you in suspense guessing at what the copycat is (or worse, leaving the article to go do a quick Google search). I’ll start off by telling you immediately who the famous copycat is. I’m quite sure most are familiar with them. They run a multi-billion dollar chocolate company located in Pennsylvania (in fact, the city is named after them). That’s right, the Hershey chocolate company. The product? The Hershey Kiss.
Long before Hershey ever created their now-famous Hershey Kiss, another chocolate manufacturer was creating a small chocolate cone-shaped treat wrapped in foil. H.O. Wilbur and Son chocolatiers located in a small town in Lititz, Pennsylvania began selling their “Wilburbud” in 1894. The handcrafted chocolate bites were each made with incredible attention to detail, the bottom of each stamped with a unique petal shape and the letters spelled out W.I.L.B.U.R.
For many years they successfully sold their chocolate Buds and did well. Good press reviews and publicity eventually attracted the attention of other candy makers. One of these candy makers was Milton Hershey who began creating chocolate bars and other chocolate candy in 1900-1901 (yes, years after Wilbur and Son).
It was not until 7 years later in 1907 that Hershey announced their “new” product. A Hershey Kiss. The kiss looked remarkably similar to the Wilburbud but lacked the level of detail and craftmanship of the original.
So, what made the difference? Why did the copycat product which didn’t appear until well over 10 years later become more popular and a nationally (globally?) recognized product? The answer is in the detail. Or rather, the lack of detail. While Wilbur and Son focused on creating handcrafted, detailed chocolates (remember the embossed bottom). Hershey took a different approach.
Hershey had developed methods of mass producing chocolate bars and in 1907 when they announced the release of the Hershey Kiss they created a way to mass produce this chocolate as well. Sure, they lacked the detail, the craftsmanship of the original; but they were capable of scaling to meet a nationwide market.
So, what does this mean? I think it’s an interesting story and lends itself to be a great example of a very common modern situation. So many times entrepreneurs like to think they are inventing a brand new product for a brand new market and while there are times when this is possible and accomplished. Many many more times there are great products that are a variation of an existing product.
If the product/industry is not new, what determines success? I believe the difference can be found in a couple of key areas.
Having a scalable product is the first critical item to focus on when growing in a market where competition already exists. Be prepared first of all to handle the traffic, and load of selling to a much larger audience than the existing companies. Be focused on making your product or solution available as easily as possible to your target market. Hershey took advantage of assembly-line, machine-made, production to create a product which could be easily shipped nationwide.
If Wilbur had been able to envision the national demand for the product and create a method for distribution then things may have been very different. Obviously being scalable wasn’t the only factor. Let’s look at another.
Minimum Viable Product
Hershey delivered a minimum viable product. I am in no way implying that the Hershey Kiss was somehow inferior or of lesser quality than Wilbur’s. In fact, Mr. Hershey is credited with the following quote:
“Give them quality. That’s the best kind of advertising in the world.”
Clearly he believed in delivering a quality product. This is a common mistake when outlining a minimum viable product. Being quick and simple does not mean lacking in quality. You can easily product a minimum viable product of extremely high quality.
In this particular instance Hershey saw the advantage of forgoing a special embossed base to the candy because (at the time) this would lend itself to an assembly line production much easier.
Hershey created a minimum viable product which could be easily scaled and shipped across the nation. The result? Hershey kisses are known the world over and has become a significant part of the Hershey Company’s $4 billion annual revenue.
As business owners when looking to take your product to the next level be thoughtful in your approach. Look for ways to deliver a scalable solution to your largest customer base. And secondly don’t focus on all the bells and whistles. Deliver a clean and fully functional minimum viable product. And don’t mistake this minimum viable product as somehow inferior in quality.
Oh, and just in case you’re wondering. Wilbur chocolate still exists. Iff you’re ever in the quaint small town of Lititz, Pennsylvania you can stop by and pick up some of the tasty Wilburbuds. But you’ll have to visit them personally as they don’t distribute to any outlets.
June 10, 2014
Leading through Listening
Too many times we think the best way to market ourselves and our businesses is through talking (and talking) about our business, our services, or our products. We neglect one of the very most basic marketing methods. Listening to the customer.
We’re Listening, We Promise
Sure, we hear all the advertisers as they blare out their claims of “we’re listening to you.” How many people really believe these big corporate conglomerates are truly listening to their customers? Most doubt the sincerity and most believe the reality is quite different. Common thinking seems to be major shareholders, investors and other big business interests more frequently shape the direction of a company than the average consumer.
But how does a small business listen to their customers? How does the small business not fall into the trap of claiming to listen without really hearing? It’s easy to overlook and yet the ability to connect with people is one of the biggest advantages a small business can have.
The Long Shot
People relate to small businesses. I’ve shared statistics previously about the number of small businesses in America, and yet the sheer volume of revenues generated by small businesses. People love cheering for the underdog, the little guy, the long shot. Often the small business is considered the long-shot. The little guy willing to stand up and speak out for the average consumer against the Goliath in the market place, the big business.
The truth may be the big business offers better services, better products, and better support; but the small business has by its very nature an inherent advantage. And this has to be realized and nurtured. Successful small businesses realize this. Successful small businesses focus on the personal connection and the communication with their customers and their industry. Open transparency regarding company size and struggles can be intimidating and yet highly rewarding.
Listening and Speed
Size matters, but in this case smaller is better. Lacking the volume of business means each customer is important. The customer realizes this and appreciates the fact that their purchase and their presence is valued. When the customer feels they are truly appreciated they engage more. They offer their advice and their opinions. Small businesses absolutely must take advantage of this.
Success comes from listening to others, hearing the needs, and then implementing improvements.
Successful small business realize they can more quickly make changes to their business and their services then a bigger company. I often hear it compared to a speedboat versus an ocean liner. Big business has a much harder time implementing a shift in their business. This leads to a perceived lack of “listening”. Small businesses should capitalize on the ability to make changes quickly and implement improvements based on feedback.
Listening and Hearing
An interesting point arises when considering the act of leading by listening. Most would understand the concept of leading and what is involved with taking charge of a situation. But how does listening fit within that understanding? How does the act of listening make for a better leader? The answer is simple.
