Small Business in the 21st Century? | William Nozak, MBA | Harper’s Hut Shaved Ice
Small businesses have been living under the guise of “if I don’t know it” then “I don’t need to learn it” far too long. The lacking abilities of entrepreneurs in accountability, processes, scalability, and PR have relegated small business success to a coin flip. Small business historically was mom-and-pop organizations with a large portion having other family working for the company. For many reasons, businesses have shirked their responsibility in key areas that if not fixed will dinosaur some small business sectors. Small businesses struggle to survive without some form of control over the 14 listed faces of business. Even more so, without an increasing competence in the four listed areas, small businesses will hardly thrive and if they do, they will have a harder time thriving into the second generation, let alone the third.
Was it the rise of the conglomerate that led the decent of mom-and-pops, small businesses, and other entrepreneurships? Advantages of Economies of Scale and Scope are real. There have to be answers to the quagmire of inconsistency that defines small business.
For entrepreneurs, there is no manual. You can be the heir of capital, have a genetic make-up of a risk-taker, get lucky, have years of trial-and-error under your belt, read authors like Gladwell, Kouplen, Wasserman, Kiyosaki, Carnegie, or college textbooks, but does this insure against or hedge the risk a small business entrepreneur will take? Assuming that some combination of these intangibles can stack the deck. Mom-and-pops and small business owners are still in a David and Goliath against big business and franchises. There is a silver lining!
The following is an attempt to ‘bucket’ that silver lining, so here goes. Marketing, accounting, branding, an ever improving product, an ever increasing client list, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), management of social-, financial-, and human-capital, HR, accountability, processes, scalability, and PR. Say that in one breath. I am sure I have missed at least 2 or 3 others that in some industries would be game breakers. I have listed 14 areas a small business owner must have her hands on in any given day. Not to mention many owners are owner/operators, so include the grind of being the main employee and you have an extremely unfair fight. Assuming you have already fine-tuned your product and branding, know your customers, have enough margin to outsource HR, accounting, SEO, marketing, and even management. You are in your 30s to 50s so your social capital is strong, your human capital is improving, assuming you are not a 1-man show, and your business, since it is still in business, is in the black. That leaves us with a few categories that go under-developed and forgotten in small business. That leaves us with accountability, processes, scalability, and PR.
Frankly, too many business owners are know-it-alls or just plain listening impaired. An even smaller group of business owners has had a fortunate rise in business and has not had to deal with much failure. The down side for these owners is their lack of humility, humanity, and listening skills. However, for the rest of us, having a ‘think tank’ or a group of like-minded business owners is immensely important to longevity in an ever-flattening world and increasingly complex market place. No business owner has all skills required to perform optimally on all fronts. This accountability allows for continued learning and allows for vulnerability among peers. Local Chambers, Rotaries, and other community & business groups (1 Million Cups, Score, Typros) exist, so get creative and increase your social circle.
Processes are indispensable, especially in small business, where one quarter of loss can capsize the ship. Furthermore, the American small business offers less persuasive benefits & opportunities, so inevitably they lose great employees. A disadvantage that must be prepared for. Processes go hand in glove with scalability. My suggestion is, document product knowledge, employee expectations, the company history, and other industry specifics that increase the general knowledge of existing and new employees. Document everything. Documentation, documentation, documentation. How will you know which marketing pieces have positive ROI’s, where the customers live, how they heard about you, or what the year-to-date comparisons are? Without processes for documenting and recording, the business knowledge gained in each year of business is lost or stored in someone’s head. Without processes, every lost owner, executive, or manager becomes a human capital loss. Though not debited from the balance sheet, this loss is detrimental. Small business owners must be proactive in developing business processes.
When you think of small business, do you think of scalable? A small business can become more scalable. Start with a written business plan, values, and documented processes. If a process during the ebb works, but becomes ineffectual in the flow then scalability is to blame. Basic documentation, which is key in fiscal competency, includes daily workflows, checklists, expectations, and historical financial data. Big business understands scalability.
Lastly, and easiest, but most non-natural is PR. How can a small business generate free PR? Local Chambers and Churches are great places to start. Local newspapers and websites that promote local activities and news are always looking for material. So write about something or talk about something that you know about. Just having your company name visible is valuable PR. Be a guerrilla when it comes to PR. Try to find ways to give your product away on slow days or aid a non-profit. Create opportunity out of lag, create buzz and chatter out of silence. How many coffee mugs with my logo have you delivered to local taste-makers and influencers? This is PR. Give away candy at local Halloween events, sponsor events, and just be visible. You say, “I am just not natural at being outgoing”. Read Guerrilla P.R. 2.0 by Michael Levine and you will see there are techniques that fit every business owner, no matter where you are on a personality spectrum.
The truth is small business can turn into big business or even a franchise overnight. It may do so well that a larger business buys you out of the market or you franchise the model to sell to other entrepreneurs. Is this the end game for small business in the 21st century? Not always. It truly depends on your reason for being in business. For more business related articles check out http://harpershutshavedice.me/ or Harper’s Hut Blog.
Good Luck and God Bless