Don’t Think Big.

Being small gives you a huge advantage.

Running a business is hard, especially in the early days. Those first few years are brutal. If your business is just getting off the ground, there’s a good chance you’re looking around a lot. You’re thinking that everyone is doing better than you are.

It’s tempting to start pretending that you run a big business too. As if that’s the best way to compete with the established players.

It’s there in the language that you use. Like how you refer to departments in your company that don’t exist. Or when you say ‘we’ all the time, when it’s just you.

The good news is that you have a huge competitive advantage at this point, you need to step back, recognise, and embrace it.

Starting out and being small. These are two superpowers that you won’t have for long. It’s time to make the most of them.

I remember those early days clearly. Looking back, I was clueless. I had no idea how my business should be doing, I had nothing concrete to aim for, or to measure progress against. I didn’t know whether things were going well or not.

My focus was on survival. It was an uphill struggle for a long time.

If you are in the early stages of running a business, you’ll be able to relate to this. Even if you spent months putting a realistic business plan together, chances are that your current reality doesn’t match up. It’s terrifying at times.

Even if business is good from day one, the sheer volume of things that can and do go wrong makes for a serious amount of stress.

Everything feels fragile and uncertain.

When insecure, we look around to see what everyone else is doing. It’s no different in business. You see what looks like success all around you. Those five-figure follower counts and fancy logos are fuelling your growing self-doubt.

You start to think you’re doing it all wrong. You think you need to be more like them. Then you’ll be successful too. I’ve seen this so many times. It takes many forms, but common themes always emerge.

You start saying ‘we’ all the time, or you make stuff up.

“I’ll have to speak to someone in accounts, and we’ll see if we can get things straightened out for you.”

There is no accounts department, though. There is no ‘we’. You say these things because this is how bigger, more successful businesses operate.

You spend thousands hiring a graphic designer because the big fish in your pond has done the same. Are you expecting the sales to come rolling in because you have a new logo? Desperation does weird things to you.

Getting caught up in this stuff is easy. At least it’s something to focus on, something to aim for, right? No, it’s noise. This is you taking your eye off the ball and losing sight of what’s important.

What you need to do instead

You need to embrace your tininess. It’s simple but it’s powerful. This is the one thing that is most likely to help your business survive and grow in the early days. Get it right, and you may end up wishing you could stay small forever. Let me explain.

Let’s take the example we used earlier, when your customer came to you with a problem. This time, we say: “I’m the business owner, so I can get that sorted out for you immediately!”.

The point is, you can say that. The big guys can’t. This is your advantage. It can’t be bought. The established businesses in your market can never be like you. They can rarely be this responsive.

You can speak to your customers directly. Imagine the difference from your customers’ perspective. Imagine how they feel knowing that their issue has been sorted straight away. The owner of the business cares enough to deal with the situation herself.

People love dealing with small, local businesses. You can deliver a level of personal service that a big business can’t. You can make decisions without needing anyone else’s permission. Furthermore, you can use that advantage to delight your customers, whenever you get the opportunity.

When your customers call you, they’re only going to be speaking to one of a few people. All those people know what is going on at the coal face, and they all know how important every single customer is.

They’ll go the extra mile to ensure everything is perfect.

Every time a customer reaches out with a problem is a golden opportunity to show them that you care. You’ll get to know a lot of your customers. It’s a nice feeling.

I’d recommend giving one of your customers a call one day, or sending them a personal email. Let them know you appreciate their business.

There’s nothing contrived here. These people are keeping you afloat, let them know you appreciate it.

I’ve lost count of how many great conversations I’ve had with our customers over the years. It’s incredible what you can learn from them. Listen, and they’ll tell you how you can do better. It doesn’t cost you a penny.

Being small means being nimble. You can get things done and try things out. All without the tiresome processes that come along with being a big company. Decisions can be made right there and then. You don’t need to go to meetings, seek approval, or convince people to change policies and procedures.

You can show your people who you are. If you use social media, go behind the scenes and show your audience how the people on your team make this business work.

You can be authentic, have fun with it. They’ll see your passion. When big businesses try to do this, it doesn’t come across the same at all.

It’s much harder for a big business to do anything spontaneously. They have rules and procedures to follow, they need someone to sign things off.

When a business gets to a certain size, it becomes a brand. It has to. The individuals who helped the company to grow are now removed from their customers.

Of course, you could choose to become a brand when you’re small, but why would you want to? Ask yourself this and give it some serious thought. What are you trying to achieve and why?

Instead, you can embrace imperfection and focus on authentic, genuine communication with your community. Show people how you go about trying to solve their problems for them. Ask for their input. They’ll tell you everything you need to know.

Corporations spend small fortunes trying to get this information.

The big guys can’t do a lot of the things that you can. Be small, be proud. You don’t need to copy how big businesses operate to succeed. You need to guard against doing that.

Pretending to be something else puts distance between you and your customers. As that gap grows, there will always be a new kid on the block, more than happy to fill it.

Small is a mindset. Small is nimble, agile, and responsive. Small is relatable. Think about how you can stay small as you grow, and you’ll reap big rewards.