Small businesses need to focus on their advantages. Let me clarify, so as to not make the most generic statement of the century. As an entrepreneur, it is absolutely natural to want your business to grow quickly. Whether you want to form a million dollar empire or get big quick so you can sell your business in five years and retire on the beach (like I wanted to do), the inclination is to take on as many big business tactics as you can.
This is understandable. In many walks of life it can be very useful to fake it ‘til you make it. As a small business this is sometimes the case. You want to engender trust, both from investors and customers, and behaving like a big dog can often do that.
However, this is only a good idea if you can maintain the unique advantages of a small business. One of the most directly useful benefits of dealing with a small business is that, due to the lack of a large corporate bureaucracy, it can often feel like you are dealing with a human being. Sometimes, this is literally the case.
However, even in Web-based or tech-focused industries that don’t usually fall into the “mom-and-pop” category, you can leverage this for a unique advantage.
One of the best examples of this kind of interaction can be found in Saddleback Leather, a purveyor of fine leather goods for business and personal use. I already hear you clamoring about the fact that leather is hardly Web-focused.
Not true in Saddleback’s case: they have no physical store and have built a ravenous community of fans based on personal interactions via their incredibly humorous website, as well as social media and a wonderful customer service team. Their goods are clearly high quality, though very expensive, and I would venture a guess that most of their customers never see their products in person before purchasing them.
That is highly unique, considering that many people will drop over $500 on some of their most popular items without ever holding it in their hands. Why do they do this?
For one thing, through videos on their site, you see the owners talking to people every day. You also get a clear view of who they are, and there is a sense of transparency to the whole operation. From their support of underprivileged children to the occasional post on religious views, whether or not you agree with them, you get the impression that these are just people next door, talking to you like you’re friends.
This transparency also extends to their business practices, and this is the real kicker. Recently Saddleback posted a letter on their site explaining an upcoming price increase.
Rather than simply blame the economy, they took the time to explain the process, and why they are raising prices. Going further, they stated when, specifically, prices would be raised so that customers could buy before the jump. Rather than the usual social outcry, they received messages of understanding (and quite a bit of business, I imagine) by being up front and straight with their customers.
Staying human for as long as possible can be a distinct advantage. Don’t hide behind a corporate wall just for the sake of increasing your legitimacy.
You might find that maintaining some of the human elements of a small business works better for you, even once you find success and strike it big.