Christa Dhimo, Impono LLC
The Small-Biz Hub: Leveraging the Glory of Small Business Ownership
Successful small businesses excel in the modern-day tenants of what makes any team successful: alignment to the vision and mission, a values-based culture that places the employees and customers first, and a resourceful way of working that achieves more with less.
And unlike many of their larger-sized kindred, a small business also rarely weathers a few bad sequential quarters without grave consequences. Everything is closer to the surface with small businesses. They cannot tolerate a dysfunctional management team or an "Board-In-Name-Only" Board of Directors (if a Board exists), nor can they function well or achieve long-term success with sub-optimal practices, products or services.
In that way, successful small businesses have more to teach large companies than they are ever given credit for, particularly when it comes to running a business using only the bare essentials.
We believe there are more opportunities for this "reverse mentoring" approach where larger companies study smaller businesses, but we haven't seen or heard a lot of it. And yet, for those of us with experience in mid- and large-sized companies, we know there is a consistent call-to-action asking the mid/large sized organizations and employees to operate more as a, well... small business.
(of course they don't say it that way, instead it sounds like this: "be more nimble," "reduce expenses and use fewer steps," "make local decisions," "empower your employees," "include continuous improvement," and "do more with less"...)
Unfortunately, without an effective mainstream spotlight on small businesses, it is easy to overlook or not realize at all the value and teachings that small businesses could provide to larger organizations, particularly to running efficient and effective organizations.
And just as unfortunately, the most popular small business concept TV shows usually have the OPPOSITE effect to what we are suggesting: they spotlight the dysfunction, chaos, and ineptitude of carefully selected small business owners in the name of great TV, but that's hardly the reality of most small business owners (and that's hardly exclusive to small businesses).
Here at Impono we believe, with great passion and commitment, that larger companies should actively learn from successful small businesses, leveraging that glory of running a small business as part of a best practice. And we are making moves to make this happen.
It could be very easy: Forbes or Inc or Harvard Business Review could regularly spotlight the "Best of...," "Best Practices For and By...," or a Business Case Cache about successful small businesses, even if it isn't based on the pop-culture of start-ups or of the larger company after acquiring the small business (yeah, in our research for this week's article we had trouble finding a lot on this topic...)
So we're on it. We know there is an audience out there who would enjoy a glimpse of the underdogs in motion teaching the bigger companies what "more with less" really looks like.
Wouldn't you tune in to see that? Who's with us?
AN ASIDE: We must mention and give an Impono Shout Out to the PBS show Start Up (TV Show), driven by Gary Bredow's creative like-mindedness to what we here at Impono and various other indies believe about the importance of celebrating small businesses. He and his team are doing incredible work to spotlight the spirit and critical aspects of small businesses everywhere, and we at Impono are looking to partner more with them to continue lifting the name of small businesses.
USING A SMALL BUSINESS MINDSET FOR ALL THINGS BUSINESS: WHY IT MATTERS
In today's everything climate, and with so much media focus on short-term and BIG business growth and so little attention on longer-term and STEADY business growth, the spotlight remains on BIG growth (even though secretly, and sometimes not so secretly, the market prefers steady).
If you are funded to go fast, you will go farther yet if you also incorporate a measure of thoughtfulness (of "steadiness") with that fast-- and you can do and be both, just like how you can start off slow and quickly ramp up as your business model and your funding allows.
With the glory of small business ownership, "steady" is usually the natural name of the game, and that is just one of the reasons we should all study and learn from them.
What we see instead is the constant praise and share of the frantically inefficient and seemingly over-engineered aspects of start-ups trying to use larger company business models when the start-up is in fact a small business at the time of funding. Sure, the complexity increases as the product lines and employee count increases, but the bare essentials remain the same and no company starts out with hundreds of employees and multiple product lines as they are getting started.
And so, imagine the benefits of using business models that assume growth by only using essential resources, essential vendors, essential employees, and an obsessive love of those vendors, employees and customers? (because that's what we see with our small business owners)
For the start-ups, leveraging small business practices would certainly assure a best-case use of funding, allow for some nice early-stage margins, and might even result in growth investments sooner than planned.
