Many small-business owners are taught to think big. How quickly can they scale the business? How soon can they start hiring employees? When can they expand to more locations?
Before you start daydreaming about an overnight success narrative involving a massive global footprint, pause and focus on this moment. Entrepreneurs, and lean and bootstrapped small businesses, are advised to think small and reap the benefits that come with adopting this mindset.
Build a Relationship with Your First Customer
The most meaningful small act a business owner can undertake is building a relationship with their first customer, said Sarah Gonzales, co-owner of RS Gonzales.
“You want to understand why, exactly, that brave soul took an extraordinary leap of faith in going with an unknown,” Gonzales said. “Was it your interpersonal skills or your sales pitch? The way you bundle your product, or your location?”
Antoinette Sanchez, owner of Endless Summer Sweets, started her business selling on the weekends at farmers markets before moving into a restaurant space. The farmers market gave her time to get to know her customers, learn more about her products and see what worked best. By the time she was ready to expand, Sanchez said she had worked through mistakes and had a good idea of how to lean into what works best.
Gonzales recommends business owners take the time to be vulnerable with their first customer. Ask them questions and express gratitude for their business. Do the same thing with the second customer and the third. Before long, you will have built a feedback loop creating loyal customers. You’ll also receive market insight, a better product or service and even more loyal customers.
Look at Small Numbers
Just like building a relationship with one customer, Hannah Shr, senior program manager at ICA Fund, recommends thinking small with small numbers.
Some of the smallest numbers associated with a small business might be:
- An individual transaction
- One SKU
- A single purchase order
- One card swipe
As small as these numbers may look — maybe just a few dollars — Shr said understanding these small costs as drivers of your business unlocks access to larger concepts around your margins, sales and ROI. You can determine your bestselling product or service, how much it costs you to produce, how much you charge for it, the cost of this transaction and what needs to be true for you to cover those transaction costs.
“Having a handle on these small numbers is the building block to profitability and ultimately growth,” Shr said.
Build a Network
Starting small gave Sanchez the time to talk to other business owners. She was able to build a trustworthy network among other like-minded professionals: people who understood the entrepreneurial landscape and could offer support.
“Being an entrepreneur can feel really lonely, and it takes time to connect with peers,” Sanchez said. “Having those networks in place before you grow means you immediately have trusted advisors you can turn to when you hit roadblocks or have questions.”
Focus On What Drives Value to Your Business
Your business can pursue many paths, but which paths drive value? Chris Alman — CFP, founder and leader advisor at Equip Financial Partners — said thinking small can help entrepreneurs focus on what drives value in their business.
Alman refers to the expression about being a mile wide and an inch deep. Small businesses that think small will reverse it to be an inch wide and a mile deep.
“That’s how you drive value,” said Alman, adding building value is also important to an exit strategy. “If you aren’t building value, you don’t have a business that can be sold.”
Focus On Steps You Can Take Today
Earlier, we talked about a business owner thinking about their long-term vision for their small business. While having this vision is important, Alman said it won’t go anywhere unless you execute.
“Execution happens daily,” Alman said. “You need to think small, working backwards from your long-term vision, and focus on the steps you can take today. It’s these small, daily tasks being executed daily that leads to huge results.”
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