Expand Your Thinking
Q: How does a small business get big? We have been at the same level for years now and can't seem to breakthrough. — Jess
A: Your question reminds me of a quote I recently saw by J. Paul Getty, once the world's richest man: "My formula for success is rise early, work late, and strike oil."
No, you are not going to strike literal oil; those days are over. But figurative oil, why not? Think about Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin? Do you think they feel as if they struck oil? You bet. Richard Branson took The Virgin Group from a one-man band to a worldwide conglomerate, and you can bet he feels like he struck oil, too.
In fact, every company on the New York Stock Exchange or the NASDAQ started out as a small business. If they did it, so can you.
How? There is no one single answer. Different companies use different methods. Here are some of the best ways to go from small to big.
Find a great partner: Chester Carlson invented his copying machine at home but could not sell it – to anyone. A man named Joe Wilson eventually saw the machine and teamed up with Carlson. Wilson's company eventually put more than $100 million into R&D, and then renamed the business – from Haloid to Xerox.
When you work alone, as many small business folk do, or even if yours is a company of, say, eight people or so, there is only so much you can do by yourself. Your institutional knowledge is limited to what it is you do, your reach is similarly limited to your normal channels, and of course your resources are limited. In those cases, growth, while a laudable goal, is often one that can also understandably be out of reach. So what do you do?
Find a partner, that's what. Partners can bring your business to a whole new level. They have contacts you do not and resources different than yours. They also will have ideas that are new to you and offer unique ways to implement those ideas. The key then is to find strategic partners who offer some synergy: They need what you do and you need what they do. Together, what you can accomplish can be more than what you can do alone.
Be first to market: Ed Lowe owned a small factory that made a kiln-dried clay that was supposed to be an industrial absorbent. But it was only when his neighbor came by one day and asked to use some for her cat that Kitty Litter was born. Being first to market also helps you go from small to big.
Innovate: Bette Naismith was a terrible typist, but a good painter. That is why she would bring small tubes of paint to the bank where she worked to cover up her typos. Playing with various formulas, she eventually invented Liquid Paper at home, on her kitchen table.
Creating a new product or a way of doing things is a tried and true way to grow from small to big. Innovation gives companies what is known as the "first mover's advantage," and that in turn allows them to own a new market.
Be unique: If you want to take your business to the next level then one thing you should concentrate more energy on is your X Factor, that is, that one special thing sets you apart and makes you stand out from the crowd.
Think about the businesses you like best. Don't they so something special, unique, different, something out of the ordinary? That is their X factor. Figuring out what your X factor is, and then putting extra effort into it, can go a long way to taking you from small to big.
So the upshot is that there are lots of ways to go from small to big, companies do it all the time. The real trick is to pick a strategy that fits your business and your business plan, one with integrity. Do that, and your growth chances are much better.
Today's tip: One last thought: Plan Big. Notice I didn't say "Think Big." Most entrepreneurs have no problem thinking big. But what growth companies do is plan big. They create a team, figure out their X Factor, find strategic partners, come up with a plan, and execute on those big ideas. That is how you go from small to big.
© 2010 Steven D. Strauss, www.MrAllBiz.com