Listening is more than gathering feedback. Listening is the active process of collecting feedback and hearing the underlying need.
A good leader does not merely listen to people. A good leader takes what they hear and analyzes what is being said. The sub-context. The meaning for the response. Small businesses looking to be the leader must do this too. This takes effort, takes work, and takes humility.
Listening and Humility
Small businesses must realize that even though they listen and they implement changes based on the perceived underlying need they will not be right all the time. Everyone filters their communication through their own experiences and beliefs. As a result no one is perfectly in-sync with someone else and there will be times when the response is wrong.
Leading through listening means acknowledging those times when the art of listening has lead to the wrong solution. The true need was misinterpreted and the outcome provided the wrong one. Successful small businesses connect with their customers and openly communicate through the process of rebuilding and resolving problems. It’s hard to be genuinely humble in offering an apology.
Yet here is one more way a small business holds an advantage. Small businesses are people too. People are not perfect and people make mistakes. Humbly apologizing and demonstrating a desire to improve based on listening to feedback shows customers that the small business cares. The small businesses must relate to their customers and share their struggles and their desire to improve.
How do these concepts of listening apply to leadership? In particular, how do small businesses lead through the art of listening.
The best leader is humble in attitude, quick to take action and dedicated to hearing the need.
If a small business wants to be a leader they focus on their strengths. Find the ways in which they hold the advantage and capitalize on them. Listening is one of those advantages. Leaders don’t charge blindly forward. Leaders must listen. Small businesses must listen. When they do they become leaders. They become successful.
Small businesses often struggle with the concept of leading, they hold the mistaken belief that their size constrains them from being a leader. This notion of leading being available only to the big company is misguided and flawed. Industry leaders can come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Small businesses have equal opportunities to be leaders. Notice they are not the same opportunities, they are different but they are truly equal. The successful small business identifies and capitalizes on those opportunities.
Take the Time
Do you take the time to listen? Remember, listening is more than just getting people to fill out a contact form or a survey. Listening is an art. Listening takes practice. Spend time learning how to listen better. Your business will benefit from the investment. You’ll find you gain trust, you gain support, and you gain customers. Be the leader in your industry. Embrace your company size, find your niche and lead through listening.
June 9, 2014
Small Business: Get It in Writing
Every small business owner likes to believe in the value of their word. Maybe because it hearkens back to the olden days when “spit and a handshake” were all that were needed to close a deal. Unfortunately some of the personal aspects of business have been lost in our global economy. Getting things in writing is increasingly important.
I’ve heard the stories and seen the movies where a massive deal is done and the only agreement is a handshake. This typically was used to demonstrate the value of the other person’s character and the level of trust established between the two individuals. There are several reasons though why this is not the best practice for today’s businesses.
Paperwork Provides Clarity
Working on a project with a prospective client it can be very easy when sitting around the table to begin throwing out ideas about what could be accomplished and what could be done during the project. One thing leads to another and suddenly there is a miscommunication between expectations and deliverables. If you talk about grand ideas with your potential clients and then agree to complete the work verbally without a clear, defined, and written scope of work you will find yourself in a bad situation.
Your client will believe everything discussed will be accomplished in the first iteration and at the cost originally provided. You’ll believe you have lined up successful follow-up work to be completed after the original project and both of you will be disappointed. Writing up specifically what will be accomplished, what timeframe each will take, and what the associated costs are will help to set proper expectations. No one will be surprised and everyone will feel more comfortable and confident in the arrangement. Taking the time to write things out will provide clarity and reassurance.
Paperwork Provides Accountability
Yes, there is something inherently motivating about the idea of a verbal agreement. A demonstration of mutual trust and respect in the other party. However, unfortunately if there is no agreement that is written and signed by both of you then you’ll be more prone to failure. The act of drawing up paperwork and both agreeing and signing this agreement is not a sign of distrust. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
A proper agreement demonstrates the desire to go beyond mere trust and shows commitment to the process. You are willing to hold yourself accountable by signing your name to an agreement you’ve helped to create.
This accountability shows you as the provider are confident in defining exactly what should be done and you agree with the clearly outlined tasks and objectives.
Paperwork Provides Opportunity
When drawing up a draft of what should be accomplished you can use this time to take things beyond just providing clarity and accountability. You can seize this opportunity to outline future steps as well as identify additional services you can provide. Again, remember if you are in a purely verbal situation there are many opportunities for miscommunication and misunderstanding about goals and included tasks. Once you have written them all down you can more easily see areas where you can provide additional value.
Opportunities exist for both sides. The prospective client has an opportunity to see how you work. This gives them insights into how you run your business. Do you focus on the details? Do you take the time to listen to them and then relate their needs to outcomes? This is an excellent opportunity for the client to get a real-life first-hand look into how you do business.
Paperwork Provides Legitimacy
The last point is perhaps the most practical. While some may argue the above points as areas which could be addressed in verbal agreement situations, this last one holds very tangible benefits. In most courts (at least in the United States) the signing of an agreement is considered a legal and binding document. As much as we would all believe there is never going to come a time when legal counsel needs to be involved unfortunately the reality is you should always be prepared.
The signed agreement helps in creating clarity, defining tasks, providing opportunity, and encouraging accountability; but ultimately it serves to protect both parties in a legal situation. Every business owner trusts it will never come to the point where the legal approach has to even be considered. But every business owner should be prepared in the case it becomes necessary.
Small business owners embark every day on a perilous journey of establishing their name, their credibility, their trustworthiness. Although the first thought may be that a verbal agreement demonstrates trust and commitment the reality (as outlined above) demonstrates that getting it in writing will improve business and help to establish them much much more. Use this opportunity to demonstrate excellence.
Be smart about how you conduct your business. Use the opportunity of writing up an agreement to demonstrate how well you’ve listened to the client’s needs, how focused you are on providing them the perfect solution, how well you understand the tasks to be completed, and how committed you are to not only the immediate solution but to a long-term relationship with them. This builds far more trust. This goes much further than a slimy, germ-covered handshake ever could.
