When thinking about the differences between large and big companies, I asked myself the question: What do big companies do that small businesses should be doing? There are many things big companies are doing that are not relevant for small businesses. For example, small businesses don’t need onboarding systems for new employees, or a legal department. However, there are many things small businesses could learn from big companies. Actions that may sound difficult, but that really don’t have to be that complicated.
I made a list of ten things big companies do that small businesses should be doing:
- Set a mission and a vision
- Market research
- Using strategic tools
- Invest in marketing
- Internal audits
- Use data
- Training & development
- Get feedback from your customers
- Have a digital presence
The ten topics on this list are not overly complicated. Sure, it might take some time or effort, but you could do them at your own pace and they don’t require an extensive amount of resources or investment. To illustrate this, I will give several tips for each of these items on how you could apply them to your own business. It doesn’t matter what kind of business you have. This list is relevant for all organizations.
Let’s dive into each of the ten items on the list in more detail.
1. Set a Mission and a Vision
Big companies set a mission and a vision statement. A mission and a vision help you to set a clear strategic direction. Where does your organization want to go? It is important to know what your idea is with your business. A mission and vision define the reason why your business exists, as well as what you want to achieve. Many other decisions you will have to take, such as what products/services to offer or how to market your business depend on the mission/vision you have for your company.
If you would like to read more about what exactly are a mission and a vision, check out the article I wrote on this topic:
Tips on how to set a mission & vision
Setting a mission & vision may sound difficult, but it shouldn’t be. Don’t overcomplicate it. Some tips for defining a mission and a vision:
- Keep it short, simple and specific.
- It is always possible to make changes to the mission statement in the future. It shouldn’t be a static document, as your business may also change over time.
- Think long term. Your ambitions are most likely not only focused on the next year only, so neither should your mission and vision.
- Communicate the mission & vision throughout the organization. You could also publish it on your website to let customers know what you stand for.
2. Market Research
Knowing your market is essential for small businesses. You need to keep up with trends and developments. Customer preferences change over time, so you must be aware of that. It is also important to know what competitors are doing, because you want to stay ahead of them. Additionally, changes in the economics of political environment could influence your business.
Tips on how to do market research
You may think that market research is only for companies with a marketing department or with a sufficient budget. This could not be further from the truth. You can do your own market research without spending a lot of money. Below I am providing several tips on how to do this:
- Don’t make it too hard for yourself. Doing market research does not have to be difficult and expensive. Use Google to find out what it happening in your industry and what customer preferences are. Search for competitor websites to find out their products/prices. Ask questions to your own customers on what they like. There are many possibilities to do your own market research.
- Use marketing tools! These are easy to apply frameworks that give you a good structure when performing your own market research. More on this topic and some examples in tip number 3.
- Make it a regular task to update your market research. You could, for instance, schedule an update every half year.
3. Using Strategic Tools
For small businesses, it is just as important to have a well-defined strategy as it is for large companies. To make it easier to define a strategy, large organizations use strategic tools. These tools can help you structure your thinking. Using strategic tools makes strategy simple, so I highly recommend you use them instead of trying to reinvent the wheel.
Tips on how to do use strategic tools
- Well-known and heavily used strategic tools are the SWOT and PESTLE Analysis. These tools help you analyze the environment in which your business operates. You can find more information on these tools here & here.
4. Invest in Marketing
Large companies make sure that customers know about their products and services. For small companies, this may be even more important. This is because small businesses usually do not have a brand name or reputation as established as big companies. That’s why it is important to invest in how you market your product. Investing in marketing is not only about investing money. It might even be more about having the right mindset and willingness to invest time in marketing. Don’t assume your product will sell itself. The chances of that happening are rare.
Tips on how to market your offerings
As a small business, you may not have a large budget to spend on marketing. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do any marketing at all. Below I give several low-cost ideas on marketing your offerings:
- When you have completed your market research, you can consider using marketing tools to take the next step. Marketing tools can help you to find out how you could most effectively market your products/services. You might like this article on easy to apply marketing tools.
- Attend events / conferences where your customers might be present. By doing this, you make sure you are visible to your target audience.
- Set up relevant social media accounts. There are many articles online on how to effectively do that. Having a presence on social media is a low cost way of increasing your visibility. Depending on your target audience, it could make more sense to be active on Instagram, LinkedIn or another platform.
5. Internal Audits
Large companies investigate themselves by performing internal audits. Simply put, an internal audit is an evaluation of the performance of the company. Internal audits mean you look at your own company in a critical manner. By doing this, you identify how activities and processes are performing and in what areas there is room for improvement.
