There are a lot of small businesses who spend a good part of everyday trying to be bigger than they are. They create new products and launch them into the marketplace with the hope that the right people will consume and recommend them. People work 12 hour days in a job with no overtime pay just for the chance to advance in their own careers or contribute to a greater success than their own. In social media, it is even more pronounced as everyone joins the race to get more friends, fans or followers. Being big is on everyone's agenda.
For those who get close, they realize that it may not be everything it seems to be. The overly socially connected complain about a flood of updates and posts that reduces their vast networks to little more than an unyielding backdrop of noise. Outside of the web, being big causes some people to assume you will be arrogant, or overpriced, or under motivated. You know that every new customer is afraid they may get lost in the crowd and their fear will be that you won't have the attention to spend on them. It also means that employees might be concerned about their own roles or usefulness.
How focused are you on getting bigger at the expense of everything else? Contrary to what you may think so far, this is not a post about avoiding growth. After all, it is in the nature of most entrepreneurs to want to get bigger and to do more. The real question is how can you get bigger without sacrificing what it is about your business that made it unique and exciting in the first place? How can you grow without losing the soul of your business? Here are five ideas for how to do it:
- Create traditions you can keep. Tradition may seem like a very formal word, but the culture of a company thrives on traditions and one of the easiest ways to lose your culture is to give up on those traditions. So if all the staff used to have “flip-flop Friday” where they wore beach slippers to work … then keep that going. And if you didn’t have something as specific and you are dealing with growth, it is time to create some traditions that the employees you have can hold onto while your business grows in the coming years.
- Evangelize your backstory. Nothing signals corporate facelessness as much as a disconnection from how the business actually started. Your business has a “backstory” which is more than what you share on your About Us page. The backstory is the reason that someone believes in your company and wants to do business with you. Evangelizing it internally with employees and externally to customers serves as a reminder that you remember where you came from and are planning to keep those roots that made your business successful in the first place.
- Focus on retention. If you have to change your entire team, it will be very hard to keep the soul of your business intact, because that soul is not just about you but about the employees and individuals who helped you grow the business. An obvious way to keep that soul, then, would be to keep the people that you have and make them a long term part of your business.
- Keep your sense of humor. This might seem like a strange suggestion at first. After all, how much can a sense of humor really have to do with the success of a business. You probably haven’t ever seen a graph from any market research company on the ROI of humor, right? Yet if we think about what we look for in people that we want to interact with, or date or even marry … humor always comes close to the top of the list. It is what makes us human more than anything else (except maybe love, but let’s not get too emotional here!). So give your employees license to be real with customers, don’t enforce silly policies that make no logical sense, and don’t force your team to be overly formal when it is not necessary.
- Listen to your longest customers. Sometimes change is so gradual within a company that it can be hard to spot. The people who usually spot it soonest, however, are your longest customers. They remember what your business used to be like and experience it today as well. More importantly, they can usually point to any changes that are happening and help you to identify where you might be making unfair compromises or sacrificing your business reputation in order to deliver something short tem, so you can avoid continuing that.