Many people start a business because they want the freedom to do things their way.
Once that business becomes successful, however, the pressure to grow can come from many different sources - the bank, suppliers, partners, amongst others. Very often, growth brings extra risk, the loss of control, or veering off-course when it comes to core values. And so the small business owner can find themselves torn between the conventional 'wisdom' of "grow or die" and the very principles that started them on their journey.
I've just finished reading Bo Burlingham's book 'Small Giants : Companies That Choose To Be Great Instead of Big'. A great read, which presents a compelling case for the SME wanting to buck the corporate dogma that they should strategise towards rapid, world-conquering growth.
By Bo's definition - 'small giants' are privately-owned companies that have faced a moment of truth where they had to decide whether or not to grow, and decided against expanding if it meant compromising their mission. Instead, they're driven by their heart-felt enthusiasm for their product, and focus on factors like quality and caring for their workforce.
One of my favourite things about Burlingham's concept of a small giant is that you immediately start to think of the small giants you've encountered. Maybe it's your favourite coffee place, or that special gift shop that you can't wait to tell everyone about? Whoever they are, they will all share similar qualities.
Soul and atmosphere
In my work I've often heard employees of large corporations sharing that they feel like "cogs in a machine". This is not the case for people who work for small giants. Why? Because small giants have soul. The working atmosphere has been cultivated from day one, injecting an elusive quality that is meaningful, motivating and exciting for employees.
Quality = product, relationships and service
Having a small workforce means that small giants tend to be better at tasks that benefit from personal interaction, like customer service. The team can literally know the face and name of every customer, which would be almost impossible in a big corporation. Within the company, small giants can foster better relationships - after all, everyone knows everyone else!
Being happy right where they are
Focussing purely on growth and expansion can often result in large upheavals. Small giants have devoted themselves to the setting and location of their business - plugged directly into the local communities, who play a crucial role in shaping the company. With small giants, they're often happy right where they are, with no particular desire to expand or move to a new location. There are also pragmatic reasons for staying put: it's easier to deliver top-notch quality if you can cultivate a network of trusted local partners - and that takes time.
The philosophy of success is something I'm extremely intrigued by. For any business owner, their success (in whatever form it takes) can be underpinned by your reactions to company-defining questions:
- What is your mission?
- What is on the top of your list when you think about your company's future?
- How big should your company get?
- When will you know that your company has grown too big?