Moving from a large metropolitan area to a small college town was quite a shock to my system. I recall driving home from the supermarket at 10:00 pm, noticing that the traffic lights were set to “flash only” status. At that moment, I realized that my life would change – and most likely be dialed down more than just a notch.
It was good thing and a bad thing at the same time. But, as a consultant, it gave me a unique chance to experience a whole new world of clients – those who owned smaller businesses.
Small businesses are unique
I learned very quickly that the DNA of a small business (or start-up) was quite different from the larger organizations that I had spent time with in the past. The problems appeared more critical, felt closer to the quick, and often a dream or family investment was entangled in the effort.
Over time, I saw a number of issues that would threaten the continued success of a small business as growth occurred. I also noticed a pattern that when growth did occur – certain business practices that worked well before just didn’t suffice any longer. Often the structure of the organization hadn’t grown, or evolved, to support changing demands.
Plan for tomorrow
In general, the owners needed to dial things up a notch and think like they were a much larger organization – changing with the demands of their new reality.
Here are a few trends that I have observed:
- Informal communication channels begin to break down – Of course, businesses rely upon these networks to communicate information about work procedures, customer practices and organizational mores such as a dress code. However, the informal system becomes strained as the number of people in the business increases. At this point structure must be implemented to ensure that messages are received consistently. This might include documenting formal job descriptions, an employee handbook and/or specific employee on-boarding procedures.
- A review of computer software becomes necessary – As small organizations grow – often in fits and spurts – software is often purchased to rectify problems piece by piece. However, the overall user & system demands are not reviewed. At some point, it all becomes a tangled mess. Be sure to review software every year to document what is not working and to flesh out future needs.
- An adequate system to document your customer base becomes critical – Although this sounds simple, I am amazed when a small business really doesn’t have instant access to their top 25 customers. If a system to do so isn’t in place to do so – trouble will likely follow. Retaining customer loyalty begins with a solid base of information concerning who your customer is – their needs and concerns.
- An idea management program becomes important – Even though your business may be smaller, there will be no shortage of ideas to improve the business from your employees – so be prepared. Unfortunately, not all of them will be feasible. So, a formal system to evaluate the ideas becomes necessary. Often employees are not aware of the risks or the potential organizational impact that comes with a change. Posing the idea in an open forum, with one of the business leaders present can be very helpful.
Don’t ignore the basic structure of your organization as growth occurs. Update important systems to meet the demands of your new business reality.