Small Is The New Big
Five years ago I was winding down a 35 plus year career spent in retailing. Becky McCray, a small town entrepreneur maven, mentioned a terrific blog post. I wasn’t terribly familiar with Becky at the time, much less the fella who wrote the post, Jon Swanson. The post dealt with Jon’s role in helping a retail cooperative during some training exercises. He provided the consumer’s perspective. He ended his post – dated March 14, 2008 – like this…
Big is about consumers. Small is about artists. Big is about changing people to your world. Small is about preparing people to change their world.
I began to trust Becky from then on because she bestowed “best small business blog post ever” on Jon’s post.
I’m not sure why, but the other day I remembered the post. I hadn’t read it in years, but I went back and read it over again. I had to visit Becky’s site to find it, but there it was…as powerful as I had remembered it.
When the post came out I was part of a major merchandising and marketing group that represented billions (BILLIONS) of buying power. Retailing was in my blood and had been since I was 16. So, it resonated with me as I suspect it might anybody involved in independently owned retail. I was leading a small business, but it was a big, small business with revenues under $20 million. The whole “big box vs. small retail” was one very familiar to me.
Today, I’m no longer involved in retailing, but I’m still an advocate of small business devoted to helping small business owners successfully face their challenges.
I began my business career as a teenager selling hi-fi gear in a local stereo shop. Instinctively, I engaged people because I shared their passion for music and the gear we all needed to play our favorite records. It was easy because I wanted them to hear their favorite music like they had never heard it before. I was excited to sit down with a shopper, put their favorite record in a turntable and have them enjoy the record on a system unlike anything they had ever owned before. But mostly, I enjoyed helping them build a system that wouldn’t break their budget, but would still be far superior to anything they had. I was an audiophile, but I was an audiophile salesperson with a purpose – give the customer so much value that they’d have to spend a lot more to get something better!
Shoppers appreciated it, but I suspect they first appreciated how into it I was. That passion lasted for a long time as I spent my entire life involved in the consumer electronics industry. But it wasn’t about retailing, or stereo gear, or the consumer electronics business.
It was and still is, about helping people get something valuable.
When I was a kid I was confident enough in my knowledge of what I was selling to know I could help shoppers better than anybody. It didn’t hurt that I was so competitive either.
Today, with a lifetime of business building experience behind me and a lot of energy and passion still in the tank, I’m even more confident in my abilities to help provide value. For me, small is about being more discriminating in who I help. But as I re-read Jon’s post I was taken back to the days of my youth and I remember specific encounters with shoppers I tried to help who we called “the magazine readers.” These were the people who didn’t really know stereo gear, but they were so fearful of being duped they spent time learning just enough about the specs involved in various gear to be dangerous (i.e. the sound pressure level rating of a loudspeaker which indicated how efficient it might be – translation, how much power it might need to play loudly). Sometimes they could be difficult, if not cantankerous. In the first few months of selling, I tried to sell everybody. I stopped doing that – not because anybody trained me, but because I figured it was a waste of time for all of us. The shopper and me!
There is no point in selling if you can’t provide value.
Well, okay. That’s not entirely true. There’s a point in making money, but that’s not my primary point. I hope it’s not yours.
How are your customers benefited by what you do, or what you provide?
What value do you provide that they can’t get elsewhere?
Why should they choose you over somebody else?
These are all questions that too few business owners wrestle to the mat. It’s a grind. I’ll warn you up front, if you’ve not spent time duking it out with these questions (and many others like them), then you’re not putting in the necessary work to build a sustainable business with predictable success.
Sometimes I encounter a business owner who wants to know a short-cut to the winning the fight. They’re looking for some knockout punch they can use to end the fight early. There is no such punch. This is a grappling match, not a fist fight. It’s down and dirty with lots of twisting on the ground trying to find the right hold. There’s a tremendous amount of straining and sometimes it’s exhausting. And it’s a mental fight where your head is telling you to just tap out and quit. Rest and relaxation are just seconds away if you’ll give up. That voice in your head can grow to a loud scream. And we find that we’ve got two opponents, not one. We’ve got the business challenge and we’ve got ourselves to overcome.
It’s not about you, but it’s all about you — and what you can do for your prospects.
Who are these prospects?
Who are your ideal customers? The people you most want to serve?
Can you define them in very specific terms?
• How old are they?
• Are they men or women?
• Do they reside in a specific geographical location?
• How educated are they?
• What’s their income?
• Are they married? With children?
• What do they do in their spare time?
• What kind of car do they drive?
• What books do they read?
• What TV shows do they watch?
• Are they Mac or Windows’ users?
• and many other questions (as many as you can think of and as many as you can quantify)!!
How can you provide value if you don’t know who you’re serving? How can you make sure you’re providing the best value for them until you first know who they are and what other options are available to them?
Tim Sanders‘ book, Love Is The Killer App, deserves a mention here. It’s a terrific book all about being valuable to everybody around you. It’s an ancient principle of giving to others without an expectation. It’s about being nice for the sake of being nice. As Sanders says, “Nice guys don’t finish last. They rule.”
It’s a more modern take on Carnegie’s “How To Win Friends And Influence People,” a book that holds up remarkably well.
It’s a time tested formula for improving yourself and your business. Help others get what they want and need. In return, they’ll help you get what you want and need. The key is to put their needs above your own.
And that ain’t easy!
But I have good news. Actually, great news! Because putting the needs of others before your own needs is so difficult – most people don’t do it. For many, it just doesn’t seem right. It doesn’t make sense to them. They don’t get it.
For others, they suspect it may be true, but they’re fearful it may not be true. Besides, look at all the evidence of pompous, self-serving Kardashian types who earn millions a year. They’re not providing value, we think. But they are providing value…to somebody. No, not me. I could care less about them, but when TMZ and all the other moronic shows report every Kardashian move, the value is in entertainment. People clamor to watch these people just like millions of people clamor to see the most popular YouTube vlogs of people who don’t provide me with much value. But, I’m not their ideal customer. That doesn’t mean somebody else doesn’t find value because the numbers don’t lie. At the time of this podcast, Kim Kardashian has over 18.3 MILLION Twitter followers. A lot of people are getting value.
Never assume that what’s invaluable to you is invaluable to everybody. This is the genius that is business. You can find your focus and seek likeminded people who will love what you do. Others will hate it. That’s okay. I don’t much think Kim cares about anybody but the millions who love her.
Is it easy to be a Kardashian? Man, I don’t know. We all may envy the money, but I sure don’t envy the lifestyle. Or the fame. Or the celebrity. Or the superficiality. But that’s just me. I’m weird.
What about YOU and YOUR business?
Can you put others ahead of yourself? If you can, you will begin to find yourself rising above the throng. It’s an enormous competitive edge, but you can’t fake it. It requires complete dedication. It demands you take it seriously every single day. Once you set out on that course, you can’t go back. Or you’ll fail. Miserably.
You can’t do the right thing by putting others ahead of yourself only when you know it’s not going to cost you much. You’ve got to do it even if you know you’ll be making some short-term sacrifices. I’m not talking about laying down to every scoundrel who would take advantage of you, but I am talking about doing the right thing even when it hurts. Because it’s the right thing to do. And you know it.
I’m also talking about that Kim Kardashian focus where you ignore the haters and naysayers. You’ve got people to serve. You’ve got people who need what you have. You’ve got customers who will have to settle for something of lesser value if you don’t serve them. Get busy doing the right thing by them so they can change their world.