Sometimes, I get really jealous of large corporations. Not often mind you, but occasionally.
Like you, I used to work for the Man. Mostly, I hated working for the Man, but I sure miss the perks – the matching 401(k), having an extra pair of hands around to help with projects. When you work for the Man, there are a lot of great resources at your disposal.
One of the best things is that there is a lot of brainpower around. The Man hires MBAs, lawyers and consultants, and those smarties come up with a lot of very good ideas. So one thing I consistently tell small business people is that we should cherry-pick the best corporate ideas we come across because those companies paid a lot of money to develop those ideas, and as long as they are not protected intellectual property, there is nothing wrong with finding and using the best of those ideas.
So I recently sat down with Shawn Parr, the CEO of Bulldog Drummond a design and innovation consultancy headquartered in San Diego whose clients include Starbucks, Adidas, Nestle, Virgin, Disney, Pepsi, Nike and more, and asked him about what small business can learn from big business.
“What big business ideas can small businesses best copy” I asked him? Parr came up with several:
1. Be amazing at execution. Parr says that one important lesson that small businesses can learn from their bigger cousins is that “An average idea well executed always beats a world-class idea still on the white board.” Rings true, doesn’t it?
This is especially true for startups he says. “Larger organizations have planning methods and processes that get products to market, but when you’re starting out, execution is often an afterthought.” The key thing then is to be great from the get-go, and not, as is often the case, haphazard. “It's especially important for early stage companies to be deliberate about planning the journey – from development to sale to satisfaction, and to figure out what steps are needed to get there.”
Consider, for example, Starbucks rolling out its signature Pike Place blend coffee last year. A fine coffee for sure – we love it at my house – but after all, it’s still just coffee. But they introduced it with fanfare and panache and it worked.
“Be amazing at execution” – great advice.
2. Be strategic and forward thinking. Parr noted correctly that although startups are very deliberate and highly intuitive, they can also lack the discipline of being strategic in long-term decision making and planning.
Big businesses typically have a clearly identified and articulated road map for where the business is heading and what the specific goals of the business are. That’s what we need to do too. Even a little long-range planning can pay great dividends.
3. Don't lose touch with your customer. Score one for the little guy. “Entrepreneurs are often the customer for the product they created so they intuitively understand what their customers want,” says Parr.
As such, this is one area where small businesses may have it over larger ones since, as Parr notes, “senior executives of large companies are often too far removed from their consumers and really have no idea how their consumers live.”
The truth is that for the best companies, big or small, “great customer service” is a lot more than just some placard on the wall. They live it. Think Nordstrom’s. Think Amazon and Apple. Think Trader Joe’s.
That’s what we must do too.
4. Hire the best. “Large companies have the luxury of significant budgets and well-resourced teams so they can operate efficiently. Entrepreneurs don't necessarily have the funds to hire seasoned strategic partners, but one key takeaway for entrepreneurs is to never compromise on key hires and to invest the dollars in the best people.”
Doing that is one reason why small companies become big companies.
5. Study their motives. “One thing that entrepreneurs can learn from large companies is to really understand where they've come from, where they started. By looking at consumer feedback (on blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, etc.) you might find valuable insights into gaps... in the market.”
By understanding what the big boys do right and wrong, what they do well at and also where they fail, you can reap the rewards of their experience.