Few businesses start out big. For the most part, even the big box stores and multinational chains started out looking much like your business does today. Do you think Walmart started out as a huge, successful corporation, selling everything from tires to toys to housewares to fresh produce? In the early 1960s, Sam Walton opened what was essentially a five-and-dime discount store in a town in Arkansas.
Costco began as a warehouse during the 1970s inside a few old airplane hangers. McDonald’s started as a mom-and-pop hamburger stand. Burger King started as something a little bigger–a franchise chain of restaurants in Florida, but it was still just a tiny fraction of what it is today. Staples was a single office-supply store in Massachusetts.
All businesses start with a dream, but usually insufficient funding. So the dream has to be met with sacrifice, hard work, and usually a few rounds of failure before it finally catches on. In some cases, this is known as bootstrapping.
GoPro, the famous camera company, was bootstrapped by a guy in California who raised money selling shells out of the back of a VW van and then moved back in with his parents to work on his dream. Basecamp, formerly 37 Signals, is a famously-bootstrapped company started by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansso, two guys trying to solve a problem for themselves when they realized what they’d made. Other companies that started this way include Patagonia, Burt’s Bees, Craigslist, Tech Crunch, and Plenty of Fish.
In the beginning, the business owner’s priority is to survive till the next day. Every morning that the sign is flipped from “Close” to “Open,” is a major success. But that cycle has to continue for a long time before a small business makes the jump to something bigger.
If a business owner tries to grow too quickly, they risk jeopardizing the entire operation. Growing too quickly can break your company’s culture, overload your staff, plummet your customer service, and hamstring your payroll. In short, if you try to scale at a rate you can’t keep up with, your business can depart from everything that made it so great in the first place.
Along the way, there are a few things the business owner must master. These are the skills that will catapult them to the next level of success and will stay with them all the way through the enterprise phase. If your business does not master these things, it will never make it to the next level. So if you want your small business to become a big business, start here:
Small businesses are usually pretty bad about managing data. They go on for years doing their books on the back of napkins. They believe that because they are small, they don’t need all the book-keeping trappings of a larger company. They are satisfied with a $3 calculator and a paper ledger. They use the same insufficient template to manage their sales, their clients, their passwords, and all other data related to their business. That is a recipe for disaster.
What they don’t realize is that the big businesses that use master data management tools to collect, unify, and manage data, started out with similar tools on a smaller scale. They always took data management seriously. In many cases, they found a tool they could use while they were small that could grow with them so they wouldn’t have to change tools later.
Even if your business is too small for some of the enterprise tools available, you can still benefit by taking a close look at what they do. You will become familiar with all of the things you are not tracking and see many benefits you are not yet realizing. This information will alert you to what real data management looks like. And it will take you that much closer to doing a better job in your business.
Do you really want to know how powerful data is? Look at the leverage companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google have–all because they have some of the most valuable consumer-related data on the planet. Do you think those companies would be as successful today if they hadn’t paid attention to data?
Sales in Any Season
Many small businesses only make a profit during the holiday season, hoping that will be enough to sustain them for the rest of the year. This is a very risky strategy. True, it is vital that you know how to increase sales and engagement during the holidays. But you also need to know how to make money all year round. This means that the Christmas season can’t be the only time of the year you expect to make money.
With a holiday-only strategy, you are always only one bad holiday season from going out of business altogether. Small businesses have to worry about this every year. Big businesses are more insulated from the vagaries of holiday seasons because they long ago figured out how to make every season profitable. No business grows from small to large without mastering this trick.
One of the new lessons even large businesses are having to learn is that the smartphone is king. You have to learn the art of shrinking your entire business into a smartphone screen because that is what your customers will be staring at for much of the day.
No matter what kind of business you have, mobile apps are important to your business. You have to give people a way to discover your business through search, learn about you through your website and social media, surface products and services that interest them, and fulfill that order, all from a 6″ screen. Master that task as a small business, and you will have a strategic advantage as a big one.
One day you are going to be the corporate overlord of your dreams. The way to get there is by better data management, being able to sell regardless of the season, and mastering the mobile web.