June 6, 2014
Small Business Matters: Educate Yourself
As human beings we essentially never stop learning. From the moment we are born until the moment we die we are constantly gathering information, making judgements and forming opinions based on our life experiences. As small business owners we should never stop learning either. Educate yourself. Constantly.
When beginning a small business you set out on a path. A journey which will undoubtedly be filled with challenges, heartaches, and hopefully a few mountain top experiences. But along the way you will need to learn. You’ll need to grow, to adjust, and to modify your strategies. Just because something was successful when you began doesn’t mean it will always remain successful. Small business owners must be forever willing to listen to others and to educate themselves.
Running a small business is a bit like continuing education. Only the stakes are much higher and the course isn’t graded (other than by your business success). Just as in personal life, business life is a never slowing pace and decisions must be made daily. What ways can you educate yourself as a business owner to ensure you ace the course? You can educate yourself by learning from others, learning from history, and learning from the market.
Education from Others
The first way small business owners can continue to grow in their knowledge and understanding is through other’s experiences, stories, and successes. Small business owners should be always listening. This is the key to educating yourself from others. If you’re so wrapped up in your own ideals and your own focus then you’ll easily miss the nuggets of gold being shared by others around you. When you choose to listen to others you have a couple of options.
Learn from Competitors
Obviously, you can learn from your competition. This is possibly the easiest way to educate yourself from others. You’ll naturally tend to do this anyway as you establish your business, identify your target market and identify the competitors in the space. Once you’ve seen who you’re competing against you’ll see what they do and what they don’t do. You’ll learn by looking at their track record, their approach, and their marketing. Don’t just copy their tactics. Be smarter and learn from them. See what they do that is successful and more importantly what they do that is not successful. Then you can capitalize on that.
Learn from Customers
You can also educate yourself by learning from your customers. Those loyal and the one-offs alike. Follow up with them, reach out to them and listen to them. Ask them what they appreciated and also what they disliked. You’ll only be able to improve if you take the good and the bad. Remember, don’t fool yourself into thinking you don’t need to improve, change or grow. No business is perfect and the customer will always be quick to tell you what they don’t care for. Obviously you don’t blindly change your business model because a single angry customer thinks you should. But exercise discretion and educate yourself on how you can improve for the benefit of your customers and ultimately your business.
Learn from Culture
The last area we can look at when educating yourself from others is the culture. Be aware of the culture which surrounds your business. Are you a local shop targeting only local customers? What matters to the community? What are the social acceptable business practices for the culture? Educate yourself on how to market effectively and be culturally appropriate. You will gain the respect of the community if you are conscientious of those things which matter to them.
Education from History
History is an excellent teacher. As a small business owner there is an almost endless supply of knowledge which can be tapped in to held within the history of businesses and particularly your business. Take advantage of this knowledge and educate yourself about what has been successful for other businesses in history. It’s important also to learn from your mistakes. Acknowledge those times when you’ve failed to do what you anticipated, and learn from your own history.
Learn from Business History
You are very clearly not the first small business owner in the world. There have been many many more before you who have gone through the same struggles, the same hardships, and the situations you are now in the midst of. Solomon, a historically recognized thought leader once made the following statement which I think aptly fits here.
“What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.”
I have to admit, even in the overwhelming world of technology where new things are constantly appearing, this quote often comes to my mind. The underlying problem to be solved may be one which has existed and been solved in a variety of ways throughout the centuries. Take advantage of these historical records and learn from them. Apply them to your situation and your current problems and find ways in which you can educate yourself.
Learn from Your History
But sometimes even more importantly you should learn from your own history. When you make a mistake be thoughtful and retrospective. Write down the details so you don’t forget them. Share them with others. Find ways to help analyze what happened, what was the action taken and what led up to the outcome which you experienced. Learn not only from your mistakes but also from your success. Take the time to do more than blindly rush through business doing a million different things trying to find something successful. Instead be methodical in your approach (I hate that word, I personally mistakenly equate methodical with slow. That is absolutely an untrue assumption)
Be methodical and put thought into what has been successful, and what will continue to be successful in the future.
Learn from your history, apply it to your present, and use it to shape your future.
If you take the time to learn from your mistakes you’re more likely to not repeat them in the future.
Education from the Market
This last point is an easy one. Especially if you are in the software or tech sector. You absolutely must be willing to educate yourself constantly to stay aware of changes in the market space. Things don’t stay stagnate for long and small business owners must always be aware of the current and changing trends in their market sector. It’s foolish to believe that what you did 10 years ago is still relevant today with no other influencing factors. Things change, people change, markets change. As a result, you must be willing to frequently visit and review the state of the economy, your sector, and your target audience.
Learning from the market involves staying aware of new competitors, new opportunities, and new perceptions by your target audience. Be willing to listen (as stated above) and be willing to change. Change can be scary but change can be good. If you educate yourself by reading blogs, news articles, press releases; by watching videos, interviews, trends; and by communicating with industry leaders, attending events, and getting to know your audience you will position yourself to achieve greater business success.
Small businesses are vitally important to economies around the world. Your small business is even more vitally important to you. Do everything you can to educate yourself to achieve great things.
Make the effort to keep learning, keep changing, keep improving. The reward is worth the investment.
May 30, 2014
The Value of In-Person Meetings
Attending a meeting is an excellent opportunity to share information, expand your learning and make connections with others. Sometimes we would like to believe face to face meetings are not necessary. But there is still an incredibly important value of in-person meetings.
Many people complain about the value of meetings and lament the fact that meeting simply waste valuable time. However, there is, without a doubt, benefits and positive reasons for holding a meeting. Because the idea that meetings are important can be a controversial topic let’s look at a few reasons why we should value the opportunity to hold meetings.
Meetings allow for real-time, direct sharing of ideas
Yes, I have heard people exclaim that a virtual chat room can accomplish the same goals as an in-person meeting, however, if you acknowledge that a discussion is more than just verbal communication Reading people is hard if you’re only typing into a chat. I wrote a post previously on why the art of reading people is important and how to do it well. In fact, I’ve seen stats as high as 90% of meetings are non-verbal. You lose all of that if you do not meet in person. If you’re only typing into a chat, first you have no face-to-face ability as I just mentioned where you can learn more than what is typed. This is important to being successful.