An audit can be done from several perspectives, for example: audits on the effectiveness of processes, IT systems or finances. Large companies often pay large consultancy firms to execute audits for them. This is most likely not an option for your small business (and it is also not necessary). Below, I am providing some tips on how you could do internal audits for yourself.
Tips on how to do internal audits
- Before you start, write down what you want to achieve. Why did you select a certain area and what do you want to find out?
- Keep it simple. Choose an area and write down what is going well and what you are not satisfied about.
- Do it regularly (for instance every year). By doing it regularly, each audit won’t take as much time and you can apply different focus areas each time.
6. Use Data
In several of the tips mentioned earlier, it would be very helpful to have data available. For example, market data can help you make decisions on how to organize your marketing. When performing an IT audit, data on failure rates can show whether your IT system is functioning properly.
Data driven management is not only for big organizations with a business intelligence department. At every scale, collecting and interpreting data can be very helpful. You would be surprised at how much useful data you can find online.
Tips on how to use data
- Implement easy ways to collect data. For example, by letting customers fill in a short review, you can find out what they are satisfied with and what they are unhappy about.
- Search online for market data, competitor information and trends in your industry. There is a lot of data available you don’t have to pay for.
7. Training & Development
Personal development is essential for everyone. Nobody wants to stay exactly where they are without learning anything new. First of all, personal development is important to help you stay motivated. Learning new things can be inspiring. Secondly, training and development improve your skills & knowledge. You can use these newly acquired skills to be better at running your business.
Tips on training and development for small businesses
Having your own business means you have full control over what you want to focus on with regards to training and development. You are not dependent on what senior management thinks. You decide the training budget. While you could make it as expensive as you want, there are plenty of opportunities to invest in personal development without spending a lot:
- If you are interested in a certain topic or you want to learn a new skills, YouTube is your friend. Whether you want to become a guru at Excel, learn how to give persuasive presentations or something else: you can achieve all this for free.
- If you prefer a more structured training approach, there are many opportunities online. You could for instance get LinkedIn Learning, which currently costs €30 dollars a month.
8. Get Feedback from your Customers
Most big companies make sure they know what their customers think of them by gathering their feedback. There are several ways in which this could be done, from extensive questionnaires to short product/service reviews. Obtaining feedback from customers is valuable because this information can be used to improve products, processes or other aspects of your business.
Tips on how to use data
- Ask customers face to face! This is a no-cost way of getting customer feedback and you will probably get a much more valuable and extensive answer than when sending an email survey.
- Another low-cost way of getting customer feedback is by analyzing the online traffic on your website. This is valuable especially if you offer a digital product or service. Information such as how long customers stay on a page and how often certain pages are visited can bring you new insights.
For small businesses, networking may be even more important than for big businesses. I already mentioned earlier in this article that small businesses usually do not have a brand name or reputation that is as established as big companies. People don’t know you. That’s why you should invest time in building and maintaining a network. Now I have to admit, for me personally networking is not my best quality. However, having a big network will unquestionably help your small business, which should be enough reason to invest time in it if you want your company to succeed.
Tips on how to build a network
- Join events or conferences in your industry. By doing this, you will meet potential customers and/or partners.
- Be active on LinkedIn. Post updates about your company and participate in discussions. Whether you like social media or not: it can be an effective way to build a network.
- Host a session in which you present your business or a topic in your industry. This could work if you already have a network of potential clients/partners that might be interested.
10. Have a Digital Presence
Large companies tend to have an established digital presence. They are active on social media and have a fancy, up to date website. Having a digital presence is going to help you to attract and retain customers, as well as build a professional network. Small businesses need a digital presence just as much as big businesses. Although an investment in time is needed, it does not have to cost you a ton of money. Here is some advice for small businesses on building a digital presence.
Tips on how to build a digital presence
- We have said it before in this article: invest time in social media. It is a free and easy way to build a digital presence. If you already are active on social media, be critical of yourself. Are you present on the right platform(s) and do you share the right content? For B2B businesses, LinkedIn may be the right platform. If you’re a hair dresser, Instagram may be much better.
- Write blog posts on your website. This could help you attract traffic to your website from potential customers and build a name for your business. It could also build some authority for your business.
- Communicate your mission & vision on your website. This can be relevant especially for B2B businesses.
Hopefully there is some valuable information in this list of ten items that I gave you. Do you have other ideas or examples of things big businesses do that small companies should be doing? Feel free to drop a comment!