As an advisor and mentor for many startups and small business founders, following my initial career in big business, I realize that the key strategies to achieve success in small businesses are often different from those that make larger businesses successful. The primary difference is the amount of time you have to spend working in the business versus on the business.
Small business owners have to do both and split their time carefully between the two. Big business executives have the luxury of spending all their time working on the business while delegating the operational tasks to other people and processes already in place to handle these. Continuing to micromanage both as your business grows is the downfall of many entrepreneurs.
I found this challenge and others outlined well in a new book, “Running Your Small Business Like a Pro,” by Andrew Frazier, who also brings many years of working with big and small companies. He recommends some key techniques, learned by both of us the hard way, that every small business owner can and must deploy to achieve long-term sustainability and growth:
- Must be more creative and flexible to compete effectively. With a tiny organization, small businesses can make decisions quickly, allowing them to respond quickly to customer input and changes. Sharing the same space also facilitates creativity. Big companies become divided up into silos and often fail to collaborate or communicate.For example, in the sales silo of my former organization, it was common to point to marketing or development as the source of a sales issue, but communication across to these organizations took forever, and agreeing on a common solution was difficult.
- Must learn to grow beyond initial traction and survival. As a small business owner and entrepreneur, you may relish the flexibility and the challenge of getting that first traction and customer recognition. But continued growth requires a focus on staffing, more collaboration, and formalizing processes to meet the rising transaction volume.I was recently an advisor to a very smart entrepreneur who insisted on getting personally involved in closing every sale, as well as every new feature development. The result was a growth plateau, as well as entrepreneur health and family balance challenges. He refused to begin working primarily on the business, rather than primarily in it.
- Small businesses need to create automated processes. A successful business has many components, including sales, marketing, finance, and operations, and these need automated interaction rules and leaders so that you don’t have to the glue. If you find yourself getting calls at all hours on the same issues, the business is running you.One solution here is to hire help rather than helpers. Helpers do only what you tell them, whereas true help comes from people who know more than you in their specific areas, such as sales or finance. You can delegate to them, and you learn from them over time.
- Find a coach who has a holistic view of all elements. Big companies are in a position to benefit from experts or consultants who focus on a given function. Small businesses, on the other hand, more often need advisors on the overall strategy, funding, and the integration of individual components. The solution here is more likely peers than experts.For example, there are several entrepreneur community networks, like EO and TiE, which offer education, mentorship, and peer networking for new business owners in the early growth stage of their business. Match your advisors with your business stage.
- Surround yourself with people with complementary skills. As a small business owner, you have a broad range of responsibilities, and none of us can be experts in all. Therefore, it important to find people who can fill in the gaps we have, perhaps in finance or marketing. In big business, you can use multiple people with more skill depth.Too many entrepreneurs I know tend to hire people like themselves, to provide the positive feedback they crave, but can’t help them fill in skill gaps. Of course, all of us need to continually be in learning mode, as the business world is changing around us.
Going forward, the economy and competition will continue to become more challenging for small business owners, and hopefully, your small company will grow into the ranks of the larger successful ones. Thus the more you learn about and use the right strategies at every level, the better prepared you will be to rise above the crowd now, and in the future.