What works for big doesn’t always (or often) work for small


Early in my career, I thought seasoned executives from especially big companies could really help small companies become big. I assumed the systems and processes—from the software they used to how they recruited and hired to the manner in which they built their products—must naturally be better because the company was so big. Surely that must have been how they got big! Through painful (and expensive) trial and error, I quickly learned that what works well for big doesn’t always (or even often) work well for small.

Scale matters: A two person development team needs to work differently than a ten person development team. Many of the things that make an enterprise sales executive effective are different than what breeds success for an SMB sales executive. A ten person company with a relatively small amount of leads can’t effectively leverage a marketing automation solution. Worse, implementing one will probably hurt their marketing (as it did ours—we adopted it, then ditched it, and later returned to it once we reached a scale where we could not longer function without it).

So when you’re small, doing what works well for big companies can be downright dangerous.

The same warning is relevant for all sorts of organizations—from families to cities to nations. The allure of complexity is dangerous. Patrick Lencioni makes this case for families in The 3 Big Questions for a Frantic Family. Kirkpatrick Sale makes this case for institutions in Human Scale and Human Scale Revisited. Leon Krier makes this case for cities in The Architecture of Community.

When you are small, be small. Embrace the advantages. You understand every facet of your business and can make quick decisions. You can easily communicate to everyone in the company. You’re nimble.

Don’t shoulder big company systems until your small company processes aren’t working anymore. And when you are looking for inspiration, avoid people who only have big company experience. Talk to the folks who have taken something from smaller than you are now to twice your size. They have fought successfully in the same arena in which you’re battling now.

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