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.

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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.
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