A couple of months ago I went to see a large US company which opened the meeting by saying it wanted to become 'the champion of small business.'
It's not the first time I've heard this statement and surely won't be the last. The basis for this is understandable; big business is finally waking up and smelling the coffee - there is good business to be done when selling to micro and small firms. Telecoms companies are seeing the most significant growth in revenue coming from sales to small business and, with record start-up rates in the UK, around half a million new customers a year are joining what is a blossoming market.
So, large companies, I hope you won't mind that this post is written for you. It's my thoughts on how, in five steps, you can become a favourable brand to millions of small businesses across Britain. So listen up!
1. Know us
Before doing business in any market, you'll want to understand the needs, wants and behaviours of that market. This is no different for small business. In promoting your products or services to us, we'd like you to understand our motivations and daily life. I'll never forget seeing an advert from a big bank (that will remain nameless) showing a business owner outside a shed and the same business owner - now surrounded by a team - outside a skyscraper. It said 'we will help you move from shed to skyscraper' - I wondered how they could have got it so wrong. The majority of businesses are more than happy to start and grow their business from the garden shed as this keeps overheads low, commute to a minimum and time, energy and cash can be dedicated to growing the business by outsourcing work and sub-contracting, as opposed to moving into the giddy heights and subsequent expense of an office block filled with staff! Show that you know and understand us in your advertising and communications and you'll be guaranteed a better response.
2. Act like one
To win business from small business, it's good to act like one - ie. to move fast and stay innovative. Recently speaking at a Financial Times event, Dr Thomas Rabe, Chairman & CEO of multinational conglomerate, Bertelsmann, said: "We run our company as a group of entrepreneurs." What a great way to run a business! Coca-Cola follows the same recipe with the company's head of innovation explaining: "We're learning a lot from the start-up community - from how they secure funding, to how they partner and collaborate, to how they go to market and drive growth, to how they 'fail forward', because while we all cannot be entrepreneurs, everyone can think like entrepreneurs." So true! Much of this can be achieved from simply spending or sharing space with entrepreneurial businesses as their energy, innovation and passion soon becomes infectious!
3. Pay on time
A rather more practical point but when claiming to be a champion of small business, be sure to pay suppliers on time! Fujitsu prides itself on paying invoices from small business suppliers within five days. This is seriously impressive and will ensure Fujitsu's brand is held in high regard. One action businesses can take is to sign up to the Prompt Payment Code to show willing and pay bills.
4. Share a little
There are many things large companies have, that little ones don't. Resources such as space, people and buying power. Sharing some of this can have a positive effect as HP has seen with its SMEngage programme where HP executives offer their time and skills to mentor up-and-coming entrepreneurs. We recently offered this opportunity to Enterprise Nation members with one mentee writing in to say: "I just wanted to write to thank you for the opportunity to have mentoring sessions via HP. I had my first session on Tuesday and it was incredibly valuable to be able to get input from someone with his experience and background - I am really looking forward to working with him." This mentee runs a business advising small businesses on their IT needs - you can imagine which brand she'll now be recommending to her customers!
5. Learn a little
A few brands have been mentioned above (HP, Coca-Cola, Bertelsmann, Fujitsu) who are showing what it means to be a small business champion. There are others; Telefonica is getting so close to start-ups, they've set up Wayra Academies across the globe to accelerate them, and Intuit has been a company with which I've had the pleasure to work and who work at speed with company principles based on Eric Ries and his Lean Startup methodology. I'm sure there's benefit to be had in these large and smart businesses coming together to share ideas and thoughts - it's exactly what small businesses would do!