They were born different, the person the starts his or her own business. They were entrepreneurs when they emerged into the world, even if it took them some time to figure out how they were going to express it. You see, the safe path was never really for them, for some reason it didn’t seem to satisfy the appetite.
But many of them never thought of themselves as entrepreneurs. Hey, I’m just a hard working bloke feeding his family. But he had all the characteristics of an entrepreneur; whether or not he liked to think of himself as a simple bloke feeding his family.
He had vision – even if he couldn’t clearly articulate what he saw, he still imagined a place that’s different from where it all started for him. And it’s an adventure – and a race against the clock – to get there.
He was creative and thought things could be done better. And he wanted money, more than he’d get working for someone else. And he just didn’t want to answer to someone else, preferring to rely upon his own judgement. So he set up a business to prove to himself that he was right. It’s better to steer your own destiny than rely on “working for the man” for your money.
And he had this sense of self-conviction – call it courage if you like – that justifies the taking of a calculated risk. The let’s do it mentality. I believe in myself. Let’s start a business. It’s time.
And he was hungry for victory – even though winning meant long hours in the workplace, moments of struggle and uncertainty, trying to juggle conflicting requirements with little or no resource to help. Always aware that the folks he employed depended upon him to feed their families.
And he is the future face of business. Collectively, the people like him are already a major employer group, and they’re just going to become more and more important to the economy. And deep down everyone already knows it.
It’s because they’re small, and they’re agile, and they have everything to gain. Especially gaining the confidence of the growing numbers of ignored, disenchanted or bored corporate customers.
And while their large corporate competitors are busy focusing internally, seeing only the next quarter’s results; the smaller players keep a firm eye on the outside world and what it wants. Keeping abreast of what’s going on. Listening to customers, and talking to them in language that their customers understand.
And while corporate managers are busy fiercely protecting internal empires; smaller players are spending their time directly with the customer. Creating relevant, close, lasting relationships and networks. Making that customer feel important.
And while the corporation moves slowly, crippled by its risk aversion, and its employees find their efforts frustrated by the system that serves the bureaucracy not the people trying to navigate their way through it; smaller players are making decisions by the water cooler. They’re fast on their feet – quick to market.
And while corporations talk strategy; the smaller business is just getting on with the job. Not caught up with navigating the maze of committees and forums that slow you down and dilute the big idea into something safe and boring, or wasting time competing for the same pool of funding. Blissfully unaware that in the other world there are dozens of potential signatories that might veto your initiative at any time, leaving your future revenue streams stranded. Kaput. Just like that.
And while corporate counterparts finish the day at 6.30pm and head home to see the kids, the smaller business owner is still going. It’s hands-on, he’s so time poor, never finishing the pile of things to be done, but he remains intimate with every aspect of his business.
And while corporations say that people are their finest asset, they think shareholders first, customers second, and employees last of all. And the people that work there understand they come last. But the smaller business is like a family where everyone knows everyone. And many owners understand how it really works. It’s the employees that look after my customers, and my customers that look after my shareholders.
And while corporations talk of their clever talent, the talented get increasingly fed up. They see the areas for improvement, but there is no place for challenging the status quo, for breaking new ground. And he who tries scares the corporation because it doesn’t know how to manage him. He’s branded a maverick. He’s seen to be unorthodox and unpredictable, even though he mirrors the thinking of the modern marketplace.
But the smaller business owner knows. Promote the entrepreneurs; set them free to explore their ideas within the corporation. Find a place for them. It’s the path to corporate innovation and renewal. And he sighs to himself, knowing it will never happen. He was once that person. And he took his training, and all his knowledge and experience, and he entered a new world – the world of the entrepreneur.
And when corporations grew so big, their costs grew too. And the first cut is always the people. So employees learn to be nervous; the job for life is gone forever. And they learn to protect their own interests, placing their interests before the interests of the corporation. And the loyalty is gone since it couldn’t be bought with a weekly wage to begin with. And the smaller business keeps on focusing on his world. He knows he’s the underdog. His people know they’re the underdog, and it rallies the troops. And they try even harder for him.
And while corporations say the customer is king, they struggle to tailor products to them; and they like their customers to deal with machines not real people; and they talk to them through annual reports and glossy brochures; and customers are left wondering where all the warmth went.
And smaller businesses don’t have the same resources, so real people have to answer the phones. And they don’t have the same need to mass-produce, so products become tailored. And someone tells the customer the story instead of handing over an annual report. And the customers think they’re important because products are made especially for them, and people take the time to talk to them, and so they believe that they must be valued by the business.
But despite the gaping holes in the corporate armoury, the corporation remains a formidable opponent. Its size provides massive resources and it has much to protect. And it has deep pockets to defend its position and the territory it claims as its own. The smaller business understands this, and sits quietly, never really upsetting the apple cart, understanding there’s room in the market for many different businesses and avoiding any full-frontal attack.
Then one day, the smaller business owner decides he or she is ready to change the way the game is played. Because, he says to himself, business is a truly wonderful and creative opportunity for me to express my thinking, and to nurture and grow. I know it is David against Goliath, he says, but I’m now prepared for the battle. So he sets about learning the rules of warfare. And he learns about his enemy and how it’s best to strike.
And the crowd cheers him on, and the troops rally, everyone wanting to be part of the future as it unfolds. They’re excited for the underdog. Because they believe, like so many others believe, that it is the smaller business not the bigger business that is best positioned to incubate and innovate, and launch the products of the future.
And they know, because they are customers too, they desperately want what is new and fresh. And they know corporations can’t deliver that which is truly new and fresh because they lack the bravery to break free of their own shackles. And all the while the customers wait, the world impatient, for smaller business to pick up where big business fails.