Meetings encourage focused participation
Of course even in meetings where you’re in the same room with people you can find ways to disengage and lose your focus, but the probability is much higher that when in a physical meeting with another person (or group of people) you will spend a higher percentage of your time actively engaged with those you are with. If you’re sitting at your computer for a meeting I guarantee you there will be at least a half-dozen other items demanding your attention. You’ll lose your focus and be out of a conversation before you even realize it. This drastically decreases your involvement, your participation, and ultimately the effectiveness of your communication. Believe it or not, no matter how hard you try to convince everyone you can multi-task, it’s simply not true; and your meeting participants will know you’re not focused.
Meetings are part of the human DNA
Obviously we can’t point to a very specific gene but there have been studies on the value of meetings related to our genetic makeup and chemistry and they have attempted to quantify this through the use of biochemistry and hormones. It’s an interesting concept. As humans we appreciate contact, connections, and communication. Regardless of the actual hormone and biological or chemical triggers which are fired as a result of meeting people the outcome is still very much the same. The value of a handshake (or other culturally accepted greeting) may never be quantified scientifically but I’m sure we can all agree there is an intrinsic feeling of value placed on that connection.
Meetings mean opportunity for informal conversations
Many times virtual meetings, chats, and other conversations which are not held in a face-to-face meeting are recorded. This essentially means everything being said, or shared, is being copied, or recorded, and ability to be referenced, reviewed, and re-read for all eternity to come. We all understand the internet never forgets. People do. When you meet in person with someone you are able to be yourself even more. You can feel more comfortable knowing you are not going to be forever held accountable to what’s said or shared. Of course I’m not saying you’ll share wrong information but you’ll be more at-ease and you’ll be able to connect with others more effectively.
Meetings encourage personal growth
What’s the easiest thing to do? The easiest thing (for most of us) is to slouch comfortably in front of a computer and type our responses. We don’t have to be conscientious about our clothing, our appearance, or something else. Some don’t enjoy speaking in public or speaking with others, the human connection is difficult for you. Meetings held in-person encourage personal growth. You will force yourself to become better, to present yourself effectively, and to focus on someone else. You will become a better person and better communicator. Yes, it might be difficult but meetings encourage personal growth.
I trust that these are somewhat compelling benefits for in-person meetings. You’ll find personal benefits as well as professional benefits come from holding face-to-face meetings. So the next time you’re tempted to skip out on an opportunity to meet in person, be bold, put some clothes on and venture out into the world and hold your meeting in a true in-person meeting.
May 29, 2014
Important Small Business Roles
Continuing our business series and highlighting small business matters I’d like to look at a few roles or positions necessary in a small business to be successful and to clearly structure a strong team.
I should preface by saying these are not requirements and not a full list either of small business roles. Again I’m speaking from personal experience and what I’ve seen exhibited by other successful companies. If you think of other roles which don’t fall under one of the following categories I’d love to hear what you’ve found to be successful.
This role is the easiest to fill in a small business. I say it’s the easiest because usually the small business is begun because of someone with an idea. The founder has identified a problem and envisioned a solution. The visionary does more than just provide the initial vision however. They must continue to stay current with the market and the trends and provide ongoing ideas and solutions. Idea generation is a primary focus of the visionary. They are allowed to dream and they are expected to provide ways to improve not merely the business and the product today, but in 10 years, 20 years to come.
Summary: The visionary provides ideas and a future set of big things to accomplish. They must also be an effective communicator and motivator to encourage others to not only see the vision but to be passionate to achieve it.
The planner is the perfect balance for the visionary. This person must be able to take the ideas and dreams of the visionary and place them on a roadmap for implementation. They must provide the gravity for the floating ethereal approach of the visionary. Plans should be detailed but not too overly detailed and the planner must take into account the available resources and project realistic deadlines and timelines. The planner asks questions and prioritizes things based on their understanding of the small business and their goals.
Summary: The planner provides realistic goals and plans for accomplishing the goals of the visionary. They must be an effective organizer and highly realistic to continue the vision but place it on an achievable timeline.
The creator is the person who generates proof of concepts and puts a real-life tangible implementation of the ideas and dreams. They must be able to both conceptualize the ideas and visions of the visionary and then apply them to a sample demonstration which can accurately represent these ideas. The creator works closely with the visionary and the planner to ensure things are prioritized correctly and the right ideas are put into action at the right time. There must be a strong ability to distill ideas down to their true essence and capture the idea with a minimal amount of effort.
Summary: The creator generates a real-life representation of the ideas of the visionary in accordance with the plans of the planner. They must be an effective analyzer and capable of summarizing the minimum viable product as defined by the vision.
This role is invaluable to the success of a small business. Perhaps I should begin by defining the role and the title I’ve used. The term is absolutely not a negative term. This individual is the person who is completely focused on the details “behind-the-scenes” to make sure everything works and is built on the right foundation. The squinter looks at the details, the nitty-gritty points which allow everyone else to do their job effectively. Quick example, the squinter ensures the business has been incorporated correctly, has structured the by-laws, directors, and other legal needs. They analyze the market and the numbers and the viability of the product and business.
Summary: The squinter focuses on ensuring the business is built on the right foundation and is structured to be sustainable. They must be an effective thinker and detail-oriented to establish the business correctly and prepared for the future.
There’s one role which I have specifically not mentioned in the above positions I find necessary in a small business. You will notice I do not focus on The Doer. This is because I believe every role is a doer role. Without a team working together and everyone doing work to make the company successful the business will fail. I do not believe there should ever be a single person doing all the work. So I suggest the doer is actually a part of everyone’s role.
These small business roles are a few of the positions you’ll find in any successful business. There are certainly instances where multiple roles are filled by a single person, in fact if you read my previous post on the many hats worn by a founder, I think my point is clear. There are other positions and roles which would help and perhaps some of these could be tweaked or defined even further. Read this list and see how it applies to your business, find the areas you are weak and determine if you need to seek additional help. Remember you should always staff to your weaknesses. And of course…
Remember, we’re all in this together!
