David vs Goliath: Why Small Businesses Exceed Expectations

I want to start by dispelling the myth that it’s “safer” to patronize large companies. You may assume that large businesses have better systems in place and will stick around longer.  However, this is not necessarily true. Recent economic woes have demonstrated that giant companies suffer when they lose touch with the granularity of their businesses.

Often times, in an effort to cut expenses, the giants will make significant compromises in quality and service. Some committee adjusts a few numbers on some spreadsheet, and then thousands of customers are liable to suffer as a result. The layers of bureaucracy provide a numbing lag between action and consequence. For the behemoths, it often takes a missed quarterly projection or a government inquiry to implement a change of course.

Of course, there are many remarkable exceptions to this rule. However, I would venture to say that the value of an individual customer is always greater for small businesses than for large corporations. The stores, restaurants, and other small businesses that we patronize are more in touch with our needs. The primary reason is quite simple; small businesses are able to feel their own pulse.

The value of an individual customer is always greater for small businesses than for large corporations.

The pulse of a business is the stream of material events as they happen. Every day, customers make purchases (and returns), vendors make proposals, competitors make changes, employees make progress, and the list goes on… In a small business, you feel all of these things as they happen. If a customer complains about something, or a competitor does something out of the ordinary, you notice. This high level of sensitivity is unique to small businesses.

As a small business, your greatest competitive advantage against Goliath is the ability to feel your own pulse – the granularity of how you function. As a leader of a small team or company, the pulse gives you a sixth sense for what to change, what is fair, and how to retain your customers.

As a small business, your greatest competitive advantage against Goliath is the ability to feel your own pulse – the granularity of how you function.

As a customer, you benefit when the businesses you patronize can feel their own pulse. When you return something a day late or notice a flaw in the service, you are usually accommodated. When the store or restaurant is at fault, they take responsibility without making you fill out some form or calling some department that only takes calls from 9-5. Small businesses exceed our expectations not because they need to, but because they know when to. Without the shackles of rigid corporate policies, small businesses are able to tune into our needs and adapt as necessary.

In celebration of small business, we, as customers, should take a moment to recognize the value of being remembered by name, asking for help without navigating a phone tree, and being taken into account. For those of us in large companies, we should be inspired by small businesses to rediscover the pulse that we lost along the way. And for those of us running a small business, we should market our strengths, keep a finger on the pulse, and preserve our precious advantage.

As we look toward the future of small business, a few thoughts on how to support the creativity and adaptability that are our key competitive advantages:

  1. Strive to preserve creativity amidst bureaucracy.
  2. Forget about “face time” and focus on results.
  3. Embrace confrontation and fight your way to breakthroughs.
  4. Measure meetings with action, not attendance.
  5. Focus on MACRO rather than MICRO management.
  6. Encourage regular feedback exchange among team members.
  7. Practice the art of restraint as a creative leader.
  8. Recognize that not everything is urgent, and manage your team’s energy wisely.
    Small Business Saturday

Thanks to American Express for sponsoring this post about small business from Behance CEO Scott Belsky.  American Express is presenting Small Business Saturday, a way to honor the local merchants who are the backbone of the economy, this Saturday, November 27.  They’re offering statement credits to people who shop at small businesses, advertising for small-business owners, and donations to Girls Inc. for “Likes” of the Small Business Saturday page on Facebook.  Join the celebration by clicking the “Like” button and then visiting the Facebook page to learn more.

More insights on: Iteration, Leadership

Scott Belsky

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Scott Belsky is Adobe's Vice President of Community and Co-Founder & Head of Behance, the leading online platform for creatives to showcase and discover creative work. Scott has been called one of the "100 Most Creative People in Business" by Fast Company, and is the author of the bestselling book, Making Ideas Happen.
load comments (13)
  • Pete R.

    I have to agree with you here. I once work in a big company and thought that it was secure and everything, but what I didn’t recognized at that time was that working for small businesses have so much more benefits.

    You got to learn the whole process from the beginning to the end, whereas in the big company, you only learn a fraction of the workflow.

    These benefits apparently works out for me because I do have a plan to be an entrepreneur in the future. If you wanna be successful in a big firm, then these doesn’t apply to you.

    Any way, these are a perspective from the employee point of view i experienced rather than the customers point of view. This is a great post worth sharing. I’m starting to like this blog now. :) Keep it coming.

  • David

    I think this article generalizes too much. Although many of the points are legitimate, it really depends upon the type of business and the role one plays within it. As an independent contractor working as a web designer, I have generally had much better experiences with larger firms. Why? Several reasons: they pay well, meetings occur on time, goals and objectives are clearly defined, resources and infrastructure are plentiful, there are many experienced people to work with, and they are usually more up to speed on the best practices and services that I provide. This cannot, unfortunately, be said for the majority of smaller businesses I have worked with or for. I really wish it wasn’t true, because despite all these shortcomings, owners of smaller companies are indeed genuine and respectable people.

  • Carolinad217

    En Venezuela es particularmente complicado emprender nuevos y pequeños negocios. Los gigantes se apropian de formas muy rápidas de los mercados a través de estrategias y políticas poco saludables. Aunque suena muy bien la idea general del artículo, sigue siendo una utopía pensar que soñar es todo lo que se necesita y que el esfuerzo es un aval de éxito. Sin embargo, tengo confianza y fe en la organización y el trabajo de equipo.

  • Mikeoa2001

    This is a worthwhile observation with some great points. It got me thinking that many small businesses try to mimic their much larger counterparts problem solving methods, and in doing so are distracted from the challenges that small business faces. While big companies struggle to keep it personal, small companies naturally are adept at being personal. While large organizations need team buuikding activities to keep employees from feeling like cogs, small businesses benefit from continual inteaction between all components of their operation.
    Excellent post!

  • pumpkin

    Great article. It’s important to note that sometimes small companies are a part of a larger corporation and the larger corporations have a huge disconnect with the small divisions/companies due to not knowing the basics of how the small business functions. I work for a small division which is part of a huge organization and while entrepreneurial spirit is appreciated in small business, the larger corp is part of the process delaying speed to market. So pretty much we are trying to balance between the “corporate way” which enforces thorough processes and at the same time we are trying to deliver what the customers ask for with speed.

  • Traveling bags

    Nice review ! I like your article and i will definitely look again……………………………………

  • louiegie619

    I’m not really  confident though With all your business plan, the Small business marketing blueprints is merely of the most crucial long-term plans you’ll make for your small enterprises.

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  • Phone System

    Thank you for sharing!

  • Alice

    Actually, it doesn’t matter if you’re in a small business or large corporation. According to a business consulting company, what is important is that you are happy with what you are doing. As long as you have satisfaction and you help other people, you are considered successful.

  • canadian franchise show

    Its always happen because small business has very short term strategies and short term business plans. So it always exceeding.

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