Small businesses are brilliant, but…

Small businesses can be brilliant. They’re all about people, and they can out-decision, out-manoeuvre, out-collaborate and out-care, while their lumbering bigger rivals are still fixing diary dates to form the task force to write the paper to look into it.

When you deal with a small business, you’ve a much better chance of speaking with someone who takes (or has) ownership and who values your custom and cares as much as you do about a successful outcome.

BUT…

Sometimes, the recipe doesn’t work. Sometimes small businesses can be, or can behave like, amateur, hobby businesses, running on a shoestring and cutting corners.

A couple of painful real-life examples I have come across myself in the past few weeks:

  • A local estate agent whose recycling bin had been knocked over during the night, sprawling hand written client paperwork all across the road. The paperwork contained client names, addresses, contact numbers, details of clients’ personal finances and budgets… Besides their legal obligations, this shows an astonishing lack of respect for the trust their customers had placed in them.
  • A public webinar by a data management company who, during the course of the demonstration, worked on-screen with their own live customer data (I know because I recognised some of the names), again revealing email addresses, telephone and other contact notes… Would you engage a data management service who carelessly shares your personal records online to the world?
  • My recent near-infamous search for an optician, where I found that over 99% of the possible suppliers, were either invisible, relied on out of date or dysfunctional marketing material, or just couldn’t be bothered (…read the full post here).

I say these are painful because us small businesses have to work so hard to create awareness and credibility and build trust, and this unprofessionalism, this lack of forethought, hurts us all.

If you are a small business:

  • Regardless of whatever trade you’re in, take pride in yourself and your professional image and ensure the same is cascaded through the whole business and your every customer touch-point.
  • Regardless of whatever your product is, consciously focus on building relationships and trust with your customers, not just selling to them.
  • Don’t skimp on staff training or staff cover, data security, insurance, maintenance, CRM, customer service, customer care policy, product information, marketing collateral… These may all seem a bit ‘away from the coal face’ but they are often why people will lean towards your bigger rivals; because rightly or wrongly, these hygiene factors are taken as a given.

If you are considering working with a small business:

  • Check they have invested in the above credentials, ask for references, look for case studies and testimonials, ask about relevant insurances (general liability, professional indemnity etc) and service guarantees… and make sure you personally have a feel-good factor about dealing with them.
  • If they’re not up to the mark, then walk away. But please don’t go away thinking that all small businesses are the same, or even that these kind of failures are unique to small businesses.

When it works, the exchange between a small business and its customers, is rich with mutual goals and co-existence. There’s trust built up between the humans involved, leading to deep long-lasting relationships and new ways of working and growing, beyond the immediate transactional.

This nirvana is elusive enough for small businesses.

It’s very rare indeed to find it with your larger rivals. 

And that’s why you use it to beat them.

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