May 27, 2014
The Art of Reading People
Reading people is absolutely an art. Sure there is an inherent skill to it, but as with other art forms you can learn this skill. If you’re a small business owner the ability to read someone is critically important. You must be able to do more than just talk, you must listen, understand and interpret the responses you receive.
What do I mean when I say “read” someone? Obviously I don’t mean you’re reading literal words off someone’s face but instead I mean listening to what they are saying, thinking about what they mean, and interpreting the non-verbal cues being sent. Non-verbal? Yes, these are critically important to reading and understanding the person you are communicating with. By non-verbal I refer to items such as body posture, facial expressions, and speech intonation.
Why Reading Right Matters
Reading people correctly will allow you to relate with them better, modify or reiterate your message, or even stop and find out why someone may disagree with you. If you read someone wrong you can easily misinterpret something they say or think they understand what you’re expressing when in reality they are completely lost. No one enjoys sticking their foot in their mouth. Even worse, no one likes the feeling when they believe the audience is fully agreeing with them when in reality they simply think the speaker is full of hot air.
Reading someone right is not difficult but takes thought and effort on the part of the speaker. You, as the communicator, must be able to do two things at once (or even more). The small business owner relies on strong relationships and good communication to effectively grow their business. The small business where the owners are able to listen and respond to the needs of their customers and do more than just talk “at” them.
Tips for Reading Right
Look for signs of hesitation
Hesitation can be both a positive signal and a negative signal. Signs of hesitation are little things like questioning eyebrows, perhaps a delay in providing feedback, or even a deep breath. These signs can be instructive in understanding what a person is thinking. Hesitation can be a sign of uncertainty, questions, or even disagreement. Hesitation can also be simply a delay in the communication medium. Be sure you don’t misread hesitation for disagreement. We’ll discuss hesitation and silence a bit more in a later point below. Keep reading.
Watch body posture
Body posture can be an important indicator. There’s a fantastic TED talk given by Amy Cuddy on the topic of body posture. I encourage you to watch the video and learn some great tips about body posture. Amy focuses on how your own body posture affects your outlook but watch the video and analyze it from the perspective of understanding what the various postures mean when you see them in others.
Listen to feedback
This is funny because you’re thinking about being a better speaker. A better speaker and effective communicator does more than talk. Listening to the feedback you receive is important for ensuring your message is clear. Feedback can take many forms. Feedback can be something as simple a sigh, a nod, or a verbal response. When you find yourself talking so much that no one else has an opportunity to respond you are not being an effective speaker and you are failing to read your audience. Be sure to include an opportunity for your audience to give feedback.
Follow the eyes
Humans can be incredibly communicative with only their eyes (and eyebrows). When you’re speaking with someone don’t neglect the eye contact. Of course, there are some cultures where this is seen as impolite; I would expect cultural differences to be taken into account in all of these tactics. You certainly don’t want to offend your audience. By the statement, following the eyes, I also mean being aware of where the other person is looking, if they are not looking at you, if they appear distracted or otherwise disinterested then you are not affectively communicating. Be sure you don’t lose your audience by not reading their eyes.
Interpret the silence
There is an old phrase, “silence is golden”. There’s a lot of truth in those simple three words. Don’t panic if there’s a moment of silence in the conversation. It’s ok to have a pause. This was a particular part of reading someone which I have been learning (very slowly I admit). I’ve always struggled with allowing longer periods of silence. I felt this meant there was confusion and I needed to clarify. Or that I wasn’t soliciting the right feedback. The truth can be very different. The topic you’re sharing is something you’ve probably spent many hours thinking about, mulling over, and preparing how you want to say it. You should not expect your audience to immediately understand everything you say. They will need time to process. They will need to be allowed the courtesy of silence to sift through what you’ve said and form their opinion. Be sure you’re interpreting the silence correctly.
Reading without Interrogating
This can be a very difficult skill to learn. In fact, this is where I struggle the most myself. Too many questions, too many attempts at trying to ‘figure out’ what someone is thinking and feeling can leave them feeling a bit interrogated. Remember the goal is not to analyze every movement and every thought. The purpose of reading someone is to make sure you effectively deliver your message and communicate properly. It does not mean persuading someone to agree with you. Let me say that again in a different way,
Reading someone’s response is an important tool for effective communication; it is not for the purpose of persuasion.
If you find yourself watching non-verbal cues too intently and you start to get the sense the person is feeling a bit overwhelmed and a scrutinized then you need to be sure you tone it down a bit. Relax your questioning and take a more casual stance. This helps restore a two-way communication and takes away the sense of being ‘under-the-spotlight’.
Reading people is important, and the above tips can help you become an even more effective communicator. Take time to practice and learn this art form.
May 20, 2014
Small Business Is More Than A Product
When you are beginning a small business you often start with a vision, an idea or a dream of what you want your company to become. This product (service) is what you see as the key foundational cornerstone of your business. But a successful small business is much more than a product.
The First Thought
Sure, every small business (or any business for that matter) begins because the founders saw a need, saw a problem, and figured out a solution to the problem. It may have begun because they found a deficiency in their own lives where they really needed a certain outcome and could find nothing to meet their needs.
Necessity is the mother of invention.
Along the way these founders realized there must be others with similar problems also interested in a successful solution. This is where it gets fun. These individuals turn from problem solvers to entrepreneurs. No longer are they simply working out a solution for their own needs. Now they have decided to share this solution with others. The wheels start to turn and they begin to realize they could charge a nominal fee and generate revenue on this product. This point where things get very serious.
Small Businesses Must Plan Ahead
The creation of a product which meets a need is not a business. A small business is much more than simply the product you wish to sell. This is an oft forgotten aspect of starting a new business. You as the founder of a small business will be wearing many different hats and you will be forced to consider many decisions beyond just the product you’re selling. Small businesses must plan out a road map for their future.
You must look at not only the immediate future of what you want to sell but you must also focus on where you want to be in 6 months or more. You should set out a plan (and be sure to set realistic goals and deadlines) which you will then follow as you build and grow your business.
