Every year, I spend 3 hours with people outside my world.

Got your attention, at least to make jokes.

A friend does training for a retail cooperative. New managers from stores that are part of this cooperative come together for training. As part of the course, they work on a case study, preparing recommendations for turning around a retail outlet that is part of this cooperative. At the end of the one week course, they make a presentation to another group and a couple people from the main office of the cooperative. I serve as a facilitator for a couple of the presentations each year.

I know nothing about the business from the inside. I know it as a customer. And that makes this project fun.

To make the project even more fun this year, I was at the library yesterday and checked  out “small is the new big” by seth godin. I read a bit last night and then walked into presentations from small business people facing competition from big boxes. What I heard today made me more optimistic about the presentations in any time in the past 6 years of doing this.

Today, one of the groups said, “We want to be the information source for ___”. Another group said, “we could take laptops with __ software out to the customers and design right on the spot.” Another person said, “We won’t do television advertising, but we can take pictures of our customers working and put them on our website.” Another group spent the bulk of their time talking about the people side of the solution, the staffing changes that would need to be part of the solution for the company in the case study.

Here were mostly department managers from comparatively small business saying that what can make them successful is moving out of the product business into the information and relationship business. They aren’t selling hammers and nails, they are selling houses and homes and lives.

I did my best to encourage them, within the confines of my role. I wanted to say, “YES!!!” In taking on big, you can try to undercut their margins which will fail. You can try to duplicate their advertising budget, which will fail. You can try to out program them, which will fail. Or you can try to outlove them. (I know, it’s business, but at the core of relationship marketing must be relationship, which, at some level, has to be about love.) And the big boxes, whatever their industry: food, church, hardware, furniture, departments, are not fundamentally about outloving anyone.

I always wanted the biggest box of crayons. It was always a really cool thing to have. But as I think about it now, someone that would have taught me how to color, to actually do something with 8 crayons, that could have changed my life.  I might have moved from being a consumer to an artist.

Big is about consumers. Small is about artists. Big is about changing people to your world. Small is about preparing people to change their world.

Just a little thought.


17 responses to “small

  1. The best small business post ever.

  2. Frickin A bubba!

    Don’t know if you want/need/desire more of the same. If so, 37signals has a good read on small as the new big at:

    HIGHLY recommend this line of thinking.

  3. thank you, becky. from you that is huge (in a small way). 🙂

  4. Curt Liechty

    This gives me a positive reason to want to keep on doing my small business, and not expand my busy-ness.

  5. Glenna Mae Hendricks

    The next to the last paragraph is absolutely spot-on. It should be tatoo-ed on the back of the hand of every person trying to be a “small” business person. (becky’s mom)

  6. godsbooklover

    As part of a small group of Christian artists, you have no idea how encouraging your last paragraph was to me! I think I should put it on a little banner. 🙂

  7. This is the best blog entry I’ve seen in years! What a positive philosophy!

    As a mobile Notary Public I see the best and worst of situations: The mother giving power of attorney to her child so that life can be better for both; the owners of a half-milion-dollar house refinancing so that they can have more toys, while their kids are starved for affection.

  8. Very insightful, very inspiring. I agree, one of the best posts I’ve read in some time.

    Small business has a lot to learn about how to compete with the “big”. You’ve hit the nail on the head.

  9. “Aim small, miss small.” ~ Mel Gibson in “The Patriot”

    When teaching Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger how to shoot a muzzle-loading rifle, technical advisor Mark Baker gave them the advice to “aim small, miss small”, meaning that if you aim at a man and miss, you miss the man, while if you aim at a button (for instance) and miss, you still hit the man.

    Being part of the sales organization of the second largest EMS ($36B USD) company in the world, I would maintain this philosophy, especially in the context of our size, is not only possible, it’s the reason we’ve been so successful.

    Focus, focus, focus on the details, and customers feel the love.

  10. and, of course, responding to all the comments that come in is an essential part of small!

    Thanks, Curt, who is, everyone else, a remodeler/builder who is committed to doing a great job, one job at a time.

    And Laurie lives this out one performance, one service at a time as a worship leader and actor, she is wanting to draw people in rather than performing for. It’s a perfect example.

    Glenna Mae has a daughter who lives this post with excellence, constantly equipping people for influence.

    Earnest and Suze and Don, thanks for stopping by. Don, your post about consolidation, about focusing even on the input side, is great.

    thanks, all.

  11. Pingback: Reckon | Small vs. Big

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  13. Terrific post – many thanks!

  14. Ahhh! This is one of those fab posts that gets delicious’ed and tagged ‘why we bother building/growing a small business’

    Big (err…small?) thanks!

  15. Thanks Crystal. I just reread your comment and it suddenly made sense…my problem, not yours!

    We bother…because of love.

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