People often automatically put small and large businesses into completely separate categories, even when they share the same space in the same market. Their logic is often that a small business can surely never compete with the resources and the horsepower of its corporate peers.
But (as you’ll know if you own a small business yourself) while small businesses seem to be at a disadvantage when it comes to resources, their ideas are just as good as the big guys. It’s just that these ideas often don’t have the same space and support to grow. Without big budgets, it’s harder to make investments in marketing, research, and hiring, so they can’t create the same kind of testing ground that large companies take for granted.
This lack of a lab in which to test and fail freely limits entrepreneurs’ ability to succeed. In fact, according to a Harvard Business School study, 75 percent of venture-backed startups fail.
So, then, how can small businesses overcome these limitations and start living up to their ideas?
There are many advantages that only small businesses have, but leaders need to be gutsy enough to squeeze those advantages for all they’re worth rather than try to be miniature versions of larger companies.
According to Jan Lehman, vice president of CTC Productivity, leaders need guts to make changes to their team’s productivity. “To create a culture of productivity requires a strong leader who is willing to push forward when resistance happens,” she explains. Leaders need the confidence to leverage tools and technology, push through productivity initiatives, and trust that their employees will be able to rise to the challenge.
One company that has managed to do just that is Organize and Stage Your Home, a small business that helps its clients make space in their homes. By leveraging productivity techniques and taking advantage of the software-as-a-service tools that don’t make sense for larger companies, Organize and Stage Your Home has kept costs down and enabled growth.
“Because our small business has stayed under 10 people since its inception, we have been able to leverage many freemium-based tools that are out of reach for larger companies,” says Certified Professional Organizer Teresa James.
The freemium model is rocket fuel for small businesses. It’s a symbol of how the commercial world is becoming more focused on scrappy startups rather than the corporate giants that overshadow them.
Here are some strategies you can use to maximize productivity and close the resource gap as an entrepreneur:
In a small business, you have to be strategic about who you hire. One of the first hires that will give you a solid grounding is a great administrative assistant. Find a remote, part-time, or virtual assistant you can hire on an as-needed basis so you can test out how much help you need with those little tasks that are sucking your time.
Hiring expert part-time subcontractors is the next smart strategy. Subcontractors who are specialists in their fields will be able to bring all their insight, training, and equipment to your door. Plus, you can adjust their workload based on the current profitability of the company.
Small businesses have a unique opportunity to offer a blank canvas to employees. Many brilliant people are actively searching for flexibility in their job and are happy to work part-time or remotely. Providing flexibility, both in time and geography, will lead to happier, more productive employees who work hard for you.
Try asking friends and neighbors whether they know anyone who proofreads, knows Photoshop, writes grant proposals, or anything else your business needs. Create a community of people who are passionate about what they do and don’t need a full-time job to show it.
The advent of SaaS technology has made it possible for small businesses to get access to powerful tools without paying beyond their means. Now, software companies charge per seat, so small businesses that could never afford an IT department can now leverage the same technology at a fraction of the cost.
There are countless SaaS tools around now that specifically aid small businesses. Google’s free suite of tools, for example, provides an alternative to costly tools like the Microsoft Suite and allows users to grow before they invest. There are ways to improve how you use free tools, like G Suite. One way is to use Ripley, a project and document management tool that directly integrates with Google Drive — and is a much more affordable solution, when compared to Microsoft Suite.
When you put these tools together and create a stack that works for you, you could shave valuable funds and time off your processes.
Culture is one major advantage that small companies have over big ones. You have the capability to shift and shape your culture according to your values, your users, and your team.
In this day and age, a “cultural fit” is equally important to pay. This is hugely attractive to talented, creative people who want to have an impact in their place of work.
This ability to craft culture gives small businesses a hiring advantage in the current tight job market. So promote your culture during your recruiting efforts, and explain how new hires can change the cultural life of your business.
Startups and small businesses have the odds stacked against them in today’s ultra-competitive environment. But by making the most of their unique advantages, the little guys can become a big threat.
Sarah Karakaian is the owner of Nestrs, LLC, and the host of NAPO's popular podcast "Stand Out: Growing Your Organizing and Productivity Business." Sarah coaches clients on organizing and design and transforms forgotten properties into successful long- and short-term rentals. Sarah and her husband are Airbnb Superhosts, and their work and expertise have been featured in the HGTV television series "Beach Flip," The Washington Post, Realtor.com, and the New York Post, among others.