For the larger companies, leveraging small business practices and adopting simplified models could enable the same. (We think we would also see a more efficient use of resources and a more effective change management culture, but we'll leave that for a future article <wink>.)
Running smarter companies matter. We know this because we hear it all the time. Let's change the mindset about small businesses and leverage their business cases as lessons for businesses everywhere.
Who's with us?
FROM SAPLING TO TREE: LEARNING FROM AND APPLYING LESSONS RELATED TO SMALL BUSINESS SUCCESS
And so, if small businesses are starting points when looking to grow responsibly and operate efficiently, what's keeping so many from doing it?
For starters, the word small in daily life across many languages means "childlike" or "unsophisticated" or "inexperienced."
In business-speak, small simply means an organization with fewer employees and less annual revenues than a larger company.
And that means a business that, when successful, operates in a very savvy, cunning, flexible manner-- the very adjectives larger companies admire.
Unfortunately, the subconscious mind often thinks of the former "small" definition, and it isn't helped by those afore-mentioned TV shows focusing on childlike, unsophisticated and inexperienced small business owners being saved by those who have been in larger companies or with larger scale experience. (but hey-- great TV!)
Here at Impono, what we see with successful small businesses is straightforward: they know how to get it done block by block based on priorities and earnings, using simple structures with few resources.
And that's perhaps the biggest lesson that can be learned among other observations:
Small business scale requires a close and clear view of the most critical aspects of any business, so losing focus or discipline (two poisons we've seen at the root of all our previous turn-around efforts) isn't an option. Often times it's not even a consideration.
Small businesses are too small to back out of looking at people in the face, and too important to the owners to grow out of control, and we've seen both tank the large companies too.
Small businesses have a different level of commitment. Period. When we get calls from small businesses, it is for the same reasons a large company would call us (business growth, preparing for a sale, turn-around) but the reserve in capital for small businesses is different for consulting services, so the commitment is different [stronger] too.
So, why wouldn't large companies study small businesses as a means to improve?
With such a minimal focus on viewing small businesses as best practice leaders, we all miss out on the tremendous value of what small businesses can teach us about how to run your business with bare essentials, motivated by a real customer-centered and employee-related approach.
Even start-ups want to skip over the reality of being a small business and drive straight toward being a big business, bringing on waste and excessive [everything] right from the start:
Asking for double-digit millions when they may only need single-digits, or
Mentored by a larger-company advisor who has never operated in a small essentials-only company operation, or
Think that pitching as a small business, or asking for what they need to lift and grow ($xM) vs what they need to get into mainstream media ($xxM), would hurt their chances of funding.
We understand the small business oversight, the inadvertent down-placement, and the sense that they learn from larger companies and not the other way around. It's time to change that mindset. You can run a business with less and get more if you're smart about it, and small businesses are the example.
Who's with us?
FINAL NOTE: WANT TO IMPROVE YOUR MID- AND LARGE-SIZED COMPANIES? SHAKE THE STEREOTYPES, TAKE THE LEAP AND STUDY SMALL BUSINESSES-- FREQUENTLY
Mid- or large-sized companies are complex due to product lines, multiple offices, global growth, increased employees, etc, yet larger companies are often funded with structures and can afford experts to come in and give them lifts and assists when needed.
Small businesses often experience the same issues, particularly related to competition and growth aspects, but those issues are amplified in a small business environment. What might be a slow-down or deterrent in a larger organization could be a killer for small businesses.
And so we at Impono are asking our readers, clients, and Impono Community to join us and study small businesses as the bare essentials view of how to run a business. We will begin highlighting small business cases in 2018 as part of our effort.
It's time to leverage the glory of successful small businesses-- who's with us?
We know that launching a new or transforming an existing organization isn't simple, but it can be easier with the right advisors and doers. If you have additional questions about this topic or how it can impact your business, contact us. Let's see what we can do for you.
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