Small biz keeps close to customers; entrepreneurs know that whilst they may get the largest slice of the pie, they certainly get the last. So they focus on getting at least some pie. Big biz corporates get remunerated by salary and bonuses; maybe shares too. Reward systems are all too often based on share price, and earnings, but not sales and customer satisfaction as well – they’ve forgotten that profit is a way of keeping score, not the only goal.

Businesses need to reconnect the personal objectives of colleagues (not workers or staff) with business objectives in all size of business. So often the business needs squash personal objectives and without some balance and reconnection individuals cannot shine and contribute fully. Maybe then (to quote Charles Handy) the Passion will show through the People and then through to the Profits.

Small biz, in staying close to and focused on customers, shouldn’t develop so many of the internal issues that bedevil and slow down big biz. In a small biz, whoever answers the phone,gets the email… deals with the problem. Not like call centres operators sympathising but not empowered to do anything.

But, however enthusiastic and focused the small biz owner is, he or she can only infect colleagues with his/her own values and imperatives to the extent that they interact with them personally. Infect? Yes, enthusiasm is infectious.

So small biz has growth limitations unless it produces processes and systems to retain that enthusiasm and culture and disseminate to a larger internal audience, so that all colleagues still have the energy and empowerment to touch customers.

Peter Drucker said you should be able to get your mission on a T shirt. Not easy, but with growth has to come clarity as the owner won’t have the time to explain one-to-one.

Small biz doesn’t like too many systems, as they think they slow them down. Big biz has many systems, usually designed to make life easy or cheaper for the big biz, but which slow down customer and colleague interactions. More views on this in our blog elegantly entitled ‘Arse Time’. Both views have some validity. Small biz could take the view (as we try to build in ourselves and encourage clients to do the same) that systems, used properly and sparingly, should free up time for the unusual or unexpected so that individual thought can flourish. Big biz could look at what systems are getting in the way of interacting with customers, and remove them. A good complaints policy is a bit too late. Think back to quality systems – would you rather have quality control – a system which rejects defective items before sale, or quality management – a system that removes quality issues before defects occur? The cheaper solution is the second, and makes for happier customers and colleagues. The analogy holds true for many customer-facing systems that we have all encountered.

Small biz tend to be run by generalists – the owners may be specialists in their technical field but also have to have some knowledge in all other business disciplines to successfully run  their business. They may not know much, but they know all that there is within their organisation. That brings its own problems, but doesn’t allow siloes to be built up. Big biz has specialists coming out of their ears, all of which produce their own siloes and levels of domain complexity. This slows down decision-making and adds to cost.

We think that big biz needs a generalist in charge to know enough about each discipline to realise where it needs to be tempered and fitted in to the overall picture. Small biz generally needs more specialist knowledge, often from outside as they can’t justify a full time cost, so the owner can be guided to act as the generalist more effectively.

Small biz doesn’t wait for everyone to make up their collective minds and form consensus – small biz knows that customers are slipping away. So they find a work-around and ways of getting it done, and fit the pieces together later, if there is time. They will put the processes in place, only when they know that the new stuff, so endlessly debated in big biz, is actually working at a scalable level and is here to stay. Small biz is very agile. It comes with its own issues – often processes don’t get built at all, as it’s on to the next thing and the structure of the business can look like bits have been bolted on.  It’s sometimes hard to find the controls for this machine again. At that point small biz needs to dismantle and re-build systems, otherwise they will become dysfunctional and costly. But by then they will have boldly gone where no big biz has gone before.

Certainly, big biz needs to be a considerably more agile to cope with a fast changing world, as customers now demand an individual experience and to be dealt with by individuals. This is the biggest challenge faced by big biz. This is what small biz does so well.