Small Businesses Take Work
I’m sure everyone who has started a small business understands it takes an incredible amount of work to establish a successful business. Small businesses are a great starting point for growing larger companies or even building a sustainable small business. Again, it’s far more than a product. In fact, it’s more than just a product and a website.
I’d like to take some time in this article and address a short list of things you should plan on as well as work to be done when launching a small business.
Behind the Scenes
I’m going to call this group of items the “behind the scenes” items. These are things most of your customers won’t see or interact with but are vitally important for you to take care of before attempting to launch your small business.
- Legal Business Name & Incorporation Type
I plan to write a full article on this single topic as it is one of the trickiest and often more difficult items to consider when starting a new business. For brevity in this post I think it’s suffice to say, don’t forget to select an incorporation type (LLC, S-Corp, C-Corp, DBA, etc…). This includes your articles of incorporation, membership shares, by-laws and more. Also be sure you have your business name filed with your required government authorities.
- Bank Accounts
This might seem obvious but I’ve seen it firsthand where a business has been created, a product released and suddenly customers are interested in purchasing and the business doesn’t have the necessary bank account to take the money! It’s almost laughable, but I assure you it happens.
- Merchant Accounts & Credit Processing
If you anticipate taking funds via credit cards, check cards, online payments (bitcoins) etc.. you need to be sure you select a merchant account, a credit card processor, or other digital payment processor. Things like setting up a PayPal account take a little bit of time and you will need to have your bank accounts and business information (EIN) handy.
The next set of items I’m going to label as “customer interface”. These are the items which the customer sees and interacts with. Important items to consider in this category are listed as follows:
- Customer Website
Again, this might feel basic and quite obvious, but don’t neglect this vitally important piece. Your website needs to be easy to navigate, simple to find, and clear in its purpose. Be sure you capture your audience’s eye and focus their attention on the appropriate things. Oh, and be sure you’re targeting the right customer (again, for another day).
- Product Delivery
Plan how you will be delivering your product to your customer. Will they be digitally downloading your product? Will you need to capture shipping information and process shipping? If you are selling digital goods will you offer a one-time download or multiple downloads? (i.e. Will you establish a membership website and customer portal?). Be sure to plan out how the customer gets what they pay for. You want this process to continue building their confidence they have chosen the right company and you want to keep them from any buyer’s remorse.
- Follow Up
What will you do after they have purchased your product? Are you going to add them to a mailing list? Will you email them additional information. Perhaps a physical card in the mail would be appropriate. Be sure to consider how you will continue to build a relationship with your customer. This is the point where a single-time customer will not only become a repeat customer but will also become a salesperson for you to their friends. This is the sweet spot.
- Support Center
Don’t blindly think every sale will be perfect and every customer a happy one. As mush as you want to believe they all know what they are purchasing and what you are providing there will always be those times when clarification is necessary or support is required. How will you handle support? Setting up a member’s area with a support desk tool is one option. Email support and phone support are also ways to support your product. Whatever you choose as most appropriate for your business, be sure it’s ready on launch day.
Whew! That is a lot of work. Starting a small business is definitely much more than a product. And there are still other things to consider. However, I don’t want anyone feeling overwhelmed so I will leave the rest for a future post. We’ll assume at this point you’ve taken care of all the above and you have just launched your website, held your grand opening, and invited your first customers into the store. Are you done?
Absolutely not. I often find myself telling people:
You can create the world’s most beautiful website, and have the most amazing product, but it will do no good if no one ever sees it.
In the next article we’ll look at what to do after you’ve launched your product. Now that you have your small business foundation started, we’ll explore how you can make it successful.
Please let me know if you have other ideas of important things to consider when building a small business. I’d love to hear from you.
Remember, we’re all in this together!
May 15, 2014
Building a Business Brand
Everyone is known for something. As much as you may wish that’s not the case at times. Similarly every business is known for something, be it a product, service, or character quality. What is your business brand and how does it affect what you’re known for?
According to Wikipedia, a brand is defined as follows:
Brand is the “name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s product distinct from those of other sellers.”
Does this truly define what a brand is when you look at a company? If we look at some open source companies lets see if we can identify what makes up their brand. Then we can see how this applies to building a business brand for your small business.
Does A Business Brand Matter?
First question, does it matter if you have a business brand? Do you have to define a brand for your business? I think this is a great starting point. Based on my first sentence in this article you already know I believe a brand is an inherent part of a business. Rather than a contrived, artificial creation by some marketing team I believe a business brand always exists. What matters is the definition of that brand and how the brand is represented by the marketing team and other business outreaches.
Open Source Branding
Open source organizations are no exception. If we look at some popular open source platforms we’ll still find the existence and identifying effects of a brand. One example, Drupal, an open source content management system has created a page just for the purpose of defining their brand. You’ll find they have defined brand slightly different from the dictionary definition above. Rather, Drupal believes “a brand incorporates the values, culture, mission, personality and image of an organization.” This is an interesting difference.
Open source places their brand identity in the intangible aspects of the people who make up their community. I think this is a fantastic application of the branding definition.
The people within a business define and represent the brand.
Learn from Open Source
When building a business brand you would do well to learn from the open source organizations. A small business has the opportunity to establish itself both in culture and in branding. Don’t try to be just like someone else. Find ways to differentiate yourself. That sometimes feels easier said than done. Especially in some fields where the barrier to entry is low and competition is strong. How do you differentiate your business when building a business brand?
Everyone is Unique
At first glance the question can seem to be a difficult one and uncertainty can leave you unsure where to begin when building a brand. But the truth is building a successful brand is simple. You don’t have to build a brand. You embody a brand. You are the brand. As we discussed earlier, every business has a brand already. Every person in your business represents and lives the brand. And the great news is everyone is unique. There is no one exactly like you on this planet. Because of this simple fact the business which you are a part of is also unique. Build your business around this principle.
You’re not building a brand in the creation sense. You’re sharing a brand that already exists and drives your business.
Take the open source example above. Merge that example with the concept that everyone leaves an impression. The result is where you focus your attentions and efforts. Rather than attempting to “build” a brand you should focus on sharing, nurturing, and growing your brand. Look at the people in your company. (Here’s another benefit to being a small business.) What are the core values, beliefs, principles, and values you and your fellow team members hold? This is what guides your business. This is what you will be known for.
