Get smart small business: It’s not ‘either-or’ anymore!


Honestly answer these important questions:

  • Can you make each operation in your business one percent more effective and efficient?
  • Can you improve the products and services you deliver by one percent?
  • Can you fine-tune your marketing to reach an additional one percent of prospects?
  • Can you make these one percent improvements today and again tomorrow?

Owners who constantly drive to achieve a one-percent edge up and down their businesses are the ones who create companies that grow into million-dollar enterprises and become the leaders in their sectors.

The owners who fail to work for the advantages powered by these cumulative one-percent edges, are the ones who end up working in their businesses, not on their businesses.

This is what I have personally experienced and also seen as I’ve talked to and worked with small businesses from coast to coast; it’s the message I’ve been working hard to deliver to every business owner eager to experience real growth and a secure future.

Agility in your small business

Agility is a fundamental quality required to make these kinds of improvements and I see that emphasis in AT&T’s “The Power of &” program, which is one of the reasons I’ve been so pleased to collaborate with them. Further, achieving these kinds of efficiencies and competitive advantages isn’t a matter of selecting between a menu of tradeoffs – I can choose to do this, or I can choose to do that – more often than not, it’s a decision to do this and that.

(By the way, as part of AT&T’s “The Power of &” program, they’ve given me a Microsoft Lumia 950 Windows 10 smartphone to give away. I’m going to randomly select someone who has made a comment on this article…so keep reading and share your insights with all of us! More entry details are below.)

At the heart of the power of “and” is being able to pivot when fresh market opportunities are sensed, old business models fade, and new technologies create the potential for disruption. Many of today’s most successful and well-known companies have followed this path.

For example, although we know PayPal as the dominate online payment service that it is today, founders were originally planning to create a company that specialized in cryptography. Later they focused on creating a means to transfer money via PDAs. (Remember PDAs? Back in the day, that’s what we called personal digital assistants, like the Palm Pilot.)

PayPal continues to keep “and” as a central part of its growth strategy. When small businesses were having a hard time securing loans, PayPal launched its “Working Capital” program for merchants. And as the peer-to-peer business model has caught fire throughout e-commerce in recent years, PayPal created its “PayPal.Me” service

We can look at the topic of agility in business from a wide range of angles. The PayPal examples I just gave you demonstrate how the leaders of that company have been agile enough to anticipate and flow with marketplace and technological changes. But if you think you need to be as big as PayPal to pull off these kinds of business moves, consider the online T-shirt business, Threadless.

In many ways, Threadless makes PayPal look slow! The company has a community of customers and artists who essentially collaborate online to create popular t-shirt designs. Artists submit designs, potential buyers vote on their favorite designs, and the designs with the most votes get turned into T-shirts. This way, Threadless knows there’s a ready market for the products they produce. It’s like pushing down just-in-time inventory control to the R&D level!

Take every opportunity

These opportunities and challenges occur in every small corner of your business. There is always something that can be done better. There is always a new customer for your product or service, although you may have to tweak your offering and add a new dimension to your marketing.

The same societal changes in technology that made the peer-to-peer model possible – greater computing power in the hands of more people – are having a series of impacts on virtually every small business. We can put many of these impacts under the heading of “Mobile.” You need to closely examine these to see how you can leverage them to put together a winning hand for your business.

Your community and the world is coming together through mobile computing. This is a fact and it has very concrete implications for the way you do business. It affects your customers, prospects, employees, vendors, delivery systems, and more. Books could be written on each of these topics, but let me outline some highlights to get you thinking.

Customers and mobile computing.

Undoubtedly, for many small businesses, customers will increasingly make purchases through their mobile devices. I have a good friend who recently bought a car without ever stepping on a dealer’s lot. He shopped entirely through his laptop on Carvana’s website. They delivered the car to his door and he had a week to drive it around before it got his final approval.

Consider the logistics and technology involved in making that sale and that delivery. They are impressive, but frankly, I’m sure than many small business owners right now are being stretched even further. But with GPS technology on mobile phones and other systems – such as AT&T’s Cargo View device – businesses can achieve new efficiencies with product deliveries and service industry employees, vastly improving customer service and satisfaction.

Prospects and mobile computing. 

Just as your customers will be making buy decisions on their mobile devices, you need to pivot a good deal of your marketing efforts to reach prospects among the mobile computing crowd. There are various strategies, systems, and technologies available that give you the power to communicate with prospects at the best possible times. These are now being called “micro-moments.” Some of these micro-moments are especially important for small business owners. Google has classified them like this:

  • I want-to-buy moments,
  • I want-to-know moments,I want-to-go moments, andI want-to-do moments.
  • I want-to-go moments, andI want-to-do moments.
  • I want-to-do moments.

By the very name they’ve been given – micro-moments – it’s obvious that a small business has to be extremely agile to take advantage of them. You need to be able to react and turn on a “micro dime.”

Your team and mobile computing.

This is one of the most exciting, and frankly easiest, areas to realize very impactful changes today. Check out these possibilities:

  • Want to expand to a new state? New country? With virtual employees and teleconferencing, establishing your presence anywhere in the world has never been easier.
  • Need talents and expertise you don’t have in-house? Bring on freelancers. With sites like Upwork, and online services like Slack and Skype, you can find talented graphic artists, writers, or developers in the Philippines (or anywhere else) and work with them just as closely as if they were in the next cubicle.

From the brief glimpses I’ve given you here, I hope you can sense how exciting I think these developments are. They empower the small business owner to do things that before were only possible by companies on the Fortune 500 list.

But, they are meaningless unless you take them seriously, do your homework, and put them into action. In other words, reading to the end of this article isn’t enough. I’m excited to be included in the June 14 AT&T Small Business Roundtable with Bill Rancic in Chicago, where we’ll be taking the discussion even further and offering more practical advice that you can put into action virtually immediately. In addition to that, please check out the resources and information AT&T has pulled together on the importance of business agility.

Finally, one last reminder: Post a comment here so you’re entered to win the Microsoft Lumia 950 Windows 10 smartphone. I will randomly select the winner one week after this is posted. I’ll notify the winner by email. Also, make sure you’ve read the other “how-to” articles on Agility written by me and several top small business influencers.

Editor’s Note:  This blog is sponsored by AT&T.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.