The Trend of the Ambiguous Small Business

One thing never ceases to amaze me. It’s how creative some entrepreneurs can be when it comes to developing new businesses. Today’s entrepreneurs create businesses around incredibly narrow niches. Or they find opportunities that much of the general public doesn’t even know exists.

For every traditional business such as restaurant that I encounter, I run into five businesses that don’t fit into ready descriptions. In fact, I think I am going to start calling it the trend of the “Ambiguous Small Business.”

The Affiliate Summit that I attended last week was full of entrepreneurs with ambiguous businesses. Shawn Collins and Missy Ward, the co-founders of Affiliate Summit put on an excellent conference. Every conference or trade show has its own flavor and personality, and Affiliate Summit definitely had its own.

On the surface I saw lots of people wandering about in T-shirts. But underneath that surface were some very smart entrepreneurs who make their living through the Internet.

Yet, I swear, it takes 10 minutes to figure out what some of them do. It’s not like they walk up to you, stick out their hand and say “I’m a cardiologist” or “I run a dry cleaning business.” You can’t instantly put them into a little box.

Instead, you may get a reference to a website (or several websites). Or you get a description like “I run an online marketing business” or “I’m an affiliate marketer” or “I run a technology business.” None of these describes the diversity, depth and sophistication of their businesses. It’s only through conversation that the full breadth of the business comes out.

Don’t be surprised if the small businesses you deal with don’t seem to fit into neat little boxes or traditional categories. It’s particularly hard to categorize information businesses and technology businesses, because what they do may not have existed three, five or ten years ago.


Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder, CEO and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses.

3 Reactions
  1. Anita, thanks for this post, I’ll be using it as a reference for so many people who can’t find standard business indicators or ratio guidelines to match their business types. Obviously the phenomena you point out in this post roll over into what’s available in public databases of composite business ratios and such, because the database requires categorization and a critical mass of businesses included in the indicator statistics.

    What we do when people run into this problem is suggest that they use what indicators they can find, for standard businesses, and in their business plan think through how and why their numbers would be different.

    — Tim Berry

  2. William Profet ::

    Hi Anita,

    You are right. Small businesses cannot be put into little boxes. They are small, but they have to survive. So they must be creative and aggressive. I am a small business owner myself and I know what I am talking about. Thank you for this post it is inspiring to me!