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Old 7th July 2004, 08:55 AM   #1
BWelford
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Default What can the Small Guys and Gals learn from the Big Guys?

I haven't found the right place to put a topic like the one I want to raise. I really feel there should be a Small Business Strategy sector. There are some important questions to ask up-front before you get involved in the operational issues that are being covered here. However if that sector doesn't exist, then the Generating Revenue sector is the most likely home for such discussions. Generating Revenue is where it all starts and where it all finishes. So here we go.

My question is really all in the title of this thread. "What can the Small Guys and Gals learn from the Big Guys?". In other words, what business principles work whatever the size of your company? One I push very hard is "Focus, Focus, Focus."

Of course some of the Big Guys don't think this applies to them. So we see these messy conglomerates created through the egoistic ideas of someone who thinks bigger is automatically better. Quite often they are very ineffective and very cruel as they yo-yo up and down alternately hiring and firing whole waves of people.

So "Focus, Focus, Focus" is my nomination for the most universally applicable principle, whatever the company size. What do you think?

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Old 7th July 2004, 10:37 AM   #2
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Good topic.

1. Form a Strategic Visionary Panel. Okay this doesn't have to be a group of people. The owner, his partner, or anyone who has some direct or indirect stake in the company can join this panel. The idea is to think big and visionary, which small business owners often do not, when they get busy with their day-to-day affairs. For example, a 10-year roadmap of the company, new products, competitor analysis can all be discussed in the meeting of this panel. This long-term thinking sometimes increases and redefines focus and more importantly boosts motivation.

2. Hire people:
It's always a smart move to hire people who are specialist of their work. The owner of a small business does not need to do all the work himself. Hiring consultants is also a good idea and may work for short term projects.

... umm .. will add more to list later

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Old 7th July 2004, 11:27 AM   #3
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Sometimes you can learn 'what to do' from someone else and sometimes 'what NOT to do'. In the case of bog companies verses small companies, I am going to add a couple of things NOT to do.

1. Do not allow your customers to get 'lost in the shuffle'. With many big companies with a large inventory of customers, the customer becomes a number that can get shuffled from one account rep to the next. We currently have about 100 active clients and everyone of them is treated as if they were our only customer. Some require a lot of time and others next to none. But whatever the case is, they appreciate the way they are valued.

2. Move quickly. Big companies move slower than a turtle caught in a molasses trap. many a time a smaller company can gain the advantage on a bigger company by the mere fact that they can make decisions and act upon them much quicker than larger ones that are embossed in layer after layer of legal red tape.

Those are just a couple of things I can think of off the top of my head. Im sure more will be added as this thread matures.

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Old 7th July 2004, 03:05 PM   #4
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David ~

I couldn't agree with you more! Customer service is number one in my business. I don't care how busy I am...I answer emails as quickly as I get them and can get the information they need to know and I ship orders out the same day or the very next day. If there is a problem, I let the customer know right away. I have received emails from customers telling me how I went the extra mile and just because of that I have a return customer.

Big companies take weeks to ship out items they have in stock, don't check the shipping costs (so charge you as high as they can get away with), very rarely answer emails and forget it if you have a question about a product.

Well, reading what I just wrote...guess I'm in a rambling mood! Sorry for the way it is written...my brain is not functioning on all cylinders today!

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Old 7th July 2004, 08:52 PM   #5
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Great points! Anytime you can cut down on things like red tape and high turnover will help the customer. Hopefully, they turn into repeat customers. Lisa, you made perfect sense with the customer service analogy! Customers DO come back.

For a couple years, I worked for what is now one of the biggest ecommerce office supply companies in the US. The company is literally built around customer service. We weren't big into titles, but the goto person is actually called the VP of customer service. Not sales, not marketing, customer service.

We'd get new customers because of many of the points already made with other companies. Shuffling in account reps, delays in email responses... With us, it was just us. So we better be on things. In any one year, I could literally count on one hand how many times a customer called wondering where their order was, and I 'didn't know'.

Ok, now I'M rambling. Hope I'm not steering this off course. One thing that helped us grow is to realize that mistakes happen and to proactively correct them. It really helped us learn from our mistakes so something similar doesn't happen again. When there's only a few of you, you can't shuffle the blame to a marketing assistant or a different department. When I was in more of a corporate position, this happened all the time.