At the end of the day, your business brand reflects the people which make up your business and ultimately the products, service, support, or whatever it might be you are selling. Don’t attempt to create a false brand under the assumption it will increase your sales. Be genuine in sharing your brand. Your brand is a reflection of your culture. Interested in how this relates to your company culture?
Small Business First
Small businesses have the greatest opportunity to share unique, creative, and fun brands. Your small business can share the culture, the community, the passion of your team members through a brand which matches you. Building a business brand is simple. Learn from others, Establish values, Be genuine, and share your passion with others.
Remember, we’re all in this together!
May 14, 2014
Increase Your Company Size with Open Source
In honor of small business week, I felt this post would be an appropriate one. Small businesses often have apprehensions when entering a meeting with a potential client. One question in particular presents considerable problems. How many people are in your company?
There’s a number of myths lending to this unnecessary fear. And yes, I believe it’s unnecessary. Let’s look at these myths and then examine the truth.
Myth: Small Beginnings are Bad
It can be easy to forget that every business had to start somewhere. Of course we’ve heard all the grand stories of the humble beginnings behind mammoth corporations. We’ve enjoyed the nostalgic references to beginning in a garage. In fact, here’s 5 quick ones: Amazon, Apple, Disney, Google, Hewlett-Packard.
And thus it’s established. Even some of the largest businesses in the world had small beginnings. Why then should you be bothered because your company is small? This comes down to perception. You quickly accept and even enjoy hearing the stories of how giant companies began. In fact, you can relate to them quite easily. But there’s a disconnect between the past and the present. You view the past through the eyes of the present. Because they are now an incredibly large and successful company they are somehow validated.
Myth: Small Businesses Lack Expertise
I’ve heard and seen firsthand small businesses who mistakenly equate company size with expertise and experience. Small businesses are founded by individuals. Individuals with a goal and a dream. They start by seeing a problem and forming a solution. Perhaps it is for themselves, perhaps it is for others. Either way they devote their energy to creating a business built around their solution. By the very nature of creating a solution they become an expert.
Unfortunately many small businesses as a result of their background and way of forming discredit their own expertise. Sadly, they believe larger companies with more employees and more managers somehow magically have more expertise. Obviously there’s a greater opportunity for experts within a larger company, but it’s not guaranteed.
Myth: Small Businesses Are Missing Credibility
Thankfully this reason has become a bit less in recent years, however I still hear this referenced on occasion. Small business lacks credibility because its less substantial than some large brick-and-mortar corporation. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. The size of a business is not what establishes credibility. There are hundreds of examples of large corporations which hold massive buildings and substantial employee lists with little to no credibility.
The size of your business is not what grants credibility. Rather the quality of your work and the testimony of your customers are what establish your credibility and your trustworthiness. Whether your company is a company of one or one hundred the true basis for your business credibility lies in your customers.
Credibility comes from the quality of your work and the testimonials of your customers, not the size of your company.
Small businesses are the backbone of economies around the globe. Every business began as a small business. There is no shame in a small business and a small business can most definitely hold immense credibility and demonstrate expertise in their field.
The next couple of questions are perhaps the most interesting. How does this relate to open source and how does open source increase the size of your company?
Fact: Open Source is Global
This is where small business is no longer a small business. Open source is more than code. Open source is a community. As a result, when a small business uses open source they are no longer working alone. Instead this joining of a business to an open source community increases the pool of knowledge, of experts, of potential partnerships incredibly. No longer is this small business working alone. They are now a part of a community, something bigger than just themselves.
Small businesses using open source can boldly share the size of the community as yet one more reason to trust in them. Again, the myths above are simply myths. The truth is open source provides a global community filled with more individuals than any single company. Your clients can rest assured there is a pool of available resources existing far beyond the size of your company.
Fact: Open Source is Available
The small business which contributes and uses open source in their solutions leverage the availability of an open source community. Time and geographic constraints which most businesses face are less important when a company is built on an open source system where contributions and volunteers exist around the world and span every timezone. The availability of open source enhances the availability of your own business as well.
Fact: Open Source is Dependable
The communities surrounding an open source project are an intimate gathering of volunteers passionate about the project they contribute to. As mentioned earlier, by being global and available, established open source communities are dependable. They can be relied on and they lend credibility to those small businesses which build on them. Small businesses do well to build on open source, contribute back to open source, and become a part of an open source community. By doing so, they enhance both the credibility of the project and their own credibility.
Simply put, those small businesses which place value on open source and integrate open source throughout their business will quickly find the value of open source. Small businesses grow in size, in location, in availability, and in dependability by leveraging the power of open source. Open source increases far more than your company size. Don’t neglect this valuable resource when growing your small business. And never be ashamed of where you began.
May 13, 2014
Free Marketing Ideas for Small Business
Most small businesses also have small marketing budgets. And it’s pretty much a fact of life that there will always be bigger companies with bigger budgets working in the same space. How can the little guy get noticed?
There are a variety of ways a small business can effectively market themselves and their product without competing in the paid marketing arena so easily dominated by larger companies. Below is a short list of 10 ways you can generate traffic and interest in your company without breaking the bank. That’s right, free marketing. Remember, these are in no particular order. Try to apply some of these to your business and see if you have more success than the larger companies.
1. Make Your Size Matter
Find the benefits of having a smaller company size in your particular market. Does it increase your customer care? Then brag about it. Figure out the ways in which your size is a positive over the other companies in your same industry. It’s not always the best thing to be the biggest company around.
2. Take Advantage of Social Media
Social media provides an excellent opportunity for leveling a playing field. You can create a Facebook page or Twitter account just as easily as the next company. And there’s no reason not to. Of course there are paid or “promoted” tweets and advertising opportunities on other social media. Even still, the opportunity to interact with your users one-on-one and do more than just shout into a void exists for all companies equally. I’ll have a full post in the future on proper use of social media.
