The Self Serve Trend in Small Businesses

The more we can do for ourselves as small business owners, the more empowered we feel. We are in charge. Like we can whip the world.

That was my point in an interview I gave recently. Journalist Leah Betancourt wrote about it for, in a small business trends segment:

Campbell said she’s seeing a lot of do-it-yourself small businesses and self-serve business owners, especially with sole proprietors and businesses with less than five employees. She said the Internet has a lot to do with it.

She said owners could use online advertising campaigns with tools such as Google AdWords without having to hire an agency. She also mentioned small business accounting software packages such as QuickBooks in which entrepreneurs don’t have buy expensive accounting systems.

To some degree do-it-yourself has always been the hallmark of small businesses, especially for startups. In the early years, revenues are lean. Employees are scarce. You may have little choice but to do something yourself, or it doesn’t get done.

But the kind of self-serve that I speak of is more than just a matter of economics — it is an attitudinal shift. In fact, our entire society is making this shift. We are conditioned to use ATM machines more frequently, and human tellers less. The way we buy cars is different today — we educate ourselves online about the product before we ever set foot in a dealership. We make travel arrangements online, without ever interacting with another human being. We sign up for, renew or cancel services by using touch-tone phones and bots that do speech recognition.

Small business owners and managers are going through a similar shift. Technology — in particular the Internet — makes it possible for us to do more for our businesses.

But the really interesting thing is that services have not gone away. They have just changed. While we small businesses may use accounting software to keep our books, the majority of us still have accountants. But instead of our accountants being number-crunchers, they give us advice, help us do tax planning, and other value-add activities. In other words, when we use outside services, we may be using them for higher level purposes, precisely because we have the tools that let us automate routine tasks and do them ourselves.


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.

5 Reactions
  1. we are all about self-servce at and
    … where users help other users

  2. I agree with your points.

    I’d also add that the flip-side of the phenomenon is interesting too. When selling to small business owners, we need to remember that automation of routine things is becoming increasingly common and we have to enhance our offerings as well.

  3. Great post, Anita. I think there used to be a time when small business owners, particularly home-based businesses, had no choice but to be self sufficient. The irony is that now that the cost of having outside help has gone down, it’s actually easier to do for ourselves, and most of us prefer to.

    Your example of an accountant is spot on. Most of the folks I work with do their own books with either desktop software or online billing systems. Then they hire accountants more as advisors or tax specialists to give advice and guidance regarding more complex matters.

  4. As part of Generation Y, I see the mentioned traits quite prevalent in today’s internet youth. The internet and telecommunication advances have revolutionized the way we conduct business and personal life. If I want an antique clock, I go get it NOW on ebay. If I want to speak to a friend, I call him NOW on his cell phone . . . and probably don’t leave a message because that’s not NOW.
    Our advances are empowering individuals to communicate and work together more efficiently (although we have less spare time for leisure). Like Thomas Friedman said in his bestseller “The World is Flat”, web 2.0 is bringing a user driven internet, and thereby society, right to our doorstep.
    For that reason, I’m creating a website at that gives users the power to communicate ideas for inventions, services, patents and cooperate. I want to do to traditional invention/patenting processes what wikipedia did to the encyclopedia, what craigslist did to greensheet, and what facebook did to yearbooks. I also have my own blog on the entrepreneurial experience at to educate and encourage others to venture out on their own.