5 Things Big Companies Can Learn From Small Businesses

While small businesses may not bring in the revenue of large corporations many weather the storms due to one simple quality: agility

Making big moves with your small business (Image: Thinkstock)

While small businesses may not bring in the revenue that larger corporations do, many have been able to weather the economy’s most recent storms due to one simple quality: agility.  The agile small business is usually lighter and more efficient out of necessity, and could teach larger companies a thing or two. Here are five things that successful and flexible small businesses do:

1. Small Businesses Pivot

When you think about media organizations, print media is obviously an example of an industry that has struggled for years with the online environment. When I was a print reporter, my newspaper was only beginning to embrace the web at a time when bloggers were beginning to encroach on the domain of local news reporters. Large news organizations could take a page out of the book of bloggers like The YBF’s Natasha Eubanks – a blogger with no previous media or web experience who has grown her site to a seven figure business in under 5 years. Natasha saw the need for African – American celebrity news channel and she filled it.

Think about other businesses that failed to pivot in recent years, and the game changers that popped up in their steads. In Chris Brogan’s landmark book “Trust Agents” he identifies this phenomenon as gatekeepers vs. the nimble gatejumpers who were able to pivot and make new rules. Radio listeners can now listen to podcasts, print magazines have given way to blogs, bookstores like Borders have closed down in the wake of Amazon. Music stores like Tower Records are extinct because you can easily download your favorite music online. The gatekeeper models all failed to pivot—or if they did pivot, they did so too late.

2. Make Customer Service Personal

During college, I worked at an independent coffeeshop as a barista.  I remember one hot summer day, a customer requested a way to sweeten his iced beverage – as the regular granular sugar didn’t dissolve.  A few industrious baristas and I came up with a simple solution – simple syrup: a highly concentrated solution of sugar and water that dissolved easily in iced drinks. It was simple to make and simple to use and needed no management approval. The solution was so apropos that ten years later it is still in use, virtually unchanged.

When was the last time you complained to a business and was able to get such a quick resolution? Would Starbucks have reacted this quickly to customer feedback? I doubt it.  But larger businesses can learn from small businesses who can’t afford to ignore customer complaints. Sometimes small business are able to observe a problem and immediately go into problem – solving mode. The simple sugar required no committee meetings or board approvals – just  quick thinking and quick action.

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