Everyone can write. Sure it takes some people longer than others to write good content, but there is no cost obstacle to writing. This is often the single biggest hurdle that businesses must overcome. Often writing is seen as a time-consuming venture which does not yield a return. The truth is writing fresh content can be the single biggest factor for improving your on-site SEO and although the return is not immediate, there is absolutely an incredible amount of value in good content.
4. Be the Expert
Small businesses usually started because the founder(s) knew something. They saw a problem and they created a solution. They are experts at what they do. When competing with a big company the best thing the little guy can do is to establish themselves as an expert in their field. Showcase why you do what you do and why you’re passionate about it.
Focus on what makes you different and those areas where your knowledge makes you more powerful.
5. Feature Guests
Don’t be afraid to reach out to others to have them post information to your website. This will first of all encourage others to point traffic to your site, and secondly, will show that you are open to connections and sharing of information. Everyone is eager to share things they are working on and when they have an opportunity to share that on someone’s site they will not only be willing to guest appear, they will tell everyone they know about it. This will help your small business stay relevant in the industry and become a worthy competitor.
6. Build Lists
Everyone likes to be put on a list (as long as its a positive list). If you are in an industry where you can compile a top 10 (top 100?) then be sure to do so. Not only will you have many other people now interested in where they ranked and how they did but they will also understand you’ve spent time reviewing each. This points again to your expertise in your field. Be sure to do this thoughtfully and carefully.
7. Go Local
Big companies very often fail to understand the nuances and differences of a small community. Small businesses which are involved in their local community understand those details and as a result can meet the needs of their local groups more effectively. You may not get the best business from your local community, but word of mouth spreads rapidly and the more you are involved locally the better chance you have of being recognized elsewhere. Good work spreads.
8. Get Involved
As a small business its important to find ways to be involved. Involved in your local community (as mentioned above) but also involved in your industry. Find the trade shows, the meet-ups, the other places where like-minded people from your field are gathering, and get involved. You don’t have to have the biggest and best booth – in fact you don’t have to have a booth at all. Just be present, shake hands, introduce yourself, make friends.
9. Be Original
Small businesses should never try to just mimic the behemoth company. Of course there are always things to be learned from the others and especially the big companies which have been successful. However, small businesses should focus on what makes them unique and original. This ties into several of the points above. It’s all about finding a niche, demonstrating expertise and differentiating. Being original means being true to the character of the founder and creating the right type of company culture.
Similar to the previous point about being original, the best possible thing is to be willing to be innovative. Capitalize on your company size and your ability to pivot quickly. Find the failure points in the business field you’re in and capitalize on them. Don’t follow the status quo. Be willing to take chances and make changes which the big company will be too reticent to make. Use your size to your advantage and suddenly your perceived weakness (being small) becomes one of your greatest assets.
Small businesses make up the majority of the economy and there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a small business. I love them and love working in them. Just because there is no multi-million dollar marketing budget does not mean we cannot compete with the bigger companies. You don’t have to spend money to have a great marketing campaign. Use some of the points above and begin building your traffic and your audience without spending a penny.
Remember, we’re all in this together.
May 8, 2014
Small Business Matters: A Series
The numbers are overwhelming. Small business make up the majority of revenues generated in the US. Statistics show this particular area continues to grow with each year. This series will explore a number of topics which matter to a small business. Because small business matters.
I realize there’s a million articles and resources available for small businesses. In fact, in the United States there is an entire government agency created simply to assist and help these small businesses. I would like, however, to focus on specific topics with more practical application. Some of these will be related to situations where I have learned the hard way through firsthand experience and others I have learned from the wisdom and advice of others.
I also realize not everything I share will be applicable to a global audience and I apologize in advance for any information which may feel to American focused. I will do my best to share information from my experiences and connections from a worldwide perspective however occasionally may share information most relevant to those businesses based in the United States.
So without further delay let’s jump right in. We should begin a series with a proper definition of terms involved and layout some groundwork for what we want to cover throughout the series. Obviously the most important term is, small business. What is a small business and how do we categorize them?
Small Business Definition
A small business can be defined in a number of ways and depending on the setting may have different interpretations. You may see a small business defined to be any business under a certain number of employees or where the gross profits are under a certain monetary total (e.g. under 500 employees or under $5 million dollars in annual gross revenue). This is a difficult line to draw. I’ve seen businesses with 5 employees generating well over 10 million in revenue, does this mean they are still a small business? I’m not certain. For the purpose of this series I will define a small business as the following:
Any business where decisions are made by a select few individuals and these individuals spend an inordinate amount of their time outside of a typical workday focused on generating revenue for their business to become or stay profitable.
In other words, a small business is a business fighting to be profitable and the weight of the responsibility falls firmly on the shoulders of a few select individuals. I’m writing for those people. I’m writing for the little guy, the underdog, the ones struggling to make it and the ones barely hanging on. Sure, others may profit and you may find value in the information shared within this series. I truly hope you do.
You will notice I don’t refer to a specific revenue amount or a specific number of employees. I don’t believe these two factors adequately define what comprises a small business. Small business is more than a number, small business is a mindset, it’s a state of being, a lifestyle. Sometimes this is a great lifestyle and sometimes its a bit more “tedious” (for lack of a better word).
A Frame of Mind
A small business frame of mind has some particular features which I think can be identified. I’ve attempted to include a few in my definition above. First, a small business typically has only a handful of decision makers, many times only a single one. The more decision makes involved usually means a disbursement of both power and stress. The greater this disbursement the less the feeling of personal liability. Second, a small business usually means those same decision makers are working excessively (and I don’t mean 50 hours). And even when they are not working – eating, sleeping (or not sleeping) they are still focused on the success of their business. This constant feeling of fighting to “stay afloat” is pervasive with small businesses.
This Series Goal
Small business is special. It takes a special type of person to start with nothing and attempt to build a business. Every big business, every medium business began as a small business. But there’s something else. Every small business is a small business. That sounds stupid but I say it to make a point. Some small businesses don’t want to be big business. Sometimes being a small business is the goal. There is nothing wrong with this goal. It’s important to keep in mind that size is not everything. Whether seeking to grow or simply seeking to stay successful my opening statement holds true.
Small Business Matters.