Cultivating a "Small Business Edge"

It is only natural for entrepreneurs to entertain thoughts of achieving enormous success, to follow in the footsteps of those companies that seem to spring forth fully grown overnight. Yet, it’s important for business owners to ask at the outset, “What is the best measure of success?” Because bigger isn’t always better. While outside observers may tend to measure a company’s success solely by its growth, progress and sustainable profitability, which are equally important, aren’t always reflected in the number of employees or the size of a company’s revenues.

Small companies that grow slowly may have an edge in sustaining growth over the long term. In this regard, it’s important for owners to keep sight of what motivated them to go into business in the first place. For instance, a desire to be responsive to customer needs and to be creative in meeting those needs may be best accomplished in a small business setting. Here are some strategies to help your company cultivate its small business edge:

Differentiate the Company. Carve out a niche with a clearly defined mission and target market. For instance, a company that defines itself as “a one-stop communications resource, specializing in small to mid-size companies” can remain small enough to offer personalized attention to clients, while allowing for enough growth to provide expertise across a broad range of communication needs.

Build on Existing Capabilities. Actively seek new ways to use current capabilities to attract and serve customers. For instance, if our one-stop communications company initially focused on developing marketing materials through one-on-one verbal communications, as its clients expand their operations into cyberspace, it might also consider developing its own website to reach and serve its customers.

Experiment with New Ideas. Make it a priority to cultivate creative approaches to meeting customers’ needs. For example, new services can be developed on a trial basis with one or two clients. If a problem develops, or there is little interest among customers, the service can be discontinued. Or, problems can be worked out on a small scale and the new service can be modified accordingly.

Small companies possess many advantages over their larger counterparts. For instance, they may know their customers on a first-name basis and have the ability to respond more quickly to their needs. Such personalized attention can build customer loyalty and often leads to referrals and new customers.

When successful small businesses attempt to expand too rapidly, they often fail. Slow, steady growth can help a company retain its uniqueness, responsiveness, and creativity. By cultivating its small business edge, a business can create the potential for growth, and build a solid foundation for sustaining it.

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