Smaller business trumping bigger business

Chalkboard reading: Thank you for shopping local

You must be noticing it too — incompetence has been on the rise in the service industries. Bigger businesses continue to automate customer service and support areas they should not automate and fail to properly automate the mundane workloads that they should be. Employees are more often under trained, under compensated / unprofessional in their craft, and distracted.

Have you ever tried calling or emailing a bigger company? It can be quite difficult or impossible to get through. Smaller businesses you can usually call or just show up and speak to the person in charge same day or next. Technological improvements with modern mobile-friendly websites and myriad options with eCommerce and digital services is available to small businesses just as easily as it is to large.

In an economy ever dominated by category titans, mergers and acquisitions, it’s easy to overlook the opportunity left over. Medium- and larger- sized businesses suffer problems that smaller businesses either don’t face at all or face to a lesser degree. Successful smaller businesses have heart and creativity — skillsets that most corporate cultures would crush.

Lazy team member? In a corporate structure they can manipulate the system, even poison it through deception and dirty tricks. In a smaller structure they’re found out and kicked out right away. Showing up late, sucking at their job, or being a jerk? Fired! Except for the doomed cases where the owner(s) themselves or their direct family are the problem.

I see these differences every time I eat out at restaurants. The corporate owned and managed ones are short-staffed. It could be a MIA host, a wait time of over 20 minutes (my threshold) when there’s plenty tables within sight, a waiter or waitress who you have to flag down, who seems cold, food that comes out late or wrong. I’ve even had a tray full of food spilt all over our table (and our shirts) one time at a Chili’s! I’ve observed once loved signature deals taken away. Even worse, I’ve seen locations that used to be fairly busy abruptly shut down.

In contrast, think about a well running small restaurant that seats around 30. Think about your favorite Vietnamese Pho spot. How do they keep almost all 30 seats full at lunch and dinner times seven days per week yet have nobody waiting at the door (as if there was room for people to wait anyways)? All while they fill takeout orders as well. Staff never misses a beat welcoming you in, getting you a table, menus, drinks, orders, bringing your food out from the kitchen. Some places have you order at the counter before seating or even place the register at the door so you pay on your way out instead of waiting for the bill to be carried around. It’s efficiency in action.

You benefit from the efficiency through the food quality, time savings, as well as in your bill at the end. They may reject American Express (higher fees) or even credit cards in general, but the savings is shared with the consumer.

To me this is a profound realization. The “little guy” (or gal) does have a fighting chance! They need to pursue excellence within their category. Maximize word-of-mouth marketing that bigger companies can only get after paying big bucks in advertising that nobody believes anyways. Operate the business with heart and love of the craft. Stay close to the books and personnel as to make important decisions quickly, ever adjusting to internal and external matters. Use technology and automation wisely. This is how successful small businesses can dominate in local markets and sometimes whole regions.

Getting back to technology now; smaller businesses have more choice. When software vendors can operate smaller, more generic interfaces and don’t have to provide enterprise-scale support the options widen. Most businesses utilize some mix of a cost effective and efficient email marketing service, help desk software, customer relationship management segmentation and reporting software, and accounting or enterprise resource planning software. It’s all available at nominal cost and effort compared to what bigger businesses get roped into spending for the same types of officially customized solutions.

A quick example from my own business is my use of Calendly to empower prospective clients and active clients to book their meetings and have them automatically added to their calendar and mine in local timezones containing with my Zoom link and dial-in/texting number. They are empowered to re-schedule as needed. Nobody’s time is wasted trying to figure out fitting times to meet or where to go to start the meeting. Another efficiency change I’ve made is switching to more agile project management (hourly based with estimates over a shorter term and frequent re-prioritizations) as compared to the fixed-price waterfall projects that involve extra work defining scope, padding estimates, and managing change orders and expectations defined before more was known about the project.

Let’s ponder our opportunities and remember to patronize smaller businesses that outperform the competition of any size.

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Note: I may receive compensation for referrals.

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