Big Business Practices for Small Business Brands
For every Pacha Soap purchase, the company donates a bar of soap and gives to small business initiatives worldwide. Courtesy pacha soap

Big Business Practices for Small Business Brands

Investing in intangibles can be the key to success at any size.
For every Pacha Soap purchase, the company donates a bar of soap and gives to small business initiatives worldwide. Courtesy pacha soap

Every business was considered “small” at some point in its history. Some go big, but some stay small and do quite well. The size of a business in common measurements (revenue, employees, locations) is less relevant than the size of your customer base and the corresponding loyalty of customers.

An example: Many new ventures in natural and organic products found their first customer and only channel to market to be Whole Foods. It became a pattern in the category—invent a new natural product, start up with funds from friends and family, get into Whole Foods, and then raise real money to scale. Pacha Soap is a great example, and you can find their beautiful bars of soap as you enter most Whole Foods stores.

Yes, this might run contrary to some of the lessons you had in business school, like “You can’t have a successful business with just one customer.” To every rule taught in an MBA program, there’s an exception and something to learn from it.

In a small business, your customers are your investors. They expect to see a return, whether it comes in the form of trust or hand soap. These investors know you and you know them. It becomes an important relationship and far more meaningful than those in big business. When I invest in Tesla, Elon Musk doesn’t know me from Mr. Rogers, but the Take 16 craft brewery in Luverne, Minnesota, knows my name and favorite beer.

Small business is intimate business.

There are so many things a small business brand can do that don’t cost a dime—but do require creativity, sometimes a shift in thinking, and the fortitude to make it happen. Here are three to frame up a perspective:

Consistency. The more intimate the relationship, the more consistent you need to be, from how you communicate to the visual and written language of your brand. Striking a consistent tone communicates stability, professionalism, and thoughtfulness, which engenders trust.

Loyalty. The economics of loyalty have a currency in punch cards, points, and rewards. But true loyalty can’t be bought; it has to be earned. And loyalty is a two-way relationship. The larger the brand or business, the more likely it is that we, as customers, become transactions. As a small business, loyalty can be a social contract with a stronger bond than any legal contract. The results should be rewarding for both parties.

Personality. The factor that changes everything. A personality makes a brand interesting and is often the most challenging to manage. It is a perceived risk to have “too much personality,” hence many brands have too little and forgo opportunities to form deeper relationships. Brands of all sizes have the capacity to be creative—they just need the confidence to express it.

Now let’s get down to the practicalities, because the smaller the business, the less time for contemplation and pontification. A small business needs to be nimble and pragmatic in the face of slow-moving larger competitive machines. Here are some questions you can start asking yourself and working on now:

Who is responsible for the marketing work?

If everyone does it, then no one does, so assign the tasks. Writer, designer, developer, and decision maker—those are the essential roles to get a brand set straight. If you don’t have those, you can contract a part-time CMO from a staffing firm like Chief Outsiders. Auditing how you’re doing requires a researcher and some marketing expertise to analyze the findings. Yes, there are a couple dozen more roles that could be filled, but a small business needs more generalists than specialists.

Where does this fit in the budget?

Any marketing budget should include content creators (writer and designer), content distribution (ad buy, social, PR, digital development), and measures to gauge whether it’s working (research and analysis). Getting someone to write an article about your team is no different than hiring a writer for a creative ad campaign. Many businesses feel comfortable investing in a physical asset; building a brand requires comfort investing in an intangible asset. And just as you’d have someone “tune up” a physical asset, you’ll need to do the same for an intangible one.

How do we measure the results?

Do the outputs match or exceed expectations? Write down what you’d like to see happen from a marketing effort (objectives, strategies, tactics) in a clear and understandable manner. Check back on it monthly, quarterly, or whenever you get twitchy. Marketing and building the big asset (brand) is a business practice. It fits into the Entrepreneurial Operating System or any other model you use to manage your business progress. Just like you never see the wind, only the results of its existence, looking for intangible metrics takes a similar effort and trust in the indicators.

Read more from this issue

Small business, in aggregate, is far larger than big business in so many ways. Stay small as long as you can—it keeps life much more interesting.

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