Ok, this probably looks like an 'anti-corporate' post. It's not. I would call it a 'pro-customer' post.

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Old 8th July 2004, 12:22 AM   #6
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Default Some Ideas

I will add my two cents to all of this:

1. Keep it simple - as a small business I cannot afford to implement lengthy, costly and complicated solutions to problems

2. Know your customer - a lot of companies that I have worked for get carried away because they think that they know what is right for their customers without ever talking to them

3. Over-deliver - go above and beyond what people expect. They are pleasantly surprised (as some have noted in previous posts here)

4. Be passionate about your business - it helps when you are trying to promote it to others. In fact, it makes it pretty easy!

5. Talk to everyone - I am always surprised about what turns into a lead and a new customer. People who have seemed like unlikely candidates have turned into valuable customers

OK, more like five cents I guess. I tried not to ramble too much.

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Old 27th July 2004, 03:59 PM   #7
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Default More on Customer Service

Two more cents worth. Do I see consensus building here?

I majored in History and Business Management in college. I thought they could teach me to manage anything. I was wrong. But they did teach me the value of customer service.

Good customer service will cover a multitude of mistakes. Mistakes are how we learn. So I suggest anyone starting a business simply pay attention to your customers. A good way to do that is the be brave and ask your customers how you are doing. This feedback will help you manage your business better and customers usually appreciate the chance to provide feedback. You might be surprised what they say both good and bad.

There sometimes seems to be a negative correlation between the size of the company and the level of customer service. When the big guys get it right (See Amazon, Dell in years past) they are unbeatable. But it is easy to lose sight of the prize !

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Old 27th July 2004, 07:34 PM   #8
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All excellent points.

One of the things that we definitely learned on the web was a small business had as much likelihood of success as a large business if they planned well, focused upon pleasing their customers, and adapted quickly.

There are large companies that may never understand the web, and may forever have to rely upon their bricks and mortar operations to get them through until a younger generation ends up on their board of directors.

There are large companies that took to the web running, and are impossible to catch. And I see too many people trying to catch them. It's a mistake. Let them have their niche. Find another one. One they missed.

But look at how they operate. Spend twenty minutes a day looking at the web site of a successful online business. Large or small, each of them does something that attracts customers, and fulfills their business requirements.

What makes an Amazon.com successful? Why might it not work for a Nordstroms? How has Nordstrom adapted to find their own niche?

One thing that we really don't learn from many of the larger companies online is how to build credibility. Most of them allow their offline efforts establish their credentials, including their presence in the local shopping malls or their ads on the television.

While a small business doesn't have those advantages, there are others that more than compensate, such as the ability to run a business out of a garage (which is where Amazon's Jeff Bezos first ran his online bookstore). But we need to pay more attention to establishing credibility.

But there are plenty of other things we can learn. Might offering gift certificates to customers add a nice addition to the sales you make? How about throwing in an unannouced gift certificate for $5.00 to everyone who purchases more that $50.00 worth of goods in your online store. Chances are if they bought from you once, and they had no problems with the transaction, that might spur them to buy from you again. If not, you're out a piece of paper. Yep, I learned that from a transaction I made as a customer with a large online business.

<edited a couple of typos - wjs>

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Last edited by bragadocchio; 28th July 2004 at 08:43 AM.
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Old 31st July 2004, 11:51 AM   #9
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Default A Plus to the Big Guys

I have had this question rattling around in my brain for almost a week now. And I am troubled by my negative reaction to the big guys. I always try to be positive, so here goes

One of the things the best big companies do is focus on results. They have multiple layers of management and at least one of those layers is devoted to making sure the businesses they transact make sense - in dollars and sense terms.

This is a big thing and easy for the little guys to lose focus on. When you care about your small business you may not notice that you are making less money than you could pumping gas (does anyone not in NJ do that anymore?).

There are a number or reasons for this.

It is easy to beleive that the venture will make money "some day".
If you did not love the small business you started, why did you start it?
Psychic income counts.

But none the less, if the business is not making money, all will eventually be lost. I am talking here about making money for the owners. After paying yourself, your help, your bills, et cetera, you should still take home a healthy return on invested capital. If that measure does not work, then you have to look at return on sales, or some other measure. But a loss in these terms will be fatal.

So, in short, the big guys do a real good job of counting the money !


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