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Small Businesses Have Plenty To Learn From Larger Rivals


by Lewis Robinson

Small businesses everywhere tend to look at their larger competitors with a mixture of casual envy, grudging respect, and a healthy dose of dismissiveness. To many small business owners, the big business model embodies everything that they don’t want their own company to become. They value the focus, agility, and spirit that they’ve nurtured within their smaller organization, and believe that there’s nothing for them to learn from their larger counterparts.

The fact is, though, every big business started off as a small business. That means that the ways that larger companies do business are often rooted in the lessons that they learned along the path of growth. Smart small business owners would do well to recognize that basic truth. If they do, they’ll be open to learning some pretty valuable lessons that will give their own company critical advantages in their market. Some of these lessons are obvious, but some are not.

Here are a few important lessons that big businesses can teach small businesses.

Never Stop Listening.

Small business owners usually pride themselves on the deep individual relationships they cultivate with customers. They’re also apt to believe that growing into a big business will mean losing touch with that important way of doing business. On the contrary, managers of successful big businesses will tell you that keeping in touch with customers was essential to their growth, and provides all of the necessary guidance for their business decisions. Creating customer feedback opportunities through surveys and other outreach programs creates a valuable stream of business intelligence that can help any small business thrive.

Document Everything.

One thing that small business owners have difficulty understanding is the reason that their larger counterparts have such complex internal processes. From the outside, these labyrinthian procedures appear to be nothing more than frustrating red tape. In reality, they’ve usually grown from experience. One area of all big businesses where this is especially true is in finance. Big businesses know that financial errors could destroy them if they are ever subjected to an external audit. The same is true for small businesses, so the key takeaway is to leave the task of small business bookkeeping to a professional service that will leave no stone unturned.

Embrace Failure.

Most small businesses believe that big businesses are risk-averse. Actually, some of the most successful big businesses got to where they are through failure. That doesn’t mean trying every idea that comes along, but it does mean that success only comes with the willingness to try but fail. Some of the biggest brands in the world have made encouraging experimentation the cornerstone of their innovation policies. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos explains the merits of this idea by saying that “Experiments are by their very nature prone to failure. But a few big successes compensate for dozens and dozens of things that didn’t work.” For small businesses, failure to innovate usually leads to failure in their chosen market, so the value of this big business lesson could not be more important.

Delegate to Innovate.

One of the biggest problems that small businesses tend to run into when growing is that the founder is used to being involved in everything. At the outset, that’s a positive. Having a unified voice guiding all business activities keeps everything moving in the same direction, which is critical at early stages of a business. As the organization grows, responsibility must be delegated to others, and that means that the owner must learn to let go. In a big organization, the delegation of responsibility is natural and expected. No big company could operate successfully without establishing a hierarchy and working within it, and the sooner a small business takes steps to develop a similar structure, the better off they will be.

The Path To Success.

By now, it should be clear that big businesses have plenty of lessons that they could teach their small business brethren. After all, they didn’t get where they are by accident. Smart small business owners should always remain open to such lessons, as it will save them plenty of pain as their companies grow. If they do so successfully, there’s a good chance that they will soon become the one that others look to for advice, and they’ll be wondering why they didn’t listen sooner.


Lewis Robinson is a business consultant specializing in social media marketing, CRM, and sales.  He’s begun multiple corporations and currently freelances as a writer and business consultant.